Two years later
It is the first week of May, and I have two more exams before graduation. I’ve received several interview requests for teaching positions. The interviews I’ve been through so far have been a learning experience. I had the feeling those positions were filled before I even arrived. Have you ever been in a room full of people, and no one notices you? A sense I have become accustomed to. The interview process is deflating to anyone’s confidence. It certainly hasn’t helped mine. They have something you want, and you feel you have to grovel for it. So far, my interviews have ended with the same result. Still, I’m excited, nervous, and overwhelmed. I need to finish the semester, get my certification paperwork complete, and find a job.
This morning I have an interview with a prominent New Jersey suburban high school just east of Philadelphia. It is one of two large high schools in an affluent community. A Google Earth search of the area shows it’s densely populated. The high school’s adjacent to a hospital in a residential area. There is a lot of local large and small businesses nearby. My graduation class at the academy was fifteen students. The enrollment at my college is less than half the size of this school. The size of the school gives me pause. The location, however, appears to be ideal. It’s just a few minutes from Philadelphia and centrally located between NYC and Baltimore. I can catch a train, drive, or fly almost anywhere from that location. The area is very desirable for professionals who don’t want the city life but are only a short distance away from sporting events and activities offered in the city.
It will be a three-hour drive, depending on traffic through Philadelphia, so I hit the road in the early hours for a two o’clock interview. I arrive early enough to stop at a local diner. I look again at the school profile over a turkey sandwich and an iced tea.
* * *
At the school
I look intensely at Ted as we sit around my conference room table. Ted is the science department supervisor. He’s in charge of the interview committee. We’re scheduled to interview ten candidates. I’m not impressed with the list of potential candidates so far. I see his frustrated look as he catches my displeasure. The other members of the committee don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves either. At least we are all on the same page.
“Ted, please tell me it gets better,” I say with a shake of my head. “Is this the best of the candidate pool?” Before Ted can respond, I add. “How many more? And before you answer, I need to mention that I haven’t seen a candidate yet that I would put in front of a child.”
Trying to hide his frustration with me, Ted responds to the rising pressure. “Good science teachers are hard to find, Jason. You know this. Especially someone who connects with kids. Science folks can be eccentric.” Fumbling with his word choice, he adds. “You know what I mean. Out of a pool of close to one hundred applicants, we selected the top twelve. Today’s group represents the best, on paper at least.” Ted’s comment comes with a forced smile and a shrug.
I peek over the following resume and look at Ted with raised eyebrows, I add. “Do I need to remind you that we all have a science background. We all were, or are now, science teachers. We’re not all odd, Ted.” He lowers his head and ducks back behind the resume he has in his hand. His reaction forces me to flash a slight smile.
Trying to lighten the mood, Ted follows. “My friend, you are the exception.” As he finishes, the others in the room slump in their chairs a little, looking at each other. They’re waiting for my response.
We’ve been good friends since I started teaching here a few years ago, but his comment does nothing to relieve my frustration. Looking back up. “Optics aren’t everything, Ted.”
Ted continues talking from behind the resume, “It’s just the first round, so we need to get through the last two this afternoon and hopefully get two or three back for a second round. Then we can either select a few or open the position up again if you think we need to.”
