Have You Ever Encountered This Attitude?

I’d like to share the below letter, not because it’s unusual — although it’s interesting — but because I have received many, many letters like it in the last week or so.

Jay,

I don’t work in secondary education; I’ve worked at a large urban community college that hires many high-school teachers to teach part time, usually at night during the school year. Most of them were wonderful.

For several years, I was the department chairman, in charge of staffing classes in fall, spring, and summer. I always had a group of high-school teachers who coveted the summer classes, because they were the best and easiest source of money between Memorial Day and Labor Day. I was happy to help when I could, but there was always the problem of too few classes and too many teachers. Plus, my full-time community-college instructors always had first pick.

One year, I was staffing for “Summer I” — classes that ran to about the Fourth of July — and was explaining to one of my high-school charges that I simply had nothing for him. “What do I tell my wife?” he demanded. “How will I pay my rent? You know I have two kids. What do I tell them?”

I felt terrible, but simply had nothing. I wasn’t running an employment agency. I kept an eye peeled, though, and a day later I called him. Something had come open after all: not Summer I, but a ten-week class that would finish out the summer. Without a trace of self-consciousness, he turned me down. “Oh,” he said, “I couldn’t teach that. We’re going to Spain in July.”

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