Friday the 13th

Depending on your situation adjuncting can be a halfway decent gig.  But by my third year of teaching and trying to line up enough classes to pull myself above the poverty line, it just wasn’t working out for me.  On top of that I was stuck in what felt like an infinite loop, teaching the same classes over and over again, and I was just fucking sick of it.

As I sat at my desk one Monday morning trying to figure out the next logical step, I got an email from a woman at a local university which piqued my interest.  She wanted me to come in that afternoon to interview for a teaching position that opening up that spring.

Today? Shit, I thought. Well, that is bad timing, because it was one of the two days I taught.

I responded:

“Thank you for your email and invitation to interview.  I would be very happy to come in and speak with you about a potential teaching position however, I am unavailable to meet this afternoon.   If you have any time available later this week, I would be happy to meet whenever is most convenient.”

At 1:45 on Friday the 13th in November of 2015,  I walked into a building just off of Mass Ave to interview for a job I didn’t remember applying for.   It was an ominous cold windy day, and in the week that had passed since our email exchange I had scrambled to arrange transportation and find something to wear.  It was the footwear that had been an issue for me, specifically the new shoes which really set me back, but which I had to buy because I had nothing at home aside for sneakers and winter boots that didn’t make pain shoot up the side of my foot.

After a twenty minute wait in the foyer of the building I was met by an older woman with salt and pepper spring coil curls and duo tone hipster glasses that made her seem “fun.”  She shook my hand violently when we met, like she was trying to strangle it, “I’m SO glad you could come in!” she said

“Thank you for inviting me,” I said, as we wove our way through a conspicuously empty labyrinth of desks and flickering yellow overhead lights. “So, tell me… how did you get to where you are now?” she asked as I settled into my seat “Did you study art?”

“Yes… but only for a very short time.”

“Well, just start from the top,” she said.  I gave her the nickel version of my education and work history leading up to the present day.   She nodded along with everything I said and seemed to like what she heard interrupting only at the very end to say, “I was surprised to receive your resume the other day.”

“Oh?” I replied and I thought Well, since I don’t remember sending it to you, you’re definitely not more surprised than I am.

“You went to Journalism school, I see… but that was a long time ago,” she continued.

“I graduated in 2012”

“I can’t believe people still study that,” she said laughing slightly.

“Why not?”

“Well, I mean it’s kind of obsolete.” She leaned all the way back in her chair.

When she said that I thought I wonder, how many former journalism students she actually knows?

“Really.” I said.

“REALLY.”  She said, “I mean, what were you thinking?” She paused for dramatic effect. “You must have known that finding a job as a journalist after graduation would be… hopeless.  Everyone is cutting back and downsizing these days, I just can’t imagine how you would have thought that would be a good idea.” Then she leaned all the way back in the big black office chair again visibly pleased with herself.

“And then you didn’t even pursue any real work in a newspaper, as most journalism students do…” she said, shaking her head.

I studied her as she spoke.  I watched her slowly shake her head in a combination of disbelief and visible disgust at my poor decision making process.  Meanwhile she continued speaking,  “I’m not sure I see the point in you having gone at all …and I mean, for something you didn’t even have a background in.”

Interesting, I thought.

Our conversation was a complete 180 compared from the interview I had for my current teaching position.  Sitting there I listened to her witter on and I had to wonder, where the hell is she going with this? 

“Well I was, and am, interested in journalism,” I said, “and there is more you can learn from journalism than just reporting…” She interrupted, “And at no point did you consider a program in digital media?”

“No.” I answered, “I had already been working with digital media when I applied, and I wasn’t interested in pursuing a degree in anything I could continue to learn on my own, or while on the job.”

“Well, I see you have a strong interest in digital media,” she said,” so it seems stupid not to have at least considered it.”

“I did consider it,” I said, “but, I was looking to expand my skill set beyond that and I felt journalism was the best way for me to achieve my goal.”  She shrugged that off like I was much too young to have any idea of what I was talking about, and then she continued to work her way down my resume,  ticking off skills the way one would tick off items on a shopping list.

