The Job Hunt

It pains me to note here that one of my favorite English professors at my alma mater has announced that he will not be returning to our university. He was the head of our English education program, as well as my personal university supervisor for my student teaching, and he informed a number of recent students in the English ed program of his decision not to return. As I told him personally, I think he will be sorely missed, and I do think that the English program will suffer more than a little for the loss. Not only will a suitable replacement need to be found for heading up English education, but I think it is a rare feat to find someone who is so interested in incorporating language study into English language arts and who expresses such an interest in trying to understand what makes teachers last. (I continue to devote myself to keeping up on my membership with NCTE and our local chapter, IATE, because of his conclusion that a common strand tied to longevity of teachers is membership in professional organizations.)

The silver lining in all of this for me is that he is leaving the university not to take another professorship but is instead returning to his passion: teaching middle school language arts, specifically in Boston, where he taught language arts for a number of years. On hearing this news, I was not surprised in the least: although he has done marvelously teaching college English courses, talking to him for any length of time will bring out this passion, and I think this move is a good one for him.

So, Dr. M, this is to wish you well in your return to – shall we say – the middle. You have given me so many insights into the teaching of English (I just started reading an EJ article by Peter Smagorinsky and thought of you) and to the world of YA literature – and for that especially I am extremely grateful. May your return be satisfying – and don’t worry, I’ll keep you in mind if I ever make it out to Boston.


Finally, I can rest easy.

Some updates: As of this morning, I’ve had interviews at three schools, the last of which was a follow-up interview at the first school who asked me to interview. The second interview, which was with the principal and the junior high English teacher, went well, by my estimation, and I was told that they would make their decision by Friday.

Later, my co-operating teacher from student teaching called me to say that the principal of this school had left her a message to ask about me, and I found out that my university supervisor had also been contacted. Whatever these two said, it was apparently good – good enough to convince the principal that I am the right candidate for the job.

Yes, that’s right – I was offered a position. Better yet, I accepted it.

So, come August, I will be the only full-time high school English teacher for a small district in rural Illinois. I am getting new textbooks for three out of the four courses I’ll be teaching (the other is an elective course that is comprised of a semester of intensive writing and a semester of novels), so I will have a great deal of flexibility over what I will teach – and the summer to figure out exactly what that will be. The district is also surprisingly well equipped for their size in terms of technology, and the district makes use of Moodle (which I’m fairly familiar with) for various things, which makes me glad that I have the experience with technology and possibly the opportunity to make use of it.

I’m pretty excited about this development. Gone are the worries of a year of substitute teaching; I have a position in a school that feels comfortable, with staff and – perhaps most importantly – administration that I feel very confident about working with.

And somewhat coincidentally, my old job that I’ll be working over the summer confirmed that I’ll be working full-time, most likely with a schedule that will be incredibly convenient. (Although juggling the planning will be interesting…)

And I graduate in four days.

This calls for a celebration.

I left this morning hoping that I wouldn’t miss anything today; there were a few schools who had indicated that they would try to be in touch by today, and my wife and I were taking our oldest son to a follow-up visit with his developmental pediatrician. I took my cell phone to make calls back home to check the voicemail and my new PDA (my graduation present, a Palm TX – okay, it’s new to me) in case we could get to someplace that would have free WiFi for me to check my voicemail. (And apparently, not all McDonald’s offer free WiFi – what a ripoff.)

That was mostly useless: no calls, no E-mails. So I’m left this weekend to wonder about callbacks for second interviews with two schools and about whether or not the third will consider offering me that position. I hate being left up in the air, but I guess that’s just how things go sometimes.

But there was a consolation prize of sorts: a box had come to my parents’ house with my name on it that was marked from My mother assumed it was from my uncle (who has been in the habit of buying gifts from Amazon for family), but it was actually a gift (I am guessing) from my former, soon-to-be-current coworkers. And a fitting gift it is: a copy of the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition, the principal editor of which was Erin McKean (yes, this Erin McKean). (It’s fitting because I had the habit of finding out etymological facts or having “word moments” and sharing that with my coworkers, which earned me the nickname “Mr. Dictionary.”) I’m not excessively fond of dictionaries (although I am rather partial to the OED), but this dictionary is beautiful.

And perhaps the best part was the note:

Congrats! I hope this is big enough to properly beat people over the head with.

