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'Teach There? You're Having a Laugh!'

Steve Waters: Founder and Director: Teach Well Alliance

You’ve made the decision to apply for a teaching job. Perhaps you’re coming to the end of your training. Or you’re looking for promotion. Or your school doesn’t appreciate the work you do. Or you’re heading for Burnout and need to leave as soon as possible. You don’t want to join a school which doesn’t look after its staff. So, what are the warning signs you should look for?

  1. Lack of humour

Christina Maslach, an expert on Burnout, identified laughter and humour as an essential component of a healthy community. If jokes are in short supply (no pun intended!) in the staffroom, this may indicate low morale and a lack of energy.

  1. Cynicism

When you are around staff conversations, do you hear negativity? Are cynical comments made about the school or other members of staff? Cynicism is one of the key components of Burnout. One or two comments don’t necessarily indicate a poor working environment but frequent cynicism about the school is a sure sign of poor staff wellbeing (Note: cynicism about the government’s approach to education is ubiquitous. This is to be expected and different from a cynical attitude towards the school itself).

  1. Cover

If you have time, ask a teacher who is not part of the interview process what cover is like in the school. Take a look at the cover list. If it is more than a couple of A4 sheets of paper, this raises questions. Yes – it might be a one-off, but a long cover list might also indicate high rates of sickness and/or low employment of supply teachers, compromising the time teachers have for preparation and marking, and increasing stress.

  1. Limited access to school

Is the tour of the school limited to a few areas? Or worse, is there no tour? Are you allowed to go for a roam on your own? If you are only offered limited access, it may indicate that the school has something to hide. Ask to be taken to areas where pupils have break or lunch – poor behaviour control will be obvious.

  1. Limited access to pupils

                                                                                                                                                    Are pupils part of the interview process? Some schools ask pupils to show visitors around. Others include a mini-interview conducted by pupils – especially for senior posts. You should be able to ask pupils what they think of their school. Even the best drilled pupils can reveal important information about class behaviour; likes and dislikes about their school; what they would change; what they think of how pupils behave in class or towards one another; how often they have cover teachers; how stressed do they think their teachers are?

  1. Trust your intuition                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Your gut feeling is probably right – especially if one or more of the warning signs are flashing. The competitive interview process can become an end in itself, with each applicant determined to ‘win’. Imagining having to go back to your school and telling your colleagues and headteacher that you haven’t been appointed can cause you to think with your heart and not your head. Your heart can override both your gut feeling and your logical review of the school. It can lead you to accepting a job in a school which may damage your physical and mental health. It nearly happened to me. Bitterly disappointed that I hadn’t ‘won’ the job, it was only when I considered the warning signs calmly and logically the following day that I realised that I had had a lucky escape.

Keep your feet on the ground by looking for the warning signs and avoid making a decision you may regret. You can then tell the teachers in your current school: ‘Teach there! You’re having a laugh!”.

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