I got rejected, kindly at least, from a potential job recently due to being overqualified – even though my cover letter, note to the hiring official, interview, and references all proclaimed it was a job I could do and would do well. And, frankly, I’ve been over qualified for every job I’ve ever had. But this felt different. Perhaps because it falls on the heels of rejection after rejection for hundreds of jobs I’ve applied to in the last six months. Which, finally, brings me to some personal reflection.
My life’s work, if you will (and we will because I’m the author here and I want to be melodramatic), has been to teach math. And “teach math” is something I’ve done and done well. For reasons not quite within my grasp, I realized is also something I’m done with.
However, of the nearly 250 jobs I’ve applied to this year, 50 or so have been focused around teaching – things like student support, advising, or professional development. So, it begs the question: why? What is it about education that makes me want to stay near it, but at arm’s length? And, why am I asking that question now?
I think each of those have to do with the job that decided I was “overqualified.” It’s an amazing, non-profit organization, with incredibly successful statistics, in helping students graduate from college. And, despite losing an opportunity to work for them months ago (when they decided I was underqualifed for a position), I kept creeping on their website looking for more success stories and more job openings.
You see, they don’t just help any student that wants to go to college – in fact, they start with those that probably don’t know college is an option. The group started years ago and targeted students in their middle school years that came from homes with drug use. They then give those students extra support and guidance throughout high school and college to ensure they are successful and feel, truly feel, the support that success entails. It’s amazing. And it’s a group I would financially support, that is, if I had any actual income of my own.
But, I don’t. So, I applied to be their Office Manager – a job that doesn’t sound too glorious or as “prestigious” as college professor, but it was a job I truly wanted. It would enable me to help champion this organization and their students by providing what I believe is crucial clerical support in day-to-day and future operations. But, students? I wouldn’t have to deal with so much. It seemed perfect. But I had to desperately plea to get an interview since they saw multiple masters on my resume and nearly a decade of teaching experience. But, I got one and nailed it and slam dunked their little Excel test and my references knocked it out of the park. Their hang up – they still just didn’t “get” why an overqualified person like me wanted to sit at a desk and, moreover, they didn’t think I’d stay. While I wish this group all the success in the world, I still think they made the wrong choice.
When the director called to let me know they had chosen someone else for the position, he was adamant that I’d be a good fit for the group and asked if I’d like my resume to be considered for any future openings working with students. My stomach sank, my face sneered, but my voice said “I’d consider it” all the while knowing that my take on the word “consider” is that to scream no you have to think about the question and therefore all things are “considered” (given this was my exact logic when a boyfriend once asked me if I’d consider marriage while I was still a year into my divorce process!)
So, why? Why hold such high regard for this group and not have any excitement in working on the front lines for them?
Because the front lines are exhausting. Because I’m exhausted. And because emotional labor is real.
You see, I’m one of those students from a drug-ridden household where college didn’t seem like an option. And half a dozen college graduations later, I can tell you first hand that it’s hard. It is so unbearably hard. My alcohol-induced, ever so often fighting parents managed to burn down my house in elementary school. Their drug-ridden pasts appeared shortly thereafter when Hepatitis C appeared to flow rapid through every vein. Their care for my studies declined as their dependence on drugs, some prescription and some not, increased. Their colored pasts appeared right as my motivation faded away. I started failing math tests in fifth grade, then in sixth. I skipped recess to get berated by my teachers and told I’d never learn to divide. I struggled and fought. It took two years to win a battle with math. But by the ninth grade, I was nearly failing math again. By tenth grade I was sick of drug paraphernalia and late night parties not even being hid in the house anymore. I called the police. My parents were livid, mostly because they tossed the drugs down the toilet. I moved into a halfway house where kids go when they and their parents need to “cool off.” But I didn’t need cooling off, I needed a drug free house. My parent’s solution was to put me on anti-depressants. I tried to overdose, but failed at any real reaction. It was a fucking mess. Slowly, I realized school was the answer. School made me feel good. And I kept every bit of my home life a secret from school, advisors, and teachers. I went to community college that summer and each semester of eleventh grade to make up for my math deficiencies. And, I did. I graduated high school with a world renowned diploma and a year of college under my belt. But I did so living on friend’s couches, sneaking into my boyfriend’s house late at night to shower, and sleeping on benches in parks instead of going home. The last semester of my senior year, I don’t think my parents ever noticed I had already moved out. I came home, time to time, to cook them dinner and clean the house – mostly to check they were still alive. Which was likely considered barely since drugs ravaged my mom and the hepatitis ravaged my dad. The next year, they divorced when my mom realized she couldn’t juice any more drug money from my disabled dad. I worked a few jobs and went to community college to help him pay the bills, but all he did was drain his retirement to buy drugs and new boobs for my mom. He wanted to die that year she finally left him, but he managed to depressingly hobble along another year before dying by suicide. I’d racked up my associate’s by then and got my bachelors a semester later. I started to realize school truly was the way to not be my parents and enrolled in graduate school and never looked back.
Until now, I guess. Not really really look back anyway. I can roll these facts of my life off my tongue, or in this case through my thumbs as I type this on my phone. I do so easily. But the thought of being the “adult” on the other side of the desk to students just like me – it’s too much. I want the best for them, I really do. But I’m also selfish because I can’t keep giving myself to this profession.
Emotional labor is one of the truest “buzz words” I have ever encountered. It was present every single time a student asked “but please, I need this” when they wanted a grade boost. It was present every time a coach said the same. It was present every time I saw a student not “reaching their potential.” I wanted to kick every one of them in their ass out in the hall. My heart broke every time a student’s heart did. And it seemed to break more with each one. Successes came, for sure, but not without hard work that never quite equaled the pain it took to get them all there.
That’s not to say I didn’t love the job. It’s not to say I didn’t do good work or touch lives. I know I did and I know I did even when the outcomes weren’t favorable. But, I know I’m done. I won’t be a self-made martyr (because those are the worst kind, amiright?) Moreso, I’m not sure I can imagine my life outside trying to help students, even if just from the sidelines. I love students. I loved being one. And, I’m pretty sure it saved my life, multiple times.
And so, I’m at a loss for moving forward. Each job these days finds me “overqualified” to be at arms length from the classroom and the unbearable toll it can take. I try my best to convey that I want their position, I’ll do the job well, and I want to be close to that world. But, nothing happens. My resumes get lost in the cloud of the internets. And not a goddamn one of these hiring officials reads the truth in my cover letters. Maybe enough beers will make me send them this instead.