Category Archives: winging it

Branching Out

So, have I mentioned here that I’m becoming less and less confident about my ability to find work in a classroom? If not, well, I am; I’ve been out of work for more than a year and in all that time – despite having sent resumes to literally every educational institution within a 50 mile radius (some more than once) – I’ve only had three interviews. There’s something not right about that.

As a consequence, I’ve begun to consider moving outside of education and pursuing something in activism. To that end, I’ve been sending out this letter to groups and organizations that work for social justice causes (I’ve only changed identifying details):

Hello!

I wish that I could make this introduction in person because I fear that I’m not going to come off at all the way I intend. Keeping that in mind, I’m just going to forge ahead and hope for the best. I beg your indulgence.

I am a 44-year-old mother of two teenaged daughters. My husband and I have been together for over 20 years and have lived in Coastal New England for all of them. I graduated from LU in 1996 with a degree in English with a concentration in education and literary criticism, got married that summer, and delivered our first child the following June. Mr. Chili and I did the math and realized that it would be much more financially sound for me to stay home with the baby, so that’s what I happily did. Our second daughter was born in March of 1999, and I rocked the stay-at-home-mom gig until she went to kindergarten and I headed back to LU for grad school. I finished my Master’s in English teaching in 2006 and worked teaching at the high school, community college, and university level until last year, when I took some time to pursue a post-graduate certificate (again, at LU; I have an all-State education!) in adolescent development.

I’m writing to you because I have discovered, through both casual observation and focused introspection, that I’m deeply passionate about social causes. Just about every class discussion I ever led was grounded in figuring out why things happen to people the way they do, in identifying what forces are in place that cause them (and how we do or do not perpetuate those systems), and in exhorting students to think critically and to find – and use – their voices. My friends have told me that I’m the first person they go to when they need information about an issue, or when they want someone to help them work through their thinking about one thing or another. My whole life has been spent as an outspoken and unapologetic LGBTQ ally and, separately, a strong pro-choice advocate. A significant part of my identity is wrapped up in being socially conscious and energetic, and in teaching others to be so, too.

I wholeheartedly embraced the crazy of this past election cycle (I had time on my hands, after all) and I found myself being frustrated, again and again, by the lack of knowledge that was being utilized by my friends and acquaintances. I posted about a zillion things on my facebook page and tried to direct people to thoughtful, accurate sources for the information they lacked. I spoke to people, I enlisted former students into the voting rolls, and volunteered with the local Obama campaign.

I want to do more of that, but I’m coming quickly to understand that my energy and passion are seen as liabilities in traditional school settings. I guess what I’m asking you is this; is there an opportunity with your organization that would use my passion, my teaching skills (I am an excellent and enthusiastic teacher, particularly of teenagers), and my research, writing, and speaking abilities in a position where I can feel like I’m making a difference? I’m not a naive 20-something; I understand that one person doesn’t go out and set the world on fire. I do believe, however, that one person can set off a ripple that reaches farther than that person ever imagined it could, and I feel like I am a significant pebble that could make some really wonderful waves if I could just find the right pond.

So, there you have it. I’m outspoken, energetic, committed, and thoughtful. I’ve got some significant work experience and I care about the job that I do. I’m personable, easygoing, and eager to learn. I need something to do with all this energy. Got any suggestions?

Thank you so much for taking this time for me. I really, really appreciate it.

Warmly,

Mrs. Chili

 

I haven’t had any luck in getting positive responses to this email until today, when I got this:

Hello Chili,
Thank you for your email and for your passion for justice.  I think that I would like to meet with you face to face to talk and see what we could possibly do together.
Is it possible for you to meet sometime next week in *one of our bigger cities*?  I will be free Thursday and Friday afternoons.
Or suggest another time/place.
 
Best wishes,
Sarah Jane

I’ve written back to let her know that I’m available at her convenience.  I’m really excited to see where this goes.

 

p.s. I’m still working on putting together the post about my experience at Dr. Wong’s school (here’s a spoiler; once I left, I never heard from them again…).

