I Never Felt Old Until My First Job Interview in Twenty Years, Part I
I knew this was going to happen. Here I was, happily skipping along life’s highway, content in my ignorance and denial, when out of the blue it hit me square in the face: someone thinks I’m old. I didn’t feel old before yesterday, but after my first job interview in twenty years I not only know that I am indeed old, apparently I am also washed-up, burned out, and probably not willing to try new, innovative ideas. (Hmmm, I guess someone didn’t read my blog about change a few weeks ago . . .) All this because I have been teaching for nineteen years.
The truth about being old has slowly crept into the face that stares back at me in the mirror. I didn’t think it was so bad. I really don’t mind the way my face has changed through the years. I like the way a woman looks when she’s allowed life to leave its footprints on her face. Seeing the plastic, wide-eyed, taut skin of today’s aging celebrities is disturbing to me. It’s disturbing because I know I’ll never be able to afford to have my own sagging body parts fixed, but also because I don’t want to have them fixed. Creepy.
My first job interview in twenty years was a beating, plain and simple. First there are all the new interview questions: Describe a time when you had plans that were canceled at the last minute. How did you handle that situation? Or, Describe a situation when you had to deal with conflict at work. Or, Tell about a time when you had too many tasks to accomplish in a short time frame. How did you manage to get everything done? Really???? Who comes up with these questions? Are there really job seekers out there who can’t give good answers? How could the interviewer possibly know if their answers were nothing more than pure fabrication?
That was the first part of the interview and it went very well. The second part was unscheduled, but the HR person felt the director would want to see me. He was young, intense, and talked so fast I had to watch his mouth to catch it all (and no, I’m not hard of hearing). He looked over my resume, noting my university, degree, magna cum laude, work history . . . Then he realized I had been teaching for–gasp!–nineteen years!!!
You would think that when you’re interviewing for a teaching position that nineteen years of experience would be a good thing, right? Not with Mr. Charter School. Instead, I got a long speech about how studies show that teachers stop changing after the first three to five years of teaching, that a teacher with my years of experience is probably inflexible, unwilling to be innovative, and is used to closing her door and doing the same thing year after year. He told me he took a chance on a veteran teacher once and got badly burned. He even–I swear I’m not making this up–threw in something about teachers’ unions. Then he told me that his other teachers were all first year teachers.
My bright balloon from the first interview slowly sank towards the floor.
I didn’t take it personally, and actually appreciated his honesty. But it also ticked me off. It stunned me. Mostly, it made me feel disheartened and dejected. I felt like I had become the walking stereotype of the old, burned out veteran public school teacher, the one who has the same old yellowed outdated posters up on her wall year after year, and who changes the date on the same old lesson plans year after year, and even uses the purple ink ditto machine to run off the same old tests–year after year. In my head I heard all the hype, how American public education is the worst in the world, how our children lag behind in math and science, and how it’s all the teachers’ fault. I felt as if he had stepped straight out of “Waiting for Superman” and would have thrown stones if he had any. He asked if I had ever heard of Teach for America. I told him they also teach for us. I was definitely batting on the losing team.
He wanted to see me teach a sample lesson, and I made an appointment, with misgivings. I walked to the parking lot feeling like I could barely lift my feet from the ground. I was exhausted. Wiped out. Emotionally bare. Stripped clean of any illusions. Mostly, I felt old.
Getting those AARP letters in the mail was bad enough. Now this.