Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Substitute Teaching Aggravation

I've been trying like hell to get a job. My preference, of course, would be to get an actual teaching job but I'm about at the point where I'm severely tempted to give up teaching altogether and just pursue a career at Starbucks. I can barely even find a substitute teaching gig.

A couple weeks ago I finally had all my paperwork completed (medical test, references, etc.), and mailed my completed substitute teaching application to the New York City Department of Education (hereafter known as the NYCDOE). A week and a half later my application was returned to me because I had neglected to provide the NYCDOE with some piece of information, which, it turned out was the following: One of the morality questions (which are actually called morality questions) to which I had answered "yes" apparently required some sort of information as to why I had answered the question the way I had; however, there was no statement saying I had to provide this information, nor was there space to do so. Nevertheless, I typed up a little piece about the circumstances, and the next day, instead of mailing it back to the NYCDOE, traipsed into their offices and physically handed it to the Nice Lady who clearly did not like her job. I explained the circumstances for my return, to which she just rolled her eyes and proclaimed it ridiculous that my application packet should have been returned to me for such a piece of information. I, of course, agreed. I was told that I would be hearing from someone eventually, but a timeframe was not provided, despite my request of an estimate. (I had heard that it could take between four and six weeks.) I neglected to ask if applications were ever rejected, which is a question about which I am still curious.

I called the NYCDOE this morning requesting a status update; the Nice Lady was able to tell me that they did, in fact, have my fingerprints on file, and that she would be happy to try to reach the Substitute Teaching Office - which she did, thee times. No one answered the phone. (This is consistent with my having attempted to reach the Substitute Teaching Office previously myself; I left a voice mail, which was never responded to, and tried varies times to reach them, but no one ever answered the phone.) I suspect a trip to the NYCDOE is in the cards for me this week.

In the middle of last week, I sent an e-mail to a substitute teaching staffing agency (of which there are several, I suppose), which provides substitutes to private schools and the like (private and religious schools do not fall under NYCDOE jurisdiction in terms of subs, I suppose). I got a reply the next day, advising me that my resume had been received, that further instructions would be forthcoming within an hour, but if I had not heard form them within 24-48 hours, I should call their New York office. This sounded strange - I wondered if they had a history of promising information that would not be forthcoming. Nevertheless, since I did not hear from them, yesterday morning shortly before noon I called their New York office and talked to a very nice lady who took my information and said that she would be able to access my profile sometime after noon and would be contacting me shortly thereafter. As of this morning, she never did return my call. I tried calling multiple times both yesterday and today, and the one time someone answered the phone, I hit the wrong button and disconnected myself. That taught me a lesson because no one has answered the phone since, neither has my message been returned nor my e-mails been answered.

So, time goes on. In the meantime, in fact just this past Sunday, I was in touch with a private school located in the Wakefield section of the Bronx (to whom I had just e-mailed my resume and letter of interest a day or two previously); the principal offered me a Per Diem subbing position, which I gratefully accepted. On a Sunday. Of course, I haven't been contacted yet, and I suppose it's a possibility that I might not be, but at least I know that the nice Catholic religious people still talk to what is mounting to be professional lepers who aren't touched by other schools.

I was very excited yesterday when a fellow Writing Center tutor who is also subbing told me that the school where she's been subbing seemed interested to know that she had a friend who wanted to sub. She passed on their contact information to me, and I passed on my resume to the secretary of the principal late last night; the secretary was in touch with me this morning to ask if I had my substitute teaching certificate. Since I don't, though, of course I can't substitute at that particular school.

Of course I can't. Despite all the hard work I put in getting my teaching certification, I can't use it because no one will hire me, nor even allow me to substitute at a public school.

