Dear Ted

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Local schools are being reorganised. As sole breadwinner, aged 41, with two children and 15 years of my mortgage left, I'm terrified of redundancy.

What can I do?

Ted says

The prospect of redundancy will cast a cloud over anyone, not just teachers. It is usually better to stay positive than become paralysed by apprehension. In the event, your fears may be misplaced, if you are one of the many who are simply reappointed to the same job. Even if you do not return to your old post, you could find a new opportunity within the area that, in the longer term, turns out to be a stimulating career move.

First, take a good look at your strengths. What do you do particularly well? What are you most enthusiastic about? What do you do above and beyond the basic curriculum? Write these down, as you almost certainly will need to if you have to apply for a post. Don't be over-modest. Most teachers are pleasantly surprised when they make a list of their charms.

Then write down what your ideal job would look like - type of school, age range, location, subject(s), responsibilities. How flexible are you? This will focus you in case there is a range of choices, as there often is. It is better to be open and adaptable than narrow and restricted.

Next, look at your less strong points. Are you up to date? Are there areas you might need to strengthen? Don't become demoralised at this point; everyone has weaknesses (those who say they don't are unaware of their greatest one - they're liars). It is better to think early on what you might need to do to impress a selection committee, than leave it to the last minute.

Finally, keep up your morale and self-esteem. Most teachers will probably slide seamlessly back into their old jobs, but if you do have to go through interviews, stay optimistic and keen. Dreary downbeats get the bum's rush from interviewing panels.

You say

It could be for the best

The idea of losing your job isn't the most appetising, but there could be many reasons why you are terrified. Are you a little too comfortable in your job? Are you offering everything you can? As with any other career, it is easy to become too settled, although it is essentially up to the school's head and senior management team to keep everybody on their toes and moving forward - both in their teaching and their personal development.

Have a chat with somebody in a senior position to see what your chances are.

You don't say what sort of reorganisation is going on, but if you're unlucky, the changes you'll need to accept may offer new and exciting opportunities that could stretch your talents in all sorts of ways. If you've been in your current post for a long time, leaving may seem a wrench, but it could be beneficial.

And remember, you may not be made redundant. Even if you are, you're only 41; I didn't achieve headship until I was 39. You're hardly over the hill.

If you are a dynamic teacher, other schools could be crying out for somebody experienced just like you.

Primary head, north London

Form a united front

Facing potential redundancy is unpleasant, especially in your circumstances. It can mean a prolonged period of gnawing uncertainty that unsettles, demotivates and depresses, so much so that when (if) the axe finally does fall, it can be something of a relief.

You are not in it alone. You have your colleagues, and you might also have your union. It is vital you stick together. If you don't, you might find there is one thing worse than losing your job: keeping it, but in so doing losing your dignity and the respect of your peers.

Also remember, it's your job that is redundant, not you.

R Lloyd, Selsey

"A Year 5 pupil, an only child, at the school where I'm a parent helper told me about her single mother's drinking. I informed the head, but he told me not to intrude. What should I do?" What do readers think? Email: dear.ted@ tes. We pay pound;40 for each answer used

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