First encounters

4th June 1999 at 01:00
Shirley Evans begins a secretive search

The frantic Friday job-seeking frenzy has begun. It started furtively to begin with, with only my closest pals admitting they had sent off for details, but this was accepted in those far-off days before the local positions had been advertised. Now, with a few such posts on offer, the secretive search for employment has become a full-scale battle with every friend a possible foe, every skill accumulated by a colleague a possible setback.

Casual flicking began in September, when desperate PGCE students with a Friday feeling began the wind-down with a newspaper scan. In my household this generally involves a rather intense search of The TES Internet pages - in the belief that I'll find a position that has somehow escaped the printed edition. A secure sense of my own vigilance keeps me smug.

The weeks trickle by and faith that any Welsh schools need an art teacher begins to wane, so much so that a new plan emerges during half term which involves convincing my partner who's also a teacher to make a joint application for a private Spanish school. This consumes our every waking thought, yet once the faxes are sent and we have planned our move, we simultaneously go off the idea. The fact that the equivalent wage will be pound;8,000 plays a significant role in our change of minds.

All thoughts of teaching in a luxury, Olympic-pooled Spanish villa are soon replaced by a more sensible mania about a local position. I agonise over my letter of application and after numerous hyperbolic attempts, am satisfied that I have achieved an admirable balance between enthusiasm and confidence. I ignore the fact that the 40 other students on my course have also applied. The agonising wait begins.

The school gave details as to when their shortlisting would take place and the week in which interviews would be held, yet my mail brings only gas, council tax and electricity bills. Damn.

My colleague in school is called for interview in another area (should I move?) and the shortlisting week closes. At college on Monday I watch suspicious enquiries between students and am significantly - but shamefully - cheered by the fact no one has been "chosen". The manic post search slackens as I concede defeat (though I admit a surge of stomach-reeling excitement at last Thursday's inviting pile) and I begin to tackle new applications. I just begin to get my head around the concept of "failure" and adopt a new tranquil approach to the job hunt when I am interrupted by an alien phone call. It is...the headteacher of the School.

Hurrah. I have been shortlisted. I have what it takes. I have a future. I begin planning the sample lesson I am to give to a class of 30 Year 7s. I drive across the country picking up resources, wash my clothes, give myself a manicure and prepare my eager and innovative responses to questioning. Beneath the cool exterior I suspect it is too good to be true.

My worries are confirmed when Saturday's post brings sobering news. The confirming interview letter tells me that my lesson has a specified (and previously unmentioned) task which negates the wacky, contemporary slant I'd planned for. Worse still, it is a lesson I know I cannot give convincingly. My hopes of attaining the first local position flit away before my eyes.

Never mind, I tell myself. It's the shortlisting that matters.

Shirley Evans is studying for a secondary PGCE in art and design at UWIC, Cardiff

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