First encounters

28th April 2000 at 01:00
Jon Croose takes life as it comes

Last night I had the strangest dream. I was sitting in a huge office, waiting to be interviewed. At the other end of the room, almost out of sight, was a long table. Three or four darkly dressed figures in scholarly robes sat behind me. They looked like huge vultures waiting to swoop. The room smelled of ancient headmasters - a mixture of polished wood panelling, pipe tobacco, chalk dust and cabbage from the canteen below.

Then one of the figures spoke - a low voice, gravelly, designed to terrify small children.

"Ah yes, Mr Croose..." he said. "We have received your application and curriculum vitae, such as they are. Now tell me, were you to be appointed to the staff of this school, how exactly would you go about teaching physics to our little angels... mmmm?" I gulped. I sweated. My heart leaped to my throat.

"I'm s-s-sorry," I stammered. "There must be some m-mistake. I don't do physics. I'm an English teacher!" "English?" he screamed. "English?" And just when I thought they were going to swoop down and pick me clean, I woke up.

It's here, the first job interview. I've got the letter of confirmation in my hand, complete with teaching task, map and directions to the school. I've got a week to prepare myself, cram on the syllabuses and think up smart answers. I'm trying hard to remember every last thing I've learned on the PGCE but, just when I need it most, it has flown clean out of my head. I'm walking a tightrope.

OK, that's the panic out of the way. Now let's think sensibly about this, shall we?

It feels odd to be applying for jobs. It hardly seems like yesterday that I strolled into a classroom for the first time. And now I'm supposed to go into an interview and convince the pane that I know what I'm talking about? Yeah, right. Can I have another 20 years to prepare please?

It's that time of year. All across the country teachers are moving on, bailing out, getting promoted or escaping to the ashram in advance of the notice periods for next September. After only six months in the business, I feel I have barely scratched the surface of what teaching is all about. Yet every week I scan The TES looking for that momentous first job.

I surf the Internet for tips on interview technique. Bad move. Interviewing is a science as obscure as, well, maths. At www.collegegrad.com, I'm told that if you have not convinced the interviewer within five minutes that you are the right person for the job, you might as well forget it.

Other top advice includes: "Give the interviewer your sweetest and most endearing smile." No, really - it works apparently. Oh, and watch out for stupid questions like "What kind of animal would you like to be?" or "How many ping pong balls could fit in a Volkswagen?" There is no right answer to those - it's a trick to see if you are capable of an original thought. Duh! Add to this your faultless use of the Compelling Story Technique, Behavioural Answering Technique, and the Pregnant Pause Technique, and you will be a sure-fire success. It makes the PGCE look like child's play.

As the friendly Americans at collegegrad.com say: "You are a special person. You know it. Your Mom knows it. Your Dad knows it. Your siblings know it (but probably won't admit it). But unless you convince the interviewer of your special talents and abilities, you will fade into that great dark abyss of Interviews Lost."

Thanks. I feel much better now.

Jon Croose is studying for a PGCE at Bristol university


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