Oof. It’s Sunday afternoon. Since returning Friday night from a skipping-rock of a flight home from Koh Samui, Thailand – departed 6 a.m., layover and transfer in Bangkok, another layover in Hong Kong, a refueling layover in Taiwan, an arrival at Incheon (Korea) at 9 p.m., and an airport bus and taxi to enter the door at 10.30p – we gasped at the two-week-old dust bunnies bounding across our apartment, unpacked, and then I slept a few hours before driving through the brutal cold (oh Thai sun, please shine up here) to my radio job at 6.30 the following morning. Home again, write a post for Education.Change.org, sleep, more radio this morning, and finally, though sleepy, here to write a bit – *inhale* – about….
The Wonderful World of International School Hiring Fairs
It was wonderful, in a weird way. Talking for hours for four straight days to school leaders around the world about our views on teaching and learning (and most interestingly, though probably most damning for many of my job prospects, about technology in education) is an interesting way to spend the time.
Without naming names of schools or interviewers, here’s a random and sleepy-eyed report of lessons learned from the experience.
1. Bad interviews are good things
No matter the reputation of the school, the people sitting across from you in the hotel room asking you questions in that school’s name are a stronger indicator of how it would feel to work at that school. I talked to English department heads whose questions – and my answers – made it clear to both of us that we would, or would not, make a happy marriage. There was an unsurprising correlation between this marital element and the offering or non-offering of a position at each school. Schools touting themselves as “21st century schools” and banging their laptop program drums – and during interviews with which I expected flower petals to descend from on high – on an occasion or two turned out to instead voice sentiments belonging to, um, people who’d obviously never experienced the literacy magic that happens after a few months writing and conversing behind the wheel of a blog. No rose-petals there – instead, many mental leaves of wet cabbage fell, probably, in both our imaginations. Marriage for the next two years? We think not. Thank goodness for the bad interview, and for the “We’re sorry we cannot offer you a job at this time.” No apology necessary, really – good luck.
2. “Energy is eternal delight” – so its opposite is….?
(h/t to William Blake who, though dead, deserves eternal credit for the eternally delightful maxim.) If, like mine, your own heart seems to pump more espresso than blood, then it may be important to consider the energy coming from those interviewing you. I’m not saying interviewers need to be manic or anything; I’m just saying a lack of excitement, of a sort of buoyancy – of even a decorously restrained intensity – when discussing educational vision while courting for a temporary professional marriage may be, well, a screaming red flag. Granted, the interviewers are stuck in their hotel rooms interviewing candidate after candidate for many more straight hours than the candidates themselves, but still – we’re all teachers, current or past, so we should be pretty good at keeping our energy level up whenever a professional client enters the room, be it classroom or hotel room. The short version? Beware the droopy interviewer, and put a gold star by the inspired/inspiring one. You are, after all, bound to be sitting in many more meetings with them if you sign the contract to work with them. If they’re sleepy, chances are you’ll be a sleepy worker with them. But if they’re exciting – in a way that rings true (and we all have what Hemingway calls a “shock-proof sh!t-detector,” don’t we, to distinguish real from fake excitement, yes?) – then consider fishing your pocket for that ring, and dropping to your knees on the spot.
3. Interview questions make the interviewer.
By the end of the first of my four days of interviewing, it struck me how different interviews are based on the questions asked (and not asked) by the interviewer. Some of them seemed as stilted and scripted as the worst end-of-chapter questions from the worst textbooks (redundant?). They felt less like interviews than exercises in checking off the questions boxes. It wasn’t quite “schooliness,” so can we call it “interviewiness”?
The best interviews, on the other hand, were more free-flowing and responsive, characterized by give-and-take expansiveness as one party or the other heard something no script could predict.
4. Being yourself is better, come what may, than trying to be someone else.
Think about it. Not only does pretending to be what you’re not cheat your interviewer – it also cheats you. Show your true colors now, so you’ll know whether it’ll be okay to show them over the length of your contract. I love the fact that, at my second interview with the two interviewers for the school I chose, Singapore American School, I replied to a question by saying something to the effect of, “There’s no denying that people’s first impression of me is often, ‘Damn, Burell, you’re too intense!’ But after a while they see the rest of me, and realize I’m also mellow in my own way.” “Damn” is a soft enough word these days – and I certainly don’t toss out higher-level potty words like rhymes-with-fit or ends-many-limericks-about-Nantucket or leads-to-supposedly-eternal-damnation in professional company – and I wondered about the wisdom of the utterance after it escaped my mouth (and this was in like the middle of the second hour of the interview), but somehow the fact that the offer was still made left me feeling even happier than otherwise about accepting it when it came in hour three.
5. Check your ego at the door.
I got about an even mix of offers and rejections from the schools I talked to. One school in particular seemed so right after two interviews that getting the rejection note broadsided me with the force of a turbo-powered school bus. I bumped into one of the interviewers later, and he told me that choosing my competitor over me was the hardest decision they made the night before, and that it took them over an hour of group deliberation to make it. A rejection can happen for all sorts of reasons – maybe they needed yearbook experience you didn’t offer, or needed that administrator whose spouse happened to be a less-qualified candidate for the position you want. So don’t take it personally.
6. Remember to research.
I’m sure I blew one interview by expressing my desire to get experience in a program they didn’t offer, and expressing my distaste for the one they did. Oops. I’d mistakenly thought they did offer that program.
7. Benefits, preps, class sizes, and student mix.
You don’t offer a flight home after the first year? You don’t cover dependents? 70% of your student population is Korean? You laugh off the notion that four preps is too much for new (or old) teachers?
8. Courtesy is cool, good will is good stuff.
When it came down to thinking I’d be choosing between two very attractive schools, I told one of them how I hoped that saying “no” this time, if the decision went that way, wouldn’t close the door to a “yes” next time in years to come. The gentlemanly answer of the man I said this to was so winsome, I don’t know what to say, other than that it made me want to work in this man’s school even more. The answer was no less impressive for its simplicity, which was, simply, “Your saying no to us will offend us no more than we’d want to offend you if we said no to you. It’s the nature of the beast, and we understand that, so no doors will close at all.”
9. Remember to check yourself in the mirror before you leave your hotel room for the day’s interviews.
I can’t believe I forgot my belt. At least my fly wasn’t down.
That’s about it. Hope it helped, and fyi, Mr. Utecht, consider the assignment done