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Friday, August 19, 2011

The Interview II, in which My Kids Become a Concern

by Life in Limbo

Well, at least it didn’t last six hours. Nope, this principal managed to get me in and out in less than an hour. I must commend her efficient use of time. (Seriously.) 

This was the second “job fair” related interview I was recently invited to, and on the surface, it seemed like a good fit--the principal was engaging and expressed what appeared to be a genuine interest at the “job fair” and came pretty close to offering me the job on the spot. The school was a new school which required interested students to apply. At the “job fair,” the principal said that she wanted her literacy coach to meet with me before she offered me the position because she doesn’t like to appear to be ignoring the input of her advisers. 

As usual, I arrived at the school about fifteen minutes before my scheduled time and was escorted into the principal’s office shortly thereafter, and introduced to the Literacy Coach.  All was looking good until this principal mentioned that she saw on my resume that I have another skill that she imagined could possibly be the makings of an after-school club or activity. I responded that I would gladly consider this as a per-session assignment and that it would probably be more fun than work. 

Her entire demeanor changed as soon as I said, “per-session.” She said, “Now you know in these times that budgets are tight. I heard you say that you would do this per-session, but I am wondering if you would still be as enthusiastic about this if we could not pay you.” I went on to explain that I already do this activity after school and on weekends and that I am paid when I do. I told her that volunteering my time instead of being paid would impact my availability as I would be hesitant to give up a paying gig only to replace it with an unpaid one--this would be the equivalent of taking a pay cut. Her face froze at that point, and the temperature in the a/c-free room dropped by at least 20 degrees. 

She changed the subject abruptly and asked me, “As the parent of young children, I have to ask if your parenting responsibilities and child care situation would prevent you from being able to fully devote yourself to doing whatever it takes to move this school forward.” (I have no idea how she knew I have kids, though she may have seen my “Happy Mother’s Day” bookmark when she came to greet me. It was a gift from my 10 year-old.) I told her that I have always been able to do my job and get my work done while balancing my outside responsibilities. She pursued the topic, saying that teachers need to be “flexible” about working hours and willing to make the students at her school their first priority at all times, and she wondered how I could commit to that while parenting young children. I reminded her that I have always managed do quality work and that my family situation is really not relevant to the conversation at the moment. (Actually, it’s illegal to ask questions like this in an interview; I was trying to be polite.) 

The next topic was instruction. I was asked to describe a typical lesson. My last school used the Reading/Writing Workshop model. I sketched out the components of the workshop, including an Independent reading activity each day. She looked at me coldly and said, “Well, I guess we can say that we will have to work with you on your rigor. Our students don’t have time at the end of a lesson for any “independent work.” When I said that my last school specifically told us to include independent work in each lesson, she ignored it. Instead, she went on to say that the fact that I included independent work showed a lack of academic rigor on my part and that I would certainly need to be brought up to speed on what it means to have high expectations. (Sounded like she was setting me up for a U-rating right there--“You know Ms. Limbo, I had concerns about your academic rigor when you interviewed…” At the very least it was clear that I could expect a zillion snapshots to assess my “rigor”.) 

Needless to say, I was not surprised to get a phone call from the Literacy coach saying that they found a “better” candidate. Not “more suitable.”  Just “better.” Hey, I have to say she showed a bit of class there. Usually no one calls back. 

I find it curious that everything seemed to be going swimmingly until I hesitated to work after school for free and refused to discuss my child care situation with her. The fact that I knew that she can’t insist that I work for free or ask me about my kids/child care situation clearly ticked her off. 

The bottom line? I have a nagging feeling that I was denied this position because I am hesitant to give up a paid after-school job in order to do the same job at her school for free, and because my role as a parent made me less likely to stay late/arrive early in accordance with her whims. I love teaching, I really do. But I refuse to be anyone’s martyr.


  1. You have got to be, excuse my French, f***ing kidding me? This cannot be real! Although I know it is....

    These NYC DOE principals are thoroughly disgusting. In this Bloomberg era they have an air of total invincibility that makes me weak in the knees.

    Although disheartening try to look at the bright side: your are tenured and locked into the system for the time being.

    Just imagine running into one of these monsters as a untenured teacher. I did and have been unemployed for the past two school years. Looks like it may be a third one.....I have cried many rivers. It has been H-E-L-L!!!!

    Stay strong.

  2. Now that the principal didn't hire you, please report her about those unethical questions regarding your children. You cannot let her get away with this. Those questions, as you stated, are illegal.

  3. This is going on everywhere. This is the fruit of the reform movement. It's not about kids, it's about getting teachers to work for free. The principals are just insane. I recently taught summer school where the principal thought that after a 5 hour day with no break I might want to conference with kids for a half hour. No, instead I'd really like to go to the bathroom, if that's alright. Keep writing. I am really enjoying reading. Unfortunately, it confirms my suspicion that there are no sane people left running schools.

  4. Are you KIDDING? There's been NO per-session at ANY school for the last 2 years -- and yet after-school programs have gone on, because those of us in the trenches have tightened our belts. Oh, but you CAN'T be expected to give up your other job, can you? I support ATR's, I especially think that principals trying to hire them should only be charged avg salary out of their budgets -- but this entitled, and all-too-common, notion that you're too good to do the same work as the rest of us (and why should you? you get paid regardless, indefinitely) is really grating.

  5. You know, I'll bet you anything this principal, assuming she has children, puts them before anything else in her life. I can't stand it when these jerks tell teachers that their students must be their top priority at all times (above their own children). It is so easy for them to delegate and have unrealistic expectations of their teachers but hold themselves to different standards.

