Fear & Loathing in the College Boardroom: The Invitation

Posted on June 3, 2010


On Wednesday, May 12, I was offered the chance to compete for the position of English prof at another college.

Getting it would mean a regular schedule, summer vacations, and benefits.

That would be nice. Under the present system I’m usually given my schedule a couple of weeks before the start of the fall and winter semesters (although on occasion it’s been closer to two days). And while it’s true that I get summer vacations, these eerily resemble what, in my pre-teaching days, I’d always called “unemployment.” As for benefits — well, I have a locker where I keep my handouts and exams.

There's an app for that.

Or rather, I “had” a locker. During the rash of “administrative transitions” (maternity leaves) we’ve experienced over the past year,  my lock was cut, the contents shredded, and the locker’s ownership transferred to someone else. So I guess right now my benefits mainly consist of a key.

And yes, I’ve kept the key.

It’s mine, damn it.

In any event, the chance to interview for a full-time position was a pretty big deal. Even more so since the last job for which I’d interviewed was in 1987.

Seriously. 1987. That was the year a top-of-his-game Rob Reiner directed Princess Bride, Stephen King published Misery, and “Checkpoint Charley” was still racking up the bodies of those trying to escape the socialist dream.

1987. That’s a long, long time ago for an interview.

Since then, jobs just sort of happened.

A good example is how I ended up teaching college English.

On the first day of the 2005 winter semester I was looking for someone on campus. The nice office administrator helping me was somewhat apologetic about the apparent lack of organisation, and happened to mention that, along with the regular first-day crises and mix-ups that came with the beginning of the semester, there was an English class starting in two days for which they didn’t have a professor. I was feeling friendly and in a good mood and said, “What about me?”

So two days later I’m standing in front of this English class…

Anyway, you can see where I may have had some qualms about the idea of interviewing for a job.

Especially since it involved an “assignment.”

This assignment, which arrived by e-mail the following day, consisted of two parts.

The first was to turn what they called an “hour-long traditional lesson about Thesis” into the lesson plan for a 50-minute “facilitated learning experience.” A few slides and a quiz were included, but I could change whatever I felt needed to be changed. My new lesson plan and slides would then be e-mailed back, no later than noon the following Wednesday. The day before the interview.

The second part would take place during the interview itself, where I would give a 15-minute presentation explaining the pedagogical reasons for the changes I’d made.

Oh, good. I wasn’t entirely sure about the word “pedagogical,” and I sure as hell didn’t know what a “facilitated learning experience” was.

I Googled it, of course, but the top hits in the search results were for “equine facilitated learning experience,” which didn’t really help a lot.

And then there was the whole “lesson plan” thing.

Obviously I’d heard about lesson plans. They’re  those things where the teacher spells out in detail what will happen during each section of the lesson, how long each section will take, and what the relationship of each section is to the air speed velocity of the unladen swallow.

Or something like that.

Problem is, that’s not really how I teach.

Were I to actually write them, my lesson plans would look pretty much like this:

Today’s Topic: The Thesis.

Lesson Plan: Talk about the thesis.

It’s simple, direct, and has the added advantage not taking hours and hours to write.

So to recap: I didn’t know what a “facilitated learning experience” was and I’d never created a lesson plan.

Not a propitious start. And while I didn’t know it at the time, it was about to get worse.

Next: Fear & Loathing in the College Boardroom —
Down the Rabbit Hole

[Edited to add: I got word today on the success of the interview, but I don’t want this pre-knowledge to flavour the posts about preparing for it (besides, at the time I certainly didn’t know if it would work or not, did I?) So I’ll hold off revealing it until they’re finished. Probably two or three posts. I’m still processing — as they say.]