Sunday, February 22, 2009

My day at the job fair

Some of you have heard the story already, so for those of you who haven't, this is for you.

On Saturday, January 31, 2009, I headed out of my house at 8:30am to one of the largest teacher job fairs in the state, and I went to it in a chicken suit. I had been nervous about it during the days preceding fair, but when I woke up that morning I shot up out of bed excited. However, a part of me was still going to be happy when the job fair was over because I usually don't like making a big scene of myself anywhere, and this was obviously doing the opposite. The suit was ridiculous. It included a gigantic chicken head (see the photos), a furry yellow top that went down to my mid-thigh, a pair of yellow tights, and two orange chicken feet. It was awesome. But I came to the fair prepared to come off as a great candidate. I had seven resumes (about as many as I'd need for the six hours of the fair - almost one an hour), and was confident because I had been there so many times before I knew what I was going to be asked. Plus, how can you not be confident when you're in a chicken suit? I had nothing to lose. I also brought a camera with me, stored inside the yellow fur in a waiter's apron I put on.

When I got out of my car I was rather nervous because it was a long walk to the building during which I knew I'd pass lots of cars and people. When I entered the building I felt a little better, but was still anxious. But just like when I used to do stand-up, I was nervous until I got that first laugh, and just about the second I walked through the doors to the building into the crowds of people signing up for the fair I heard a big boom of laughter from someone. I went to register for the fair with a lady who also laughed and was happy to see me and then sat down nearby to familiarize myself with the materials they handed me - information about the districts present and where to find their rooms. I sat next to a very pretty girl who initiated conversation with me. I even stopped talking to her for a minute while I looked at stuff and she started up the conversation again. I was really thinking she was interested in me so I took off the chicken head so she could see my attractive mug and asked her for her number. I said that if she wasn't too busy or taken, I'd love to have her number. She gave it to me happily, but did mention she was taken. I never called her, but talking to her in the chicken suit was awesome. I felt like I had some strange allure to her that she loved, and I actually sort of regretted taking the head off because I thought it disspelled a lot of that. After I got her number, I said goodbye and moved on ready for the day.

The fair is absolutely huge. It's housed in one of the buildings of a large community college. The classes are converted to interview rooms and the hallways are the waiting areas. The hallways stretch for what seem to be 1/8 of a mile and are filled with hundreds of people all over the place. Thousands come to this job fair. The sad thing is, they all think they have some chance of making a good enough impression to stand out in the interviews. The numbers just aren't in their favor. All day I enjoyed thinking about whether the suit gave me an advantage over all the others, and I'm sure many others wondered the same thing.

When I got to the interview hallways, I was really excited to see the reactions on people's faces. The whole day I kept a straight face as I walked up and down the place and had interviews. I smiled for photos with people who asked. About ten people asked to take a photo with me that day, which made me feel good. An hour or so into the ordeal I was approached by a woman who said to me, "Dude, they're exchanging photos of you all over the place on cell phones." I acted surprised, but I was sort of expecting it. I mean, I'm in a chicken suit at a job fair. Randomly all day I'd have someone tell me, "Awesome suit, man," and that made me feel good. The highlight came about two hours in though, when I was waiting in a line for an interview and a man came around the corner and stopped to talk to me. He had two cameras around his neck and the first thing I remember him saying was, "I've been looking for you for half an hour." His name was Warren and he told me he was a photographer for the Tribune getting shots for an article to be written about the glut of teachers and lack of jobs. He had been taking photos somewhere else at the fair and heard there was a man in a chicken suit and went on a search to find me. He stayed with me for about a half hour and spoke with me and took photos while I was in lines and even in an interview. One of the photos he took ended up being the one Thom posted a few posts below. It was an 8x6 photo on the front page of a section of the Tribune. It was awesome. There wasn't anything in the article about me except for the caption that explained in my own words why I was wearing a chicken suit, but that was enough for me. It was by far the best surprise of the day.

It wasn't all smiles, though. The first line I got into there was some snotty girl near the front who saw me and yelled across a few people the most obvious question in the world, "Why are you wearing a chicken suit to a job fair?" I responded kindly, "It makes things more interesting, doesn't it?" Perturbed, she answered, "No." I quickly asked, "Then why are you asking me about it?" Some people laughed and smiled and she didn't answer. I think she realized she'd been outsmarted by a chicken. Later, I went into a line for district 211 - the most coveted district to work in, and the one I went to high school in - and she was right there at the back when I got in line. The job fair had been going on a few hours at this point and as soon as I got in line she asked me, "Are people actually talking to you in that thing?" She had said things in the first line I encountered her in that I didn't appreciate, some snide comments about me to other people. So I took her question as an opportunity to put her in her place and said, "Yes. Are they talking to you?" We had a brief exchange where she accused me of being mean, and I mentioned that I'd heard her say things about me before and quoted her exactly. She stumbled her way through an excuse and after that I let it be. During my time next to her in that same line I realized exactly how dumb she was. In education, you can't confuse terms like "certified," "endorsed," or "highly qualified" for each other, because they all mean vastly different things. She wasn't aware of this and when she asked me what I was certified in I told her. Psychology and US History. I can teach anything in social studies, but that's what I'm certified in (in other words, those are my specialty areas). I asked her what she was certified in and she made a claim that she was certified in "Social Sciences." This is not a certification since no one teaches a class that is just called Social Sciences. It's a subject area. It doesn't matter if you don't know the difference between all those terms, but it did for her because she was stupid and should've known. When I tried to explain to her that that doesn't exist, she tried to explain to me that it did. Others in line jumped in on my side and tried to explain the same thing to her (for her own good, mind you), but she wouldn't have it. She reminded me of me the first time I came to the job fair - nearly out of college and thinking I knew it all. I just wasn't as snotty or retarded. So I don't think she was much like me, actually.

