The New Apartment

We rolled into Minnesota on Thursday, July 29, in time for dinner.  We spent Friday setting up the fabulous new guestroom in the basement of the Stocco’s house.  Today (Saturday) Sarah and I left Griffin with Grandpa Jeff and Grandma Pam so that we could drive up to St. Paul to start scouting out possible apartments.  We figured we would see some places today and then setup more appointments for Monday and Tuesday.  Our fingers were crossed that we could sign a lease by next weekend to have this big hurdle behind us.

At 10:30 we arrived at our first appointment.  The Craigslist ad sounded good, but didn’t have any pictures so I was skeptical.  The outside of the duplex was nothing special, though we liked the neighborhood.  As we reached the top of the stairs, however, we were blown away.  It was fantastic… beautiful woodwork, a great layout, lots of storage, updated appliances, free laundry… everything we were looking for.  This seemed too good to be true, so we decided we had better look around at some other places.  They sucked.  And they cost more.  And they sucked.  We called the landlord and signed a lease.

We have no pictures yet, but here is the original post from Craigslist:

Perfect 2 bedroom
Date: 2010-07-21, 11:30PM
awesome upper duplex. wood floors and all woodwork recently redone. walls painted in subtle yet fun colors. classic st. paul style with sunroom, living room, dining room with gorgeous built in buffet, updated kitchen with dishwasher and huge modern fridge, good sized bedrooms and closets, updated super clean new bathroom with oversize new tub with jets, free garage parking with opener, FREE washer and dryer just for your unit in clean basement, tons of storage space in basement and attic, cute yard with patio and grill….this is a great home for a family, or for roommates… close to st kates, mac, stthomas…email if you would like more info or to set up a showing. 1200 a month, landlord pays water and garbage.

Feels pretty unreal to have walked into our dream apartment on our first try!

Nebraska Swim

After a long first shift in the car today, we exited in North Platte, Nebraska for a lunch break. We had sandwiches and then asked if there were any parks, playgrounds, or McDonalds Playplaces around. We were directed to the other side of town where instead of a playground, we found a community pool. On a whim, we decided to go swimming (it was a blazing hot day, perfect for a dip). The kiddie pool was awesome. When we left, Griffin ran back to the fence and made it very clear that he wanted more swimming and less driving! (But he fell sound asleep in his carseat within three blocks.)

The New Job

This is the main entrance of the Randolph campus which houses the middle and upper schools (the lower school is on a separate campus). The original SPA building which houses the upper school is on the right. The middle school is to the left of the main entrance (out of frame).

This year I will be teaching eighth grade social studies at St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I couldn’t be more thrilled… not only do I have a job, but I have a job that I’m really excited about!  Everybody I have met at SPA has been incredibly warm and welcoming.  (Aside: they pronounce each letter in the acronym, S-P-A, rather than pronouncing it as the word spa.) It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago Sarah and I were considering the possibility of unemployment.  Moreover, we were fairly certain that if we did find jobs, they would be less-than-ideal… I was looking at some part-time tech jobs, Sarah was applying to every school in the state.

I have formally applied to only a few jobs in my life; typically I have worked at places where I was already a known quantity — any applications or interviews were just formalities.  This is partly because I tend to stick with jobs for a long time, but also because I have often found new jobs through a network of friends and colleagues.  In case I ever need to apply blindly for jobs again, I want to record the process I went through for this job.  If any blog readers are considering applying for jobs, perhaps you’ll find something useful here too.

Background

In late April, when I discovered that my California teaching credentials wouldn’t transfer to Minnesota, I was in a bind.  (For those who missed that newsflash, based on my undergraduate coursework I was only licensed to teach anthropology in Minnesota!)  All of my job hunting thus far had been aimed at the public schools (I naïvely assumed that my credentials would transfer), and I had been fairly confident that something would work out with a number of schools I had visited over spring break.  Suddenly, all of this work went down the drain.  With the master’s thesis deadline looming (and a zillion other things on the high priority to-do list) there was little time to research and apply to Minnesota private schools.

Enter Ken Simon and Anne Redmond.  Ken is a consultant based out of the Twin Cities who has been working with Oakland Unified for the past two years.  I had met him a number of times, but had no idea where he was from.  My principal, however, put two and two together and suggested that he talk to me.  He put me in touch with many of the public school principals that I met with over spring break and, after the licensing fiasco, recommended a number of private schools to consider, including St. Paul Academy where he had worked in the early ’90s.  Meanwhile Mark Redmond, an old friend from Oberlin, recommended that I contact his parents who both work at a private school in Minnesota.  His mother, Anne, was unbelievably generous with her time, giving me a long list of contacts at various schools and much useful advice.  Her many messages helped me proceed with confidence.  (Confidence is, I think, an intangible but essential ingredient of a successful job hunt.)

