Sunday, February 7, 2010

Buried in the Avalanche

Two things happened last week to remind me that our depressed economy continues.

I went to see my tax lady. This year, I thought she looked a little grimmer than usual. “How bad was it for you guys this year?” she asked as we sat down at her desk.

We told her about the cuts at school, teachers laid off, belt-tightening all around. “But it seems like we might be pulling out of it,” I offered.

She shook her head. “People are desperate. Unemployment. Underemployment. Not enough taxes taken out because everyone tries to stretch their dollars. Then they come in here and find out they owe a ton.” She grimaced. “If this country doesn’t get some industry going, we are not going to recover.”

Granted, she is not an economist, but she has always been dead on with her financial advice to me, and many years she has saved me a lot of money, so I trust her. She also sees a nice cross-section of people filing through her office at tax time.

The second thing that happened was more telling. I ran an ad on one of the teacher employment websites for an English teacher. It is that time of year when we begin gathering resumes for possible openings for next year. I placed the ad at 10:30 at night before logging off to go to bed. Stone delayed me a bit, and when I went back to shut down the computer at eleven, I had ten resumes parked in my email box. The deluge continued overnight, and in the first twenty-four hours I averaged roughly three to five applicants an hour. Now, they come so fast that I must check my email several times a day to keep up with the flow. I put together a quick note to reply to the applicants stating that I received their materials and should we wish to schedule an interview, we would be in touch. I got replies to my reply.

As I began to cull the results of my ad, I was surprised at the breadth of the responses. I received resumes from people with an astonishing variety of degrees. Many had Masters and post-graduate diplomas. Of course, English and education were overwhelmingly represented. But I also received material from people with degrees in astronomy, aeronautics, sociology, journalism, philosophy, psychology, and geology.

The most popular current occupation was tutoring. Some were substitute teachers, and a few were laid off last year by their former schools, both public and private. As has been the case for several years, the occupations of writer, novelist, screenwriter, and poet had representation. There were also some different job histories: an airline maintenance technician, inventory control technician, surf instructor, and a number of advertising executives and copywriters. One person worked most of his adult life as a school janitor. He thought it was time to make the jump to the classroom. He had an English degree and a teaching credential completed while cleaning school bathrooms, God bless him.

Since the applicants were shooting for a position teaching English, I was interested in their writing skills. Scary, to say the least. “Peole’s” for people’s; “Thier" for their; “May” for my. Shouldn’t you proofread carefully before submitting?

How about these sentences? “My forte lies with…writing and composition.” Or, “I then help the student become more comfortable with writing by using a comprehensible teaching style.” One guy claimed to have an “infectious [my emphasis] and enthusiastic passion for literature and creative writing.”

Another applicant asked for twenty-four hour notice before scheduling an interview so he could make the four hour drive to Los Angeles: from Oregon! Maybe he has one of those new hybrids that defy the space-time continuum.

The salutations on the cover letters also proved interesting. Most were addressed to me, or “To Whom It May Concern.” Others were addressed to people I had never heard of, or organizations not affiliated with the school. “My cover letter was intended for a school in NYC so please discard the address,” one said. Obviously, the applicant had forgotten to readdress the letter after the last submission. I chuckled to myself when I opened one email that began: “Respected Paul Martin.”

The shortest cover letter simply said, “I saw the add [sic] for an English teacher and am interested in interviewing for the position.”

I’ll spend the next several weeks sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of people’s lives to find a short list of applicants to interview. The message is clear: lots of people need work, and many will take anything they can get.

In all our self-assured narcissism, our troubles are still with us. We are an empire at a crossroads, a culture struggling with its own entropy. Will this be the year we pull ourselves out of the doldrums and get the ship-of-state back on course? The more important question is, do we have the strength, leadership, and self-discipline to find the answers? Uncertainty is all we have right now, and it is anything but reassuring.


  1. Thanks for this post Paul. I'll be graduating soon and looking for a teaching job, and it's comforting to know that there are conscientious teachers like you reviewing applications. The prospect is grim, but there is hope.

  2. Good luck with the job search. We need good, dedicated people ready to change the world. Do not be discouraged. Teaching is always a work in progress. A good teacher is always adjusting, revising, redirecting. If there is ever a year where you think you have it all figured out, think again. However, there is no other more rewarding career. Thanks for the comment and keep in touch.


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