International Schools Recruiting Fairs, Part II

Monday, January 9th, was chock full of school presentations all morning, starting at 8am, going throughout the day until 5pm, with schools conducting their spiels in various ballrooms, with 4-5 going on concurrently, according to the fair schedule.  Though I’d highlighted the schools that I had wanted to attend, through the course of the day I found myself sometimes looking up at the clock only to realize I’d missed a particular slot because I’d been researching positions online or updating my growing list of school openings and closing.

Throughout the day on Monday, I checked my hanging file periodically, mostly coming up empty, but I did get our resumes returned to us from a school in eastern India, with a hand-written card attached, saying that for elementary school they are looking for PYP experience only.  Then I got another pre-typed card from one place in Abu Dhabi saying they don’t have anything for us at this time.  So two bit the dust in addition to the main school in Russia, all three of which had written “see me at the fair” during the weeks leading up to the event.  Things were not looking very promising, leaving me with some questions about the rest of the fair.  If the schools that expressed interest in advance were dropping like flies, what could possibly come about because I’d not even heard back from the majority of schools we’d contacted prior to the fair?  Would they suddenly change their minds and consider us?  Prospects weren’t looking promising.

Triggering all sorts of emotions, the moments immediately before I revealed the contents of my hanging file folder remained both daunting and exciting.  These emotions I recall having back at the UNI fair in 2004 and Search London in 2010.   As with other candidates, I found myself going back to my file throughout the three days, with hopes high at times, but more often than not with contradictory thoughts, including a worrisome “here we go again” and a hopeful “is this the moment, Mike?”  As the fair went on, I started talking to myself, saying things like, “This is your big chance, Mike,” or “Drum roll please,” as I reached my hand in to spread the hanging file open.  Emptiness, more often than not, was all I found awaiting me.  Too many times I walked to the file folders–displayed on a series of counters along the main corridor’s wall, with fingers crossed, all for naught.  Opening that file, only to reveal an empty space 80% of the times I checked was disheartening.  Another 15% of the time, a downright letdown, for within would be a card stating something like, “We’ve looked at your files or application materials, but we won’t be able to offer you an interview,” or “The position has been filled.  Good luck!”  Those came from Beijing, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and a handful of other locales.

Admittedly, I found it challenging to not get discouraged, especially since I’d met a few others in the candidate’s lounge who were reveling in the glory of having received a note in their inboxes offering a position, or at least an interview.  Officially, interviews were not supposed to take place until Tuesday, but many schools had already started the day before and on Monday morning.  Those who landed advanced interviews were fortunate, to say the least, and I had two myself.

The first on Monday morning was with a boarding school in South Korea, a country both Ling and I would like to live in, modern, clean, safe.  At around seven minutes in length, it was the shortest interview I’ve ever had.  They were attracted to me because of my boarding school experience, but in looking at my wife’s resume, they said they couldn’t hire her because the board is strict about bringing on people with “true” school experience, usually two years’ worth, though the recruiter saw Ling had her own English classroom teaching experience.  She did say that there could be a chance that Ling could possibly do dorm parenting, but it is two FULL weekends a month with four nights per week, also, hard on a family with young kids!  Juggling my working days, for she did say my experience could fit their MS English posting, I could possibly take the kids at night, but… then she asked about our passports and said she wasn’t even sure they could hire us at all because of visa regulations–something she’d check into. I never did hear back from her even though I sent a follow up email later.

At sometime on Monday night I thought every place I’d scheduled an interview with, except one, Luxembourg, could be countries where we’d have our share of ‘egad,’ eye-opening moments if we were to be hired.  Saudi, as I have heard from a number of people, is extremely safe, but with certain laws, very different than what we have been accustomed to in life hitherto (which could be both beneficial/extraordinary and difficult/challenging).  India, Saigon, Vietnam and Myanmar–all places I’ve been to already, would open our eyes (including Isa’s, our three-year-old daughter) to a different way of life, and that could be a powerful lesson for us all, yet with a fair amount of challenges.  Luxembourg would be, well, Luxembourg.  Otherwise, we’d be in for some completely new experiences.  Laos and Nepal, with whom I’d interviewed already, before Monday’s interview sign up at 6:30pm, would also have their share of eye-opening adventures, both being developing nations.  However, I don’t consider any of them, except with perhaps Nepal, being too “challenging” for us as a family, if you will.

Monday was a trifle daunting.  My morning, and, in fact, my complete day, was spent at the Sheraton, within the confines of the presentation room, ballroom, and candidate preparation lounge, either online searching schools, perusing the 100-plus school poster boards with updated vacancies on each, or sitting at a round table with other candidates all vying for positions.  Again, much of the news I’d heard was potentially disheartening, but I mostly just dealt with it even though a later cumulative effect from all of the above rejections come into play for a about an hour or so in the late afternoon.  Frustrated, I sat along in the candidate’s lounge for about an hour after I Skyped with my daughter and wife.  To see them on Skype triggered a sense that the outcome of the fair changes or impacts our lives as a family.  If I were single, my mindset would be different, for I wouldn’t feel the pressure of finding something, and even being single maybe would have already changed the outcomes up until that moment.  By no means was I feeling like I wish I’d been single, but it did enter my head that my marketability was simply different based on having a family and a new-to-teaching (at least in the eyes of many recruiters) spouse, changing the dynamic of the whole process.

Everything else about the system has its potential roller-coaster-inducing emotional results.  Mostly I tried to blow it off and to just “go with the flow” as one woman at an aforementioned candidate table stated, but at other times I almost became embarrassed for I couldn’t find anything, trying to keep in mind that in-demand teachers such as physics, chemistry, maths, counselors, etc., garner much attention–and that I shouldn’t compare positions.  Moreover, hard-to-swallow is this notion that my wife didn’t have enough experience in a full-time classroom or that she doesn’t have Primary Years Programme experience, which so many schools want nowadays, especially since we can’t get her that experience unless a school with it accepts us in the first place, but no schools (besides a potential few with whom I’d interview later) were willing to give us that chance because she didn’t have experience in the first place.  This forces our hand to potentially except a lower-tier or start-up school which doesn’t have PYP or whatever other programs in place, as we’d essentially known all along.  Having done two turns at American schools abroad already over the last seven years, I’d been feeling as if I wanted to aim at a higher-tier school, but was willing to head to a lower-tier school that would give us–as a teaching couple–an opportunity.

Only did the packet of documents from another international school in India–with a card to both of us asking for an interview, and another invite placed in my hanging file, give me any boost of confidence on Monday.

More to follow…

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