Writer's block? Get on with it

14th January 2005 at 00:00
You want to be a teacher? Then stop fretting over a few forms and application letters, writes Gerald Haigh

Shall I tell you what made me feel proud earlier this year? A friend, Dot, a middle-aged lady who'd worked as a machine operator in a stocking factory since she left school at 16, contacted me when she was to be made redundant.

She fancied something better - and who wouldn't? She proposed to apply for a job as an assistant in a pharmacy, so she asked whether I'd help with her application. I did, but I had no intention of writing it for her.

I suggested that she should think about her qualities, which were to do with her proven ability to work hard, stand all day, keep time, hold a family together and get on with people.

And, I said, try to get into her letter something of her great desire to do well and improve herself. She understood perfectly, and wrote the letter and got the job and her life is very different now. And I wasn't immune to the joy and tears that followed.

I'm told that there are student teachers and newly qualified ones who think that applying for a job - writing a letter or a personal statement, or even filling in a form - is difficult. They wring their hands and cry, or cling together and weep despairingly.

Well, if you're crying about writing a simple letter, then as PT Barnum said, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

Think for a moment of the job you're being trained for, and presumably feel equipped to do. You're going to be in charge of some 30 young people.

You'll have to plan their work, keep them at it, deal with their problems and misdemeanours, judge their progress, and construct further teaching and learning that will take them forward. Influential people will come to your classroom from time to time and watch you doing this, and then dissect your performance. Then you'll be judged on how well your pupils have done during the year.

Are you seriously saying that you can do all that yet can't write a coherent account of yourself for a prospective employer?

As I said to Dot, the key to a good letter of application doesn't lie in the "how to do it" detail, that's easily available from many sources, but rather in the attitude of mind you bring to it. When the hand-wringing starts, tell yourself that this is a job you're well able to take on.

All this matters - because however much help you're given with the content of the letter, if you fear the task then it will probably show through, and you'll write something more jargon-ridden, and less assertive and convincing.

An education officer once said to me in a moment of doubt, in exactly the right tone of voice: "Tackle it, Gerald!"

It was good advice, and it works at every level. Don't leave your application letter sitting around while you talk about it and seek advice.

Just tackle it.

Advice on applications can be found in 'The TES' Survival Guide for Teachers series 'Get Your First Job', available from www.tes.co.ukbookshop

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