Of course, if I were a stingy old prescriptivist, I would probably beat the author over the head with this sizable volume for breaking two of the most uptight grammatical “rules” ever (No Split Infinitives and No Terminating Prepositions), but I’m not, so I’ll let it slide. It’s a nice gesture, anyway, and maybe it’ll help keep my mind off the waiting. (Probably not, but hey, a guy can hope.)

A really quick update (since I’m writing from my new Palm TX): 3 interviews now under my belt, the last of which should be letting me know soon whether they’re going to offer me the job or not. No contacts from the other 2 schools yet: I assume they’re still getting things in order for round 2 of interviews.

We’ll see how things go from here with teaching positions. Otherwise, I’m just thinking about my final middle school course(s), graduation, and the summer job I have lined up (which is my old job, actually). There’s only 1 other local district that I’ll be applying to, but hopefully I won’t need it. Until I get word, it looks like more waiting is in my future.

Okay, remember when I was modestly freaking out over the fact that a district had already hired someone even though the application deadline hadn’t come up and how I panicked and sent out applications to every conceivable school that I would be qualified to teach within a reasonable radius?

This was actually a really good thing.

That extra stimulus* helped motivate me to get applications out, and now I’ve had two interviews at local districts (both of which have gone moderately well, I think – we’ll see if I’m right soon enough). Better yet, I had a third school contact me today about interviewing this week, and it was absolutely vital that I didn’t wait on this one: the job posting had an application deadline of June 26th, but obviously, they’re interviewing a little early. (Just a little.)

So, here’s my advice to anyone who’s going to be looking for jobs now or anytime soon: Do not – I repeat, do not – wait when it comes to applications for teaching positions. Really, this should be somewhat commonsensical – districts are going to want to start looking sooner rather than later in order to find the best possible candidate. If you even want to be considered, then you need to get jobs in as soon as you have your credentials in order. (Related piece of advice #2: Bug people about letters of recommendation early! Incessantly, if you must.)

The payoff for me is as such: 1) I have two schools that I have a possibility of hearing back from for a second interview, both of which are a comparable distance away (which is to say that they’re both pretty far away, and I have no plans to relocate anytime soon) and which have their own pros and cons, and 2) I have an interview with a third school which is somewhat closer in distance. And if for some reason none of those pan out (although I am hopeful), I’m going to a job fair this week where another local school district will be represented so that I can get my name (and resume!) there in case anything opens up.

It stands that the job outlook is much better, and I’m glad for that. We’ll see how things turn out and what kinds of decisions I’ll have to make from here.

*I hate using that word after everything this year, but it fits. Sue me.

It has been a good May Day.

Actually, April went out with a bang for me: I had my first interview at school #1, and it went well – well enough that the principal insinuated that I would probably get a callback for a second round of interviews. (!!) Excellent news, of course, and I’m hopeful.

Today, however, I took some time to return to the school I student taught at for a poetry slam that they held the last hour of the day, where students read their own poetry and even sang lyrics they had penned. I got blindsided a little, too: my former co-op asked me at the last minute if I’d play and sing something (a student had brought a guitar to sing one of her own songs), and despite not being entirely comfortable with it, I went ahead and performed a song I’d written a number of months ago. It was a very enjoyable visit, getting to see my former students and talk with my co-op, who I talked to about my current job hunt for a substantial amount of time.

When I left there, I found out that I’d had a call from another district while I was gone, and I immediately called the school back. They were, as I expected, calling about my interest in their position (which is for seventh grade). I said that I was, and we set up an initial interview for Monday morning.

This is good news to me: I sent off all of those applications, and all of them had application deadlines of today except for this school that called, and their deadline was yesterday. So maybe I’ll get some more calls on Monday after the schools have taken account of their applications. I’m much more hopeful now that I’m seeing something to show for those applications, and I hope it continues so that I have a good chance to find a job that suits me and that I’ll be happy with and successful in.

A few days ago, I wrote about the stress of the job hunt, which has frustrated me greatly thus far (and I’m not even that far in!). Well, things are looking up: I received an E-mail today from one of the six schools I’ve applied to in the past week, asking me if I could interview tomorrow. So I have an interview at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, which I’m going to ready myself for tonight by researching the district, the school, administration, and anything else I can find.

This is of course an encouraging sign – I was worried that I would be looked over entirely because I’m a new teacher. Now I get a chance to demonstrate my love of learning, education, and helping students in person, where I think I make the best impression (I hope). Better yet, this is a high school English position in a very small rural district, which is actually what I was looking for, in part because I went to school in a small rural district (although not quite this small) and in part because I’m hoping to find a district that is low income so that I can possibly apply for teacher loan forgiveness (and this district does qualify). That’s of course not a selling point for me, but it would be nice. The position is also for sophomore, junior, and senior English, which I would absolutely love teaching (and which is the age range I’m most qualified to teach, having taught juniors and seniors this semester).

