I am a languages teacher who has had a succession of temporary contracts...

20th June 2003 at 01:00
...I am willing to move but still find it hard to get a full-time job. What can I do?

Ted says

There are general answers to your question and specific ones. As there is often a shortage of modern languages teachers you ought not to be suffering the consequences of oversupply. Many secondary schools are currently in financial difficulties, however, so this can make it difficult for them to offer permanent contracts.

Your willingness to move is a plus, as teachers who have no choice but to confine themselves to Little Piddlington and district can find there is only one school within reach. You are also getting some work, albeit short-term.

Ask someone with good experience of hiring staff to look through your application. Does it do you justice, bring out your strengths? Is it well presented and assembled? How can it be improved? You might also persuade someone to give you a mock interview, ask a few standard questions and give you some honest feedback. Do you undersell yourself?

Now the difficult question. Did any permanent vacancies occur in schools while you were there on a temporary contract? If so, why were you not taken on? Did you alienate people, teach badly, not pull your weight, give the impression you weren't keen on a permanent post? When temporary appointees make a good impression they often have an edge over outsiders in interview.

Ask someone, such as the head of a school where you have applied, to give you feedback that might help with future applications.

"Self-confrontation", as this kind of analysis is known, can be searing, so don't rip up your own confidence in the process.

If you are determined to teach, stick at it. Many teachers experience a period of disappointment at some time in their career. Once you are happily settled in a decent job, it will be hard to remember when you were struggling to find one.

You say

Take positive action

Either you are unlucky, or you need to develop your teaching skills and make your strengths more noticeable.

Proposed national curriculum changes to key stage 4 mean an increasing number of schools will have fewer pupils studying a modern language beyond the age of 14 so will be reluctant to offer permanent contracts to new languages teachers. Ofsted statistics consistently show that fewer lessons are judged satisfactory, or better, in MFL than in any other subject, showing how hard it can be to be a good MFL teacher.

Your heads of department are conceivably less effective than peers elsewhere, so are not best placed to give you a fair crack. Similarly, not all heads appreciate the challenge faced by MFL teachers and offer permanent contracts only to applicants of the highest standard. Ask a colleague you trust for an honest appraisal of areas in which you most need to improve your teaching; then observe colleagues who are strong in these areas. Ask your head of department and, if you have one, local authority adviser to pass you in-service training flyers on courses that address these issues. Supplement Inset in school time with some of the many low-cost or free courses run by the Centre for Information on Languages Teaching (www.cilt.org.uk) and the Association for Language Learning (email: langlearn@all-languages.org.uk).

Taking positive action to improve your teaching skills will help you establish whether you are cut out for, and want, a long-term career in one of the most challenging areas.

Tony Elston, Manchester

Keep your application relevant

As a headteacher, I spend considerable time composing job descriptions and person specifications. I have application and referee report forms with questions designed to elicit specific information and provide opportunities to show insights and thoughtfulness. I expect applicants and their referees to answer these questions fully, blending into their answers evidence to indicate that they meet criteria in the job description. I do not want to read answers to questions I have not asked, and I do not want pages of a standard CV, with the application and report forms ignored. All I want are these two forms and nothing else. In modern languages, I want teachers qualified in French and German, and I make it clear that, unless this is the case, the application will not be considered. Yet more than half the applicants have only one of the languages and, in some cases, neither.

Alasdair Macdonald, Glasgow

Spread your talents around

To reduce advertising andor agency fees, many schools still rely on internal vacancy lists and local contacts to fill posts. However, clusters of primary and secondary schools may find it advantageous to "share" a modern foreign languages teacher. He or she could be employed full-time by the secondary school and timetabled to visit andor support feeder schools as required. In Wales, there is now extra funding available to ease the transition from key stages 2 to 3 and to encourage early language learning.

To dispel the myth that "Brits don't do languages", we need to make the best use of all linguistic resources in the community. Everyone will soon be able to register interest on the Languages in Primary Schools website (www.lips-wales.co.uk). A comprehensive database will help to keep track of MFL teachers who move, change their names or take breaks and are at risk of being lost to the system for a time. Surely our children (and our teachers) deserve better.

Denise Walsh, parent and MFL teacher, Cardiff

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