Total Pageviews

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dumped ATR endures an interview

Dumped ATR, a rising star in the blogosphere, submitted this piece about a recent job interview she endured.  Her angst should be familiar to all ATR teachers who have had to put themselves up for sale after their successful careers took a wrong turn. 

At 6:25 AM, it became clear to me that I could not go to my Assigned School before my interview. My first coverage would be at 7:10, and while I could get there, there was still the question of which white shirt underneath the stunning jacket, and which texture of pants matched it and was comfortable. And then, how much cover-up to use over my middle-aged acne. So, I called in. 

I'd already arranged for someone to drive me to the school and back from my assignment so I re-arranged things and left from home. When I got in the car, I was calm, had a packet of materials ready and was reading articles on best practices on my cell phone. There was a bottle of water in my backpack. (It's a really slick- looking and expensive, if huge bag, and it can hold everything a teacher might need in the Gaza strip while still managing to flash its trendy label in an offhanded, but visible way.) I was fairly ready and was even able to dodge the pushy car service driver's questions about my likelihood of getting the job, disability and, of course, why I DO NOT HAVE A POSITION yet. When I need to be someplace absolutely smoothly, I use this one driver, who unfortunately is a cross between Stanley Kowalski and the legendary Kramer on Seinfeld. No, I don't have a car, yes, I live very far out in the boroughs and I neither have cable nor own property, which is how I can afford this occasional luxury. 

I was 20 minutes early, but decided to go in as the school was on another edge of the borough, which was as residential and desolate as the one in which I live. Neither the guard nor the initial secretary was expecting me, but out from a corner of the office, a voice and hand waved me over to a chair in which I was to wait for someone. The AP arrived and was cordial and our meeting was held in a quiet room which may or may not be his office. We discussed the school's areas of needs and seemed to be on the same page, but his demeanor was emotionless. He read from a checklist of questions and I started to freeze. What do I say about the "common core"? Basically, it's about deepening reading comprehension, writing, presentation, preparing kids for college. I forgot all about the fact that it emphasizes debate which is something I always encourage. Then he asked about some other practices, which I genuinely felt should be mixed: I enjoy letting students use technology, but I like to guide them, etc. Team teaching? Been doing it since 2004. College Readiness? Taught "College Now," prepared kids for entrance exams, etc. 

The harsh edges started to show; I push kids on college: "What do you think you will do if you don't go, what is your plan?" I'm not fluffy and dreamy, though I do want kids to do what they want to do. It's just not in me, in this economy, to start to sing, "Climb every mountain" to graduating classes. Your dream may have been outsourced to China. You'll find it, but, good luck having quality of life while pursuing it. (I didn't say this, but this tone started to appear.) I couldn't tell then why he was becoming further cold. I have a track record with preparing kids for college and the Regents, but I couldn't bring myself to do more than just mention it, like a laundry list. It's not natural for me to fill the air with optimism, especially when I'm not getting eye contact. This is a skill I need to learn.

Then he gave me a sample of student work and asked me how I would help this student. He was fidgeting and cleaning and I could tell he wanted me to think quickly. It wasn't hard, but I only said what I would do to help the kid with the immediate tasks in front of him. I forgot the big picture--how would I get him to a solid Regents score. Truth be told, the work showed a lot of potential, but this would take weeks and lots of scaffolding of skill upon skill. In order for there to be some organic integration of these skills so that they are not just memorized and lost after the test, it would take some time. I was afraid to say this. The paper was presented as that of a stronger member of the bottom third. I was afraid I would insult someone. Even worse, I couldn't decide if I should re-write all my corrections on a post-it, right there, to show I could do it. Yes, I have about 100 post-it's in my bag. Stupidly, I thought, "this guy is pretty smart, he knows what I'm getting at." However, what I didn't realize is I was supposed to be modeling exactly how I would work with this student. One thing I told the interviewer that I needed to do was TALK to the kid for a few minutes. I do have a standard operating procedure, however, for whipping kids like this one into shape: graphic organizers, outlines and a pretty rigid set of rules about what work MUST be shown. 

What I forgot is that the interviewer doesn't know me. That he isn't going to take anything for granted; if I presented a strategy for improving Regents scores earlier, and indeed, handed him a packet of materials with many of the methods I would use with this kid, that would still not be enough. It had to be articulated again. He needed to see it step-by-step and for me to say that I would not stop until the standard had been reached. Since I began the interview talking about bringing scores up above 75, I didn't really think about it. I took for granted that anyone who had discussed what we had earlier would not stop at one re-working of the assignment. It would need about 5, as we need time, after shaping the logic and applying formulas to make sure that there aren't tiny errors that will give us a wrong answer or leave a section incomplete. I find it's easy to do that with students once we have the larger picture done. I could go one about this for hours, but I absolutely couldn't in that moment. What needed to be done to the assignment as it stood was clear and simple (though it involved re-working about 3/4 of the work.) So, that's what I addressed. 