First Try

Based on Ken’s recommendation, I checked the St. Paul Academy website and saw a job listing for a high-school history position!  Dreamy!  I began by customizing my résumé.  I tend to tweak my résumé for each specific application.  All the versions (of which I have about a dozen) are largely the same, but I move bullet points around, emphasize certain things, change some references, etc.  In this case I think I emphasized my work with the Teaching American History Grant to showcase my commitment to teaching history.

Then came the cover letter.  Cover letters are quite painful for me.  I usually write a new one for every application, though sometimes I can recycle pieces of older ones.  In this case, I started from scratch.  In a relatively short letter (though I went over a page) I wanted to convey a lot:

  • my passion for teaching
  • my philosophy of education (or at least of history education)
  • how my professional background qualifies me for the position
  • how my personal background makes me a particularly good fit for the job

Finally, of course, I hoped that the letter would be a good example of my communication skills.  I was very aware that being a long-distant candidate would work against me, and that this letter would have to convince them to consider me for an interview.  (Sarah had been having a hard time landing interviews as a long-distance applicant — one principal even called to setup an interview and then changed her mind when she found out that Sarah was still in California!)  I spent four intensive days writing the best cover letter I could come up with.

On May 26 I submitted my application.  I continued my busy, busy life and waited.  On June 4, I received a very polite e-mail:

With so many superbly qualified candidates, we looked finally for the one whose background and qualifications gave us just the right “fit” for our exact needs. Although we were impressed with your experience, another candidate whose background is more closely suited to our current needs has been selected.

I knew it was a long shot, so I wasn’t surprised, but it was disappointing.

Second Try

I did, however, subscribe to the RSS feed from the job posting page at the school, just in case other jobs came up in the future.  Shortly after issuing my rejection letter, they posted the middle school social studies position.  (I have since learned that the high school position was filled internally by one of the eighth grade teachers, which opened up the middle school spot.)

SPA seeks candidates for the one year position of Middle School Social Studies Teacher.  The position is a .80 FTE and begins August  2010.  Candidates should possess the ability to teach social studies in the Middle School with an emphasis on 20th century history, predominantly American history, and current events. Candidates must also have experience working with students in an advisory capacity and demonstrate an understanding of the social and emotional needs of this age group.  Candidates should support the mission of SPA and the vision of the Middle School, and should be able to contribute to the life of the School outside of the classroom.

This time it was much easier to get things ready for the application.   I made a few minor tweaks to my résumé and spent an evening revising and polishing my cover letter, mostly to add language describing my advisory role at Bret Harte.  The final versions, submitted on June 14, are linked from the thumbnails below (private contact information about me or my references has been removed).

Résumé thumbnail
Résumé for the middle school application.

Cover letter thumbnail
Cover letter for the middle school application.

Then, once again, it was a waiting game.  Luckily this was the last week of school at Bret Harte, so I had plenty to distract me.

On Monday, June 21, I received a phone call from the principal of the middle school.  She was very friendly and invited me in for a first-round interview.  To my great relief, she barely skipped a beat when I told her that I was still in California, and suggested that we do a Skype interview on-line.  Yay!

Skype Interview

The interview was scheduled for early Wednesday morning, June 23, with the hiring committee.  This left me about a day to get ready.  I received a lot of useful advice from friends about how to prepare, particularly regarding the specifics of an on-line interview.  I tested the camera on my laptop and chose a location with good light and nothing too distracting in the background.  I tested a Skype connection with my brother to make sure it was working, and practiced looking into the camera instead of at the screen to have better eye-contact. I also spent time with Sarah practicing some typical interview questions, particularly the tricky ones like “What’s your biggest weakness?”

Meanwhile, Yoni suggested that I send the principal a virtual portfolio with some materials that I might want to discuss during the interview — the electronic equivalent of having some handouts to pass out.  I spent most of Tuesday combing through my files to find a representative sample of my best materials.  (In addition to being brilliant, Yoni’s suggestion was prescient, since the principal contacted me later on Tuesday saying it would be helpful if I could pass along some curriculum materials to help the committee assess my teaching!)  Late that afternoon I sent along my portfolio, including a class syllabus, a sample six-week lesson plan, a PowerPoint presentation, a selection of graphic organizers, and a few example assignments.  In the e-mail cover letter I described each file and my rationale for including it.

At 8:30 Wednesday morning I sat in front of my laptop, in my wedding suit (which I would never wear to school, of course), feeling very professional.  The interview began on-time at 8:30 on Wednesday.  The hiring committee included the principal, the dean of diversity, the chair of the history department, and the other 8th grade social studies teacher.  They were all present for the Skype interview, but each took a turn in front of the camera, asking questions (so that way I could see the person I was talking to clearly).  The interview was, fundamentally, a blast.