“You’ve TA’ed, I see” she said

“Yes, for two years”

“You’ve taught a few classes at a smaller school, WELL… barely a school,” she said.

“Yes, in photography… I really enjoyed teaching those.”

“Well, she said…” she said, “it’s hardly a school and you can’t really call it teaching”

“Well, I prepared material and instructed students in a classroom setting” I said, “so…I’m pretty sure that’s teaching.”

“I mean, it’s not real teaching, in a real school.” she said… pausing for a moment before she added, “It’s almost embarrassing to see it on your resume.  I certainly wouldn’t put it on mine.  Have you done any real teaching?”

Really. I thought. This is where we’re gonna go?

I wasn’t surprised by her statement but I was disappointed by it, and for a moment there was another awkward pause.  We just sat there as the long neon lights flickered above like two burning midday suns.  I stared at her and she stared at me.  I watched her mouth come to a slow, smug, full stop and her lip almost curled into a sneer.

It was a standoff.

“What do you mean by real teaching?” I asked.

“Anything more professional,” she answered.

“Well, I have been teaching at a community college for the past few years.”

“Why isn’t that on here.”

“It is.” I said leaning forward to point it out

“Well this is just poorly designed if I can’t find it,” she said waving my resume around in front of her face like she was trying to put out a fire.  Since she wasn’t letting me show her where the job was located at the top of my resume, I reached into my bag and pulled out a crisp new copy for her.

“No, I don’t want that,” she said swatting it away and then using my resume to slowly fan her face she started to talk me though the job.

Her description of the class was nebulous at best and full of of buzzwords like “multiered” and juxtaposition.” She sprinkled them around like Jimmies on a sundae and it made me think that the class was more “How to Write a Choose your Own Adventure” than multimedia storytelling.  I got the sense that even though she designed the class she really didn’t know what she should be teaching in it, much less the kind of instructor she was looking for.  She explained that the pay might be less than average but it was a great opportunity for an entry level educator.  They were looking for an instructor who had a high level of technical proficiency in digital and multimedia storytelling, who could be sensitive to the needs of ESL students and who was able to commit at least 15 hours a week of unpaid prep and admin to work to co-teach a once weekly three hour class.  In my opinion it sounded like she wasn’t really looking for another paid instructor but a grad student or an unpaid intern.  According to her, they had searched far and wide trying to fill this particular position but kept falling incredibly short for reasons unknown, and while she kept hammering away at the various merits of the course my big red flag tally just kept going up and up and up.

“We want someone who can do a variety of things.” she said as she finished her spiel,  “We want an instructor who is like a Swiss Army knife.  They need to be good, but not outstanding.  We just don’t want anyone who is too good. That would never work around here.”

How exactly can someone be too good to be on staff? I wondered.

“Can I be honest,” she said lowering her voice to a whisper and scooting her chair forward,

“Please,” I said.

“Your resume doesn’t do you justice.”

“Thank you” I said

Then she continued, “I mean, all of your skills, you just have too many different skills…and so much work experience…” she said, “it’s off putting.

REALLY, I thought.

Well, you get what I’m saying,” she said

NO, I’m afraid I don’t. 

It was ridiculous.  I had to bite my lip to stop myself from laughing at her, but her statement certainly helped clarify the burgeoning situation.  I had heard that I was overqualified for jobs before, but that was typically in a temp job situation where, while it was still anathema to the pursuit of employment, somehow it bothered me a lot less.  What I had never previously experienced was someone inviting me in to interview for a job related to my field only to have them take a big shit on all my work experience and then tell me that I should totally get why they did it, and agree with them for doing so.  Because I didn’t,  and it was just rude.

