Passion overload kills job chances

11th July 2008 at 01:00
The wisdom of Henry Walpole
The wisdom of Henry Walpole

This is the point in the year when the transfer window in schools has largely closed. Like Premiership footballers, the summer term is host to endless shuffling of key personnel around the country. The main difference from the football transfer market is that the wages are lower, but the transferees are a lot more knowledgeable about the Primary National Strategy.

Some of the adverts for school-based jobs are sounding pretty desperate by this point: "Dynamic, inspirational head wanted for inner-city school, starting September 1. Candidates who are breathing will have an advantage."

The job-hunting process in education can be a strange affair. You spend a whole day trying to impress people with how much you can do, while wondering what time the staff car park clears at the end of the day. A friend of mine experienced an excited visit from his new headteacher on his first day in the post, when the school leader gushed about all the things they were going to achieve together. My friend said he felt like re-introducing himself: "I believe you've met the 'interview me' before. Now it's time to meet the 'work me'. We are not related."

The interview itself is usually the most stressful part of the day, as you try to remember your philosophy of education while panicking that your flies may be undone. You've got to be extra careful in teaching interviews, particularly as a male primary teacher. Make sure you don't overdo it with the "passion" talk - nobody wants to hear you going on about the importance of "reaching out and touching children".

As I have been on both sides of the desk at interviews, I can reveal some other real-life howlers. If someone asks you about your willingness to do after-school activities, the correct answer is not, "Well, I'll do it if I'm forced but really I'm not interested in that sort of thing." And it's best not to spout on endlessly about how much you like "extending children" - it makes you sound less like a pedagogical visionary and more like a medieval torturer.

The thing that nearly always puts me off applying for a job is when the pupils get to interview the candidate. Do prison officers have to get interviewed by inmates? If you want to work in Tesco, do you have to sit before a panel of old ladies who grill you about your efficiency at dealing with cat-food coupon problems? Interviews like this usually only occur in schools that think it's cute to pretend the pupil council wrote the job advert. The giveaway is that the advert usually says, "We want an inspirational, happy headteacher" - and not, "We want a pushover who lets us do whatever we want and institutes all-day Golden Time."

These adverts are usually accompanied by a school logo that's been drawn by a reception pupil, and are supposed to make you think, "What a wonderful, inclusive school!" But they always make me think, "God, that child is crap at drawing." Sorry, how cynical. I clearly need to start looking for a new job ...

More from Henry in a fortnight.

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