That shortage you hear about in New York City public schools? I don't actually believe it's true. I think it's actually a lie. I'm angry, and frustrated. Clearly my getting a teaching certificate was a big waste of time - at this point I actually believe this.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I seem to be involved in a lot of meetings lately; it's an odd thing. I led my first O.T. workshop on Monday; my six students and I discussed revision. It didn't go badly, I don't think - but not as smoothly as I would have liked. There are four groups, two of which are in separate classrooms; another group was led by a tutor who expressed preference for the corner of the Writing Center with the tables and chairs, which left me in the other corner that only had couches. (It's hard to talk when people keep walking by you; it's hard to write when you have to write on your lap.) I'm going to see if I can get us our own classroom, or at least stuff ourselves in a corner with tables and chairs. I want to be able to have the students in my group work with each other, and write, and be able to talk to each other. Each week, after our O.T. workshop, the five tutors who lead said workshops get together with Lynn, the woman who anchors this project, for a meeting, which was pretty interesting, insofar as I have no experience in this field and was interested in hearing the other tutors' experiences.

Today we also had the first of our bi-weekly Writing Center staff meetings; and, separately, had the first of our bi-weekly mentor meetings (in which we discuss issues encountered in our tutoring sessions, tutoring strategies, etc.). The mentoring meeting I'm less interested in from a mentoring standpoint, since I already have a fairly long background in tutoring - although I do find it interesting to see how other people are tutoring, and developing more skills and strategies that I can use in tutoring; but within the context of a mentor group I'm finding it hard to take advice about tutoring from someone who hasn't been doing it as long as I have. I suspect I need to become a bit more humble about it. I remember a tutor at Stony Brook University telling me that she couldn't learn anything from me because she'd been tutoring longer than I; she wasn't telling me this to offend me - I understood the context in which she was telling me this - but I remember thinking that it might still be possible that I had another perspective about tutoring that she might have missed. I think the way I need to go into these mentor meetings is with that attitude of there being other perspectives I may have missed.

On the agenda this week is to read five chapters of Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice; two chapters of Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics; and the Langston Hughes short stories "Thank You, Ma'am" and "There Ought To Be A Law." And one short journal entry to write. This is a lot more reading than I'm used to - in much shorter periods of time - but the reading is by and large interesting.

This past weekend was a social one (and I didn't get all my reading done as a result; I need to get my reading done in a more timely fashion).On Saturday JB and Amy took a bus trip from upstate down to New York City; Chris and I met them and spent the day walking around - across the Brooklyn Bridge, into Brooklyn Heights, over to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and back into Manhattan. Chris and I deposited them back at their bus and made our way back to Brooklyn Heights and had dinner. On Sunday Chris and I went to the Oompah Fest at the Plattdeutsche Park Restaurant. (Very good food - way too many people.) It was a beautiful weekend, and great weather, and I was happy to spend so much time outside.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Much Reading

This past week was the first full week of my life as a grad student, and it seems to be going pretty well so far (which is to say that my missing Stony Brook Univ. is slowly abating). Gone are the days of quizzes and tests and having to utilize short-term memory. Here are the days of a lot of reading in relatively short periods of time, and writing. Lots and lots of writing. I have two 15-page papers as major weighted assignments for two classes, and another paper of indeterminate length that counts for 60% of the grade for the third class; various papers of shorter length (five or six pages), three short presentations (to be in the form of leading class discussions) for two classes. And for the reading: four books and various articles for one class, six books for another, and packets of photocopied short stories for the third.

Professors: All nice, but two of them are going to take some getting used to (one constantly interrupts and the other doesn't seem to make much eye contact). All classes only meet once a week, so I've only met with two of the classes once so far, twice for the other.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

In My Mind

I was going to keep this private (for no good reason), but decided to post it anyway.

I'm starting my Master's degree in English (with a concentration in the teaching of writing) tomorrow; I'm starting the semester not having a full-time job (I've tried to get a job teaching English in New York City, but have had no offers); I received an offer of a Teaching Assistantship that would pay for two of the three classes for which I've registered this semester and that would pay me a stipend of $1,500 for the semester, in exchange for which I would work 10 hours a week at the LIU Writing Center. Having had three years' experience at the Stony Brook University Writing Center, this is manageable.

I'm excited to be getting back to school. My brain has been in sludge mode since last May and I need to be getting back to some good strenuous mental activity.

