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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Interview Tale #3, in Which the ATR Teacher Unwittingly Joins an Encounter Group

by Life in Limbo

Given that I’ve not much on my plate right now other than waiting out a fairly rockin’ storm (with a very nice Merlot) as my children quietly sleep in their beds and friends bunk on my futon, a trip down memory lane seems apropos. 

So let’s travel back in time. 

All the way to June. 

The invitation to this interview came in an e-mail, the day before the actual interview (hey, thanks for the advance notice, guys!). As it was a school that looked promising, both location- and subject-wise, I hastily made plans to have my kids schlepped to their activities without me. Seeing that the e-mail said, “Expect to stay until 5:00,” I tossed an extra yogurt and granola bar in my lunch tote that morning, programmed my GPS for later, and headed off, resumes in hand. 

When I arrived at New World Widget Academy (co-located in Old World High School, which is in the process of phasing-out), we were separated into groups of about 10 and given a tour of the building by some of the staff. What struck me most was that every single staff member (even the administration) looked to be under 30. They were all wearing tank tops, t-shirts, or lanyards with the names of their colleges – Columbia, Fordham, Penn State. 

All the doors of the school were festooned with Ivy League college banners and it was easy to tell the NWWA rooms from the OWHS rooms – the NWWA rooms were freshly painted and equipped with SMART Boards, the OWHS rooms were shabby and equipped with scarred blackboards and (I think) some chalk. The NWWA science labs were chock full of lab equipment and expensive-looking microscopes, but OWHS’s labs looked broken and empty.  My “tour guide” proudly talked about how the NWWA will be taking over more and more of the building as OWHS phases out. She seemed giddy about usurping a school that has a long history in the community. I found it to be profoundly sad. 

After our guided tour, we were brought in to classrooms and given a brief description of the school, its population, and its mission (in NWWA, apparently, EVERYONE poops rainbows and spits butterflies!). Lots of talk about “rigor,” “high expectations” and “data.” Then, after the 10-15 minute speech, she said, ‘If anyone here feels that New World Widget Academy is not a place for them, if they feel that they are not up to the task, this is your time to leave. Please feel free to go now and it will not be held against you.” No one left. What a surprise. 

The next step, we were told, was a group interview. We were brought into a conference room and instructed to sit around a conference table, while three administrators encircled us on the perimeter. As I looked around I saw about 12-15 people, mostly newbies, one obviously newly-excessed veteran teacher, and a few apparent veterans. One of the administrators (all under 35, I would say), said that we would be asked a series of questions and we would go around the table taking turns answering them. 

I was surprised when the questions turned out to me more along the lines of a group therapy session than a job interview. I was asked, “Describe a favorite toy from childhood and tell us what made it so special to you” and “Tell us about a time in your life where you suffered an extreme disappointment and how you overcame it.” My favorite was, “Tell us about a person in your past who had a profound influence in making you the person you are today.” Another was, “Tell us about when someone you love disappointed you in a big way and how you it made you a stronger person.” I felt like I was caught in an impromptu group therapy session. And I didn’t like it one bit. It was also getting near 6p.m. and I was feeling light headed from lack of food, as the yogurt and granola bar were now a distant memory. 

I found this entire process degrading and offensive. I left feeling violated and dirty. I had no idea WHAT these questions had to do with my ability to teach a class, let alone why I had to answer them in front of a group of strangers. If I want to discuss my childhood difficulties, or bare my soul to a group of strangers, I’d hire a therapist, who has a legal obligation to keep her mouth shut. When the question about the “disappointing person in your life” was asked, I was SOOO tempted to have a little fun and make up a story about how my mom was a Valium addict and my dad was a drunk who sent me out to turn tricks when I was 10 so he could buy gin. I even thought about making myself break down and cry – just to see the look on their faces, just for laughs. Seriously, by the time they got to the last question, I was ready to tell them to take their sanctimonious bull **** and shove it where the sun don’t shine. If they had asked one more question, I probably would have. 

The final step in this degrading process was the writing sample. I have been teaching for a total of 14 years, I have a degree in English Literature, I am a published author, I am a certified Literacy Specialist, and I have to turn in a WRITING SAMPLE to “ensure that you can write in a scholarly manner.” The topic was “The Perfect Lesson.” Make me vomit. 

I never heard from that school. Good riddance I say. When I got home, after 7 p.m, I sketched out the basics of this experience to my husband, and asked, “Is that bottle of wine from the other day still around? Because I could really use a glass.” 

“A glass?” he said, “I think you need to finish the bottle.” 

That’s love.


  1. Disgusting. Never any relevant questions. Non-sequitur crap which is out of some pop corporate psychology book. They had their minds made up.

    Age discrimination continues, no one stands up. Wake up folks. It is happening all over the U.S.

  2. I also went through a similar gour interview last year at Crenshaw High SChool in Los Angeles. The principal had "fooled" participants by having them come in at staggered 1/2 hour intervals. My appointment was at 1 pm but the other two had appointments at 1:30 and 2:00 pm but then interview didn't take place until 2:30 pm! I kept getting excuses about why she was late!
    Then it turned out to be a group interview with her , her side kick and a teacher who looked to be about 23!!
    It turned out the principal is a total b$#@ch. I nearly walked out of that interview

  3. Whenever they talk about "rigor," I think of rigor mortis.

  4. The admins are sick. The buzzwords you mentioned are pervasive. Whoever led that torture session of hiring should be banned from running a school.

    The story reminds me of when I visited one such school for an interview. In an experience out of 1984, I asked a teacher for directions to x room, after we turned a corner, out of sight of anyone, she paused our walk, and said, "avoid this place. It's awful, there's rampant age discrimination. It's a miracle I made it in here."
    Same scenario you described, newbie teachers, enthusiastically mulling about the halls, all under 30.
    Gimme my first weeks teaching, when older teachers and admins were initially wary of me, for being from New England or not from a CUNY school. They eventually became supportive colleagues.

  5. I tale a certain amount of solace in the fact that these power drunk hotshots will one day commit the crime of having a child or celebrating their 40th birthday. Then what is coming around will certainly go around and they will see their world turned upside down. Karma is a, well, you know.

    I have begun a program in educational leadership (because I know I will never get another classroom position ever). So the line from the "Glee" song "Loser Like Me" comes to mind, "I just shake it off/ I'll get you back when I'm your boss".

  6. It is amazing how power drunk and/or hungry the city has been. They have implored the principals that if you are close to 30 years of age, have a child or dare I say have full pay, then you are deemed not a proper 'fit.' I am in my early 30's and have no shot at a position. The ATR label is worse than the scarlet letter. I am now going to tape record every interview so when they ask me if I have children or other illegal questions, I have proof.

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