* * *
I leave the diner with thirty minutes to spare. It leaves me time to drive through the area and get a feel for the community. When I arrive, school is in session for another hour before students dismiss at two-thirty, so the parking lot is nearly full. I park a reasonable distance away. Before I gather myself, I take a quick look in the rear-view mirror. I’m wearing no make-up. This is not unusual. I don’t own anything but lip gloss anyway. My hair appears presentable, so I exit my car with a fresh coat of lip gloss and make my way to the main entrance. Once inside, I’m directed to the principal’s office. The reception door is open, so I enter and introduce myself to the receptionist, an attractive middle-aged woman dressed nicely. Across from her desk on the other side of the room, I notice a line of 6 seats. I assume these seats are for the students in trouble or, in my case, for potential interview candidates. Seated in the last seat is an elderly gentleman. Compared to the receptionist, who I now realize is the principal’s secretary, the gentleman looks like he just exited a washing machine. He has greying hair that is too long but strategically combed over to accommodate his receding hairline. Describing him as messy would be a compliment. The receptionist, by comparison, cares about her appearance. She appears very professional with light make-up and a short stylish hairstyle. I observe a few gray streaks in her hair and a few character lines hinting at her age. I introduce myself upon my arrival. She checks her list and places a check after my name. There must be a dozen names on the list. My confidence sinks a little, but my name appears at the end of the list of checked names. At least I get to leave the last impression. This is one of the top schools in the state, so I’m sure the competition is stiff. My thoughts only work to sabotage my confidence. I take the seat furthest away from the older gentleman. It puts me face to face with the receptionist. Once seated, I decide it's best I sit here quietly and not think myself out of a job before the interview.
“Hello, young lady. I assume you’re here for the same reason as me.” Remarks the Maytag repairman, seated to my left. I try to suppress my smile as I look at him again, but the receptionist notices my reaction and leaks her smile.
As he speaks, he sweeps his long strands of hair across his bald spot and leaves some unruly hairs in the air unwittingly. Tentatively, I respond with a question, showing my inexperience. “I’m here to interview for the science position?” I release my smile from captivity so I don’t snort at the sight of his hair.
Looking at me with an assessing eye, he asks, “First job?” Is it that obvious? Do I look that unnerved?
No longer smiling, I respond. “Yes, I graduate next week, so this would be my first position. You?” I ask to be friendly, shifting in my seat as my nerves elevate.
“Me? I’ve been teaching for years.” He says with confidence. I think to myself, does he have a job? Is he out of work and in desperate need of this job?
“Oh, for how long?” I ask, interested to size up the competition.
“A few years at the university after I finished my Ph.D. and the last fifteen with a private school.” He pauses briefly and continues. “I’m hoping to get into a system that has a pension.”
“Pension… I’m just hoping for a job teaching science. Never really gave a pension much thought.”
Now looking like he wants to give me a mini-lesson, he adds. “Neither did I until I hit a certain age and realized how many years passed. I settled into a routine, and when I realized I was getting up in years, too many had passed.” He says introspectively, no longer making eye contact. Returning his look toward me, he continues with, “Never too late to think of your retirement.” So, he isn’t interested in this school as much as the pension. I find this to be quite interesting.
“Retirement isn’t even on my mind. I would like to get a job first.” I honestly could care less about a pension. If this turns into a long-term arrangement for me, then maybe I’ll consider it.
The interior door opens, and a well-dressed, thirty-something man in a white dress shirt and sky-blue tie enters and calls out. “Mr. Johnson?” He says with a smile looking at the elderly gentleman.
“That's me.” The older man stands as the man in the blue tie introduces himself, but I don’t catch his name as I’m distracted by the messy nature of the man as he stands. He glances my way. “Good luck Miss. I wish you well.” I simply smile in response as he slowly adjusts himself and exits the reception area. Upon his exit, I notice the back of his suit looks worse than the front. This man is a wrinkled mess. I smile to myself, and I hear the secretary snort out a slight chuckle. I notice she is watching me, watching him. She smiles at me and goes back to whatever she’s doing. It’s a shared moment.
Now alone with the principal’s secretary, I try not to make eye contact and regain my focus. We are both quiet for a short time when she says, “Miss Rogers, would you like a bottle of water?”
“No thank you, but thanks for thinking of me.” I see a nameplate on her desk, Monica Coen.
Smiling politely, she continues. “I overheard you mention this would be your first position?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Then unintentionally, I blurt out. “I feel so overwhelmed.” I’ve said too much, but I continue anyway. “This school is massive, and the other candidate had his Ph.D.” Why can’t I keep my mouth shut?