    The job cannot be your life. Your students cannot be your top priority over your own children and it is ludicrous to even hint at that out loud! Mothers in my building will just up and leave if they get a call that their child is sick - and deal with the principal later (and our principal has been known to "punish" when teachers' kids get sick too often for his liking). That's just what parents do.

    I'm sorry you had such a lousy interview and that you're in this tough situation. I hope you find something that is tolerable (because that's all we can hope for as teachers). I'll keep my fingers crossed for you! :)

  6. Anon 8/20 1:46

    Are YOU kidding? You're absolutely right - I CAN'T give up a job that pays me money in order towork for free, especially after three years of no raises. I am sure you have no idea what it's like to support a family of 5, even with two decent, public service incomes. So, yes, why should I work for free when I can be paid for the same activity? If the shoe were on the other foot, I doubt you would choose martyrdom, either.

    There is per session money available, by the way. Many principals, however, as offering per session only to friends and butt-kissers, usually on the "down-low". I was paid per session for a few things last year. What is paid for and what is not is a reflection of the principal's priorities.

    As far as working for free goes, I maintain that per-session money will continue to be scarce BECAUSE people like you CHOOSE to work for free. As a manager (in my life before teaching), I would NEVER pay for what I did not have to. Same goes with the DOE - they will NEVER allocate more for after-school per session if they see that the teachers will do it for free "for the children". If you choose to give in to the emotional blackmail about being in it 'for the kids' no matter what, that is certainly your right. But keep in mind that the DOE will never "buy the cow if the milk is free". It is teachers like you that ensure that NO ONE will be paid after school.

    It is not me (and teachers like me) who are cheating the kids - it is the DOE that refuses to fund the programs that kids need because heaven forbid the millionaires pay just a liile more in taxes. By working for free, you are enabling this unfair situation.

    While I like my job, it is my JOB. My PROFESSION. I work because they pay me to. I believe my time is valuable. If you feel your time has no value, feel free to carry on as you do.

  7. I don't think any principal has the right to tell a teacher that the school comes before family. Work of any kind should never come before family.

    I wonder if you could call the chapter leader and just ask if it's common in that school that teachers work after-school for free. I would sincerely doubt it unless they are given other perks to make up for it (which you should have been offered) if that is the case.

  8. Anonymous 8:21, it is very naive to expect union and contractual rules to do anything about administration that has had its way since Bloomberg took over and with the consent of the UFT 2005 contract. Union reps do not have much leverage as their jobs and positions are on the line and they are the most common people in what used to the rubber rooms. The only thing that all teachers can pray for is reprive when this businessman turned city bureaucrat leaves NYC after destroying it under his 3 term streak.

  9. Have to admit this is why I'm hesitant to go back to teaching. I've been told it would be a shame if I left the profession, especially by my former principal, but I just remember working an eighty-hour week (yes, those five hour stretches with no bathroom break and then tutoring all through lunch, etc.) then getting screamed at by parents that I was neglecting their child. Can't take it when I have my own kids at home.

  10. Your account echoes the issues in the judge's decision, a couple of days earlier, in favor of Bloomberg L.P.
    "Judge Helps Bloomberg Score Big Hit Against Working Mothers"
    I've drawn the sickening parallels in this post:

  11. Thanks, NY_1. I saw your link, above, and I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to help you make your point. Bloomberg and his proteges are nothing if not consistent.

  12. To Life in Limbo, 8/24 at 12:05 AM--

    As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." The lesser-known end of the quotation says that consistency is "adored by little statesmen." How did old Ralph W. know that Bloomberg would be short?

  13. If you think that's bad, try a 'right to work' state like Georgia. We don't get paid for clubs/activities after school. We might get paid for certain tutoring programs. And, add insult to injury: several years and two school ago, in the very first faculty meeting (after school) of the year in a brand new school, we went till 6:30. When one of the parents of young children asked to be excused to pick up her youngsters from after care (you get charged for being late, of course- they don't work for free either), the esteemed principal announced "I don't care about your children". I had walking pneumonia at Christmas I taught there, and had to fight to be able to go to the doctor during my end of day planning period. She used to tell us in meetings that we needed to schedule our emergencies for more convenient times, and it was only half joking. She felt there were no limits, and I respectfully disagreed, and told her so. After 2 years of her lunacy, I left and went to a neighboring disctrict. Funny how none of us could get a transfer that year... I'm much better off now.

  14. Unfortunately, Theresa, stories like yours are common here in the unionized places as well. I was once brought to task for taking a day after spending all night in the ER with a toddler with croup (said toddler is now the 10 y/o mentioned above), with an infant in tow. I got home at 6:30 a.m. exhausted, brought papers from the ER the next day to document my absence. I was called into the principal's office, who said that this was not an excuse for an absence as I was home in time to get to work. He said, "If you were home by 6:30, that's plenty of time to take a shower, make coffee and come to work. Eat a bagel in the car if you're hungry. 'Tired' is not a 'medical' condidion, so you needed to suck it up and come to work." The then went on to mention another absence three months before. I mentioned that I documented that my other child had strep throat and needed to go to the doctor, again, documented. He said, "It seems that YOUR kids are becoming MY problem. I have enough problems. I don't need your problems. If you can't both work and meet the needs of your kids, quit and stay home. But the only kids I expect you to worry about are the 1,000 kids in this building, because that's all I care about. When you are here, your kids don't exist. I don't want to hear about your kids again. That is all. You may go back to your classroom."

  15. Anonymous 1:46, you have clearly been lied to. Per-session still exists in many schools, including mine. This past year we had an after school program that ran nearly the entire school year. We also had a Saturday school program. Further, one of my colleagues racks up so much per-session as the "data specialist" that the principal had to get a waiver on his behalf. We are not required to work after school programs. If you choose to, with or without pay, that is your personal choice. Please do not degrade someone who chooses not to do so.