First encounters

28th January 2000 at 00:00
Andrew Littlejohn finds his first job offer isn't what he expected.

The last interview question comesjust as the bell echoes through the main building. As more than 1,100 girls, as well as a number of boys in the sixth form, pack their bags at the end of the school day, the deputy head shuffles her papers, looks meaningfully across at the head of languages, before turning back to face me.

Staring directly into my eyes, she asks: "If we were to offer you the job, would you accept it?" I hesitate. I'd actually made up my mind at 12.20pm, but now I'm sidetracked by the sound of hundreds of pupils hurrying along corridors, talking about their last lesson and discussing how best to spend the rest of their day. For a moment I consider saying "yes", but I know it's the wrong reply. It has been adisappointing day.

The vacancy is a temporary position for a teacher of German to cover maternity leave. It is my first interview as a newly qualified teacher and I was thrilled when an answerphone message told me I'd made the shortlist.

The interview day starts well. Following a tour with two enthusiastic Year 8 pupils, one of the female candidates and I are told to return to the staffroom to await our appointed teachingslots. I've prepared ademonstration lesson fora Year 9, second-yearGerman group.

My slot is at 12.15, the last period before lunch. We enter a fairly large room. The morning sun streams throughrickety windows which look on to a small lawn. But thereis no atmosphere. The room feels tired, almost worn-out. There is little free space with rows of foam-padded vinyl upholstered chairs clinging to the walls and the middleof the room. Tables are piled on top of one another at one end. I try to imagine myselfin the middle of a stessful day, tackling a full timetable. Would this be a place of refuge?

I ask where the toilets are. We are both directed to the same door, halfway down the corridor from the staffroom. We assume there will be the normal separation of men and women once we've gone through the main door, but we find ourselves in a small room with a thin, hardboard partition between us. Welook at each other, shrug and go our separate ways. As I stand gazing at the wall, Icontemplate sharing these facilities with female staff for the next two terms.

Shortly before 12.15, I make a final check of my resources, put them in order, re-read my lesson plan and wait to be taken to my teaching room. Keeping one eye on the door, I go over the lesson again and again and again. It is now 12.20. Looking at my plan, I should have been introducing four activities on the overhead projector by this point.

As I set off to find my elusive class, any nervousness I might have felt about teaching an unknown group of 14-year-old girls suddenly disappears. There are now more important issues to consider. Communication. Why has it broken down? Organisation. Is this a sign of a badly run language department? Teamwork. If the head of department is under too much stress, why aren't some responsibilities delegated to other departmental staff? Support. Would I receive support to make sure I completed my induction successfully?

My response to the final interview question reflectsmy misgivings. I could wait to see the outcome of the interview, but I know that even two terms in the wrong environment, especially during induction, wouldseem an eternity.

Andrew Littlejohn finishedhis PGCE at King's College,London, last year and is nowregistered with a supply agency

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