Grab the greasy pole

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Once your first jobis in the bag, you should start to think about your next career move and the skills required, says Mike Fielding

Thinking about the next job when you've only just started your first may seem premature, but a sense of direction about your career can provide a powerful incentive for making your current work as effective as possible.

The requirements for different stages mean that those who aim to negotiate the greasy pole need to be clear and determined about in-service training (INSET) and other professional development activities to help them succeed.

Most new teachers will deny they are ambitious or want to become senior managers - although this may change with new fast-track recruitment and development procedures. But many believe that they can become a head of department in a secondary school or curriculum co-ordinator in a primary.

But how do they know what's involved? Usually by observing the person who has responsibility for them. But, unless their line manager is particularly good, this may give a false picture, particularly about what will be needed in those roles in the future.

A better guide could be the Teacher Training Agency's document National Standards for Subject Leaders. It details the key outcomes of effective subject leadership as well as the professional knowledge, understanding, skills and attributes required. You should be able to use them to work out a professional development strategy that would get you to that level within a given number of years.

Knowing what you need is no good unless you also know where to get it and schools are not always efficient at circulating the vast quantity of information they receive each year about training materials, courses and so on. Get to know the school's professional development co-ordinator.

Courses and designated training activities are not the only sources of professional development. On-the-job experience is also important, and in most schools there are temporary roles or tasks that will provide the eager teacher with learning opportunities, paid or otherwise, outside their immediate classroom. Offering yourself for one of these may also signal to the school's senior managers that you are taking career development seriously.

Some sensitivity is required. Teachers are generally nervous of colleagues who appear to have their eye constantly on the future. They want them to do a good job now.

Despite increasing emphasis on the ability to manage people and resources, being a good teacher is still the main influence on your reputation in school. All appointment panels require references from your current school and will expect to see teaching excellence high on the list of qualities being offered.

But if your teaching skills are well honed and you have gained experience and undertaken appropriate INSET, when should you start thinking about moving on? The ambitious teacher should start looking around during their second year and expect to have moved by the end of the third.

You may be offered (or invited to apply for) promotion in your own school. It's flattering to be asked, and it can be comfortable to stay in a place you know, but you should be sure that the post will provide real opportunities for you to learn and to stamp your personality and ideas on to it, not just to maintain the status quo. Be prepared, too, for the disappointment of not being given the job; internal promotions always dash someone's hopes.

Before reaching this stage, however, it's important to ask yourself: "What are my goals? Where do I want to get to? And why?"

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