After deciding to leave Minnesota, I flew to New York City to attend a hiring fair in July 2006. I had already received a “commitment letter” from the city assuring my placement, but I had not interviewed with any specific schools. My trip to New York was my one chance, as I did not have the time or money to return that summer.
The hiring fair, held in a hotel convention hall, was intimidating and overwhelming. I arrived early only to find a line of prospective teachers wrapped around the block. There were over 200 schools represented inside but based on the length of the lines behind each table, I calculated that I could visit only about 10 of them. I would get five minutes at most to make a good impression and hopefully land a job offer or at least a longer follow-up interview. It was teacher-school speed dating.
Naively, I had hoped to find a school in Manhattan, proximate to the Upper West Side where my girlfriend would be attending graduate school. Quickly, I realized that hardly any Manhattan schools were posting social studies openings. I refocused my attention on Northern Brooklyn and the South Bronx.
Other than geographic location, I chose schools based on which had the shortest lines. My first few interviews did not go well. I am a soft-spoken kind of guy and making a first impression has never been my strength. After an hour or so, I was beginning to feel despondent. Finally, I found an interviewer who seemed impressed by my resume, noting that if I’d taught classes with 40+ students then I must have decent classroom management ability. But he seemed so desperate that the prospect of teaching at his school made me even more depressed. Before giving up hope altogether, I interviewed at one last school.
The interviewer for this school was a large, well-dressed, Hispanic man who identified himself as the “CEO.” For some reason, he zeroed in on a bullet point on my resume about teaching in a summer school program in Hong Kong. Randomly, he asked if this experience changed how I ordered food in a Chinese restaurant. Unsure what he was getting at, I answered as earnestly as possibly. He seemed to like my what I said, or at least the mild-mannered way in which I said it, and he invited me to visit the school the next day for a longer interview with the principal. He also gave me advice about how to improve my interviewing skills. Don’t say, “I think,” he told me, say, “I believe.” “I believe in structure,” he illustrated, “I believe in routines.” My spirits lifted. I thought I’d found my match.
The next day’s follow-up interview in Williamsburg seemed to go exceedingly well. “The CEO was impressed by you,” the principal told me as I entered his office, “therefore I am impressed by you; not very many people make a positive impression on the CEO.” We chatted for a while, and he told me that he would get back to me within 48 hours. As I was leaving, he told the secretary, “This young man is going to work for us next year.” I assumed this meant I had the job.
But after 48 hours, I’d heard nothing. I tried calling but only reached voicemail. A week passed. Finally, my cell phone rang and I recognized the New York area code. But it wasn’t the call I expected. The principal of Brooklyn Arts Academy was on the line, offering me a job at his school.
I was so surprised that I had to ask which school was his. He seemed annoyed at my question, but told me it was a new school in a newly renovated building with enough labtop computers for each student. I immediately remembered my interview with the school, and told him that I’d been impressed by it.
In truth, I only interviewed there because it seemed to have a good location. It was a very popular school at the hiring fair, and I never expected to hear back from them, particularly since I’m an odd fit for an “arts” school. To this day, I wonder what it was that the teachers who interviewed me saw in me.
Though I asked for some time to think about it, I only waited an hour before I called back and left a message accepting the offer. On July 11, 2006, the principal of Brooklyn Arts Academy emailed me a short note to welcome me onboard and said he would write again when he had time to “compile more detailed thoughts.” Incidentally, the principal of the school in Williamsburg also emailed me later that day with his own job offer. Even though I’d gotten my hopes up about that school, I decided it was a good thing I ended up elsewhere since the disconnect between the principals’ words and actions might suggest larger disorganization. Indeed, it seemed serendipitous that Brooklyn Arts Academy contacted me just in the nick of time. I was eager to start developing my new relationship with this school.
Ironically, I had to wait to begin this process. I did not hear from the principal again until late August, only days before my four years as a teacher in New York would begin. By this time, my feelings of excitement were tempered by feelings of anxiety.