By the time I entered the district 211 line, I had been in five other interviews and was just about ready to go. The line for district 211 was the longest at the fair - over an hour. I waited and waited and finally got to the front. The whole time in line I had been listening to the principal from one of the schools schmooze with the applicants at the front. When I finally got there, he asked me one question. "Why should we interview a man in a chicken suit?" I responded, "Well, because it shows that I'll do anything to get the job and that I'll do it in a creative way. But, if you don't want to interview me, I can take my services elsewhere." That last part just came out. I regretted saying it afterward, but I think his mind was made up already. He wasn't really listening to me and when my turn came for an interview, he peeked his head inside the classroom and spoke with a man for a minute. When he came out, this man was with him and I was asked to step aside and speak with him. His name was Bob Grimm, he told me, and continued, "We at district 211 take this job fair very seriously. We don't feel like you're taking this fair seriously enough and we're not going to interview you." At that point, he took out his wallet and $2 and said, "I'm going to reimburse you for your time in the line. This is 10% of what it cost you to get in here today." I was shocked, but kept my head on straight (chicken head) and said, "Keep your money." He then told me he was the assistant superintendent and if I had any problems I could contact him. I was polite and told him to have a good day, but I was, and still am angry when I think about it. In hindsight, I wished I'd told him I didn't need his chump change and made a big, overdramatic scene where I wailed and cried in a corner regretting my decision to come to the job fair in a chicken suit. But as it was, I stood there and contemplated where I would go for my next interview. As I started walking down the hall, not 30 seconds after this encounter, I was approached by a man who introduced himself as Mike, from Leyden school district. I forget what he said his position was, but he was very enthusiastic and told me he had to get a photo with me. He then related how I reminded him of someone he knew who would've done the same thing 20 years ago. I said, "Is his name Mike?" He said yes, and we walked down the hall and talked about the prospects in his district. I virtually walked right in to the classroom and interviewed with a department chair who loved me even more than Mike did. The whole day I had encounters similar to this. Many had heard that there was an applicant in a chicken suit, but it's one thing to hear about it and it's another to see it. Several times during the day I would walk into the interview classroom and the two or three other interviewers who were in the middle of interviews with an applicant would burst out laughing. The same thing happened this time. It was a great feeling. The guy who interviewed me had Mike take pics of him interviewing me, including one where he was kissing my beak. He also insisted on calling me "Chicken Man" instead of Andrew. I told him my story about district 211 and he said, "Forget them. We love this stuff here." He even went on to tell me at the end of the interview that they'd be contacting me, which is absurd because no one says that at that job fair. It is a desert of hope and opportunity. I was psyched. I came off as a great candidate for the district and actually wouldn't mind working there either. So I'm really hoping that turns into a second interview. Mostly, I was just happy to have such a happy experience after such a negative one at district 211.

There were other interviews that went really well. Some people even had trouble interviewing me because they couldn't stop laughing. I took photos with some of them, as you can see. I love how big the beak is in some of them. You can hardly see the interviewer.

Finally, after a successful day, I met up with Thom whose apartment is near the college. We had planned to go to lunch and he decided KFC was as good a place as any. We were in there at a weird time, 3:30, so there wasn't really anyone there to get a kick out of it, but Thom took some pics and we ate up our meals and the irony.

Four days later, my photo showed up in the Tribune and lots of copies of the paper were given to us from all sorts of people whom I didn't even know knew me. It was cool to have so many people send me copies of the paper that I didn't even know. Lots of people at school laughed about it with me, students, teachers, and administrators alike. They know I'm job searching and have been very encouraging, but I have doubts about whether I'll be able to find a job next year due to the economy and other factors. We'll see, though. And if I get any further with anyone from the fair, I'll be sure to let you all know. Mostly, I was just happy to make so many people's days at the fair. It's such a miserable place and I think it was made a lot more enjoyable this year.


Thom said...

"I felt like I had some strange allure to her that she loved, and I actually sort of regretted taking the head off because I thought it disspelled a lot of that."

You should have kept it on! I bet she wouldn't have said she was taken then.

"Some people laughed and smiled and she didn't answer. I think she realized she'd been outsmarted by a chicken."

Silly girl! She should know better than to question a chicken...

"Mostly, I was just happy to make so many people's days at the fair. It's such a miserable place and I think it was made a lot more enjoyable this year."

Not to mention it's a great story to tell.

Michael said...

Most of those photos look like you're trying to eat the heads of the people you're being pictured with.

This definitely makes them even more awesome.