Be determined, not disgruntled, if you fail

2nd June 1995 at 01:00
I knew a teacher once whose main claim to local fame was a continuing failure to gain promotion. I still carry with me a mental picture of this morose person going hopelessly from interview to interview like a pedagogic version of the Flying Dutchman, returning each time to regale long-suffering colleagues with yet another story of double-dealing and behind the scenes chicanery.

You will all recognise the phrases used the next day. "It was all fixed up before we got there," was one favourite, usually followed, a bit illogically, by "The adviser took me on one side and said I was a very close second. "

The trouble is that teachers, perhaps more than people in some other jobs, do take very personally any failure to gain promotion, and tend to react by looking for external reasons. Sometimes, admittedly, there really are unknown forces at work. The need, for example, to be "Well in with the inspectors and advisers" is part of staffroom folklore, and manifests itself most openly in what I have heard called the "good stable" effect.

The "good stable" is the lively, innovative school which, basking in the approval of the authority's leadership, produces a steady stream of people on their way to headship. The implication for those working in less favoured schools is obvious, and the ambitious teachers would do well to take the effect into consideration, first by learning whether, and how, it works locally and then setting out, personally and through the head, to attract some of the same attention. That being said, appointments these days are increasingly made fully independently by governors, many of whom are healthily sceptical of fashionable reputation, and seems unlikely that many disappointed job applicants are actually being victimised. The problem, surely, lies in the basic human need to find someone to blame when things go repeatedly wrong.

The danger is, though, that repeated rejection, taken too personally, causes bitterness, which in turn sets up resentment and disapproval among a widening circle of professional colleagues, some of whom are, obviously, influential on career development. The best advice for the disappointed job applicant, therefore is to continue to be determined, and to remember that where five able people are interviewed, the selection of one does not mean the positive rejection of the others. Indeed, the fundamental aim of a good selection process must be to produce a shortlist of people any one of whom could do the job. Anything else is a waste of precious time.

In the words of a senior inspector: "Whenever I debrief unsuccessful candidates they always want to know what they did wrong, where the real question they should ask themselves is what did the successful candidate do right. It's hard to get people to see it that way, though, and they start casting round for villains instead of keeping on battling."

This same inspector pointed out, incidentally, that at every level of teaching it is important to keep concentrated on the task of producing accurate and businesslike paperwork. "If you have 100 applications you're going to start whittling them down on the basis of things like having the head's name wrong. It's not very rational, but how else do you make inroads on a huge pile of deputy headship applications?" To prove the point, he recalled seeing an application for a secondary headship which had been sent in so carelessly word-processed as to bear the name of the wrong school. Perhaps this applicant, too, spent the rest of an embittered career believing himself the victim of a conspiratorial fix.

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