Mentally this was not a good summer, and I'm glad it's over. I've spent a lot of time being introspective and have begun to be less willing to put up with well-meaning but unwelcome interference that allows for others to offer opinions about how I should be living my life. I grew up being a very shy, insecure person, more likely to take advice I was unsure about or disagreed with because I was too unsure of my own mind, or of hurting the feelings of the person who was trying to help. I didn't trust my own thoughts so I disregarded my own opinions, even if they were at odds with the opinions of others.

I heard from a few friends in the past couple of weeks that they think it unwise to teach full time while attending grad school; or at least, I should not be a first-year teacher and have registered for three graduate-level courses. From my perspective, though, there is little room for an in-between. I need a job. Teaching is not generally a career in which one finds a part-time position. There is substitute teaching (which is my preference but which doesn't start until mid-October); there are also occasionally teaching positions in which one works less than full-time, perhaps teaching three classes, for example. While this is preferable (I would like a flexible schedule that would offer a decent salary but would also allow me to focus on classes), I would prefer being a full-time teacher than my current position of unemployment.

To supplement the stipend that I will most likely not see until the end of the semester, I was offered and accepted a tutoring job through a company in Manhattan. Such tutoring guarantees me as much work as I'm willing to accept, which, given my schedule of evening classes, will likely be limited, since such tutoring would be scheduled around the students' after-school hours - similar hours that at least twice a week will have me in my own classes.

I realized this summer that the crux of my mindset is that I want simply to be left alone. I don't want unsolicited opinions. I don't want people continually asking me what I'm thinking, or what I'm feeling. If I have something to say, I'll say it, in my own time and in a manner in which I am comfortable. I don't want to be asked how the job hunt is going. (Clearly not well, otherwise I would have passed on that piece of news.) It takes me a long time to figure out what I think or feel about an issue, to decide how to act. I rarely seek outside opinions unless I'm unsure about something; only with a very small group of people (which right now is one person) am I likely to even want to share the specifics.

I think I'm finally starting to feel like an adult.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fall Semester 2007

Classes start on Thursday (which strikes me as odd, but what do I know). I've registered for three classes, which is technically part time (four is considered full time; in order to register for a full time graduate course load one needs signatures):
  • ENG 509: Sociolinguistics and the Teaching Writing
  • ENG 626: 20th Century American Literature - African American Short Stories
  • ENG 646: Individual and Small Group Instruction
Books I'll be reading this semester:
No word yet on the short stories I'll be reading in ENG 626; I've been able to discover what books are required for the other two classes vis-à-vis the LIU Bookstore site; yet nothing was listed for the other.

One Last Interview

While Chris and I were driving upstate on Friday, I received several phone messages, one of which was from an assistant principal who left a message with her cell phone number and requested that I call her over the weekend to tell her whether I was still available for a job or not. I returned her call on Saturday morning and scheduled the interview for this today. Cutting my trip with Chris' parents short, I took the train from Albany back home yesterday, and had my interview this morning. I was called this afternoon and was told via voicemail that they didn't want to hire me (that phrase sticks in my head), and that the position had been filled. I'm not exactly smarting until any form of uncertainty about teaching, but what I'm left with is a sense of being perplexed. I had been given a set of pre-interview questions to answer before the interview began, and somehow I suspect my answers were not satisfactory. What has me confused, though, is that, as these things go, there was a part of the interview in which I was asked if I had any questions. I asked a few - the usual bout of what the student population was like, what their curriculum was about - got a brief answer about their students, and then told that I would be contacted later in the day. None of my other questions were answered, and I got the distinct impression they didn't want to make the time to answer them. Three women had interviewed me, and they each echoed the sentiment that there were others to interview, they were busy, classes to teach, etc., but I really didn't get the impresion the would have made the time had I chosen to be more assertive (which I'm sorry to say I wasn't as much as I should have been).

I'm feeling...a bit hurt (it'll pass); a bit dejected (this too shall pass); and
poor. I'm also feeling a bit irritated about this whole process. I have literally nothing for the next six weeks, which means I shall now resort to the next plan of looking for part-time work at any local place that will have me. I couldn't pay the health insurance this month, which means my policy will be canceled, and have no way to buy the books and supplies I'll need for classes (which start Thursday).