We are an equal opportunity employer… LOL!

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.


9 thoughts on “We are an equal opportunity employer… LOL!

  1. Seems harsh and not what one would expect in the interests of equal opps in education. However, it’s a buyer’s market and therefore I guess employers will justify any means they see fit to use in order to separate out the wheat from the chaff. A sad sign of the times I feel.

    1. Hi Heather, yes I agree, but do you think it was really any different at other times? My own view is that people have always been good at disguising their preferences and prejudices and we have all had our suspicions when internal applicants are appointed that employers are “going through the motions.” Thanks for your comment – I’m going to write a series on this topic, so keep an eye on the blog. I’d appreciate your insights on future posts. Thanks again.

  2. I am not sure this is about ‘prejudices’. Teachers teach children good use of English – it is a very important part of the curriculum. The first thing they need for this task is to be able to use English well themselves. If they can’t do that, or don’t use the strategies to make sure that they do, then how can they teach well? Would you want a driving instructor who kept crashing their car?

    1. Thanks for that Mike – good points. First about whether the blog is really about prejudice, I think you’re right that maybe these heads are simply ‘discriminating’ on the basis of issues relevant to the practise of the job – and discrimination on the basis of rational judgment is no bad thing. Second, you raise an issue for me which I think has wider implications and that is specific competence and how it relates to general competence. I am always amazed that people like Richard Branson for sample, even Winston Churchill to a lesser extent suffered from dyslexia or difficulties with reading and yet their wider competence in running a business or leading a country in crisis is (and was) exemplary. But as competent as they were in other fields, they were not teachers, and your point about the driving instructor hammers that home – specific competence within the areas of one’s professional domain are essential if confidence in the practitioner, let alone the profession, is to be maintained.
      Thanks again Mike!

  3. Thanks, Alan, happy new year. Your reference to dyslexia is interesting. Where I work, some teacher-training students are registered as having dyslexia, and clearly have difficulties with the reading and writing aspects of their course. However, the same standards apply as with other students – their work, both at the university and in school, needs to be well informed and correct.

    The expectation is that such students will develop and use strategies in order to meet these standards – for example, preparing work well in advance, making use of a spellcheck and similar, working with a specialist dyslexia tutor to whom they have access. Some may also have a scribe for taking notes and be allowed extra time with written examinations. They may need to continue to make use of such strategies when they work as qualified teachers, as is often the case for teachers with a disability.

    It would be interesting to hear the perspectives of any teachers or students who have a disability of some kind.

  4. I think this is fair. It’s stiff competition trying to get a teaching job and if you’re not going to make the effort to proof read your application thoroughly then you aren’t making enough effort. Who wants a teacher working at their school who isn’t going to put the effort in?

    1. Thanks for that misssykes90 – I agree, though you’d be surprised how many people still do it. Competition is very tough out there… why make it easier for your competitors to beat you a job you may be the best person for just because of some stupid easily corrected errors? Thanks for the post.

  5. I think it’s entirely fair. I spent many hours filling out my application forms, checking and rechecking. It shows care and a genuine interest in the job, anything less shouldn’t be competition against someone who feels this way.

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