The stranger

So we are entering spring break without having found our new colleague.  The GU fellow was pleasant to talk to, but we all thought it was pretty clear that he isn’t our man.  His sample class, centered on reading a poem with students, was low in energy, and when I say that, I don’t mean that he failed to stand up and entertain the students; I mean that while he did some things that are often good to do (having students read the poem aloud, playing a clip of the poet reading it, asking them to locate specific images in the poem, having them draw pictures for each stanza) there wasn’t any momentum to the discussion–again, as with the previous candidate, not much was at stake.  The dominant pattern of the discussion:

  • Teacher asks specific question about a line or word choice or line break
  • Student offers answer
  • Teacher praises answer, restates answer in own words, asks another question
  • Repeat

He actually made the previous candidate seem somewhat better, because while that fellow was talking about a section of Paradise Lost, this one was talking about an okay but not particularly engaging contemporary poem.

The kids were so nice–they really tried to give him what he wanted, and it was clear that the more English-loving students in the room were excited to be asked to do what he was asking.  If we were looking for an AP Literature teacher, I might want to keep him in the mix, but we’re looking for a ninth- and tenth-grade teacher–and all of us noticed that all of the students at the back of the room, all of them boys, remained politely inert during the entire class.

The GGE was there for the first half or so of the teaching demo, and slipped out while the students were working on their drawings.  He later confessed that he wanted to “flee the room.”  We were all at pains to assure him that we understood what was appealing about the candidate on paper and one-on-one–it must be disheartening to bring someone in and have a whole department say “Bleah!”

Except I’m not quite sure I do understand, in this case, because it was just so clear to us that this fellow is not really all that interested in teaching high school!  As Romola said about the previous candidate, it just didn’t seem that he was all that interested in kids.  Ph.D. Guy, when he visited, really struck us as someone who was really interested in what the students thought, how they were connecting with the text.  This fellow said that he was interested in teaching at this level because the students are “so open,” with which I would agree–ninth graders ask the biggest, messiest, wildest questions–but his teaching didn’t reflect that interest.  There was, too, something in his demeanor that we found condescending–as though he was doing us a favor by coming in, and would be doing us a favor by coming to teach here.  Um, no.  Any new teacher takes a significant amount of work and support, not just from the chair and the peer mentor, but from the whole department.  We have to hire someone who really wants to be here and work with us, not someone who is (as the GU professor put it, and I’m afraid his assessment was accurate) “disappointed not to have found a university teaching job.”

I’ve said many times in this space how very lucky I feel to have landed at SA.  I didn’t know, when I began, that I would feel this lucky; I was tentatively positive, interested in my work, and thrilled to have a steady paycheck.  It’s my hope that Ph.D. Guy will discover, as I did, that he feels well placed at SA and enjoys his work.  This fellow, I just didn’t see that happening so much.

So we have the prospect of further candidates in the weeks after we return from break.  “Are we downhearted? No!”  But we are getting a little tired.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Sorry to hear that you all are still looking; I hope that there’s a great candidate on the horizon for you all.

    Ever since you posted about the last candidate, I’ve been thinking about what’s “at stake” in my class discussions. What would you say is ideally at stake in your classes?


  2. Posted by meansomething on March 28, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Great question. I think when I ask whether there’s anything at stake, I’m asking whether I’m creating the circumstances for something to change in the classroom. Usually I’m hoping that something will change in the student–something in the level of the person’s understanding, or belief, or curiosity, or motivation, or engagement, or autonomy. Sometimes it’s to do with the dynamics between people, though, or the atmosphere in the room, or with me–I have been known to change my mind through discussion. What I thought I sensed with both these candidates was a cutting off of many possibilities for change. They weren’t willing to create circumstances that they couldn’t control; they were fishing for particular answers, or answers within a defined range. For them, success was going to be defined by successfully herding the students where they wanted them to go. For some students, change happened anyway, because they got interested in the poem, but I don’t think anything changed for the boys in the back, and I think the teacher could have done things differently and created better circumstances for change.

    I think this is another post.


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