“This is a school?” I wondered wearily as I drove through a giant parking lot. I circled the lot twice to make sure I was in the right spot. It worried me that there were only two parked cars; a black Lexus and a green Honda Civic. I pulled up close to the only door on the building and saw the tiny sign above it that read in maroon scrawl: King’s Collegiate. The one-story flat-roofed building resembled a factory, with its small windows and faded red brick. The entire setting was extremely cold and uninviting. There was no decor, no real entrance way, and absolutely no landscaping. I wouldn’t want to go to school there. Did I really want to teach there?
“Stop it,” I told myself as I pulled into a spot in the front row, away from the other two cars. “What does landscaping have to do with the value of a school?”
Nothing, I hoped. I swallowed hard, trying to remind myself that I was really lucky to be there. My English teaching career was off to a really great start. Immediately after graduating from my Teaching English as a Second Language class, I had been hired by a private language school, Universal Town School, better known as UTS. I worked there for two months over the summer teaching a teen activity program. That had been a lot of fun. Now, just three days after my teens had graduated and the program had ended, I already had an interview at this private high school in east Leafton, that had an integrated language school. The website boasted that it offered some really interesting ESL courses. I was really looking forward to teaching new things. Everything was working out perfectly.
I waited until the clock in my car turned to exactly 1:45pm before heading in for my 2:00pm interview. I was really nervous. It was only my second interview in my field. At the interview for UTS, I had been asked how I would teach the difference between “will” and “going to.” I had nailed that question. But grammar wasn’t exactly my forte. What if I was asked to explain a more complicated structure? What if I wasn’t able to?
When I entered the school, I was pleased to see that the inside had been recently renovated to resemble a school. It was still eerily empty in there, but I figured that was because it was a high school and classes didn’t commence in Ontario for two more weeks. That’s probably when I would start teaching. I introduced myself to the secretary, and she escorted me to the director’s office.
The director was a stocky bald man with a serious expression. He didn’t even smile as he shook my hand. I handed him my resume and cover letter and took a seat in the leather chair in front of his over-sized desk. He briefly introduced himself, before beginning the questions. I noticed he didn’t have a booklet of set questions like the woman at the UTS interview.
“You say, ‘Excellent classroom management skills,’ how?” He asked squinting to see the words on my resume. Whoa. That wasn’t how English worked. I was taken by surprise a bit, and then instantly felt bad about it. It was obvious he wasn’t a native English speaker. It was actually pretty amazing that he was running an international school. That’s what Canada should be like.
“Well -” I began to answer, but was cut off by the secretary storming back into the office.
She looked at me and said, “can you wait outside please?”
“Okay,” I said obediently standing up.
“No. Sit.” The director ordered. I hesitated, not knowing what to do. The director started yelling at the secretary in Korean, and she yelled back. I stood there awkwardly, trying to keep a polite smile on my face to show that I was totally okay with this unexpected interruption.
“What time was your interview?” He demanded.
“2:00pm.” I replied.
He checked his watch. 1:52. “Can you wait outside? There is a mother of a student here to speak to me urgently.”
“Sure,” I nodded agreeably. I picked up my purse and the secretary lead me to a room outside the office while a mother and her son walked past me, into the office. I tried not to be too weirded out by the way the interview was going so far. It wasn’t so bad. Plus, I was going to get a fresh start in just a few minutes.
I noticed a bookshelf in the room outside of the office. I was confused and intrigued by the variety of books on this shelf. They were mostly Korean children’s books, sprinkled with some Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Torrah and one particular English children’s picture book that stood out to me.
It was about a young Mexican girl living in the United States that was proud of being able to translate for her Spanish speaking grandmother in various situations, like on the bus, at the grocery store, or at the doctor’s office. I took this book as a sign. It narrated my childhood. When he asked me why I wanted to be an ESL teacher, I would reference this book. My whole life, I had been my grandparents’ personal translator, and I loved every minute of it. I wanted to help as many newcomers with English as possible. I wanted to empower these people to live in Canada as happily as my grandparents did.
Soon, the mother and son left, the director and I made eye contact through the crack before the door slammed shut. He didn’t come to get me. I didn’t let myself back in. A few seconds later, down the hall, I heard the secretary’s phone go off. She quickly came back and reescorted me back into the office. It was really awkward. Once I settled back into the chair, it got worse.
“Sorry for that interruption,” the director said shaking his head. “The Somalis. They’re full of problems. Always.”
On instinct, I began to nod and stopped half way through as my brain processed his words. Wait, what had he said? Was he being racist? He couldn’t be. Maybe he had said this particular family’s last name. He did have a thick accent. It would still be inappropriate to complain to me about any of his students, though. Maybe he was just stressed. I’d lost track of what my face was doing, as I tried to figure out what to say next. I must have been frowning because he continued to talking. “But you must be Canadian born, right?”
“Yes, absolutely.” I answered, feeling a bit better. Now I could tell him about how I was only first generation Canadian, and I wanted to help new immigrants.
“Then you probably don’t even see colour.” He rolled his eyes. It was the first time I’d even heard the expression, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be used insultingly, in the way that he has just hurled it at me. Maybe I just misunderstood his tone.
“I definitely don’t,” I kind of agreed. “Everyone is created equa-”
“Let me tell you,” he interrupted, annoyed. “This school used to be grade 1 to grade 12. Elementary and high school. I had to close the elementary school because of the Somalis! We had too many Somalis enrolling! Those people, always, always have problems.”
I tried to compose myself. This man, the owner of an international school, was being audaciously racist while interviewing a potential English as a Second Language Teacher. What the hell?! I should have gotten up and walked right out, but I was way too scared. I was glued to my seat.
“You are not OCT?” He asked, disgust dripping from his voice as he returned his attention to my resume. My cheeks turned red.
“No…” I said slowly. I had read the job posting for the school very carefully because most private high schools did require teachers to be a part of the Ontario College of Teachers. That was the college teachers had to attend if they wanted to teach children or teenagers, usually through the public school system. I was certified to teach teenagers and adults, through government funded Adult Education classes, in private schools and in colleges and universities. I figured the job posting didn’t ask for OCT teachers because there was a language school portion of the high school, which is where I imagined I would teach. I was fully certified to do that. “I have my Teaching English as a Second Language certificate. I’m an ESL teacher.”
“I can’t hire you.” He said matter-of-factly. Then why had he called me in for an interview? I had sent him my cover letter and resume ahead of time, precisely so he could look over it and decide if I met his qualifications and deserved an interview. I had in no way misrepresented myself. Before I could defend myself, he added, “you’d make no money here. I can’t hire only an ESL teacher. I need someone to teach both English and high school courses. I only have 35 students.”
35 students?! It suddenly occurred to me that applying for jobs at private schools was a lot like online dating. Any private school could easily misrepresent themselves online, and a poor naive applicant would have no idea what they’re getting themselves into until they’re caught in this uncomfortable state of affairs. 35 students wasn’t the size of a school, that was the size of a class! That was certainly not what was portrayed on the school website. That was ridiculous. I was glad he couldn’t hire me, now. I didn’t want to work there anymore.
“And you have no experience.” He informed me, waving my resume at me.
Enough was enough. I became uncharacteristically defensive. “I graduated in June. I worked as an ESL teacher all of July and August in a summer program. I also did extensive work in my practicum, and I’m volunteering at two different places.”
He smirked, the most condescending kind of smirk. “That’s not experience.”
“Okay. Thank you for your time.” I said, grabbing my purse and ushering myself out of the office.
Two weeks later, I found myself on the phone politely declining his gracious offer to join his team at King’s Collegiate.