I don’t want to get my hopes up, of course; I could potentially bomb the interview or simply not be the candidate that the district wants. But I am first and foremost hopeful, and I will do whatever I can to bridge the gap.

Here’s to first impressions.

I have always hated looking for jobs. In high school, I tried to get jobs without success, and to this day, I still don’t know exactly what it was that kept me from getting the jobs (which were menial jobs like fast food) – maybe a lack of confidence, perhaps. I was fortunate enough to get one my freshman year in college by knowing someone, got another by happening to impress the person I interviewed with (who actually became my direct supervisor), and fell onto my longest-running employment (4 years) by going to a temp service that had a job that was almost exactly what I was qualified for.

Then I had to switch industries altogether – customer service for education – and now all of that previous work is largely useless.

Right now, I have no real prospects. I’ve applied to two jobs, both of which fell through. I had to learn one lesson the hard way: don’t delay on sending in jobs. I applied to the second school a few days before the deadline, and when I checked back on the deadline date, I was informed that the position had already been filled. This subsequently caused me to go into panic mode and finish all of my applications for every school within a reasonable range that I will be certified to teach. One of those applications has been received (it was an online application that took me about four hours – no, seriously – to complete), and five more are on their way. I only hope that there’s enough in there to give me a chance at an interview. I am confident that I will be able to impress somebody if I can get an interview, but I have this irrational fear that even that won’t happen. Then where will I be? Signing up to substitute teach, which I will do if things with a full-time position don’t work out.

It’s a frustrating thing, job hunting. I especially worry about the fact that I am a part of what I have heard referred to as one of the largest graduation classes ever (this article says that 1.6 million college degrees will be awarded this year, according to the U.S. College Bureau). I know at least one of the jobs I applied for had an applicant with several years of experience who was re-entering the workforce after some time away, and I worry that in this struggling economy, there will be a lot more former teachers returning to increase overall family wages and some teachers who will drag their feet moving into retirement because of economic woes, all of which will decrease the numbers of jobs available to new teachers like myself who desperately need them to help pay for things like student loans (I think I might have to start paying on mine almost immediately) and, for exceptional cases like me, to support their families. Substitute teaching is an option, but not a very promising one, in my mind. (Someone change my mind in that regard, please?)

Hopefully, some administrator who will receive one of my packets with glowing letters of recommendation, lively resumes, and (hopefully) engaging letters of interest will see some potential in me and give me a chance. Sitting back and waiting for that is the hard part, and unfortunately, it’s about all I can do for now.

I often say that I don’t have regrets – what’s done is done, and I am who I am because of what’s happening, for better or worse. I try to learn from my mistakes, but I make it a habit not to dwell too long on them, perhaps only long enough to make that learning possible.

Now I’m realizing a mistake that I do regret making: that I didn’t read more of the text I had for my advanced methods class last semester.

The text is Teaching English by Design: How to Create and Carry Out Instructional Units by Peter Smagorinsky (see publisher notes here). The main reason I’m kicking myself for not having read this is that the information in it would have been absolutely invaluable for my unit design and planning for student teaching. It gives some very interesting ideas for activities and strategies – some of which I used, sometimes in slightly different forms or ways – that could have made things a little easier on me when I was desperately trying to come up with creative and engaging ways of presenting the material.

But I am rectifying that currently: I have read a great deal of the book now, and I intend to finish reading it shortly. It would be nice to have in mind as I think about what I might say on (hopefully) upcoming interviews – that is, interviews I hope to have soon.

Ah well, another lesson learned.

No, not student teaching (not quite yet – 1.5 days left).

I’m referring to my culminating projects of my undergraduate career: two Candidate Assessments that are essentially the capstone of my degree program. I am exhausted and probably not ready to do much more reflection (I did probably 15 pages of it just tonight!), but at least I can rejoice at this fact: it is done!

The only real step between me and certification now is the APT (Assessment of Professional Teaching) test that I’ll be taking in a few weeks, and then graduation…and then two weeks of middle school certification courses. But then I will really be done, and this teaching thing will be mine. (And of course, the job hunt continues in the meantime.)

Now I must go sleep, briefly but (hopefully) blissfully.

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