A Second Interview
by Jennifer Lendvai-Lintner
When I began my teaching career, I had an interview at a public high school with an excellent reputation. The vice principal of the school—my main interviewer—was tough. Real tough. For any answer I gave, he would press further with follow up questions until I felt like I was being squeezed dry.
Towards the end of the interview, he gave me a made up scenario about managing challenging student behavior. I gave a strategy that reflected the accepted textbook learning on the matter, but also my practical experience. I explained that with good classroom management, I knew I could prevent many behavior issues before they even arose.
“And what if that doesn’t work?” he shot back.
I told him what I’d try next in this hypothetical situation.
“And what if that doesn’t work?”
Sweating now, I gave him another approach I’d attempt. But he was still not satisfied.
“And when that also doesn’t work?”
In my interviewer’s eyes, I detected merriment. He’d defeated me, he thought.
Out of canned answers, I told him how I’d really handle a behavioral situation such as he gave me: I didn’t know. I said my rapport with the student would come into play, as would all the nuances of a situation. Classroom dynamics would influence what strategies I tried to address the situation as well. I told him that in my teaching I lean hard on instinct, intuition, and my ability to read a situation and adjust. The approach I use to solve a problem varies depending on so many variables.
The vice principal smiled. My non-textbook answer was the one that impressed him. I left the interview with mixed feelings, but felt I had done my best under duress. The following day the English department chair called with an invitation. I’d done it—nailed that beastly interview! She wanted me to teach a sample lesson, a standard next step in the hiring process of new teachers.
Yes. You read that right. I told them I decided the position wasn’t a good fit for me. I told myself it was because I didn’t like the vice principal’s smarmy attitude. But in my heart, I knew that wasn’t it. The prospect of teaching in such a competitive, highly-ranked high school was hard and scary. It would be daunting. And I was afraid.
I have a bad habit of counting myself out. Call it a wicked case of imposter syndrome. Call it lack of confidence or self esteem. Whatever causes it, I can tell you it’s nasty. I’ve proven myself more than capable in a multitude of ways. I’m smart. More importantly, I’m an eager learner and I care about the way I show up and the work that I do. So why—time after time—do I listen to the niggling self saboteur instead of looking at a track record of which I can be proud?
Back in January I wrote about how we abruptly and unexpectedly lost nursing support for our medically complex child. We went from having about 62 hours of care for her most weeks to none.
My graduate school semester had just started. As it happened, the day we found out about the lost nursing was the final add/drop day. The add/drop reminder email illuminated my iPhone screen. My finger hovered over the link. Do I? Don’t I? I had already taken my first course for the certificate program I was working on the previous semester. It had been intense, but I had managed because we had support. I couldn’t possibly show up in the way I wanted to and handle the additional workload with 24/7 caregiving duties as well. Impossible.
I almost quit.
But I didn’t. I decided I would figure it out.
And somehow I did. All semester long I read and I thought and I wrote. I read, I thought, I wrote. Read/thought/wrote. I carved out time here and there. I learned. I engaged with my writing practice in such a meaningful and expansive way, I shudder to think I nearly relinquished such an opportunity.
This semester I learned vital writing things as well as life things (the two so often go hand-in-hand). I have long battled this bad habit of talking myself out of the big things. Things I really want to do but that seem hard and intimidating. Things that seem impossible. This semester I didn’t do that. In fact, I ended up applying for the full Master’s program—something I’ve wanted to do since I graduated with my bachelor’s over twenty years ago. Two professors cheered me on and wrote my letters of recommendation. One even wondered aloud if I had thought about applying to my university’s program in which graduate students teach first year writing to undergraduates while earning their Master’s. It was the slightest nudge, but I seized it.
My interview was on Zoom. My square was in the lower right corner of the four-frame configuration. Three interviewers and me—I would have been sweating even without the black blazer I had thrown on for good measure. Before the question portion got underway, one of my interviewers outlined the role and responsibilities; it’s not going to be a cake walk by any stretch. In addition to teaching, I’ll have to double my course load to take the practicum and theory courses the program requires. After my interviewer read the hefty list, she asked if I felt I could perform the duties required.
I pushed down that familiar saboteur and said to all of us, Yes.
[Image Description: Jennifer is pictured on the screen of her silver laptop, which has a green light indicating a live Zoom meeting. She has shoulder-length grombré hair parted on the side. She's raising her eyebrows behind black-framed glasses and holds her phone out before her to take the photo. Behind her a partial view of a bookshelf with a plant and a window are visible. ]