I had a lot of time off last year after being bullied by our deputy. I'm desperate to leave but fear that if I'm honest about my days off, I won't get a job. What should I do?
The first question to answer, and it is a brutally frank one, is: were you really being bullied? There are usually two sides to any allegation of bullying. The accused will often give a quite different account of events from that of the accuser; the latter might they were only trying to get someone to do their job properly.
If you were indeed a victim, and, sadly, it can happen, even in a caring profession such as teaching, you need to make sure any school you apply to knows what happened. The increasing use of tickboxes means some potential employers may ask referees to rate applicants in terms of their health and attendance, sometimes without qualifying remarks. The deputy may even be influential on any reference from your present school.
You can always try ringing up a school where you are applying for a post to ask if you can have a preliminary conversation about the job. If you feel confident talking to the person concerned, you could broach the subject and explain your situation.
Be prepared for some tough questions, though, either during informal questions or in an interview. Why have you not made a formal complaint or brought in your union or some other adviser? Are other teachers in the same position? If no, why just you? If yes, why have teachers not got together to act as a group?
Leaving your job is a last resort. It would be worth talking the situation through with the deputy first. Take a friendly colleague (light touch) or union rep (heavier touch) with you if you are apprehensive.
You must come clean
You have no choice. Lying is unprofessional and, if it comes to light, you'd be out on your ear. In any case, if, like most teachers I have worked with, you couldn't lie your way out of a children's birthday party, lying on your application will make you so distracted at interview that you'd be bound to blow it.
Keep it simple. Own up to your days off and attach an explanatory note. A high absence rate doesn't look great, but even the teachers and senior managers who sit on interview panels are human and accept that complex issues occur in a profession such as teaching. As long as they feel assured they are not looking at a shirker, you're in with a chance.
So sell yourself. Let it be known what an asset you would be to the school and begin to put your past behind you.
Leo Gilbert, East Ham
Hang on in there
You appear to have been driven out of your current post by a bully, and your consequent absence record might prevent you from getting a new job.
And you have been made unwell: a triple whammy.
You could take the chance of not declaring recent absences, but this is a high-risk strategy. Or you could be frank, and come across as "flakey". A clear dilemma.
There is a third way. Given that the worst is behind you, it might be worth hanging in there a bit longer. You might have to give your attendance record only for the past year, and a sustained period of attendance might do the trick.
In the meantime maybe the bullying deputy might find the door marked "exit".
Sheila Mazzotti, Worthing
You are dealing with the symptom, not the cause. Why should you be leaving? It is the deputy who should be going.
Instead of putting your energies into jumping ship you should be trying to get the bullying manager pushed overboard. There should be a suitable grievance procedure in place. This may not get rid of the problem, but it might mark a card, and make you harder to target.
After all, as teachers we know that bullies (kids or adults) are cowards.
Sue Cheal, West Sussex
* Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own
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