The phone rang precisely two hours after I’d left the interview.
“I’m afraid, on this occasion you haven’t been successful,” said the headteacher.
“Thanks for letting me know.” I said. “Do you have any feedback? What could I improve on?”
“Absolutely nothing,” she said. “Your lesson was great and your interview was very strong. We just felt that the personality of one of the other candidates was a better fit for our staff.”
After hanging up, I duly related this message to Mr Brighouse.
“So what she was really saying is you’re a good teacher but you’ve got a crap personality and they didn’t like you,” he translated.
“Hmmmm. Yeah, that’s basically it,” I said, wondering what I ever saw in his innate ability to get to the heart of the issue.
He gave me an appraising stare. “You corrected their spelling, didn’t you?” he said.
“Only once, and only in passing,” I admitted.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” my job-share partner told me kindly the next day. “The right school for you is out there. You just haven’t found it yet.”
People say this kind of thing a lot when you’re job hunting. It’s a useful platitude, in the same way that people tell you rain on your wedding day is lucky.
Only I think there might be some truth in it. However hard you try to control your professional destiny, teaching comes complete with a large dose of X-factor, and there’s no denying that sometimes environment trumps all. Your success and happiness can owe a good deal to the school you’re in and, for me, that school is probably not one that misspells “practise” on prominent public documents. The tricky part lies in finding the right school.
All of which presupposes that you even have the luxury of choice. Yes, your perfect school may be out there, but it has to be commutable, offer a vacancy to suit and, more importantly, want you. In the meantime, mortgages still have to be paid and people have to eat.
While moving schools to find a better personal fit is, with a bit of luck and persistence, mostly possible for adults, what about for children?
Square peg in a round hole
For the vast majority of children, school choice is a fallacy. Children go to the school they live near, the school they are allocated, the school that has space for them. If they’re not happy there, if they’re not making progress, then trying somewhere else is often not an option.
And while the onus should be on the child to work hard and behave well, how a school supports this can vary wildly. Like with Luke.
Luke had been in our school since Reception. He didn’t find it easy. I don’t think he’d have found any school easy, but everyone in the building moved heaven and earth to help him succeed. Instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole, we simply changed the shape of the hole, brought in advisers, battled for funding, worked with his parents and adapted systems.
And it worked. He was happy and he made progress. Only eventually he had to leave us, to go off into the unknown.
The Sendco sought advice, but Luke’s parents didn’t take it. He went to the local secondary school. Many of our children did well there, but it wasn’t the right fit for Luke. When he wasn’t on short-term exclusions he spent more time out of lessons than in.
He would sometimes come back and see us, shoulders slumped, and tell us how much he missed us. We were powerless to help him. He was back to square one, all out of moves.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary teacher in the West Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse