The first time I went to the Gwinnett County Teachers Job Fair, I was only fifteen minutes early- and the 10,000 car parking lot was half full. Opps.
Apparently teachers, being a prompt and overall organized bunch, were willing to suffer pretty much any indignity to get a shot at a job in Gwinnett County, well known for it’s awesome benefits, if not its fantabulous class sizes or attention to basic accords of the Geneva Convention for the humane treatment of teachers (i.e. Gwinnett is known for stacking the teachers’ daily planning period/pee break with ‘meetings’ in order to foster ‘improved and enhanced child development tactics’).
And indignities were suffered, let me assure you. Not due to anything specific to the hiring processes of Gwinnett County. No, when you have over 5,000 college-educated, relatively put together individuals desperate for a teaching job, and you pack them into a warehouse-sized room to compete for the attention of 200 or so school principals (who, interestingly enough, will for once be the ones having difficulty scheduling a pee break- the irony!), it is inherently undignified. Everyone is tense. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone is trying to put their best foot forward. It’s like one HUGE first date with thousands of others, except instead of wooing for booty, you’re wooing for security. And healthcare. No chance of pregnancy (one would hope), but the stakes are measurably higher.
So we come back to the Gwinnett County Teacher Job Fair, hereinafter refered to as GCTJF by this party of the first part. You stand in lines leading away from a table to wait and speak for three minutes to a principal or vice principal. You sit down after standing in the line for about 20 to 30 minutes trying to look perky and reliable and professional. You woo…you woo your little child-loving, pedagogically diverse, constructivist-theory-advocating heart out. You give your resume and answer the same questions about your background that the principal at the last table (3 feet and 40 minutes ago) ask you. Your resume goes into the basket with several hundred others. You shake hands and take a card. Then you go stand in line again. Rinse and repeat as necessary until all resumes are gone and you’ve been to every table that you need to visit. Did I mention that the lines your standing in are snaking past the other tables in the vicinity. There is no partition, no privacy screens, no offices. It is a cattle call.
Now, I know this is the nature of the job hunt for teachers. The methodology of it no longer freaks me out the way it used to. It is undignified but not unusual to job searching to come to a cattle call and hope for a shot at an interview. The indignity is easily gotten past once you have your own classroom and are once again captain of your own destiny…sort of. I mean, you still won’t get the copier code, or a lunch longer than 20 minutes, but that too is gotten over by most teachers. The complete anxiety-inducing aspect of the whole deal comes from the sheer number of people. The NUMBERS! Thousands of people-thousands!!– who are all dressed in their Interview Best, looking for all the world like we all got up and read the exact same ‘How to Dress for an Interview’ book. ‘Freaky’ doesn’t even cover it.
You’re looking at thousands of people whose clothing, accessories and expressions all look suspiciously close to what you think you must look like. Sensible, solid colored suits in black, grey or black. Sometimes there’s pinstrips. Usually white on black. A solid colored shirt. Minimal accessories (on the ladies). Pumps (hopefully also on the ladies). Portfolio booklets with resume copies. Conservative hairstyles. Coordinated purses. It sounds so bland and harmess to describe, but I almost had a panic attack this morning when I was looking around at all the other short, white brunette women there and realized that between the intense looks of concentration and the vanilla interview outfits, I really couldn’t see how we weren’t a little bit redundant. Argh, I can’t ever describe it now. No words will do. It was freaky- freaktastic even. Unnerving.
So I left the first time and vowed I would never do that again. I think you know where this is going. I already gave it away in the title.
So today I went back for the second time to the GCTJF (yay, acronyms!). This time I was a whole hour early, and the parking lot was only 1/4th full. By the time the doors opened, there were lines of people snaking everywhere. Same dance, different day. Same outfits. Black, grey, solid colors, still more brunettes that looked waaaay to much like me for my comfort. The crowds only continued to swell after the doors opened.
So. Many. People.
So many people looking for jobs in this economy. So many of us that it’s hard not to dispair and think that there’s no way in hell Gwinnett County has enough space to accomodate all these people. Now, I’m a good teacher- I think. And I feel confident that given a chance to show my qualities, I would have little trouble finding a job. (Yes, I think my mad teaching skillz are just that damn good.) But that is the trouble with this whole paradigm of teacher job fairs. These hiring principals won’t get a chance to know me. I’m one of thousands. I’m a short brunette to top it off. They likely wouldn’t remember me if I mugged them in a brightly lit alley sometime next week and they were forced to pick me out of a line up of other Middle Class European Descendants.
The anxiety stems from this frustration that my chances of avoiding a repeat of this year’s underemployment marathon are largely reduced to luck, connections, and opportunity. I’ve got precious little chance to be judged by my actual merits and am likely to be a paper in a filing cabinet somewhere.
But, like anything that has luck or random chance factored in, you never know what might come my way. That’s why I’m going to play the lottery this week. And next week.
Now, I’m going to go put on something colorful and slightly alternative. Maybe something from The Gap.