I recently applied for a sideways move to a non-denominational school in the west of the city. Until 1994, I could have secured the post under the voluntary transfer scheme. In the business sector it is common practice to allow staff to move to other branches within the company. In education you have to go through the rigmarole of an interview. Naively I believed that a good track record regarding discipline, attendance and results would be my getaway car. My headteacher's report was first class, testimony to my professionalism or his burning desire to pass on a Black Spot. Either way I was granted an interview.
Two days prior to the grilling I accepted the invitation to visit the school and meet the headteacher. Surrounded by gentrified tenement property, the school is a 1930s museum piece. Open corridors (open to the elements) face on to a courtyard. A line-up of fat pigeons on the roof explained the speckled surface of the courtyard. Apparently the birds feast on the debris of pupil snack attacks. On this crisp morning it was a crumb-free zone.
It was disappointing to learn that the roll had increased from 520 in 1989 to the current 880. I realised that some of the problems pertaining to my present school would be replicated here. Sure enough, first and second-year classes were of the maximum size variety though it was heartening to hear that upper school classes were smaller.
The head put the candidates at ease and even made a coffee for us all. Despite some reservations I decided to make a real effort to secure the position. I phoned my former boss, who has the enviable record of having a 100 per cent success rate at interviews (three out of three), and he filled me in on the likely questions and gave convincing answers. Armed with this knowledge I turned up for the interview in a confident mood.
I was not taken at the appointed time. Could the other candidates be blabbering on? Just after 10.15am, I was ushered into the lions' den. The questions were straightforward enough and I believed I had answered them well (and honestly). I did, however, point out that while I would probably be the most experienced candidate I would be the most inexperienced at interview "technique" since this was my first ever interview. For good measure, I produced my SCE results for the past two years.
An afternoon phone call from the panel chairman informed me that I had been unsuccessful. He was not in a position to give me detailed "feedback" of where I had gone wrong, suffice to say that the "younger candidates had given fuller answers" and that "my lack of interview experience had been obvious". The panel had concluded that while I showed evidence of being a successful, experienced classroom teacher my 20-minute audition had failed to persuade them of my suitability.
It was only when I came off the phone that his words sank in. My answers had been too brief. If I had chuntered on would they have stopped me? I would have had more respect for the decision if I had been told I had given the "wrong" answers. Unlike others I don't claim to be infallible. At 41 years, I am a big boy and big boys don't cry when told the truth. Talking a good game appears to be all important. Why are candidates not asked to bring along examples of courses they have produced and a summary of their recent Higher or Standard grade results?
The next day news of my failure had reached my less than supportive colleagues. After a good laugh at my expense I was uplifted to hear of knockback feedback others had received: "you were definitely the second best candidate", "your body language was all wrong", "you hit the crossbar", and - my personal favourite - "think of it as a positive experience".
I didn't ask who got the job. I sincerely wish him or her well. I believe life is full of choices and I respect the right of the panel to make their choice. But please, be more honest with the disappointed candidates. You'll gain their respect.