I promised I would write about my interview on St. Patrick’s Day, but something else happened which made it seem sort of unimportant:
Meet my granddaughter, Saya. She was a nice healthy 7 pounds, 11 ounces at birth. Lusty cry, pinked up as soon as she took her first breath. Mom was tired after a fairly fast delivery of four and a half hours. She and son-in-law didn’t even have time to find a sitter for Kai (not that anyone, even in New York, is up at 2:30 a.m.), so my daughter had to hop into a taxi by herself for the ride to the hospital. By the time son-in-law’s cousins arrived so he could make the trip to the delivery room, Saya was already here.
I got the news while sitting in the department office, awaiting the call by the hiring committee to interview. When I glanced at my phone and saw the above picture, I had to clap a hand over my mouth to keep from screaming. I wanted to share the news with the world and the department office manager sitting at her desk across from me, but she’d been about as friendly as a TSA inspector at JFK.
“You’re a little early,” she snapped as I walked in ten minutes before my appointment. Uh, in my experience one is supposed to arrive ten minutes early so the receptionist or whoever is the office gatekeeper can call the interviewer and check the candidate in. Or am I keeping you from finishing your coffee? :roll:
I didn’t say that, of course, but it made me wonder why the office staff didn’t look very happy in general. I could see from the number of nervous-looking people in suits wandering the hallway that it was interview day for several open positions. Maybe it was a huge disruption for the staff; maybe it meant everyone had to come in early and stay late, though that didn’t seem like a good excuse to be rude to someone coming in for an interview.
l was also mindful that I didn’t want to announce there, of all places, that I was a grandmother. I’m too aware that even in academia, age discrimination is rife. I didn’t see anyone else in the office waiting to be interviewed, but the academic job market being what it is now, chances are there are several younger candidates with better interview skills or more recent experience working in a tutoring lab. I worked at a community college over six years ago, and chances are, tutoring practices and theory have changed.
During the first half hour I was asked to provide a writing sample based on a prompt: “What is your ideal candidate for a reading tutor? Imagine you are creating a workshop to train a group of student tutors. Write an agenda of what you would cover in that workshop.” It wasn’t hard, but I’m frankly a slow, ruminative writer, at least with things that require some thought. If it’s an article for a newsletter, I can usually have that done in ten minutes once I have all the facts. For the ideal tutor however, I had to think about what worked for me: patience, empathy, a little insight into what the student was struggling with, and of course some knowledge of the subject in front of us. (I was a little thrown by the students writing research papers about scientific subjects like gram positive viruses and gene splicing, but I can fake it after looking over the notes, provided the student took any.)
Also, I noticed the term “reading tutor.” I was given the impression that the position was for manager of the writing center, but apparently they wanted me to cover college reading. Community colleges now give assessment tests to new students to see how ready they are for college-level work, after discovering how many incoming freshmen couldn’t write an essay or do algebra. I can understand, if back in high school you had no plans to go to college and took the basic courses just to graduate and get your diploma. Community colleges were designed to be a bridge to help these people ease into the college track. What no college wants to deal with however are a class of dropouts who couldn’t handle the coursework: so they now screen students using assessments. If an applicant is found to need more work in say, writing or math, s/he is placed in a remedial (“pre-college”) program.
Students who fail the reading assessment, however, have the highest likelihood of dropping out of college and are likely to struggle through all of their classes. It’s why I despair when I see students in elementary school struggling to read at their grade level. If you haven’t mastered a certain level of fluency then, it only gets worse as you get older and the classes become larger and more difficult. I’ve also observed that students who struggle with reading often haven’t quite learned to speak English yet. I enjoy working with ESL students, but it is agony to watch them parse a single sentence in a textbook when the assignment says they have to read 35 pages that night (which isn’t much by college standards). The tutor can’t sit there all day and guide the student through all 35 pages—that’s not what we’re supposed to do anyway—but when the student’s lack of fluency is that huge, it’s hard not to feel sad for him or her. Some do make it if they are iron-willed and determined to jump through the hoops: but most give up, discouraged if by nothing else the financial cost of taking all those remedial classes before tackling the first required courses for say, nursing or law enforcement, the reason they wanted to come to college in the first place.
So I was disappointed before I even went into the interview. And distracted. (Baby!) The unfriendly office manager handed me a list of questions the committee would ask me and printed out my writing sample—which was short and ended abruptly, because god, I can’t write fast under those conditions. Then she introduced me to the cheery glad-to-meet-ya! chair of the Literature and Languages Department, who took my writing sample and escorted me to the interview room.
It’d be nice to say the whole committee was like the chair, but no. A couple of them scowled through the entire half hour, as if I was an enormous pain in the ass and they were just waiting to get done so they could get out of there. The one HR representative slumped in his chair and looked bored. (He said he was in “statistics:” so why was he there? To count the number of positive and negative answers I made? Or was he the only guy available in HR to sit through the interviews?) I did my best to sound upbeat and positive, but the more I looked at those scowls and “not listening, la la la,” the more nervous I got. The more nervous I got, the faster I began to talk, and the faster I talked, the harder it was to think of smart things to say. I have to admit I was becoming exasperated myself: I just wanted to finish the damn thing so I could get out of there and text back to my daughters and son-in-law. (Younger daughter was getting ready to fly out to New York the next day. Saya had come a bit early and caught all of us unawares.)
I was wearing a pair of black dress pants with a black Gap t-shirt and a black knit, informal blazer, by the way. I realize the all-black outfit probably made me look a bit “dark” and rock n’ roll, but it was also very slimming: over the winter I’ve put on four pounds that I can’t seem to shed, no matter how much I diet, and the white button-down shirt I usually wear with suits puckered open when I sat down and made me look frumpy. The black at least gave me a sophisticated look, though thinking about it, I suppose someone might have taken objection to my Black Widow appearance.
To make things worse, there were no followup questions: they almost chucked me out without letting me ask any, either. I had to stop them to request a phone number just in case I had any questions about the interview. It felt very rushed and unprofessional, as if none of them had done an interview before. Or maybe, they’d decided on the spot I was not their candidate. It was hard to tell: I don’t read poker faces well, though I can see boredom and irritation.
I talked to my younger daughter later that day. She said, “Don’t take it personally. They’re not there to be your friend, they’re there to see if you’re a good fit for the job.” But I didn’t get any sense that they liked me or if I impressed them at all. They just seemed to want to get me out of the room so they could move on to the next candidate.
I went home after that and changed into a green t-shirt and jeans, then drove out to the school where I’ve been working this month. The students I work with squeaked with joy when they saw me. “Miss HG! Where were you? Are you going to walk the track with us? The cows are out!”
The school is literally in the middle of a cow pasture. It’s a hella long drive from where I live, but I took a lot of comfort in seeing the cows, and the students.
I know I’m loved here. *sniff*