Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010
(Warning: Here there be strident, sustained whining)
As some of you know, I’ve recently made an attempt—a very concerted attempt actually—to re-enter the field of teaching. I taught high school in Oregon almost 100 years ago when I was first out of college. Upon relocating to Washington, I realized that a teacher with my sparse experience had little chance of being hired in the Puget Sound area, and I reluctantly accepted a position in the airline industry until I could decide what I wanted to do as a career.
Fifteen years, one marriage and two kids later, I was still at the airline, and a bit burned out with the flying and fare wars. After September 11, I had the perfect opportunity to bow out gracefully, and I spent the next several years staying home with my kids and pursuing volunteer work—work that always (with one memorable exception when I worked for a nearby police department; ahem) included teaching and interacting with kids. I realized that I was still good at it, and that there was no reason I shouldn’t dust off my neglected, tear-stained bachelor’s degree and attempt to resurrect my long-forgotten teaching career.
After so many years away, how was I going to accomplish this goal and prove that I was serious about teaching? Well, systematically to put it succinctly. The first step (in addition to all that volunteering) was to apply to have my Washington teaching certificate (long dead due to lack of use) re-issued. Once this was accomplished, I applied to become a substitute teacher with my local district and began teaching there regularly. I discovered that teachers are now required to prove themselves to be highly competent (in addition to being certified) in their field. This is accomplished by taking what are known as West Tests. I took five West tests over the course of a year: English/Language Arts, Social Studies, History, Mid-Level Humanities, and Mid-Level Mathematics. The fee for each test was over $100 and that doesn’t include the investment I made in used text books covering these subjects and the time I spent studying them.
Next, I realized that I would be much more employable if I obtained a second endorsement. As a result, last spring I cleared my calendar for three months (including all opportunities to earn any income), paid approximately $1500 in tuition and taught two sections of history at a local high school in order to obtain a Social Studies endorsement. During this time I also updated my letters of reference (since I had a program supervisor and two mentor teachers who had observed me) and confidential reference forms. These confidential forms, by the way, vary slightly from district to district, and no substitute forms are accepted, no matter how similar. This means a job-seeking teacher-candidate will have to ask the people providing their references to fill out as many forms as there are districts to apply for. In my case, I had narrowed my targeted districts down to the seven most local districts. I asked each reference, therefore, for a total of eight forms (when including a generic letter of reference) and I went about creating 24 pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes in which to mail them away. My reference providers were very gracious—just imagine if I had been in the position some new teachers are of being able to apply anywhere in the state. The paperwork for these kind souls would never end.
But all this was just preliminary to the real fun—applying for jobs! Friends, anytime a human resource department says it has initiated a procedure For Your Convenience, bless yourself Catholic style and pray for deliverance. In this case, my seven targeted districts had all recently implemented an electronic application process For My Convenience. What was this process like? Well, the most recent application I filled out included 25 separate screens of information that had to be filled out and saved. They wanted my personal information, my education and employment history, my non-education related employment history, military history, demographic profile, names of professional references, names of personal references, various release forms, etc., etc. But that’s not all! Then there are the uploads. Most districts want a resume and a cover letter. And a copy of your certificate. And at least three references letters. And those confidential evaluation forms we discussed earlier. And a college transcript (an official one can be sent later). And copies of your West Test Scores. Whew.
But, hey, you’re not finished yet. Then there may be writing samples to provide. Or sample lesson plans. Or, like the one I most recently filled out, a “teacher style profile”—a lovely little program featuring 32 timed multiple choice questions designed to uncover if your teaching style amounts to continually running to the principal, complaining to fellow teachers, bitching directly at students, or shifting problems onto parents (Right answer? There is no right answer! That’s the fun!).
But at least this is all professionally and reliably programmed, right? Oh, you poor innocent. How can you even ask such a naïve question? Of course not, silly! Anytime you return to your saved application file, you may or may not find gaping holes in the information that you laboriously filled in even just days before. But technical support is graciously provided, right? Tell you what, let’s not even go there.
And, assuming you vault all these hurdles and successfully apply for an open position? You may—may—receive a two-sentence robo-email thanking you for applying. After that, unless you qualify for an interview, you will never hear from the district again.
Twice this summer—late summer, after I accepted a seasonal sales position in desperation, I received last minute calls inviting me to school interviews. In both cases, the interview slot was during the training class for my only guaranteed employment for the remainder of the year. If I missed any of the training, I would have to forfeit the guaranteed job for an interview for a speculative job. In both cases I explained in desperation that, although I couldn’t be there at the suggested time, I could be there just one hour later. Please, please, could I be interviewed later that same afternoon?
After everything I’ve done and gone through to attempt to secure a teaching position, two districts declined to spot me even a single hour. That’s just the way it is.
And why is this the way school districts select candidates? For the same reason that dogs lick their own genitals—because they can. There is a glut of good, solid, qualified teachers out there seeking employment. And districts have decided that the best way to thin the herd is to set up a veritable obstacle course of hoops for them to jump through. And, as I’ve discovered, even successfully jumping through those hoops is no guarantee that you’ll even be considered for a job. Such is the reality of the teaching job market in the Puget Sound.
So here it is November, and I’m sitting in an in-bound call center, making just over minimum wage, and trying to feel good about my current sales job and my chances for becoming an official teacher next year. And it was actually going pretty well until just last week. That's when I heard a radio story about how Teach for America is coming to Seattle and FEDERAL WAY, Washington. Teach for America is an organization that takes recent college graduates from various fields of study and puts them into the at-risk schools as teachers. These 22-year-old graduates make a two-year (two-year!) commitment to teaching. But it’s not like they aren’t qualified to teach. They are given a five-week course that covers, evidently, everything they need to know to be a teacher. They are paid the same wage as any other teacher in the district. And the district pays Teach for America a $4000 fee per graduate hired in their district.
Federal Way is one of my seven targeted school districts. Federal Way declined to give me even an interview for any of their open positions this summer.
Tonight on the news a spokesman for the Seattle School District was defending the decision to bring the Teach for America program into Seattle. His claim was that, despite having some excellent teachers in the district, Seattle still has schools that lack high quality teachers. “Our recruitment efforts just aren’t bringing in the right teaching candidates,” he concluded.
My response? No fucking shit.