Getting a job in teaching is an anxious process from beginning to end. And then beyond...!
As time ticks on, panic starts to set in. That's because with teaching jobs, you can only resign at three times in the school year, with a few privately negotiated exceptions being rare. To start a new job in September, for example, you need to hand in your notice by the end of May. And as the end of May is usually half term week, any job interviews have to be completed before the third week in May. If you were to get a job after the deadline, you have to wait until Christmas to be released from your old job and start your new one... and how many employers are willing to wait that long when they have a vacancy? Which is why those jobs advertised in May and June are most suitable for those currently training, as they will be available to step straight into the role in September.
Then, if you do get a job, the sooner you do so then the better it is for your school. If they too can advertise your post and recruit somebody before the May deadline, they will have a wider pool of applicants to choose from for a September start. So the pressure is on.
If all this pressure isn't enough, there's the application and recruitment process itself. You send off your forms and letters and you wait... and sometimes you wait... Many schools don't respond to those not asked to interview and so you are left in limbo, biting off the postman's hand in anticipation. But if you do get a phonecall or letter inviting you to interview, the turn-around can be so quick. Everybody has deadlines to meet, and so it's not uncommon to find out your interview is the day after next, leaving you little time to prepare - and panic!
Then there is the day itself. This is probably the worst moment of teaching. Far worse than over-excited Year 8s on a wet afternoon, far worse than moody Year 10s last thing on a Friday, and even worse than any department meeting or bollocking from your boss. How bad can it be? Well here is the usual interview ordeal:
1. You are at the school not just for an interview, but also for informal chats, tours, inquisitions by pupils, gentle interrogation over coffee and lunch, and probably to teach a short lesson in a wholly artificial set-up.
2. You spend this day doing your rota of activities along with all the other candidates, so you are battling your competitive spirit whilst trying to look agreeable and like a good team player.
3. You are doing all this while trying to get a feel for the school, the pupils and the staff. There's so much to feel nervous about, yet so much to take in.
4. You have to make your mind up on the day whether you want the job. After formal interviews, usually with several people including the headteacher and governors, you and the other candidates sit together and fret for what seems like hours (and sometimes it can literally be that long). Then the door opens... and in comes the Head with possibly a Deputy or a governor. Sometimes they announce who got the job in front of everybody, and sometimes you are called into the office separately to be told your fate. And if you are offered the job, you have to say yes or no right there and then. It doesn't matter if you have another interview lined up for the following day or week - it's now or never.
5. There is usually no opportunity for feedback - and if you want to know why you didn't get the job, after such a stressful ordeal you probably don't want to hang around any longer after hearing the words "sorry but...". So you spend the journey home agonising over what you said in response to questions like, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" You wonder if they didn't like the way you looked at the stock cupboard on the school tour, or whether you should have asked about computer access. Did your outfit put them off? Did you choose the wrong sandwich filling at lunch? Who exactly took a dislike to you, and why?
In all, it's a demoralising process from start to finish, and enough to make you wonder if it's better the devil you know...