In my opinion the diversity of my work history is one of my biggest assets.  Over the years I have learned how to be flexible and adapt quickly while on the job, and I like that about myself.  Whether or not I am over or under qualified if you put me in a position, I am usually able to find a way to make it work.  So, it was absurd to me that any applicant for this type of a job, or any job, where many different skills come into play, could have “too many different skills,” or that those skills could be a detriment to a potential employer.  I could only conclude from her statement that this person had no idea what she was talking about and no idea what she needed, and I had to wonder once again, why the hell she invited me in to interview in the first place.

“I did not know that was possible,” I said.

“Well it is, and you should think about it.”

From there she went on to explain in detail that she had actually been forwarded my resume many months earlier and had immediately threw it into her trash pile/filing cabinet because she thought it very off putting. But, five days earlier, when all of her other options had shit the bed, and she had what she described as a Looney Toons grade hissy fit, my resume magically landed on the top of her trash pile desk.

As a prospective employee the insight she shared was not the kind of job related stuff I needed to know about.  What she shared she said with aplomb and as if she had done me a real solid by telling me that I was the absolute last resort, and then like a malfunctioning robot she continued on with the worst sales pitch ever and segued into a long awkward diatribe about her personal life and vacation plans, which did not interest me in the slightest.

If you make it to an interview in the job application process then conceivably you could be hired for that position.  It seemed apparent that to me at that time that she wasn’t really in treated in hiring me, so I was confused about why she invited me in.  Her disjointed ramblings gave me a moment to process the situation more completely, and while I sat there I asked myself a few questions.  So, I’m good but not “too good,” and definitely not so good that I would have a better offer lined up.  Then why am I here?  What on earth could require so many hours of class prep?  Does she honestly think this interview is going well?

I snapped out of it when she abruptly cut back to our conversation and said, “What we’re really looking for is a jack of all trades… A person with a very diverse background and work history, someone who understands different softwares and who can jump right in, take the pieces of knowledge they have in different areas and use it to fill in the holes in our class.  What we are looking for, is someone like you.”

Oh right, So now I am what you’re looking for? I thought, Well, that is good news.  

She prattled on, ”I mean you definitely weren’t on the top of the pile, but when I pulled everything out of the trash the other day, I saw your resume and it piqued my interest.  I thought to myself, who is this person and what makes her tick?”

Oh, fuck off, I thought I’ve heard enough.

She exhaled deeply like an enormous weight had been lifted as she finally wrapped up her monologue and said, “Is this something you’d be interested in, because I’d love to get you in here for another chat with some of the other staff ASAP.”

“Thank You,” I said thinking how much I hate it when people say ASAP, “But, I would like some more details before I decide anything.  For starters what exactly will my responsibilities be? What kind of software and hardware do you expect me to be familiar with, what degree of proficiency am I expected to have? and Who else will I be working with?”

She shifted nervously in her chair and said, “Well that’s really all on a need to know basis.”

“I don’t need detailed lesson plans but I do need to know a little bit more about the structure of the class, the nature of the material and my specific responsibilities before we move forward” I said, “I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”  She shifted uncomfortably, so I clarified, “It just seems like there is a lot of prep required for a class that meets for such a short amount of time so I just want to make sure I understand exactly what I’m getting into before I decide to go forward with this.”

“Why don’t I give you some more time to think about the offer and we can talk more down the line.” she said, “We do need a decision ASAP, but I’m going away for a few days, so why don’t we talk when I get back. Midweek sound good?”

“Fine,” I said, in that way you say it when what you really mean is “Fuck You.”

In total the interview lasted an hour and a half and I was just excited it was finally over.  As I got in the elevator she waved goodbye and put her fingers up to her head motioning for me to either hang ten, or call her sometime.  It was in that moment I realized how frustrated I was with the entire experience and how ludicrous it was for someone to be invited in for an interview only to be disrespected, which is how I felt.

I was not in any way interested in the position.  As I wandered down Boylston Street and past The Pru I feverishly texted back and forth with a couple of friends, and gave them the run down. I thought about how often people seem to forget that for an interview to be successful it requires mutual respect.  I was left that afternoon to question my future as an adjunct and the wisdom of my decisions, and ultimately that day ended with much more uncertainty than it began.