Monthly Archives: May 2006

Adventures in Interviewing

SO! I had my third interview (I3) yesterday at the high school in my home town. I had really high hopes for this place in particular; it’s spittin’ distance from my house, I know someone who works there and, well, I just thought it’d be an ideal situation.

The thing is, though? I got a MUCH better vibe from the folks over at Interview Number Two, even though their school is a ten minute drive away and has a less-than-ideal reputation for both academic standards and teacher retention. I was greeted warmly, the interview was less of a question-and-answer session and more of a conversation, and the people I met with were really excited and enthusiastic about the work we do.

I took a lot of risks that seemed to pay off in I2 that didn’t go over as well in I3. One of the questions I was asked in I2 was what I would teach for the first week or so of classes. I told them that I wouldn’t teach anything the first week – that the first week is devoted to getting to know each other – building community and trust and establishing rules and guidelines for behavior, creating an environment where learning can happen. I spoke about how important it is that I know my students – their voices, their speaking and writing styles, what is important in their lives – in order to teach them effectively. One of my interviewers mentioned that I spoke a lot about how important it is for me to make connections with my students, and about how I find it difficult – and unnecessary – to separate my work as a teacher and my work as a parent. The interviewer noted that one of the reasons he wanted to interview me specifically is because of lines in my cover letter that say “an essential component of education is the growth and maturity that students gain along the way, and I take my responsibility as the adult in the classroom very seriously. The connections made in the classroom are, I believe, equally as important as the connections students make to literature.”

I’ve been told by a couple of people that this was a gutsy thing to put in my cover letter. CT told me that a lot of administrators would read those sentences and decide out of hand that I’m not the right candidate for their jobs, so I find it interesting and encouraging that this was something that caught the favorable attention of this group. The folks in I3 were less interested in how I would create a classroom and more in how well I could teach to the curriculum and how well I could integrate with the team of teachers assigned to guide freshmen through their first year in high school. They weren’t concerned with what I could do on my own, but whether or not I could fit in.

I’m not sure I want to fit in.

I haven’t heard anything from either place. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

**oh, and I almost forgot another gutsy risk I took in I2. At the end, interviewers ask you if there are any questions you have for THEM, and, well, I did. I brought up the fact that their school has a less than stellar reputation, that I’d heard that the academic standards were low and they had high teacher turnover. They were more than willing to talk to me about this; they admitted that, in the past, both those statements were true and talked about how hard they’ve been working to turn the school around. One of the interviewers – the one who told me he’d been intrigued by my cover letter – said that I might be able to find a better paying position, but I would be hard-pressed to find a more supportive and nurturing environment in which to work. I’m encouraged by that. I’m not in it for the money – I want a supportive and nurturing work enviornment. I’m really hoping they call me back.

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Interview, Number Two

I’m scheduled for an interview tomorrow – provided that the schools aren’t closed again because of rain (lots and lots of rain – we’ve even got lightning and thunder now, it’s all very exciting).

A friend of mine was scheduled for an interview tomorrow as well, at a different school – one that’s closed tomorrow. She’s approaching the process very differently than I am, and I’m trying to figure out a way to honor her need to feel in control while at the same time convincing her that she doesn’t NEED to know every answer to every question. It’s a delicate balancing act.

She’s got a packet put together to take with her to her interview. She’s looked up the course offerings for the school she’s interviewing for and has put together a bunch of lesson plans and materials lists and it seems like a really great idea to bring something like that along.

I don’t have anything like that.

I am approaching the interview process in a very different way. Of course, I could be approaching it all wrong, but I’m going to go with my gut on this one and believe that the Universe unfolds as it should.

I feel that my strongest selling point in an interview for a teaching job is just me and my enthusiasm for the work that I do. I don’t feel that handing out paper is really going to give the interview panel a good idea about who I am, or who I will be as a teacher in their school, and I’m not down with the idea of presenting myself as someone I’m not.

I’m pretty confident that I can answer most of the questions, but I don’t feel like I have to have a ready answer to every question; if someone got specific, I would be willing to admit that I have no experience teaching a particular novel or concept, but that my inexperience doesn’t phase me in the least – I see that kind of inexperience as a FANTASTIC opportunity to model for my students what good scholars do when they encounter something new. My belief that my job as a teacher is less about teaching the material and more about connecting with my students – and teaching them how to think – is something I am very confident about. I know where my strengths and weaknesses are, and I’m able to express them with a fair bit of eloquence.

I’m hoping that my confidence that I SHOULD be doing this job will be enough to convince the panel that I should be doing the job for THEM.

I’ll let you know when I have news, one way or the other.

