Sunday, February 08, 2009


The worst of times and… the worst of times.

The Venue

You’re not expecting a pamper session in a five star hotel with free massage and reflexology thrown in, but does the interview need to take place in a garishly lit, bare, hot, stuffy, windowless box? I wasn’t expecting them to extract my fingernails (slowly) or to play ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ at full eardrum shattering volume, but the interior design of one venue was inspired by Abu Ghraib. For some reason the interviewer wore a thick woollen jumper, I was transfixed as the beads of sweat trickled down his face. How to concentrate?

The Panel

The best number on an interviewing panel? A few years ago I was interviewed for a part time teaching assistant post, the venue was in a gloomy darkened room. All ten governors were on the panel, one tip is to maintain eye contact but on this occasion they sat there furiously scribbling down every answer. So which hunched troglodyte should I look at?


They will usually be the proverbial ‘loose cannons’ during any interview-

a) Somnambulant Sid – he’s had a long ‘liquid lunch’, it’s four o’clock, you’re last on the interview list, he needs to rest his eyes, but, please, does he have to snore so loudly?
b) Crazy Eddie/Edwina – they’ve been on the governors for the last twenty years. Why hasn’t the council replaced them? Because they can’t get anyone else to be a school governor, there is a huge national shortage. During the interview they are most likely to bowl a beamer. They will ask a totally weird question, normally related to a personal obsession. Examples might include – Have you been to Reykjavik? Do you eat wholemeal bread? Can you juggle? Don’t worry they’ve been doing this for years, the panel will hurriedly move on to the next question.
c) The Prof – a retired lecturer. His question will be a long, convoluted and theoretical. There is only one person in the room that knows the answer…

The School

Always, always, visit before the interview. One school had award certificates plastered on every available wall space, they weren’t just Bronze, Silver or Gold but invariably Platinum. They were also awarded for ‘outstanding’ achievements like ‘Best Kept School Car Park – North West’, ‘Tidiest School Corridors’ and ‘Most Colourful School Fences – Northern Region’. Every display was triple backed. In the cloakrooms every coat was on the right peg, the classrooms didn’t have so much as a paper clip out of place. There was a team of OCD teaching assistants constantly tidying and cleaning every available work place. The teachers were all ‘Leading this’ or ‘Leading that’, they were all wore those old-fashioned dresses from the ‘Stepford Wives’ and they had that look…

The Headteacher

This is another sure-fire reason to visit. You might just get the impression that the staff are on the cusp of full-scale mutiny. Go in the staff room and everyone stops talking, you get the kind of withering look of sympathy that a rabbit in a laboratory might expect, just before they inject his eyes with shampoo. In one school the head’s office was a kind of personal shrine – to himself. The walls were covered with pictures of him with assorted local dignitaries; naturally the children didn’t feature anywhere. As we proceeded on a tour it dawned on me that the Deputy Head at been trained in the Uriah Heap School of unctuousness. He bowed and opened every door for the Headteacher. No, the grass is not always greener, it may be contaminated by noxious heavy metals or polluted by life threatening nuclear waste.

Questions, questions

You should be able to gauge the type of school you might be working at by the questions. In one interview every single question was on classroom management. After the interview I walked through the playground, it was like Beirut during the civil war. Another clue is if there are always vacancies in a particular school. Ask a friend, a shadow of fear will pass over their eyes, their face will freeze with fear, you haven’t got an interview in ‘that school’?

Keep me hanging on the telephone

If you haven’t had ‘the call’ within a few hours you know you haven’t got the job, but why keep you hanging in suspense? My record was three days.

It won’t be you

In most cases the Headteacher has already decided on who they want to appoint. You answer the questions during the interview, the panel look bored to tears. That’s why most interviews are pointless. The Headteacher has already chosen a close relative, the nubile NQT he has an unrequited crush on, or, in most instances, they have selected the preferred workaholic who will slavishly obey every instruction. Creative, critical and questioning? Please don’t apply.


This explains why all my secondary school teachers were either inbred mutants or straight out of teaching college.

About the Troglodyte thing, Troglodytes are blind, so it doesn't matter which one you look at!

And always reply the professor not with the answer, but with another question that will make him ponder the answer!
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