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.