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Filed under Civics and Citizenship, concerns, critical thinking, frustrations, job hunting, Learning, Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, self-analysis, speaking, success!, Teaching, The Job, winging it, Yikes!

SO?! How Did it GO?!

Apparently, it went really, REALLY well!

I got moderately dressed up (for those who care, I wore a cute blue plaid sleeveless dress with a flow-y white swing sweater and super-comfy blue suede flats) and got to the school about 20 minutes early, so I sat in my car, breathing and playing solitaire on my phone.  At about 5 minutes to 11, I walked to the building and checked in.  I was shown to a conference room and waited for a few minutes for the assistant principal to come in.

He greeted me warmly and explained that the other teachers would be joining us shortly.  The lead English teacher, who’s been a blog buddy for about 7 years (Hi, Chatty!), made an enthusiastic entrance with a huge smile, followed by the social studies teacher, who was friendly but a bit more reserved.  The science teacher was off on a field trip, “tromping around a pond” doing research with the kids about the ecology of a local body of water.  She came in just a few minutes later.

The AP did most of the talking.  He talked about the structure of the team, the incredible book purchases he’s made this year for the freshman and sophomore classes, and the philosophy and goal of the school.  He looked me in the eye and gave every indication that he’s wholly invested in seeing this experiment succeed.  I got the distinct impression that he’s a very supportive administrator.

They’re functioning as a collaborative environment where teachers actually work together (and those of you who’ve been with me for any length of time know that’s exactly what I’m looking for).  The AP emphasized the freedom that the teams have to structure not only the curriculum, but the way that time gets spent (though I’m going to have to see it in action to really understand what that means in terms of the practical application).

Everything he said sounded great, but I found myself staying quiet; I was worried about coming off as too eager.

I talked a little bit about some good lesson plans (specifically, about how much I love to teach Frankenstein, and the ways in which I combine TKaM, The Book Thief, and Letter from a Birmingham Jail).  I talked about how I always seem to fall into the role of teacher, how important social justice issues are to me both personally and professionally, and about how my entire paradigm is rooted in collaboration.  Oh, and that I’m a goddess in the kitchen.

I left feeling pretty good – not great, but pretty good – about how I did.  I felt better when Chatty sent me a message telling me that she thought it went well, too.  I felt even better when I got a call, about 20 minutes ago, asking me to come in for a second interview on Friday.

 

This might actually happen, You Guys!

 

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On the Eve

For the first time in more than a year, I have my first real interview for a job tomorrow at 11.

I’m finding I’m feeling the oddest combination of wicked excited and incredibly anxious.  I started having the weird anxiety dreams a couple of nights ago (had ‘em again this morning, too), and I’m actually stressing out about what to wear.

Me, stressing out about what to wear.  If you knew me in real life, you’d know that this was a sign that all is not entirely well.  Chili almost never stresses about what to wear; it’s just not what I do.  Here I am, though, worrying about finding the balance between professional and casual, classic and fun, pretty and comfortable.  Trousers or a skirt?  Capri pants or a dress?  Sleeveless and a jacket, or a button-down blouse?  Plain or patterned; colors or black and white?  And, oh, GOD, which shoes?!

It’s utterly ridiculous, and I need to stop.

For all that, though, I’m going in with no small amount of confidence.  The person who’s lead English teacher on the team has known me online for going on 7 years now, and in that time has had full access to all my blogs and my facebook page, so she knows exactly who I am and what’s important to me.  I also know – in a way that is not at all arrogant or conceited – that I am damned good at what I do.  I know it’s cliche to say that someone would be an asset to whichever outfit is smart enough to hire them, but I really feel like I have something valuable and important to offer.  Knowing these things is helping to buoy me.

So, should I wear the diamond earrings, or the pearls?

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Quick Hit: I Got a Hit!

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!

I got a response to an application, You Guys!

I’ve got an appointment for an initial interview at a high school on the 28th!!

