Sensing that my name was about to be called, I did a quick assessment of my appearance and picked a piece of fuzz from my sleeve. The secretary showed me in, and directed me to a table which was occupied by four persons. As I approached the table, the white lady stood and announced that she had a meeting, then rushed out of the room, smiling politely at me on her way out. I took my place in the plastic chair across the table from the three remaining people.
To my left, there was a skinny black woman in a hot pink pants suit. According to her nametag, she was the guidance counselor, and her name was Ms. Hanes. She was slouched down in her chair with her chin resting on her hand. When she didn't look like she was about to fall asleep, her eyes were floating around the room at everything except me, the interviewee. In the middle was a broad shouldered white man with a square jaw. He was beginning to lose some of his hair, but he was handsome. His jacket was thrown over the chair behind him, and his tie looked like it had been loosened at least three interviews earlier. His nametag identified him as the Principal, Mr. Schwartz. To his left-- my right, was another black lady. This woman was wearing a nice brown business suit, and her nametag said she was the Assistant Principal. Her name was Ms. Black.
I sat silently for several minutes while Mr. Schwartz scribbled something onto the previous applicant's paperwork. I noticed that he looked very tired. Not just from the day's work, but tired in a deep, lasting way. It struck me as odd that such a powerful body would be inhabited by someone who was completely beaten down and worn out. I silently pondered the extreme stresses of the job, and wondered what I would look like after twenty years of teaching.
To break the tension, I made a comment about it finally being the end of the school year. Ms. Hanes grunted, and shifted in her seat. Ms. Black smiled. Mr. Schwartz scooted his stack of papers to the side, took the green file folder from my hand, and began the interview.
"Good morning, I'm Principal Schwartz."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Ann McHill."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. McHill. I see you're interested in the Language Arts position."
"Okay, why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself."
"Well, I'm from north Mississippi, and I graduated from Southern Miss in 2004. In 2005, I started teaching at Underachiever High School in Cottonville, Mississippi, where I taught seventh and eighth grades Language Arts and Reading. In 2006 I got married and moved back to south Mississippi, and I'm interested in teaching Language Arts or English again, either in middle school or high school."
While I was talking, Mr. Schwartz's attention shifted back and forth between me and someone who was apparently standing in the doorway behind me. I glanced at Ms. Hanes, whose attention was on the blank wall to her right, then back to Mr. Schwartz, who was picking up my resumé.
"So you've taught for one year already then, correct?"
"And where did you teach?"
"At Underachiever High in Cottonville. In the Mediocre County School District."
"And what did you teach there?"
"Seventh and eighth grades Language Arts and Reading."
"Well, let me tell you a little bit about what we're looking for. I need a teacher..." He glances behind me again, then looks back down at the resumé in front of him. "...I need a tenth grade English teacher. Tenth grade is a subject testing area, as you know, and I need someone with experience who can prepare the students for the test. It's very important for our students....to uh, pass the test, uh...if our...we...if our school is to be successful. So tell me what experience you've had in preparing students for state testing."
"Seventh and eighth grades have to take the Mississippi Curriculum Test, and I prepared my students for that. The curriculum for Language Arts in middle school is very similar to the curriculum in tenth grade. I've looked at the tenth grade framework, and it's basically just more in depth if you compare it to what I've already taught. I'm familiar with the state test. I began preparing my middle school students for their test early in the year, and they did a good job on it. My eighth graders' test scores were higher the year I taught them than they had been the previous year in seventh grade. I'm confident I can prepare students for the tenth grade test.
As I spoke, I tried to make eye contact with each person, but Ms. Black was the only one paying attention to me. Ms. Hanes was rubbing her eyes, and Mr. Schwartz was looking around the room and scribbling onto a notepad absentmindedly. When he realized I had finished talking, he nodded and started talking again.
"Uh. Tell me about your classroom management plan. Or, no...tell me how you handle discipline."
"I try to create an environment that encourages the students to.."
"You know what? Just tell me the hardest discipline problem you had last year."
"A general problem, or a specific incident?"
"Okay. I had a student who intentionally disrupted class by whatever means necessary, and I tried to contact his parents, but couldn't. One morning when I had duty, I saw him in the cafeteria. When he walked by me, I greeted him and started up a little conversation with him. I basically told him that I was looking forward to seeing him in class that day, and asked him how he was doing. I think it surprised him that I showed him some respect, and although he was never a star student, he never disrupted my class again."
"That's a very touching story, Mrs. McHill," Mr. Schwartz said with a deep sigh.
"Well, I learned something important from it."
"Very touching, indeed."
Ms. Hanes looked at me long enough to roll her eyes.
"Do you have any questions you'd like to ask us?"
"Yes. How is the class schedule set up?"
"Block schedule. Ninety minute classes."
"How large are the classes?"
"You'll have at least 27 students in each class, for ninety minutes per class. We are trying to set up some remedial classes so that we can catch some of the kids who we feel are unlikely to pass the state test. You may have to teach a remedial class the second semester, once we've identified those students. That is if the school board approves the program, and they won't, because it might mean we'd actually help some students."
"Are there any after school tutoring programs for them?"
"After school programs? Cute. No. Look, Mrs. McHope,"
"Fine, McHill then. Nobody would even show up for that. To sum up our school, it's basically the worst possible situation. Block schedule. Huge classes. You won't have many resources or any help to deal with the kids who don't keep up. You'll be expected to prepare them for the test anyway though, and your job will depend on it."
"Maybe the remedial class will help."
"Probably not. Nobody really knows what the hell to do with these kids. Their parents don't care. Half the teachers don't care. My own guidance counselor just fell asleep, and Ms. Black smiles because she doesn't know what's going on. I've been getting shit on every day since August, and all I want to do right now is wrap this up so I can go drink a bottle of something flammable and hide under my bed for six weeks. Let's get to what's important-- do you plan to call in sick very often?"
"Good. Because getting subs is almost impossible. Any other questions?"
"Would I have access to a copy machine?"
"Maybe. I can't guarantee it. Okay? Ms. Black, do you have any questions?"
"Good then. Mrs. McHack, we'll let you know something next week. Or, you know...not
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Schwartz."
"Just leave already."