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A First Time for Everything

We had a rain day today. Not a snow day, mind you, but a rain day. As a matter of fact, two hundred and ninety three closings have been reported to our local news station’s cancellation website. The girls’ last day is now officially pushed to the 20th of June. Still, there are a lot of kids celebrating an unexpected three day weekend this morning.

The closing doesn’t affect me at all, given that my last day in school was last week. The school where I worked is closed, though, which doesn’t surprise me at all. The building I was in is settled on low ground with a ball field behind it – I can almost guarantee that the hall that leads out to the field is completely flooded – the cafeteria, which is essentially the basement of this low building, is probably also flooded. There goes more of the budget.

I’m watching the regional news station this morning – it covers the entirety of New England, and there’s an ENORMOUS green band covering our area. They’re predicting another three-plus inches of rain for us before this is all over.

I’ve never seen anything like this, but I’ve gotta tell ya, I’m SO glad it’s not snow!

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When it Rains…


I got TWO phone calls today.

The first one came at about ten to eight this morning. My husband answered the phone with a note of incredulity – no one calls us before about nine. The fact that the caller was male – and a male my husband didn’t recognize – made it even MORE interesting. It turns out that this guy – Michael – was calling to set up an interview with me for a teaching position in his high school, a couple of towns away from mine, for next week. I meet him on Tuesday.

I came home from a glorious day of mundane errands (who would think that I would enjoy getting back to mundane errands?) to find a message on my machine from the English department head in the high school in my home town. I’m meeting her on Wednesday.

If I were given the choice (and I’m well aware that I may not be), I would much prefer to work in my home town high school. It’s literally a ten minute walk (yes, WALK) away. If I had to be at work at 7:20, I could get in my car at 7:16 and still have two minutes to spare. I really DIG that. Also, Michael’s school district has a really low starting salary, one of the lowest in the state, and more turnover than McDonald’s. Finally, I know one of the teachers in my hometown school – she’s a dear friend of my sister – so I wouldn’t be going in there without knowing a soul.

I’ll keep you posted.

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In Case You Were Wondering…

I am planning to keep this space up and running, even though my internship is technically over.

I am a collaborative creature. Having you all reading and responding, thinking and reflecting – not to mention reading – with me has been wonderful and profoundly helpful. I feel that I am a better learner, thinker and teacher because I’ve had you out there to consider this experience along with me. You’ve brought your questions and comments, advice and experience to this space; you’ve helped me see beyond my own little box. I live for this kind of interaction though it is, I’ve come to learn, not always encouraged or nurtured in English departments (or any departments, for that matter. High schools can be very secretive, competitive and proprietary places). If I can’t have it at work, I’m damned sure going to keep it going here.

I have found that, despite the enormous amount of trouble it caused me in the beginning, blogging about my experiences has been a profoundly positive experience, and I intend to keep at it. I may not have a whole lot to say for the next few weeks, but keep checking in.

And thanks.

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Cake and Pizza

In that order.

I went in to school today for my last “official” day there. It’s a block day, so I got to see periods one, five and seven (we have three “off”). I’ve decided I’m going to go in on Monday to see periods two and four – one of the students from one of those classes popped her head into the office during third period and was complaining loudly that her class wouldn’t get to say goodbye to me, so I’m coming back.

Anyway, the day started with cake and Pepsi in the AP class. It seems that May is a very heavy birthday month in that class, and CT had gone to our local warehouse store and purchased a rather large – and surprisingly yummy – cake for the occasion. We spent a very casual class discussing possible topics for the juniors to being thinking of as college essay fodder.

Fifth period has always been, um, challenging. It’s a 400 level class – the “lowest” of the levels – and is populated with some really difficult students. They were all great today – of course, pizza and cake were involved. CT ordered three cheese pizzas (delivered right to the classroom – imagine!) and one of the students brought in a couple of cakes for everyone to share. They passed around a homemade card that everyone signed and gave it to me at the end of the period. Most of the kids wrote sweet things on it (My favorite is “Mrs. Chili – thank you for trying to put our class in order. You and CT are awesome. You make a great team. It was so nice having you with us”) but a couple of the boys just wrote their names. It’s lovely, and is going in my keepsake file – kind of like the framed dollar from a newly opened store.

One of the members of my interview panel caught me on my way down the hall at one point and asked me how much longer I’d be here. When I told him that I was officially done today, he told me that he was very sorry, that he’d really hoped to be working with me next year, and to not lose faith. He’d heard that my colloquium went well and that I’d impressed the principal and, don’t forget, there will be several retirements next year. It was a wonderful, encouraging thing for him to do for me, and I was touched.

