What sort of things was happening towards the end of your PhD say in the last year?
In the last year I was getting more and more miserable more and more lonely, my tutor was encouraging me to apply for academic jobs, I was applying for some, I was getting rejected out right, I didn't know what I wanted to do um hence applied for a teaching job at a decent school. Third year I wanted to finish my PhD in three years which meant finishing it September 2003 so September 2003, before September 03, I was thinking 'right, what am I going to do then?' my tutor it just so happened was going on a sabbatical and was having two terms off and so his teaching needed to be covered and he was extremely supportive and really pushed for it which meant that the head of the department, and whoever decides these things, gave me a part-time lectureship. It was a point six position and that was for a year, so September '03 came I was still just finishing off my PhD and that came the same time I was starting this part-time lectureship which lasted until September 04. Finished the PhD during this part-time lectureship in January 2004 and then started to think 'what am I going to do while my part-time lectureship finishes' and that is when applied at a job at a school so that I thought 'I'm not too sure if I want to stay with academia, I'll have a look at schools.'
Did you apply for any jobs in academia?
Yes the school application came after some academia applications where I was just getting rejected out-right and then around the same time as applied for the first school I got an interview at a university and that's where I came second in that interview which I was quite relieved about because exactly almost the same week I had this interview at this school, I went to the interview at the school, didn't get the job but then a couple of weeks later there was a maternity cover that came up at the same school and they offered me that.
Were there any differences that you can remember between those two interviews, one for the academic post and one for the teaching in the school post?
Oh well I felt much more intimidated at the University one because it was kind of er, I had to give a presentation in front of about 10 lecturers, and then I had to be interviewed by three people in a panel including the vice chancellor um so that was pretty daunting and the other candidates seemed, you know, more qualified that me, written books etc. which I hadn't done, so I did feel very much, you know, I was amazed that I became runner up because I thought I didn't have a chance at all , um, in terms of the school I thought I was really well qualified but then as I said the first question the headmaster said to me 'are you applying for a joke because you're too over-qualified, you should be in academia.' But I was much more confident in the school job, the interviews were one-on-one, a series of five interviews one-on-one and then you taught a class and I was much more comfortable in that atmosphere.
Do you think that the academic background and the academic interview prepared you for that school interview?
Yes in a way in the academic interview…I'd never had anything as intense and quite as scary as that and so I think that would prepare me for any interview that came after because, yeah, I did a conference, a really big conference, having to do that plus the interview you know when your talking to professors who've been doing your subject for years, that I found extremely daunting, whereas you go to a school, they haven't got the same knowledge that you have so you can feel very confident.
So you didn't get the teaching job but shortly afterwards you were offered a maternity cover?
Yeah at the same school. Basically I think that I was a bit hard done by to be fair because there were two applicants, they interviewed two applicants for the school job and one of them used to go to the school and did the sport that they did which was rugby so I was kind of always in second place before the interview had even started I think. But yeah then was offered a maternity leave job in the summer term which meant that I was kind of going backwards and forwards because the school was a good two hour drive so I was teaching at that school and then also popping back to finish off my part-time lectureship in case of giving last minute revision lessons and also doing all the exam marking, so I mean it was quite stressful, it was quite a busy period.
How interesting, so you were straddling the academic world and the boarding school in the South?
Yup, yeah for a term. Which was quite hard work because one minute I was marking university exams, the next I was marking their last minute A-level exams and sometimes there didn't seem that much difference (laughter)
Yeah in terms of standards, at the boarding school I was at they were quite intelligent students, some of them. Some of them were far better than the exams I was marking for university. And I certainly picked up when I was teaching because some of these students at the school were exceptionally bright and had scholarships etc. and far brighter than the ones I had just taught at university, so one reason why I was encouraged to go to school was because some of the students are brighter than I'm going to find at university.
What happened after the period of maternity leave that you covered?
Right, I did the cover, really enjoyed the teaching, thought this is definitely for me so started looking for teaching jobs, the problem is that teaching jobs always come out in February/March because you have to give a terms notice so I was looking too late. I was just looking at the kind of stuff that was left. I did apply to a school, I did get offered a job, that was also a boarding school, but I wasn't sure I was going to be 100% happy so I decided to wait a year which means taking another year out and I was like 'ooooh in terms of CV there might be too many gaps here.' I did take a year out, I did a part-time teaching job at a London college, I drove the safety bus for my university and carried on doing the sporting and other activities and lots of different part-time jobs to make ends meet. I then waited for all the teaching jobs to come out in January/February which they did and obviously I had the pick of which school I wanted to go to.
