While the teaching profession has in my view, been at the forefront of changes in attitudes and behaviour that has brought about a more tolerant and inclusive society, it also includes people who can disguise as well as justify their prejudices.
If you a teacher looking for a new job, it’s best not to forget that, especially if you can do something to avoid being the object of someone else’s prejudice.
Some years ago, and at a time when the equal opportunities climate was at its steamy height, I was a senior teacher working with a headteacher one afternoon to shortlist a candidate for a new teaching job in the school. We had over thirty-five applications for the post – which at that time, was a lot. In those days people tended to hand-write their application forms and mail them as hard-copies, even though word-processing was widely in use. I thought I was in for a long afternoon of painstaking reading and careful consideration of “person specification and competency based criteria” set against “evidence of experience and accomplishments” blah… blah… blah…
Instead the headteacher, who was a very experienced, kind-hearted and fair woman, said to me “Alan, watch this…”
She then set about sifting the pile of forms stacked up on her desk. Each application was being glanced at momentarily and then in turn, either being laid carefully on her desk or being dropped unceremoniously in the waste paper bin at the side of it.
I watched, but there was no pattern to her judgment. One on her desk… the next two in the bin… the next two on her desk… the next five in the bin… one on her desk… three in the bin… and so it went on, one after the other, apparently randomly.
About three quarters of the way through the pile I hadn’t worked out the pattern, so I said: “OK… I give up. What’s the secret?”
“O there’s no secret” she said. “But you’ve got to get down to a shortlist somehow. If some people can’t be bothered to write out their applications in handwriting that is legible and neat, I certainly can’t be bothered to try and read it. What’s more, I don’t want them in my school teaching handwriting or for that matter… anything else!”
If you think that wouldn’t happen now, you’re wrong.
Only a couple of years ago, I was visiting another headteacher in her office when she did something very similar. This time she had twice the number of applications and was doing her “first sift” as she called it by examining them for spelling mistakes. I recounted my story to her and she made a similar remark:
“She was right! If people can’t even be bothered to use a spell-checker, let alone proof read their own application form, then they don’t really want to work here. I’m not denying them the opportunity of a job. They’re ruling themselves out. ”
Is this prejudice? Or just common sense?
Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in February 2014.