Career development: Where are you headed?

Written by: Gerald Haigh | Published:
Photo: iStock

Is this the year when you will make that next step up the ladder? Or are you set on staying as you are? Gerald Haigh offers some advice

How do you feel as you start the new school year? What challenges lie ahead? Ofsted? A difficult timetable? New exam regulations? There’s too much to take in at once, that’s for sure, and meanwhile there are children to be taught, right here and now, and they do tend to push most other considerations to one side.

Let me remind you, though, of the old seafaring rule which says: “One hand for the ship, one for yourself.”

At sea, it’s a principle that can save your life. In school, it reminds you always to be conscious of your own health and welfare – and an important part of that involves having some idea of, and control over, where your career is headed.

So, is this the year when you will make that next step up the ladder? Or are you set on staying as you are, at least into the following year? Either way forward is fine just so long as you have thought it through.

Suppose, for example, that you have no plans to move on. You are on top of your job, children respond well to your approach, colleagues respect and support you, there’s a good buzz about you in the community. The classroom is your natural home, and leadership has no attractions. You, and the many like you, are at the heart of the profession.

All the same, these are fast-changing times. So don’t let the comfort zone become complacency street. By all means carry on as you have done for years – but at the same time keep your antennae raised and alert for signals. Are there curriculum changes in the wind that could threaten the status or nature of your subject? Are there likely to be any Ofsted-related repercussions coming? Might those supportive senior leaders suddenly depart? Could the school go through a dramatic structural change, or even close?

No, you can’t prevent any of it, and in the end all might be well, but let’s just say that in recent times some people, at all levels of the profession, have had their lives turned upside down. So it is best to concentrate on making sure that you have some options ready, by keeping up-to-date with your CPD, understanding and supporting innovation, and seizing any chance of broadening your experience across age and ability groups.

You should also keep in touch with the job market, reading the adverts, occasionally sending for the details. “Is this the kind of job I could do?” Really, it’s just ensuring that you remain competitive, with a good chance of a place in the lifeboat – and you’ll be doing no harm at all to your performance and reputation even if you stay on.

But what if you are determined to move to something better? First, be sure you’re moving for the right reasons. Especially in those early years of climbing the ladder, it is easy to be driven by the related motives of envy and impatience because the people who came into the job with you seem to be leaping ahead.

All too often (and I fell for this one) you then apply for everything in sight and (again this is me) end up desperately unhappy, in a post for which you are suited neither by temperament nor basic competence.

Then, of course, there’s the haste that’s driven by desperation – you dislike your current job so much that you’d do anything to get out. Really? Anything? Even sign up to a job you’ll like even less? So, be patient.

A couple of years either way hardly matters in the long term. And then, much of the same basic advice applies – keep up-to-date, embrace change, expand your experience, and be even more aware of the job market.

Once the decision to go for a change of job is made – usually promotion, but there are lots of other good reasons for moving – a whole lot of decisions and actions click into place.

There’s a long drawn-out and demanding process of searching the market, reading advertisements and details, filling application forms, finding referees, and visiting schools. Then, of course, there’s the dreaded business of the interview process. One of the key messages, which I think every job-seeker, in any walk of life, not just teaching, should regard as a mission statement for the interview, is: “It’s not about you; it’s about their job and whether you can do it.”

Now that should be obvious; but ask anyone involved in recruiting teachers and they’ll give you plenty of examples of candidates who have failed to grasp the point.

It shows, for example, in letters of application which consist of a long list of personal and professional achievements, with the word “I” scattered as if from a pepper pot, and no attempt made to relate any of it to the clearly set-out job details, that the candidate has apparently ignored.

Quite often, this error is compounded by the inclusion of a separate CV. For many posts, candidates are specifically asked not to send a CV, a request that’s frequently ignored.

Heads tell of long, inconsequential descriptions, sometimes in the form of PowerPoint presentations. One head I spoke to told me of a CV that included the candidate’s wedding photographs. Nobody reading this would perpetrate such solecisms of course.

But it’s very easy to stray from that essential mission statement, which is why all application letters and interview preparation sessions need to be constructed with the job details to hand, so that all the points can be covered, methodically and factually.

But finally, let me just say again, because it bears the repetition, whatever you decide this year about your career, make sure your reasons are positive and well-thought-out, flexible enough to deal with the unexpected setback or opportunity, and based on as much knowledge as you can gather.

And remember, if you do make a misjudgement, it’s not the end of the world. I had 10 full and part-time teaching jobs. Individually they were not all happy episodes, but the big picture was a good and satisfying one, and in my new book I try to use the range of my experience to help all of you as you make your way in the best job in the world.

  • Gerald Haigh was a teacher in primary, secondary and special schools for 30 years, 11 of them in headship. You can find him on Twitter @geraldhaigh1. His new book – Good Ideas for Good Teachers Who Want Good Jobs – is out now (ISBN: 9781845909512).


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