“Hi, I’m here for the 3 o’clock group interview.”
“What’s your last name?”
“Yup, we got your name here. Just go ahead and have a seat and once everyone else arrives someone will take you all back for the interview.”
Two weeks ago, after much anticipation and one false start, I took part in a group interview for a dual program: Master’s degree in Education and a California Teacher’s credential. The whole day - heck the whole week - all I could think about was the interview. The confirmation email I received about my spot in the interview I read at least five times. The two educational articles I was asked to read prior to the interview I annotated and re read about the same number of times. I had rummaged through my closet and laid out three different options of what I should wear to such an important interview. Truly I had crossed my T’s and dotted my I’s.
I left work that afternoon looking business professional ready. We’re talking ironed beige slacks, with a white button down collared shirt, paired with a black cardigan over, topped off with some classy jewelry, and some grey and white fake alligator close toe heeled pumps! I looked the part! Driving from work in Santa Ana, onto the dreaded 405 freeway, just past LAX, to shortly arrive at the beautiful campus of Loyola Marymount University was surprisingly smooth. Traffic was surprising clear; seemed like a good omen for sure! At the very least it kept me in a good hopeful mood. As I parked, put in my free parking code in the meter, and made my way up the elevator I began to take deep breaths as I reached the ground level.
Ding! On my floor.
Ding! On my floor.
Being the first candidate to arrive I sat in the waiting area of the Office of Primary and Secondary Education. At this point I couldn’t help but pull out my annotated articles from my teacher tote, skimming through the main points and reading through my notes. I was beginning to feel like a student again right before an exam. As other candidates tricked in one by one, there was a noticeable tension in the air. We all knew why: we were all about to be drilled and compared to one another. Breaking the silence, I reached out my hand for a shake and a name exchange to the others sitting in my vicinity. Clearly that helped to ease everyone.
“Alright, we’re ready for you all.”
As we trailed behind each other through the office corridors and into a board style meeting room that overlooked the campus our first task was to find our name tags that indicated where we were to sit. Card stock, folded in half so they stood upright, with our names perfectly centered and beautifully printed name tags - very classy LMU, very classy indeed. As we situated ourselves and sized everyone else up at the table, the Director and Assistant director of the Office of Education at LMU addressed us. The interview continued with friendly introductions, and continued on with the interrogations!
“Why did you choose to apply to LMU?”
We all had a chance to answer, and answers ranged from, “it is where I’m at now for undergrad school, and it's such a beautiful campus” to the quality and reputation LMU has. As eyes moved to me, I took a deep breath before saying: "I'm attracted to the focus in urban and inner city education and the Jesuit tradition of social justice and service to the poor here at LMU."
“What do you think is the biggest challenge in urban education?”
In the fall of 2009, in the hilly streets of San Francisco, I sat as a collage intern next to a 5th grade girl who was struggling to stay awake as her teacher taught a lesson on grammar. “Tracy (alias name), wake up.” Said child rubs her eyes and stretches her eye lids open. “Tracy, why are you so sleepy?” “I was waiting for my mom to come home last night.” “Where was she Tracy?” “I don’t know, probably at her boyfriend’s house.” “Did she ever come home last night?” “No.” “Was anyone else home with you last night?” “No.” “So you never actually went to sleep last night did you Tracy?” “No, Ms. Quigley, I didn’t.”
In the spring of 2011, in the battered streets of West Philadelphia, I wrestled with an eighth grade boy by the name of Charles (again, an alias) who didn’t do an ounce of work in my class. Even getting him to do simple classwork was a test of my patience; don’t get me started on his homework. One day it reached a breaking point. “I don’t feel like fucking doing it Ms. Quigley!” Charles is puffed chest and inches from my face, in the middle of class. After a forced and abrasive reaction to his actions, and a couple hours sitting with him after school, I was able to speak to his mother. Her unaffected and blasé response to her son’s actions shocked me!
In the spring of 2014, in the colorful streets of Santa Ana, I found myself sitting in a conference between a parent, his 2nd grade teacher and myself: “So, Justin (another alias) really isn’t focused during class, has problems doing his own work and even finishing his work without being constantly monitored.” The mother in Spanish to English translation made excuses for her son based on a burn accident that happened to him as an infant. As his teacher and I expressed sympathy for the accident we struggled through translation to impart the importance of not enabling his behavior because of something that happened years ago.
