Q: I was interviewed for a newly created teaching position at what in many ways would be my dream school. It’s close to home and the school is known for compensating fairly and offering teachers great professional development. It’s a high school, too, which is my first choice. It’s also the only high school in this town. I know it’s unusual to interview after the start of the school year, but they unexpectedly ended up with 40-plus kids in a bunch of classes and have been granted extra funding to hire additional teachers. The plan is to redistribute classes.
I’ll be honest; I’m desperate for a job. I had to relocate suddenly for family reasons and am unemployed as a result. I had been working as a teacher in my old city, but I was granted long-term leave last year because of the family issue I mentioned. I resigned from that job when I realized I actually had to move, but I didn’t have enough time (or bandwidth, frankly) to deal with an exhaustive job search over the summer. Now that I’m settled in my new town and can see the horizon more clearly, however, I’ve been hitting the pavement. Which leads me to the interview. I met with two male administrators and a male teacher. (I’m a woman.) During the interview, they were very casual and conversational and seemed more interested in my personality than in my experience. I was enjoying the conversation well enough until one of them asked me, “So, how thick is your skin? There are a lot of guys around here who don’t believe in all that ‘politically correct’ stuff. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Are you the type of woman who gets all worked up when someone makes an un-PC joke?” I told them I was “good at interacting with all kinds of people,” but now I can’t stop thinking about this. I know they already have called my references and want to move quickly, and I want to think this through to the extent I can in advance. Is this a reason to reject their offer? Like I said, in many ways this is my dream job, and I don’t even have one other interview lined up.
A: I’m glad you’ve hit the pause button. People reject jobs for all sorts of reasons, and in this case, I think you’re smart to acknowledge your doubts. The interviewers’ line of questioning was a big red flag. There are a few reasons I think the comment felt particularly jarring. One is that you were being interviewed by three men, and you didn’t know exactly what they meant by un-PC. Are they making comments about female colleagues’ appearance? Peppering conversations with racist comments? You’ve made some inferences, clearly, and your gut is telling you that the school might be a hostile or uncomfortable place to work. After all, these men made these comments during an interview, when they supposedly are trying to recruit you. It’s not hard to imagine what they might say to you once they’re actively supervising you or working with you.
Only you can decide whether this is a deal breaker, but I recommend doing some due diligence before deciding whether to pursue the opportunity. Talk to other teachers in the building. Find out more about the workplace culture. Have there been any complaints filed against these administrators? What’s the teacher turnover rate? Keep in mind that even if you believe you could limit interactions with these individuals, their behavior likely is impacting overall morale. “Un-PC” often is code for disrespectful.
I know you need this job, but it sounds like you have a lot on your plate already and would benefit from working in a supportive environment. Plus, it could be more disruptive to take the position and then quit than to spend more time looking, even if you have to accept a long-term sub position or try something entirely different for the remainder of this school year. If you do decide it’s not a fit, withdraw your application and don’t look back. Going to work shouldn’t require a thick skin.
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