So, that was my day. I have a teeny tiny bit of work to do to complete my portfolio (I need to print out the table of contents sheet) and I have to gather up everything I need for my last seminar meeting tomorrow and, well, that’s that.

I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet…

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Taxiing to the Gate


I am, for all intents and purposes, done with the work for my Master’s degree.

I have one or two things I want to do with my portfolio before I hand it in on Thursday morning, but there is nothing weighing on my mind, nothing urgent or stress-inducing that is keeping me up at night.

It’s still too close for me to have any kind of reflective distance, but I can say that, overall, the experience was a bit more stressful than I was expecting. I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, mind you; a lot of good lessons were learned, but I am very glad that it’s over and that I managed to come out the other end intact. I feel a sort of exhausted relief about the whole thing – not quite ready to celebrate its completion, though I suspect that celebration will be shortly forthcoming. Right now, though, I’m more in the mode of resting up after a long stretch of work.

I suspect I’ll feel differently after Thursday, when I’ve handed in everything and have literally nothing left to do but order my cap for commencement (I’ll be wearing Husband’s gown from his Master’s graduation).

Until then, please remain seated until the captain has parked at the gate and turned off the seatbelt sign. And thank you so much for flying with me.

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If You’re Not Part of the Solution…


Yesterday, I was required to attend an all-day, end of the semester workshop. Essentially, it was a day-long series of other people’s thesis presentations. The morning opened, though, with a keynote speech titled “Teaching for Social Justice.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, let me tell you a bit about myself. I’m in my mid-to-late thirties, I was born, have lived, and will probably die in New England, and I descend from a long and nearly exclusive line of Scots. There’s a native American way back there in my family tree somewhere, and a Russian Jewish great-great grandmother, I think; but most of my ancesters went by MacSomething-or-Other. What I’m saying is that, for the most part, I am about as WASPy as one can be. White, People. Very, very white. I should also mention that I live – and will work – in an area that is predominantly white. I live in an essentially suburban environment – we’re not in the big city (well, as big a city as one finds in New England), but, unlike some parts of the northeast, people in my region most certainly outnumber farm animals. Middle class, for the most part, and white. Very, very white.

One of the things that continues to bother me about these seminars I attend and speeches I hear on the subject of social justice and education is the idea that it is almost universally true that the bigggest percentage of teachers are white, middle class women. Uh, hello? That would be me. I begin to sink a little lower in my seat. The speeches and seminars go on to say that the educational system is doing a tragic disservice to our multicultural student body by putting us – white, middle class women, that is – in charge of classrooms. We (WMCWs) cannot approach teaching with an authentic cultural understanding, it is argued. We cannot connect with our students in meaningful ways because we cannot, by virtue of our heritage and privileged backgrounds, comprehend the complexities of the lives and experiences our multicultural students take with them to the classroom. Because we cannot bring an authentic comprehension of our students’ experiences into our practice of teaching, the claim continues, we cannot provide authentic learning opportunities for our students.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, now. Quite a while, actually – ever since I began to consider the idea of becoming a teacher. The implication of these seminars – and the rallying cry for social justice in education, really – is that we need to involve more people of diverse backgrounds in the education of our nation’s young people. I couldn’t agree more, really; I am pretty sure that I would have benefited from the experience of having someone who was different from me as a teacher. I can’t say that with any certainty, however, because I didn’t get to experience that until my junior year in college. Like I said, I live in a predominantly white part of the world; up to my junior year, all my teachers were white, and most of them were women. My point is this; because I am white and a woman and middle class, I am somewhat disrespected right out of the gate by the people who are championing the idea of diversification in the educational system. I can’t possibly deliver an authentic education to my students of color, they argue, because I can’t really UNDERSTAND where those students are coming from. I cannot deliver culturally sensitive or appropriate content because my white, privileged upbringing excludes me from the kinds of experiences that would give me entree to those kinds of teaching strategies.

I haven’t decided how I feel about all of this, though I do know that my first reaction is defensive. *I* can’t help the fact that I’m white, and I resent the idea that the color of my skin and the happenstance of my upbringing somehow causes others to question my efficacy as an educator. While I understand the underlying assumptions of the claims, I’m not sure I can agree entirely with the premise that my entrance as a WMCW into the profession is somehow perpetuating the problem. I may not be able to have an authentic understanding of what it means to be Latino or black in this society, but I don’t necessarily believe that I am in the classroom to do that. I’m in the classroom to teach my students the use and comprehension of English, to expose them to the written and spoken word, to teach them to manipulate and command the language to their best advantage, to express themselves fully and eloquently. If I do my job correctly, my students will emerge from my classroom better able to express what it means to be who they are – regardless of the culture of their family or the color of their skin.