As of right now, I’m feeling the strangest combination of exhilaration, reticence, and naked panic.  I want, so badly, to be excited about this possibility, but I’m afraid to let myself go too crazy because I know what the odds are like of my actually getting this position.  I’m also worried about the interview; I’ve only had one (for a job I didn’t get) and when I asked the department head for feedback about that interview, I never heard back.  I have no idea if I did or said something that put them off, and I’m terrified of doing it again.

It’s going to be a LONG two weeks.

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Not Quite What I was Expecting

I spent part of this morning at CPS.  I was invited to today’s all-day meeting earlier in the week, but I wrote to Dr. Wong and told her that a) I wouldn’t be able to stay the whole day and b) I wasn’t sure, given the ambiguity of our relationship, whether it would be appropriate for me to be a part of those meetings in the first place.  We decided to split the difference by having me come in for an hour or so this morning, and Dr. Wong and I got a chance to sit down and talk specifics.

It turns out that they have no money to pay me, or, Dr. Wong said, they’d have formally hired me by now.  She seems genuinely interested in having me as part of her team; she told me that the dean who sat in on the workshop I ran last week had nothing but “glowing” things to say about me, and she recognizes that my particular discipline concentrations are decidedly lacking in her current staff.  She really wants me to get a feel for the school and the kids and the community – despite the fact that she can’t formally offer me a job – so she invited me to come and teach a writing workshop two days a week on a volunteer basis.  That would give me a time to see whether and how I would fit in with the place, and would give them a sense of what I can do with students.  I agreed to a six-week trial; we’ll reassess the relationship after that time.

Dr. Wong seemed really confident that there would be a position available for me in September, but a lot depends, of course, on the money situation.  The school will be more than doubling its enrollment in the fall, they’ve decided not to expand into the building in which they currently reside (they were thinking of breaking through a wall and taking over more square footage, but they’ve put that plan on ice for now), and the expectation is that there will be money in the budget for me.  I won’t know that for a while, though, so for now, I’m going to do the volunteer gig and see what happens.

It’s not an ideal situation.  I would really like to be paid for my time (especially given that I get to tack two travel hours to every trip I make out there).  This gets me in front of a classroom, though, working with kids, doing what I love, and making an impression that may well secure me employment for the next school year.  It’s not perfect, but it’s something I can live with… at least for six weeks.

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Filed under about writing, colleagues, frustrations, Grammar, job hunting, Teaching, winging it

Thought For Thursday: Counting Chickens

So, I don’t remember how much, if anything, I’ve told you all here beyond this entry, so if I’m repeating myself, I apologize.

I had another visit to Dr. Wong’s private school (let’s call the place Classical Private School, or CPS for short) last Wednesday.  I arrived in time to meet the social studies teacher and sit in on the opening rituals (the Pledge of Allegiance, the recitation of their school’s creed (which ends in “so help me, God”), and a moment of silence/prayer), and then participated in the first class of the day, which was a lecture in a Western Civilizations class (they’d just covered the Black Plague and were heading into the Italian Renaissance).  I didn’t ask specifically, but I think that all the students in the school (there are currently 17) were attending the class, and all of them were engaged, even the moderate-to-severe ADD student in the front row.

After the class, I had a chance to talk to a student to learn about what her typical day is like, then Dr. Wong took me into the lobby to meet and chat with Dean Michaels, who’s in charge of professional development at the school.  We had a long and really engaging discussion, the three of us, and we covered a lot of ground in terms of what the ladies think the school is lacking (and what my skills can remedy), what the vision and objective of the school is, and how important it is for them to not just be teachers, but to be models for balanced citizenship.

It was right about this time that Dr. Wong looked at me with a bit of concern in her expression and said, “I sense some hesitation from you, Chili.  Is there anything wrong?”

Well, no; not WRONG, exactly, but she wasn’t mistaking some trepidation on my part.

