I am and always have been the internet version of a window shopper and there are many dangerous places for people like me to lose themselves on the internet. I have the app versions of eBay, Etsy, PetFinder, Realtor.com, and more. It makes my husband nervous. Granted it’s much easier to order a beautiful handmade scarf from Etsy than it is to run out and buy that beautiful lake house that I found, and let’s not talk about the heartbreakingly adorable dogs and cats in desperate need of a home. Yet, despite the let’s-be-realistic factor, it’s something I enjoy doing.
I was put off at first by the state photolistings of children in the foster care system waiting to be adopted. It felt like PetFinder and that unsettled me. These are human beings! Making them searchable, letting you eliminate certain races or special needs with a tiny little check box upset me. It reminded me of my first year in the working world. I was a brand new elementary education major with a decent amount of hope. I had accepted a job as a teacher’s assistant as a last minute grasp. The school year had already started and I was without a job. It wasn’t what I had wanted but I soon settled comfortably into the special ed. office and got to work one-on-one and in small groups with some amazing kids that were doing their best to overcome their own struggles to simply keep up and learn. It was a great year and I was proud to beef up my resume with this year’s experience and begin my search for my own classroom once again for the following fall.
As I was knee deep in cover letters and online applications, my assistant principal came to me with his laptop in tow. “I know you’re looking for a job. I want to show you what it looks like at our end so you know what you are up against.” He sat next to me at the too-small table, his knees banging the edge. He opened his laptop to a search page with various options. At the bottom of the search page there was a list of prospective teacher’s names (thousands!) and links to their uploaded cover letters and resumes. “Let’s say I want to find candidates that have at least five year’s experience, I click here…” Zap! The list shrank. “Maybe I also want candidates with master’s degrees.” Zap! The list shrank again. With each click hundreds of names disappeared and the reality set in. Here I was spending hours on online applications, composing perfect cover letters, mustering hope, imagining the faces of my future students and I could be eliminated with a single click. Forget about administrators not reading my resume, how many had not even read my name! “I’m not trying to discourage you or knock you down. I just want you to know that anywhere you can do a little more to get noticed is worth it.” I appreciated his insight even if it did make me feel like I was going to be working with hourly assistant’s wages and living at my parents’ house for the rest of my life.
Technology is a scary thing. It has done so many wonderful things but there’s a dark side to it as well. Gone are the days of thick manilla envelopes showing up on prospective employers’ desks. If they just open it and see what I have to say in my cover letter….
Now people can be eliminated with a click, something as thoughtless as a blink. They won’t even feel the weight of my story in their hands. It’s a scary prospect and it made me feel like a number, not a face with a story and hopes of setting up a cozy book nook and seeing my name stuck to a classroom door with sticky-tac and funky letters. Luckily, I was given that chance the very next fall in that very same school because after that eye-opening conversation, I worked my ass off to be seen.
I hadn’t thought about that conversation, now seven years ago, in a long time but coming across the foster care photolisting brought me right back to that too-small table seeing my future erased with an administrator’s click. Ever the window shopper, I didn’t allow my feelings to throw me off track and I looked through page upon page of hopeful face. I read the biographies of five year olds and eighteen year olds, sibling groups of eight, children so afflicted with maladies they are living in medical care centers instead of homes… I was determined not to eliminate any of their stories with a single click.
As I waded deeper into “Step 1: Educate Yourself” I began to see the photolisting as something different. When I was hired on as a classroom teacher there wasn’t just an empty room waiting for me. There was a team waiting to work with me, a school community looking for my contribution, and administrators hoping to nurture long-lasting professional relationships. Of those thousands of names on the list all would have been overjoyed at the prospect of a job but how many would have been truly happy there? Ready to commit to a lifetime in the district as I have grown to do? It’s not about wiping away hopes and futures with a click, it’s about finding the right fit, to love where you find yourself, and putting the dreams of a different someday away.
I’m a frequent visitor to the photolistings now. Mr. Something is providing an interesting contrast, he doesn’t want to see it. He’s afraid he’ll see that one picture of that one child, feel so connected and not be able to do anything to help yet. That helplessness is daunting here in “Step 1: Educate Yourself.” I, on the other hand, am looking for different reasons. I need to imagine myself in “Step 5: Engage in the Placement Process” I need to know that, even now, there are children whose stories call out to me. Children who would make me click that “Inquire about this child” link and push me through the door. Window shopping no longer. There’s a world of difference between admiring through the window and opening your wallet. Ugh, my analogy may have just stepped dangerously close to “buying a child” but I hope you’ve followed.
Perhaps I have already seen the faces of our someday children or perhaps the faces I have seen are simply helping me to decide what is just-right for our little family. Either way, I am grateful for their brave smiles and stories. Thank you.