In-Person Interview

The next step was a flight out to Saint Paul to visit the school and interview in-person.  I paid for the flight, but SPA covered my hotel.  I was exhausted during the visit, but it was immediately apparent that the school was a good fit. Everybody I met was impressive and asked exactly the sorts of questions that I would have wanted to ask a potential colleague. The mood was less “interview” and more “talking about education.” The specifics are already blurry (I didn’t get enough sleep the night before) but there were few questions about curriculum or classroom management, and nothing about standards or testing. They were interested in my general philosophy of education and we talked a lot about how the emotional and developmental needs of children must be addressed in order for authentic learning to happen. I felt a little bit like I had died and gone to teacher heaven. (Remember, I was written up last year for allowing my students to have a farewell party for their student-teacher.)

At lunch I realized that they were as hopeful that I would accept the job there as I was that they would offer it to me–not a bad situation!

Finale

I signed the contract.

I’m still pinching myself.

Daddy Afternoon

It’s our first full day in Boulder, hanging out with Alli and Nik.  After a very cranky breakfast, we put Griffin down for a much-needed nap.  Auntie Alli and Sarah went shopping and Nik headed out to a meeting, so I was left in charge while Griffin slept.  After he awoke, we had a super-fun afternoon!

First, we went and got the laundry from the laundromat downstairs.  To Griffin’s immense excitement, while investigating behind the trash can, he discovered a huge dirty plunger.  Fun!

Then we went back to the apartment and decided that folding all the laundry was a bore… so we had choices: lunch or swimming.  We decided on swimming.  The pool was cold, but Griffin had a blast.  There were inner tubes and a ball that he kept throwing into the water.  And there was a puddle on the deck to splash in.  I was a bit nervous heading down there, because Griffin has no sense of self-preservation when it comes to the water… he’ll happily walk right off the edge into the water.  But we were in sync this time, and had fun exploring the whole environment. He seemed to understand the concept of the stairs better this time — he knew that he had to stay on the first two steps.  (Later, however, he did try to make a sudden leap into the deep end.)

After swimming we were hungry.  Griffin happily ate a piece of bread, half a banana, turkey, ham, cheddar cheese, and even a bit of pesto.  Yum.

Then, of course, it was time for a stroll around the courtyard.  More fun, and Griffin was happy to smile for the camera.  (See the pics below.)  It feels pretty good to have only one responsibility: being Dad.

Creepy Rest Stops?

We’ve made great progress today, day two of our road trip to Minnesota. Griffin has been a champ, and we have sacrificed some of our ideals in an effort to keep things interesting for him.

Sacrifice 1: McDonalds Playland, Elko, Nevada. To be clear, we did not eat a meal there, but wow was Griffin immediately mesmerized by the place. And, honestly, for good reason. The slide was gigantic and colorful and filled with friendly kids. All this joy can be yours for the low low price of a big mac. We settled on an ice cream cone.

Sacrifice 2: Rainbow Casino, Wendover, Nevada. We thought this might be a good place to stop for lunch. (Casino restaurants are fairly cheap and offer some healthier options than fast food chains.). We forgot how weird casinos can be. We all gasped when we walked in. It is definitely the strangest place Griffin has ever been: a glittering wonderland. He was so excited by all the lights and sounds and mirrors and thick soft carpeting! Of course the place was fairly deserted, with only a handful of decrepit people pouring money into the slot machines. By the time we finished lunch the magic wore off and we fairly sprinted out of there.

View from inside the plastic labyrinth.
Griffin loved sitting in Ron's lap. Seriously, he would keep trying to climb up!
Mama extraction.
This doesn't do justice to the over-the-top decor of the casino.

MILK!!

Griffin took an early, three hour long nap today and so was getting irritable earlier than usual in the evening. He was signing for milk (which is part of our bedtime routine), but I wanted to try to keep him engaged a little longer since 5:30 would likely get us a very early wake up tomorrow. So I told him he could have milk a little later and “wouldn’t you rather play with the lincoln logs?” That worked for about a minute before he led me to the kitchen, pointed at the refrigerator and signed “milk” again. I repeated that he’d have to wait and tried to distract him with some books in the other room. He quickly lost interest in those, padded off to the kitchen and returned, laboriously lugging an unopened container of soy milk from the lower cabinet with this look on his face like, “PEOPLE! Knock it off and pay attention to me: I am trying to tell you, I want MILK!” I could not believe his tenacity and willingness to work with my apparent inability to understand his very simple request. His efforts did not go unnoticed and I quickly poured him a bottle of soy milk. We sat down in the chair and he happily listened to several stories before going to bed at his normal hour. It is seriously such a delight to watch this little toddler discover how to navigate and communicate his way through his world.