Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Other Side of the Table

Yesterday and today my new team was interviewing math candidates. We had three interviews from incredibly different people, but it wasn't difficult to decide who we wanted. Being on the other side of the table is WAY better than being on the interviewee end, by the way.

I've never interviewed for teaching jobs outside of New York City or outside of the Bronx, so to say I'm an expert on interviewing candidates would be a stretch. When I worked at 65 Court Street my office was in charge of recruiting. I did sit next to dozens of interviews, some with people singing and dancing for our recruiters, some yelling at their interviewer, some very strong candidates who just happened to have a first point of contact with someone at our office, and some whose only contact with a government institution should have been to be institutionalized, not to apply for jobs through the Department of Ed.

Part of that job was also to help with massive career fairs attended by sometimes well over a thousand candidates where row after row of principal/hiring team would take resumes and listen to candidate after candidate in an attempt to find people to fill their open positions. These events were high-stress, generally very hot, full of people who got angrier and angrier (especially as the summer wore on) and wondered why no one was getting a job and no one was helping them specifically. For some these events were life-savers, for many others they were entirely frustrating gong shows that, from what I could tell, could really be run no other way except in an online setting, which wouldn't necessarily be any better. The fact of the matter is that there are only so many positions and generally a lot of people looking for jobs, in spite of general teacher shortages (or shall we say good teacher shortages).

I was fresh off the plane from Kansas during that summer, not really knowing anything about the city and not sure where I was going to want to teach a year down the road when I would be looking for jobs. As one of the fairs was winding down, I was brought into a conversation with a principal from the South Bronx by the Bronx Recruiter, one of the craziest and hardest working employees in the DOE, who was also my immediate supervisor and for whom I was a lackey, assistent and most importantly an intern. This principal was going on and on about the lack of qualified people for her school, which was apparently a rough one. She took one look at me, leaned over the table and said, "No offense, but I wouldn't hire you. You look too nice."

I was of course indignant. Did this woman not know that I had one of the highest GPAs in the School of Education?! Was she aware that I had been substitute teaching in rural Kansas for an entire semester?!

Of course she didn't know. I hadn't told her. What's more is that I knew full and well- in a very textbooky sort of way- that those things didn't matter when it came to teaching the students she was teaching. In fact, they matter very, very little, if at all. From her perspective I was a scrawny white guy, clean-shaven, looked like I was about seventeen and I was quietly listening to the conversation, seemingly very passive. Based on that interaction alone, I wouldn't have hired me in a million years.

As for me hiring people(haha), I had three options: wet-behind-the-ears-guy, the scared puppy and the decent candidate.

Wet-Behind-the-Ears-Guy This guy, according to a couple other people at the interview, was almost a carbon copy of me at the beginning of last year. I agreed, save for the moppy hair and bigger ears. He was slinging post-grad vocabulary, soft-spoken but confident and full of what seemed like good ideas, especially on paper and in textbooks. We thought he'd be an acceptable hire- the students would shred him and we'd help him regain his footing and make it through the year with some level of success (pretty much what I experienced).

Scared Puppy She came from another school in Washington Heights serving a similar population. It didn't show. She answered few questions well, none with complete confidence and was very intimidated by the whole process. Not very becoming of a one-year veteran. Had she been hired, she would have been shredded and would have made it through the year, but she would have been a weak link on our team.

Decent Candidate Sometimes it's hard to describe a good interview (again, I'm not an expert). Sometimes you just know that a candidate will work well with you. This candidate was leaving a job for respectable reasons, lives and works in the community our school is in, and easily answered all the questions we had. Out of the three, the team agreed unanimously to extend an offer to her first. She has the potential to be an incredible asset to our team and school.

Yesterday's Wine: A glass of Malbec at Josie's West in Manhattan. Personally I've never had a glass of Malbec that I didn't like. This one was from south of the border.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post. However, I really don't like the idea of even SUGGESTING that hiring fairs should be done online. Don't give them any ideas! As described in the second interview scenario, you need confidence to answer questions and impress people. I'm sure/hope that girl would have answered the questions leaps and bounds better had she had time to think them over and answer thoughtfully in an email or some other online forum. It would have given off a completely different impression, and perhaps wouldn't have saved the school from hiring someone unqualified for the position. Interviews are MEANT to be a "view", end of story.