Friday, 21 June 2019

Applying for a job and meeting professional criteria and essential attributes

Applying for a job and meeting professional criteria and essential attributes

While the following article was written with teaching in mind, the points made may well apply to a variety of other professions.

In recent years there have been several attempts to sum up, define and prescribe factors that make a “successful” teacher, including elements such as lesson format, structure, content, conduct and evaluation. Samples of these aspects were originally held up as examples of good practice to serve as inspiration but they became, successively, advised, expected and then compulsory. These aspects were readily identifiable, relatively mechanical and often quantifiable, and contributed to a standardised and regulated format which was no doubt intended to spread what was perceived as desirable practice but whose rigid application could equally stifle initiative, individuality and spontaneity.

This regimented approach (also applied to other areas of public service) almost inevitably led to the development of expected traits, skills and qualifications to be achieved in order to gain a post. Strict application of these criteria could also, conceivably, lead to a failure to recognise the work, value and “success” (depending on the definition of this term) of individuals whose particular skills and qualities were not taken in to account in the original listing of variables considered appropriate for the position. Such individuals may not meet the criteria set for “success” in the eyes of the authorities, yet they may have achieved a great deal with their charges. Indeed, it might even be the case that some who lack “essential attributes” or qualifications will more than compensate for this deficiency with other skills and qualities. It is probably a mistake to reduce a highly complex and inherently human undertaking such as teaching to a restricted and prescriptive series of factors to be incorporated and acknowledged in every lesson, and I’m sure the same might be said for a wide variety of professions.

A dogmatic and systematised approach may appeal to those who seek an easy solution to problems or who try to impose an order on things, but it may fail to take in to account attributes such as enthusiasm, willingness to learn, passion, dedication, insight and, perhaps most important, the ability to relate to and engage with others, all of which are virtually indefinable and unquantifiable, yet are recognisable and desirable and make the difference between the mundane and the memorable or effective and exceptional.

In 2010, concerned about diminishing standards in our education system, David Cameron (then leader of the opposition) seemed to entertain this highly structured and prescriptive approach when he suggested that only those with first class degrees should be allowed to train to become teachers in secondary education. For the first time in my life, I tried to contact an MP (the above-mentioned David Cameron, shortly before he became Prime Minister) to offer my thoughts:

Education is, indeed, one of the cores of our society, and there is much that can be improved within it. However, I must point out that insisting on good academic qualifications for new entrants is likely to do little (if anything) to improve the lot of the country’s pupils.

Academic qualifications do not a good teacher make. I totally agree that a teacher must know his/her subject, but that knowledge alone will not imbue a teacher with the skills necessary to transmit that subject or to instil interest and engagement. It is on this area that I suggest you focus attention if you truly wish to make a difference. Too often, teachers can appear superior and distant – accentuating teachers’ academic success only risks increasing that distance and may even attract the “wrong” type of applicant.

I quite agree that much needs to be done to restore the perceived value of the teaching profession, but emphasis on academic entrance qualifications is not necessarily the way forward. Much could be done in teacher training and within the curriculum itself – I would say that these aspects merit more urgent scrutiny than mere academic qualification.

I am certain I was not alone in suggesting he abandon this proposed policy and, to Mr Cameron’s great credit, this idea was quietly jettisoned.

Criteria, specifications and rules should be regarded as indicators or guidelines – standards offering a direction or a pathway toward an objective. When the letter of the law is adhered to rather than the spirit, limitations and restrictions will ensue and opportunities may be missed. Of course, this means that those who judge must display understanding and insight in their subject area (as opposed to merely following procedures), and must be able to see beyond the immediate in terms of the performance of the candidate.

Several years ago, I met a businessman named Mike, and in the course of a conversation he informed me that when choosing staff he rarely paid a great deal of attention to formal academic qualifications – he was much more interested in what he could glean of candidates’ characters and personal qualities to judge their suitability for a post with him. As a teacher I was accustomed to emphasising the value of qualifications, but I realised that Mike’s broader approach was sensible as, while exam success can indicate strength of character and determination, knowledge and skills can be acquired at various stages and in a variety of places but will always be tools in the hands of character and acumen.