You never forget your first…

…job hunt

Recently the New York Times featured an article in the Education section called “Teachers Vie for Overseas Postings,” which did a fairly good job of describing the job hunt for international educators. I have been working in schools overseas since 1981, and like in the article, it started at a fair.

I was in my third year of working as a teacher in the Jurupa Unified School District in Southern California. Three years, and three different jobs: a combined class of grades 2 and 3, then a grade six in another elementary school, and in my third year I was a high school biology teacher. In the fall of that third year I saw a small ad exclaiming “Teach Overseas.” It was from International Schools Services, or ISS. The application process to join their job placement service was extensive, and included an interview in Los Angeles with one of their representatives. Once that was done, I started receiving thick packets in the mail with job opportunities around the world. Only then did I appreciate a new world was opening up before me. I could be working in Europe, Asia, or Africa next year. It was a very exciting time.

ISS had a job fair in New York. I made arrangements for the trip. A very expensive trip! A couple of schools, including one in Cairo, had setup interviews with me ahead of time.

However just ten days before the fair, the district’s wandering elementary art teacher, Gary, came into my high school classroom and said he heard I was looking overseas. He told me about a small job fair he was attending that Saturday at UCLA. I cancelled my trip to the ISS fair, phoned Egypt and made an appointment to meet the head of the Cairo school at Stanford on Sunday.

ISS recruiting fair in San Francisco
 – Malcolm Stitt in the NYTimes

Tables were crammed together in a lobby of one of UCLA’s large lecture halls. Each head of school sat behind the table and behind them on butcher paper was a list of the jobs they had available. I got in line for Frankfurt, then London, and got interviews with both. But each line was long and as they made interview appointments, the list of openings was thinning out. My third line was Kuala Lumpur. After 30 minutes of waiting in the line, the head of the school stood up and said “I don’t want to interview anyone else unless you can teach physics!” “I can teach Physics,” I replied, handed him my resume and had my third interview setup.

The interviews were in hotel rooms in a building adjacent to the university. London had pulled the room’s desk around and he sat behind it. Frankfurt sat on his bed, shoes off, legs stretched out toward the interviewee. Both went well, but I was hesitant about my third and final interview, Kuala Lumpur. As I entered the room he was sitting across from me at a low coffee table, “Aren’t you kinda of weak in Physics” he challenged. “Yes, but I’m a great second grade teacher”. He laughed.

At the end of the day I went home buoyed by an overabundance of delusional self-confidence that I would get at least one job offer. That night I had dinner with my parents told them about the events of the day. Then I remembered “Oh no, I have an appointment tomorrow morning at 9 am at Stanford University!” I was tempted to blow it off, feeling confident about my job prospects, but in the end I did the right thing. I had made a commitment  and I needed to follow through with it. My mom volunteered to ride with me (she could not drive my stick-shift) on the 400 miles north. We drove through the night and stopped at the Denny’s in Palo Alto around 8am. I changed into my suit and entered Stanford’s career placement office at 9 am. “I’m here to see Dr. Brandt,” I say to the receptionist. “Oh, Dr. Brandt cancelled his trip to Standford.” “Are you kidding me!” Grrr. No time for a rest or a gripe, Mom and I hopped back into the car and drove back down to Riverside – the next day was a work day.

One of my first trips as an overseas teacher – Cairo!
Never did run into Dr. Brandt.

In the end, I got that wonderful phone call from Frankfurt and immediately agreed to a contract.

A few weeks later I got another call from the guy who thought he was going to interview a physics candidate at UCLA. It turned out, he really did need a second grade teacher!