Now she has a full-face smile that highlights her pretty face. “Where are you from?”
We engage for a few minutes of small talk about home and family. Finally, she advises. “Well, Miss. Rogers, let me give you a bit of advice. Be yourself. Ninety percent of this job is handling people. If you’re good with people, especially the students, then you’ll do well here. Just be yourself, and the rest will be ok.” She concludes with a genuine smile that makes me think she likes me. I return the smile.
“Thank you so much for the advice. I’ll keep that in mind while I try to stay calm.” Then we sit in silence for what seems like hours while I review the school profile again. Hopefully, I can have the same effect on the committee.
* * *
The inner office door opens, and I instinctively check the time. It’s only been fifteen minutes since the last interview began. The same gentleman in the sky-blue tie addresses me. “Miss Rogers, I’m Ted Dowd. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He reaches for my hand to greet me as I stand.
“Hi. Mary Rogers.” I respond, shaking his hand.
“Come with me and we’ll begin.” I follow him into an adjacent room where there’s a long conference table. It seats twelve but there are only four seats taken. The interviewers all sit on one side of the table, and I’m alone on the other side by the door. I’m immediately taken with a handsome man at the far-left side of the table as I enter. I somehow manage not to stare and look away from him. Another gentleman in a white shirt and green tie is seated to his left. Then continuing down the table is a woman in her forties in a dark blue pantsuit, and Ted, who just escorted me from the reception area. The interview committee members introduce themselves. Ted starts the introductions adding that he is the department supervisor. Carol is a biology teacher, Frank a chemistry teacher, and the handsome man to the far left who captured my attention immediately is Jason, the high school principal. Still standing, I shake each of their hands in order. The principal stands out in this group. Maybe that’s why he’s the principal, but he is gorgeous. He looks too young to be a high school principal. The ritual handshake following each introduction is routine until I reach the principal. I look at him as he reaches for my hand. I momentarily freeze at the physical contact. I’m captivated by his beautiful eyes. He is tall, dark, and handsome. What a cliché, I think as I take in his tanned skin, short military-style haircut, and his dark eyes. I want to say he is stunningly handsome. He towers over me at six foot two or better. He is looking - almost staring - at me for what seems an eternity, but it can only be seconds before I notice he is speaking. I’m unaware of what he’s saying. I catch the tail end of what I think is a greeting of some sort.” I realize I’m still holding onto his hand as I hear “please take a seat” as I return to the present. Still slow in my response, I maintain eye contact longer than I should. It’s at that moment I realize my skin is on fire. I break into a cold sweat, and he’s still looking at me, seemingly unaffected. He gently releases my hand as I take my seat. I’m still unable to speak as I assess my current situation. What just happened? My mind and body have been affected in a way I’ve never experienced. I do my best to regain my focus as Ted speaks. The room feels like it’s over one hundred degrees, but they look comfortable. I pray they don’t notice my current state of uneasiness as the questions begin.
* * *
The interviewers go through ten seemingly standard questions. Beginning with Ted, each person takes turns through several rounds of questions, except the principal. I manage to regain my focus as the questions come my way. The principal just listens and takes notes. I sense the interview coming to a close after only fifteen minutes. Then I notice there is some sort of unspoken communication between Jason and Ted. Then Jason finally nods. He closes his interview folder. He places his gaze upon me, which causes an immediate reaction to my body. Before I can process the change, Jason comes at me with a barrage of scenarios and questions that seem off-script. I say that because he isn’t using any notes or writing anything as we talk. Jason’s inquiries are not like the initial questions from the other members of the interview committee. He is relentless with his follow-up questions while maintaining eye contact the entire time. At points of the questioning, I feel like it’s just the two of us, alone, engaging in a deep conversation. I don’t even notice the others. During the follow-up questions, he seemed a bit abrupt with me at times. As flustered as I was when I entered the room, I have fully recovered. I’m in a zone as he presses forward. There is a dynamic that’s developed between us that I don’t understand, but I feel comfortable with the back and forth. I don’t hesitate. I am quick, sharp, and on point. After about twenty minutes of back and forth, I feel good about my responses. I feel confident. I think it’s going well, and I’m about to pat myself on the back when he abruptly ends the interview by saying, “Miss Rogers, thank you for meeting with us today.” He then looks away to assess the others on the interview committee. Then he looks at me again and says, “Miss Rogers, do you have any questions for me before I turn you over to Ted?”