I decided to ease into it with my logistical concerns.  Were I to come on board, I’d be the only staff living farther than about 15 or 20 minutes away (it’s a good 50-55 minutes from Chez Chili to CPS on a dry day with the wind at my back).  Despite our being in the same state, we inhabit very different climate zones, and while they may only get a dusting of snow in the city, I might be buried under 7 inches and not be able to get to work, and we’d need to have a contingency plan for the once or twice a year that’s likely to happen.  I also wanted to be clear that I’d need to have my workday shifted toward the morning (school runs from 8:50 to 5:30).  I can be the first person in the building at 7:30 if they want me there, but I’d like to leave no later than 2:30 every day.  Neither of these things seemed to be an issue for Dr. Wong, so I moved on to what was really worrying me.

You see, I’m a liberal.  There, I said it.  I know; shocking, right?  Well, the entire construct of CPS is very, very conservative, and I knew, going in, that I was going to have to “come out” to Dr. Wong in a way that made clear my values and priorities, and that sooner was much better than later.

I chose to bring my sticker-covered water bottle with me that day instead of opting for the unadorned black one because I felt that leaving my “regular” bottle at home was somehow hiding something.

I told the ladies that, were I to come to work for the school, I would literally be the only religiously unaffiliated (I believe I used the term “enthusiastically unaffiliated”) member of the community.

The issue of abortion came up when Dr. Wong told us that she was still getting her deceased mother’s mail, and that a solicitation for donations to Planned Parenthood came to the house the other day.  Dr. Wong admitted that she used to be pro-choice, but changed her mind after converting to Catholicism.  Dean Michaels said she grew up Catholic (and anti-abortion), and it wasn’t until she became pregnant herself that she realized what an awesome responsibility a child was and changed her position to become pro-choice.  I told the ladies that I steadfastly believe that every human being needs to have full sovereignty over their bodies, and that anything that infringes on that turns them into a slave.

I let the ladies know that being an LGBTQ ally is an integral part of my identity.

I was pretty sure that that was going to be that, but they surprised me.  By the end of the conversation, both women seemed even more excited about the possibility of my coming on board.  Dr. Wong acknowledged that there would likely be parental drama, but that she was fully capable of handling it (she told me a story about an encounter she had recently with an evangelical mother who objected to the fact that Dr. Wong was talking to students about creation stories, and a student went home to report that Dr. Wong said that Adam and Eve is a “made up story” and, well, hilarity ensued). Both women were enthusiastic about the idea that I would bring a new perspective to the party; Dean Michaels said “if we’re going to walk our walk – really walk our walk – we need to be open to a diversity of voices.”

Well, then, I’m your girl!

For the rest of the afternoon, I was introduced as “Mrs. Chili… she’s a liberal” to staff and students, which was a little weird but reinforced the idea that Dr. Wong was willing to accept – and kind of embrace – the fact of my philosophical position.  I have been invited back next Friday to lead the school in a writing workshop; they want to see me in front of a classroom and introduce me to the students.

As I left the school, Dr. Wong surprised me by giving me a hug to say goodbye (she didn’t strike me as a hugger).  It was a lovely gesture that made me feel I didn’t blow a hole in my candidacy by coming out as a lefty liberal.

I’m pretty sure I’ll have a job there next year if I want it.

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Nearly Wordless Wednesday

I get the feeling the job is mine if I want it….

….. I’m kinda freaking out….

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New Class Idea: The Ambiguous Hero

I’ve been captivated, almost forever, with the ambiguous hero; the good guy who does bad things (and, conversely, the bad guy who does good things) and what role he plays in our psyche and, in a larger sense, in our culture.

A friend of mine wants to teach a summer class with film, and we were talking about this idea over dinner the other day.  I haven’t been able to let it go, and here’s what I’ve come up with.  I’m going to need some help zeroing in on the specifics – the assignments, the competencies and objectives, that kind of thing -  but here’s what I’ve got for materials so far:

The Dark Knight: the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – this is the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker.  Christian Bale’s Batman is the perfect example, I think, of the ambiguous hero.

A Dry White Season:  This is based on a novel written by a white South African who gets involved in the anti-apartheid movement after someone he knows personally dies in police custody.