In retrospect, was that year usefully spent and could you have done anything differently if you did it again or did it work out well for you?
It worked out quite well because I actually taught. At the London college I taught RS at A-level which looks as good on my CV because it's another subject I can offer. Perhaps I should have pushed myself to get some more coaching awards or something else to add to my CV but I mean I quite enjoyed the year, it was chilled out, there was no research, it was completely different from academia, I didn't have to think, I could just have a good year and I did that. The school I did maternity cover at, because there were no jobs, decent jobs coming out because they all get advertised earlier in the year i.e. February/March, someone at that school, the deputy-head, suggested I just write letters out, so I wrote letters, attached my CV, to schools that I thought it would be really good to work there. Couple of them sent snotty replies saying 'don't even bother writing to us, jobs will be advertised in the Times educational supplement.' But I got one school who did reply saying 'thank you for your letter; we'll keep it on record as there maybe a position coming up next year. We'll write to you again in the future', so I just left it at that and then started looking for other jobs in September because some schools do er put out adverts quite early. Found a really nice school, applied to it, got an interview, meanwhile, almost the same week my tutor received a phone call asking for a reference for me for the school that I'd written the letter to, so it all ended up that I went to an interview at the other school that I applied for and the school who phoned my tutor said 'whatever you do don't accept the job until you've spoken to us.' So I went for the interview at the initial school, was offered the job, asked for 24hours to think about it, then told the other school that I'd been offered it, ended up going from the interview from the first job, rushing to the other school, the headmaster interviewed me and also offered me a job so within 24hours I had been offered two jobs and had to pick which one I was going to take.
Were you able to play one of against the other a little bit?
Er yeah I think I got lucky, especially in terms of pay because the typical question at a school is have you applied for any other jobs whilst you're sitting here being interviewed and I said 'yes, I've applied to another job and I've promised not to tell them, not to give you an answer until I've spoken to them.' And so all of a sudden the amount of wages I was going to start on rose by about three or four thousand pounds, and then the other school upped it even more so yeah I got very luck in that respect.
And in terms of going from one interview to another on the same day, in some ways you must have been buzzing coming out of the first interview. Did that help going into the second interview?
Because it happened so quickly, I didn't really have time to think about it which was quite good and it almost, because I came out of the first lot of interviews and was quite confident that I'd got it, I was quite relaxed in the second set so they probably saw the real me which was quite good, plus I didn't have to teach a lesson at the second school which is always the worst part of the interview, so yeah I was quite relaxed, I came out buzzing and I was on a real high.
And so did they tell you that day that you had got the job?
Er no but you can kind of guess and I thought it had gone really well and he said 'right, well I'll phone you tomorrow night and let you know.' He phoned me tomorrow night and offered me the job. I spent two years in my first school which I felt was about right. The school I went in initially was not that academically bright, the students were good but not excellent, which was quite nice in a way because just trying to find your way, find your feet in a first teaching job, is quite difficult, so I didn't feel that I was challenged too much and didn't have to do loads of wider reading outside. So, although I loved it at my first school, I was looking for perhaps more challenging, brighter students, plus I also wanted to move to London as my boyfriend lived in London and so I just waited for a school which combined the two and one did come up, I was fortunate in that respect.
And then how did that interview for that job compare?
In these boarding schools the interviews are very similar in that you get interviewed by five different senior management people and that went very well. There were a few gaps in my CV whilst I was perhaps having a gap year here, a gap year there, but as long as I could explain those away, which I think I did quite well, it was fine and again the PhD certainly helped because it put me on a level with any candidate who applied.
Did you ever apply for any other kind of jobs when you were doing your PhD or subsequently? I just wondered whether you'd considered anything other than teaching.
I was offered that kind of management thing in the sandwich shop. Whilst doing my PhD in the summer holidays, when I needed more money, I still worked in the sandwich shop and I was offered kind of management training scheme and that but I just wasn't interested.
Just because although it was good fun it wasn't mentally that taxing um I was also working with underprivileged children, working for that, I was offered the equivalent position I suppose it was sports development officer there but again although I loved it, I almost missed the history as well and just the mental challenge which teaching history still gives me.