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Can You Hear That?!?

It’s me, breathing a HUGE sigh of relief. I finished my colloquium this afternoon, and it went extremely well.

I had 11 people – two of whom I didn’t know; interns from the middle of the state – and everyone was participatory and helpful. I started out by discussing what we were doing here this afternoon, ambled on a bit about my experiences in the classroom, then went on with the show. We had some great conversations, no one asked me any questions I couldn’t answer, and I managed to get through all of my material (YAY!! I really wanted to get through all my material, I had some good stuff). From what I could tell, everyone left happy.

The principal of my internship school came, too. I’d invited a bunch of people from the school, but he was the only one to show up. He approached me at the beginning and explained that he’d not be able to stay, would I mind if he left in the middle? I told him that’d be fine. My CT told me that, ten minutes into my presentation, he turned to her, nudged her with is elbow and whispered “I’m NOT leaving!” I think that, more than anything else, leads me to think that the afternoon was successful.

I think, were I to do it again, I’d include some lighter fare for the film samples. After Glory, the group was pretty much burned out on the tough topics. Bowyer suggested something from a romantic comedy – I might have to think about that. It’s easy to get caught up in all the heavy drama. Of course, I showed Young Frankenstein to my AP kids – that counts, right?

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Toward the End…

…every little thing that gets accomplished feels like a major victory.

I spent this afternoon putting together the handout packets that I’m going to distribute to my colloquium attendees. I photocopied a bunch of things that *I* think are interesting (I’m assuming a lot here, I know). To get us started, I have a couple of quotes about the idea of “reading” visual media and a list of “essential questions” (that’s a teacher-term that really just means the kinds of things we want kids to know when we’re done teaching them).

Once we chit-chat a bit about the idea of movies as texts and what makes good use of film in an English class (I highly suspect that it’s NOT showing a movie after reading the book that movie is based on, but that’s just me), I’ll show a film clip from Nuremberg and ask my participants to think about ways in which we might ask students to enter into that scene – how do we teach students to give language to dramatic silence? What’s going on when there are meaningful glances or changes in a character’s facial expression? We know something’s happening – but what? I’ve also included in the packet an excerpt of Jackson’s opening statement to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal as a means of connecting the visual to the written (see here for the text and here for an entry I wrote about it earlier).

Once that’s done, I’m going to move on to a scene from Glory – the one in which Denzel Washington’s character is flogged for desertion. It’s a powerful scene absolutely chock full of implications about flogging and what it means to the black regiment, many of whom are former – or runaway – slaves. We watch as Broderick’s character struggles with what he’s professionally required to do, even though he’s well aware of those implications and knows in his heart that it’s a vile and particularly harsh punishment for this particular group. We watch Washington’s character go from defiance to endurance to stoic desperation, his eyes never breaking with Broderick’s despite the tears that fall silently down his cheeks. When we’re finished watching the scene, I’m going to ask the participants to write for a bit about this piece. I’ll offer any number of writing opportunities; they can write a personal reaction, they can write the scene as a moment in fiction, they can write an interior monologue for either of the characters, they can write a conversation between them. The point is to get them to experience the act of transforming a visual experience into written language and ask them to consider other ways in which we might invite students to do the same.


When that’s done (we’re running out of time here!) I’ll show the scene from Schindler’s List where Schindler goes to Auschwitz to rescue his women workers. As the guards try to cull out the children, Schindler grabs one of them by the wrist and proceeds to explain to the guard that the children are skilled munitions workers. Who else, he asks angrily as the child wimpers in fear, would be able to polish the inside of shell casings?

The children are returned to the group of women heading out of the camp (the only shipment of people to ever LEAVE Auschwitz, by the way) and the camera lingers for a moment on Liam Nieson’s Schindler, who looks as though he might pass out at any moment. I’ve included that scene from Keneally’s book in the packet, and plan to try to spark a discussion about how the different presentations convey the dramatic tension of that scene.

After that (if we haven’t run out of time), I’ll show the panel the Bak art and ask essentially the same questions I asked the class when we did this lesson. I have a VERY interesting conversation I’m hoping to spark with an image of the front gate of Auschwitz, which is a combination of image AND word (and some of the most crushing irony ever).


I really think it’s going to be a great experience. I’m VERY excited about the topic; I think it’s important and relavant and I really believe that my confidence in teaching film in the context of close critical “reading” makes me a more effective teacher – and my students more well-rounded learners and thinkers.

And my enthusiasm doesn’t get ‘em, I’m also planning to bring chocolate.

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