Gandhi:  You know this story, and I keep coming back to it as a conversation about civil disobedience and the question of how resistance is characterized on the different “sides” of the debate in question

Gone Baby Gone:  PLEASE tell me you’ve seen this movie!  It’s about a kidnapping, and centers around HUGE issues of “right” and “wrong” and where the law clashes with morality

Harry Potter:  I want to investigate Snape.  The idea of the double agent is always an interesting one.  I’m not sure which film I’d use, though; likely the last one.

Iron Jawed Angels: Another civil disobedience film – this one focuses on women’s suffrage and the outrages that some women suffered at the hands of law enforcement.

Milk:  About Harvey Milk and the early struggle for GLBTQ rights and recognition

Mississippi Burning:  This remains one of my MOST favorite films, mostly because of Gene Hackman’s REALLY complex character.  This scene alone is worth the film:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlzaBi_QxPw

The Negotiator:  This is the story of a cop who takes hostages in order to reveal corruption in his department – a good guy doing a bad thing for a good reason.

Leon, the Professional:  A hit man who adopts his 12 year old neighbor after her family is killed by a corrupt cop (played terrifyingly by Gary Oldman).  He’s a good guy who does bad things, and we have to reconcile his work with his personality.

Schindler’s List:  You know this one, too, I’m sure.  I think that Schindler started out as a bad guy doing a good thing (though for selfish reasons) and evolved into a good guy.

Shawshank Redemption:  Andy as a wrongly convicted man who becomes a criminal in prison, but who never gives up his humanity.

Tsotsi:  I haven’t seen this one in a LONG time, so I’m not sure if I’m remembering it correctly, but I think it’s about a boy who steals a car and discovers that he’s also stolen a baby.  The film tells the story of what he does after he realizes he’s got a tough choice to make.

Unforgiven:  This is a Clint Eastwood western.  Eastwood is a retired gunslinger who gets called back into the life of crime for reasons that he thinks are honorable.  His character is a tough one to suss out, and the film really makes the viewer work for the payoff (plus, it stars Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, which makes it that much better).

I was also thinking that I would have the kids read Bel Canto (which asks the “terrorist or freedom fighter” question) and, if they’re given permission from their parents, to look at a couple of episodes of Dexter (a serial killer in a Showtime series who only murders murderers who get away from the legal system).

I think there’s a lot of richness to be mined in this “good guy doing bad things / bad guy doing good things” question, I just need to think about it a bit more before it takes on any kind of substance that resembles a for-credit class.

What do you think?

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Filed under colleagues, critical thinking, doing my own homework, Dream Course, film as literature, fun, GLBTQ issues, Holocaust, lesson planning, Literature, Mrs. Chili as Student, politics, Teaching, winging it, writing

Yin and Yang

Mrs. Chili got dressed up today (in a skirt, even; it was 7° outside with a howling wind, and I had to get gas before I left!  Brrrrr!!!) and met with the director of a private school (let’s call her Dr. Wong) in the middle of the state.

The visit was both heartening and terrifying all at the same time.

I’m heartened because I think I did very well in the meeting; Dr. Wong and I hit it off reasonably well, and I didn’t trip all over myself trying to get words out.  I wonder; does anyone else come off like a complete, drooling idiot in interviews -  or even in meetings with peers – despite being confident and energized in front of a room full of students?  I mean it; the other day, I was in front of a group of about 50 – FIFTY! – new yoga students at Local U, and I was comfortable and articulate and even a little funny and self-effacing.  This morning, while I didn’t completely blow it, I did not at ALL feel like the same women who lead those kids the other day….

ANYWAY…

I’m terrified because I left the meeting feeling like there’s a distinct possibility that I might actually be offered a job with this school.  Dr. Wong was excited about the skills that I brought to the table, she seemed impressed by some of the things I said (even some of the things I said that, as I was saying them, I wasn’t sure I should be saying…), and assured me that she’d be in touch to talk further.  She invited me to attend some classes at the school to observe how the days are structured and the ways in which teachers and students interact.  She even introduced me to another teacher in a way that, to an outside observer, would give the impression that my hiring was a foregone conclusion.