Comedian Howie Mandel
At the time, I had no idea why disgust began to fill the air. He was now not only cold, but condescending. "Well, (insert Howie Mandel hand gestures) we have a few more candidates to interview. But, we will let you know, either way." He was letting me down easy, but firmly. Then, as he headed for his next class, he asked me if I could find my way out and I lied and said I could. When I got a third of the way down the hall, I asked a kid who directed me to the right staircase. And, I vanished. 

If I was supposed to get there at 10:40 and he had a class at 11:00, were they really just going to give me 20 minutes? It was a "sore loser" question, but what I held onto as I got back into the car and refused to talk about it. 

I knew about a third of the way down that hall what I hadn't done. The big picture. Context. Not to mention that I was conscious of the shoulders of my jacket and was desperate to take it off and just sit, as he did, in my clean white shirt and pants and get down to basics--what do these kids really need. However, this interview process and my own anxiety have locked me in a posture that matches the lockjaw I feel as I answer questions. I don't trust myself because, even though I am up to speed on the dogma, I'm afraid I will present my work using language which has been uprooted long ago, though I know exactly what the "goals" are supposed to be. Heck, I helped a young teacher design a bulletin board which showed how her work matched the levels of Bloom's taxonomy. Why couldn't I think "in the moment"? I take the blame for freezing, being out of practice perhaps, and not being more aggressive about what I know. 

It's just, he didn't look at me. He looked at his checklist. I felt like I was at the doctor's and he was reading off a list of diseases and checking "Yes" or "No" if any of my relatives or I had them. I tried to assume we had some common language, but he didn't say much back. There was a bit of sarcasm in his voice after I presented my packet of materials which I designed around the data from the school's progress report. "And now, I have some questions for YOU." We weren't talking. We were presenting rehearsed attitudes. In my case, I was presenting and internally debating whether to present. He had his agenda, he stuck to it, and he moved the old lady along in time to give his Mid-Term. I tried to make some conversation as I left, but his face soured. My time was up.

Eerie, to think of it as "time being up." It was a psychologist's session. More like a survey. 

The morning desperately needed Richard Dawson. Or some injection of emotion from one of us.

NEWS FLASH: A day after this article was submitted to NYCATR, Dumped ATR sent us a follow-up message.

Despite the antiseptic nature of the meeting, I did get called back for a demo lesson. In fact, they told me that I gave an excellent interview. Perhaps a lot of my feeling of disappointment came from the unease of being an ATR. If I weren't so afraid, maybe I'd have been able to feel some level of comfort, even within that clinical format.

Picture credits:


  1. Nice post. Do you have a link to the Dumped ATR blog? Thanks! (I promise I'll come back to NYC ATR)

  2. As far as I know, Dumped ATR's only home is NYCATR. Sit back and relax.

  3. Supporter of great teachersJanuary 27, 2012 at 10:11 PM

    This was one of the most honest nd self reflecting pieces I've read since following this blog. The fact of the matter is you hit it on the head. That principal did not know you and it was your job to demonstrate your experience which you did not even give yourself enough credit for. Hope your demo went well and it sounds like you would be a great asset to students. Be encouraged and don't give up.

    As for most of the self-entitled draconian attitudes of you teachers sitting back waiting to collect your pensions, you all are excellent writers. This blog is entertaining and you should all consider switching careers.

    Damn shame that in an urban district you refer to students with obvious socio-economic issues as gangstas. Wonder how many kids ended up in jail because they never had a teacher who was tenacious and cared. Go look for a job on Long Island or back to tottenville for the Nirvana you desperately seek.

  4. Dear Supporter of Great Teachers,
    Out of a total of 177 posts on this blog, I found 3 uses of the word "gangsta." Perhaps this offends you, but it doesn't seem to bother my students, who have used it literally hundreds of time in a little over 100 days of school. It is an unfortunate fact that many inner-city children have great respect for the "gangsta" lifestyle and they copy their mode of dress and of speech. It is also an unfortunate fact that many of these children, as they move into middle-school and high-school, actually become members of the Crips, the Bloods, and many other gangs. It is absurd to suggest that a blog written by NYC public school teachers should never admit to this truth about many of our students.