The last verse of those interview blues

30th August 1996 at 01:00
Now is the time when nervousness starts to dilute the smugness of all those teachers who found themselves new jobs last term. What an opportunity, then, to remind ourselves of what we went through last term and what some of us are about to go through once again.

With only three days until the end of half term, all seemed lost for another term when, returning home from school one evening, I was stunned to find an invitation to interview in two days' time.

Oh joy, oh rapture, oh hell! When I read the letter properly, I discovered that the interview was 200 miles away and that the time of this ritual torture was to be 9am. Not only that, but would I also please give a 10-minute presentation on primary education (overhead projector and flip chart to be provided).

The next 24 hours were occupied with frantic reading, note-making, phone calls to every person I know who has ever made a presentation to grown-ups. Not to mention the buttering-up of office staff to produce hasty OHP sheets to illustrate the points I hoped to address during my 10 minutes. Oh yes, I also managed to teach my class.

Looking back, I realise I was sent a few warning signs. At the time, though, I was in such a blind frenzy that I stumbled onwards intent on giving this my best shot, no matter what.

As I opened the boot of my car my hand slipped and three of the nails on my left hand broke, so far down as to make me look like an habitual nail biter. Never mind, I thought, onwards ever onwards. During the evening, in between typing out my presentation, I managed to have a cold bath, polish my shoes with carpet shampoo and cook oven-ready cod in a crispy crumb, with the plastic wrapper still on. It's not that bad actually.

I had estimated that in order to be there at 9am, I would need to get up at 5am, which I duly did and found the drive reasonably pleasant, despite the two accidents and a broken-down lorry on the M25. I think it was as I finally managed to reach 50 miles an hour that my exhaust system decided to disintegrate.

I thundered, rattled and gurgled the rest of the way, trying desperately not to think about the car I had recently seen with its exhaust scattered down the inside lane, on fire.

At the school I hastily primped and preened, then stepped out of the car into a howling gale. As I walked up the school path I became aware of a painful lump on my sole and I realised that this was the verruca I thought I had banished, making an untimely return.

I was greeted by a woman who ushered me into a bleak room with bare walls and a handful of dusty computers. In the corner were three other women - also candidates. I am always slightly unsure of these situations. Do you talk to these people in a friendly manner or do you play it cool? After all, these people are after the job you want, the job you're going to get.

Eventually, there were six of us, all women and yet still no one had actually greeted us officially and we hadn't met the head or deputy. Suddenly, three men walked into the room smiling.

At this point, I would like to say that in life one of the most important things one can learn is knowing when to leave, whether it be a party, a meeting or a dentist's appointment.

When three men walk into a room full of interview candidates and say "Hello Sally" to one of your number, you know it's time to get out of there. But did I? Of course I didn't. I was under the sad impression that we all stood an equal chance and that having come all this way I should stay and show them what I was made of.

I got to know the other candidates quite well. After all, what else is there to do while you are sitting in the head's tiny office devoid of tea, coffee, pictures and reading material from 9am until 4pm? We soon discovered that Sally worked for an outside agency and had dealings with the school in the past. Not only that but, joy of joys, her boss was on the interview panel.

The rest of us had made up our minds that the result of the interviews was a foregone conclusion and fairly soon we discovered that our combined experience and expertise more than filled the requirements for equality of opportunity. And yet we all sat there and went through the agonising process of presentation (mine went very well, as it happens) and interview (this was suspiciously easy).

I think part of the reason that we all stayed was the promise of lunch which, when it arrived, was a selection of the cheapest supermarket sandwiches - still in their wrappers - and definitely the cheapest biscuits I have ever seen, and consequently, in a previously unheard-of reaction, couldn't bring myself to eat.

During the afternoon we were rather hoping to be shown around the school and perhaps meet the staff. Surely these are two of the most important factors in recruiting new staff? But no. We didn't see any other members of staff during the whole day. Had they been paid to stay away? Were they actually there? During the whole day we only saw a total of three children.

By about two o'clock, we were all getting rather edgy. Sally had gone home to water her garden and this only added to the despair we were all feeling at having travelled so far to sit there for so long.

Sally returned and the head re-appeared from the interview room to announce that they were offering the post to her, and would we all like to stay for a de-briefing. My answer was short, to the point, and closely followed by the tumultuous splutterings of my poor car as I headed for the hills, cursing.

As I sat in one-and-a-half hours of rush-hour tailback on the M25, I had the opportunity to reflect upon my day: the early start, the hurried preparation, the broken nails, verruca throbbing, broken exhaust, numb posterior from sitting on plastic chair all day.

It occurred to me that I had chosen to do this. No one had forced me to endure this most humiliating, demoralising and downright boring day. So I resolved, no more.

Why should I engage in this archaic selection rigmarole? Why should I spend a whole day being patronised by zestful "Primary Practitioners" in shiny grey suits? Why? Because I'm desperate for a new job, that's why.

And besides, it's only two days until TES day and there's that application I sent off yesterday, and there are bound to be vacancies for January and it probably wasn't the right job for me anyway and . . .

Zoe Blythe-Lord is a primary teacher in Kent.

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