Yikes.

I mean, I’m certainly not closing any doors, but I’m not 100% sure that this school would be a good fit for me.  For starters, it’s an hour’s drive in each direction.  While that’s not a deal-breaker – the girls are older and much more self-sufficient now, and Mr. Chili is still 7 minutes away at Local U. and has a ton of flexibility should something happen that needs adult attention – but I’m not wild about the idea of spending 14 hours a week in my car (especially in the winter).

Another thing that has me nervous is that the school focuses on a classical liberal arts education.  I mean REALLY classical; like, the first years read Homer, and the most modern authors Dr. Wong mentioned in our meeting were Thomas Paine and Mary Wolstoncraft.  *I* haven’t read Homer in YEARS, and I don’t feel like I have any kind of working relationship with any of the books that I imagine are on the reading list for the school.

Dr. Wong has a specific kind of teaching style that she expects her instructors to employ, and I don’t know, exactly, what that is.  I’m less anxious about that, though, as she said that she’s working on this school as sort of a pilot program and intends to mentor new teachers in the pedagogy, so I won’t be left on my own in that.  Still…

Finally, the school is very formal.  The teachers are called “Professor” or “Doctor” according to their credentials, and the students are referred to (and refer to one another) using Mr. and Ms.  While part of me thinks that’s great – I think that kids need to have a strong grounding in social contracts and instruction in etiquette – I wonder how long it will be before I get in trouble for calling a student “Sweetie,” as is my wont.

I left the meeting with the promise of further contact and an invitation to come back to the school whenever I like to spend the day in classes observing and talking to students and staff.  Dr. Wong has my resume and a couple of letters of recommendation, and I’m expecting to hear from her soon, maybe even early next week.

We’re heading into new, exciting, and frightening territory here, my friends!  I’ll keep you posted as events unfold.

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Wordy Wednesday: A Shot of Hope

For a long time now, I’ve been worried that I was never going to be back in the classroom.  After all that happened to me at CHS, I was feeling pretty burned; for all that the place was pretty laid-back and permissive, I still managed to get into trouble, so it stands to reason that it’s highly unlikely I’m going to find someplace where my enthusiasm, passion, and ethics won’t be a liability.

I met Jay for coffee this afternoon.  He’s a teacher at a different charter school (and a hell of a photographer; hit that link and go on over and click around.  Leave some feedback; he’s looking for some interaction), and the parent of one of my former students.  We’d been tangentially in touch since before I was dismissed from CHS; he and I clicked when we first met, he was very supportive of my efforts to kick his recalcitrant daughter in the ass, and we share a very similar perspective on politics, spirituality, and the underlying purpose (and ethics) of education.  Anyway, I left a comment on his blog about a particularly stunning portrait he’d posted of Sweet Pea, and a few emails later, we’d set up a coffee date.

I left that hour feeling much better about where I am professionally.  He told me a lot of things I really needed to hear (though, let’s be clear, I don’t think for a second that he said them because they were what I needed to hear; he’s not like that at all).  He confirmed for me a couple of things that I deeply suspected but really didn’t want to admit (I’m over that now, by the way; I’m done telling myself stories to try to make it hurt less).  He told me that not only should I go back to teaching, but that I very likely had to; we share a proclivity of spirit that compels us to work with young people, and he recognizes in me the same drive that moves him to do the work that he does.  He essentially told me that I wasn’t going to be happy doing anything else – that I could do other work, certainly, but that I would never be as fulfilled as I will be teaching.  I don’t think he’s wrong.

Jay also offered me a glimmer of hope that there may well be a place for me in a classroom.  I’m going to chase down a couple of contacts tomorrow (and send out a couple of resumes, as well) and see what becomes of it.  While I’m not going to force myself into a situation where I have to change who I am to fit in with the culture so much that I don’t recognize myself anymore, neither am I going to give up entirely on the idea of being a teacher.  The truth is that I miss the kids too much to abandon the work, and I love who I am while I’m doing it.

Onward.

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