Feeling deflated, I respond. “I think I have all the information I need for now. Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me.” I feel my heart sink.
Jason hands his notes to Ted, stands, and leaves the room. My accomplished feeling dissolves in an instant. What happened?
I’m given the same standard line about hearing from them in a week or so about a second-round interview and something about going to a room to complete a writing sample.
It’s an anticlimactic end to what I think is my best interview so far. I answered the questions. I was sharp, clear, and on point. I didn’t ramble and maintained good eye contact. I made sure my body language was confident, and I maintained perfect posture for the entire interview. I held my own with the principal for what seemed like an hour of tough questions. That part was almost fun. I look at my watch and realize it’s been nearly an hour. Well past the thirty-minute time slot.
Ted escorts me to a small office where I complete a writing sample. It’s a piece of cake. After about twenty-five minutes, I return the writing sample to Mrs. Coen. At this hour, there are only a few staff members lurking. I greet Ms. Coen and hand her my assignment. “Thank you, Miss Rogers,” she says to me. “I look forward to seeing you again.” She gives me a wink with a slight smile. Does she know something I don’t? I wonder. My mood is lifted by her kind gesture.
“Thank you again for your kind words and advice. I hope you’re right”. I exit the office and head down the hall toward the exit. It’s well after hours, and the building is quiet. Now I dread the long drive home. When I reach the door, I hear my name. “Miss Rogers.” It’s coming from the principal’s office. I turn to look. It's Jason. “May I have a quick word with you?” he calls out as he is walking, almost jogging, toward me. God, he’s handsome, I say to myself, again. When he reaches me, I get the same rush of emotions I had from the initial handshake. I’m uncomfortable with my lack of control over these feelings. He looks directly into my eyes, and a sense that I still cannot process is back. I feel a hitch in my breathing as he speaks.
“Miss Rogers, I just want to let you know you left a good impression with the interview committee… and me.” He says with a smile and a slight tilt of his head. “I’m also impressed with the way you handled yourself, given your level of experience. Your responses were very thoughtful and insightful.”
Oh, this is good, I say to myself. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate the feedback.” My mouth takes over without permission from my brain. “Does this mean that I’m in the running for the second round?”
Looking down at me with his dark eyes and a growing smile, he says, “First, it’s Jason, not sir. And second,” There is a slight pause. Then exposing his large pearly white smile, he says. “Yes. You will be called for the second round. I thought I would let you know before you make the long drive home. Mrs. Coen will set up the interview with you next Monday before noon.”
Yes, I say to myself with a virtual fist pump. Beaming, I say, “Thank you so much for the opportunity, Mr... I mean Jason.” My body wants to react to the good news as I can barely maintain a professional demeanor.
In a more professional tone, he says. “There will be a packet of material emailed to you tomorrow. You’ll be asked to prepare a lesson plan and teach a classroom full of students with a few adults. All of the returning candidates will be given the same lesson objective.”
My mouth continues its streak of boldness, “If I may… how many are returning?”
“Just two.” He smiles. Seeing his smile instantly gives me confidence.
I thank him again, exit the building and walk toward my car. I can feel his eyes on me. Don’t ask me how I know, but I do. I don’t dare turn to look until I open my car door. I peek back toward the school. He’s still there, watching, and I don’t mind.
This is my first call back.
I should be excited.
I am excited, but all I can think about are his eyes on me and how he makes me feel.
It’s a feeling I don’t understand.
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