“Parents and families!” I stated boldly and without hesitation. “As a teacher, you can motivate all you can, and guide students consistently and constantly on good work and study habits, and the value in those habits, but if a student goes home to parents or a home environment where parents are permissive, passive (or worse), absent, then guaranteed those parents aren’t enforcing what the teacher is trying to achieve. Teachers face a constant uphill battle as students are getting two very different messages from two very influential adults in their lives: their teachers who spend 7 or more hours a day with them, and their parents who they go home to.”
The next section of the interview functioned a bit like a fish bowl experiment.
“So, the two articles we sent you ladies, we’re sure you’ve read over fervently and took lots of notes. At this time we’re going to invite you six to have an open discussion on the articles for 30 minutes. You can talk about both articles or just one; no order of points you have to follow; anyone can talk at any time; and we’ll let you know when there’s 5 minutes left before we call time.”
No pressure whatsoever!
“So who knows what about Common Core State Standards?” I say boldly to open the discussion, and to break the tension, again. Our conversation revolved around the very controversial Common Core State Standards (one article topic) and the achievement gap between white middle class students and minority students (the topic of the second article).
In August of 2011, I found myself – without any formal professional development training - staring blankly and hopelessly at a lesson plan template that looked foreign to me, not even comprehending where I should start.
In the spring of 2013, I sat across the table from a former elementary school teacher, now friend and mentor. “To have a seasoned teacher who’s been in education for 20 years spend hours on lesson planning like she’s a rookie begs a certain question of training and support.”
As I'm making eye contact with all candidates at the table I say, “I’m not saying Common Core, in of itself is a bad idea, what I am saying is the implementation of it from 2011 till now has been less than forgiving.”
The discussion from Common Core and the demand for students to articulate their math answers in written form led to the question of English language learners, and students who have problems composing sentences period, to the achievement gap. I make a comment, “while Common Core is placing more rigor on students, is the achievement gap widening for those who even struggle to articulate themselves in writing?” A perfect seg-way to address the achievement gap of students between affluent neighborhoods to students from inner cities schools.
“By the time I get home from work, I just don’t have the time or energy to read to my son Ms. Quigley.”
Talking to a parent who’s changed their child’s school three times in a year about the importance of school consistency in their children’s academic success…
“Maybe consider taking away T.V. and video game privileges’ because if I’m honest, four hours in front of a screen is a bit excessive.”
“Parents in these urban settings are working two or more jobs, and just don’t have the energy to invest time in their kids. They send them to school, and have a mentality that education is JUST the role of the teacher. How do you educate parents on how to be just that – a parent! The fact of the matter is so many parents need parenting classes.”
Flash backs of a hostile work environment, low teacher moral and an unusually high teacher turnover rate at a former school…
“You know, as demanding as teaching is, if the moral isn’t there at a school – especially in intercity schools – you can guarantee a high teacher turnover rate. It starts with a supportive and caring administration and flows through the teachers and staff. As much as teachers can and will stick it out for the kids – particularly in urban settings – if there is stress walking into the school halls and the admin office, then it’s only a matter of time till a well-intentioned teacher leaves the school; and naturally so.”
At the table with the other five young ladies, I as well as two others definitely steered the conversation, while the other three timidly spoke up just a couple of times. These were just a couple of discussion contributions I made to this 30 minuet fish bowl experiment as the director and assistant director diligently scribbled notes on their paper pads.
As we wrapped up the interview with last minuet questions to the director and assistant director I couldn’t help but feel truly confident about my performance. And then I thought about all the flashbacks I had during the course of the interview; all the classroom moments I had with students from different intercity schools – literally from coast to coast – and how those moments whether I responded well or not, combined with the bonds and console I’ve made and received from seasoned teachers and a former teacher of my own undoubtedly prepared me for this moment, at this time. The interesting thing is I’ve put off applying, and going back to grad school and put off getting my credential for at least 3 years now. Granted 2 of those years I was in the trenches of grieving alongside my family before and after my father’s death from cancer. Much of the time I couldn’t see past my own nose, much less gather myself to tackle a daunting grad school application. But I digress. At any rate, as I thought about my performance, and thought of my flashbacks that lead to me and prepared me for this moment in time, I thought: that went perfectly! It’s cliché, and perhaps a bit cheesy, but my grad school application process and interview happened in God’s time.
I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be – right now!