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A Legitimate Writer | 2010 | Transcending Stereotypes

03.21.10 9:05 p.m.

If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.  

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama


Five Years In Ten Minutes

I cannot get over the paradigm of being judged by a room full of people, as though how I respond to trick questions has any true bearing on how I can teach. The fact that I daily quell the tide of attention-deficit students who care nothing for a substitute (at least until they decide they love me and brightly greet me in the halls) doesn't matter much, nor does my resume. They only want to see if I can be tripped up so they can eliminate me in favor of another candidate, occasionally one who shares their genes or bed.

I've been to interviews where it is clear from the moment I enter that I won't be getting the job, either because I am just there to fulfill a quota before they hire their cousin or because I wouldn't look good in a low-cut blouse, what with the chest hair and all. This isn't wholly bitterness talking. When the interviewer sets an egg timer and then reads down a list of questions without noting my answers or acknowledging I am still speaking, it is plain that nothing I can say will do the least bit of good. Likewise the man last year, who talked to the unqualified applicant before me (a fresh college graduate who boasted of having just gotten her BA in Creative Writing and whose blouse seemed to have lost the top three buttons owing to inner pressure) well into my time – though I was there first and early - and who then actually stared at his fingernails or out of the window as I tried effetely to impress him, occasionally mumbling, “Oh, really? Huh,” at the wrong moments. I wonder if they think they are doing me a courtesy by wasting both our times.

I've also had astoundingly good interviews, where I was toured around the school and introduced as the new teacher. I had one where the dean spoke to me for two hours and we began discussing my lesson plans for the courses I would teach. I've had interviewers tell me I am so much more qualified than they were looking for and that they were delighted to have had a chance to speak to me. I've been interrogated for an hour by a semi-circle of ten people who couldn't find a single qualification I did not exceed, as though I were personally constructed for the interview. I've been called back for second and third interviews, I've had staff members paged to talk to me by nearly gleeful principals (“He's been the head of a drama department!”). I didn't get any of those jobs despite assurances, but I have at least learned not to trust anything that isn't in writing. However, it does reinforce in me the confidence that I am no slouch.

Ideally, I wish I could be interviewed by people who know me, even if they don't like me, because it doesn't put me on such uneven ground. I do not know if I have especially impressed the principals at the high school where I mostly substitute (or if I have, with anything more than my sheer tenacity to return day after day despite threats and pathological apathy), but I know for a fact that I could astound them in an interview. I am, both on paper and in the classroom, a superb candidate. I simply am not so shiny in a windowless conference room with strangers yelling questions over one another to see if I can be flustered.

I know the techniques to be relaxed, practicing the interviews aloud and in your head, taking measured breaths, picturing people in their underwear (this really does not help). They don't help enough because every interviewer seems to be looking for something else and some hope to abuse enough sociology to make things difficult for the candidates while gaining no real advantage. It is about appearances to a ludicrous degree sometimes. Someone could come in with a doctorate in education and Kelsi with the smiley sticker on her portfolio will get the job because she seems perky.

I do my best to conform, wearing a suit jacket and tie, reminding my spine to stay straight. I look the interviewers in the eyes when I answer, I smile and actively listen. I tell anecdotes that display that both my mastery of the content and sense of humor. I thank them for their time and the opportunity without sounding false (and I am not being false, because every interview gets me closer to a job that will rescue me from my current circumstances). I regret having sunk so much money into becoming a master teacher, since there seems to be little call for them when there will always be disposable Kelsis, but I enjoy my work and I excel at it. Getting past this initial hurdle, conveying five years of experience in ten minutes, is the only trouble that remains.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, racist mythology, trans-girl mosh pits.

last watched: True Blood
reading: Shantaram
listening: Dresden Dolls

A Legitimate Writer | 2010 | Transcending Stereotypes

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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