By Carla Stockton.
An open letter to the last in a long line of youngsters who have written me rejection letters. . . .
Dear young person who just wrote me (yet) a(nother) rejection letter,
Thank you for taking the time to write me and tell me that the competition for this teaching job, a job, which, like the previous twenty for which I have applied, I could do with my eyes closed and my feet chained together, was so fierce that I just didn’t make the cut. I appreciate that you are sensitive enough to want to let me know that I am unqualified to join your ranks, and I know you mean well. After all, you did refrain from telling me I am cute. I should be grateful for small favors.
Still, I would prefer if you would refrain from the obligatory condescension of telling me I am amazing. I know I am amazing, and I also know that, while you may be attempting to compliment me by saying so, you don’t believe that I am anything more than ridiculous. You want the young, the brilliant, the beautiful kids with whom I cannot – because people like you won’t let me – compete with to work in your school.
Which is sad. I am a good teacher. Ask any of the people who were in my classroom or my theater groups over the years I put in. Okay, there was the time in 1980, before I got my first Master’s Degree, when I let the students in the class for which I was substituting in Glendale, AZ, eat donuts while taking a T/F test, but I am over that now. I promise never to do it again.
Did you notice the part on my CV where it tells you I taught creative writing and acting, coached high school seniors through college essays, guided hundreds of youngsters through reams of literature and directed them in plays? I was elected Teacher of the Year a couple times, my kids got into great schools, my theater group won awards. More recently, I have been published in a few periodicals, have an agent pedalling my first book, completed an MFA at Columbia University. How is it that I am not up to your standards?
Ask me a question. Any question. I probably have an answer . . . or I can make one up. I’m pretty smart, and thanks to my successful teaching career, I have a store of accrued wisdom and patience, a reputation for flexibility and a range of pedagogical techniques, and I have a deep capacity for mentoring. Additionally, I have a peerless resume of expertise and experiences one can only garner over a long and productive life, through which I have learned to be an adept team player, who is wont to foster camaraderie and collaboration. My presence would benefit your students in untold ways. Do I not fit your picture of what the ideal artist/teacher should be – a young person, with whom your budding high school geniuses can bond, in whom they can see themselves? Pardon me for tooting my own horn, but you clearly don’t realize how much you are depriving them of.
And me too. How much you are depriving me of. I didn’t apply for this job as a lark. I am not looking to play at being a teacher. I support myself and another person, and I need the salary this job would have provided. Ironically, too, because I collect some Social Security and have a minor pension, the meager salary you offer is just about all I need to keep my rent paid. Unlike my younger counterparts, I wouldn’t have to juggle multiple jobs. My attention would be entirely focused on the youngsters in my care. But I’m guessing that looks are far more important than student-centered instruction.
If my credentials are, in your words, impressive, how is it I just don’t measure up? Don’t you think it’s a bit backward that we older folks are consigned to the kind of backbreaking service jobs we really are too old for? Isn’t it sad that if I want to draw a salary, I must stand for hours in a retail environment, stock heavy boxes on shelves, run errands for young executives or some such waste of all that I have become in the course of my storied careers as a writer, teacher, mother, mentor, wrangler of teenage actors, director of educational theater, and filmmaker?
Stop lying to me. Stop offering idiotic soporifics like, “You are truly uniquely qualified,” and tell me the truth. Tell me you think I’m too old to be trusted to lead your young charges. Tell me you are disgusted that I have reached this juncture in my life without the accolades you will have amassed by the time you are 40. You want me to be retired, to gratefully stay in my pasture counting the gold pieces my hard work has already accrued. You don’t want to think you could end up like me, an old neophyte trying to reimagine herself as she was meant to be. Admit it. My choice to teach high school and to put motherhood ahead of professional development makes me look like a loser to you, and that somehow makes me toxic and dangerous. I can see that. It’s a veritable powder keg I’m offering you.
Believe me, I know you think you are being kind. Your kindness is killing me.
Thank you for your consideration.
You may also like Carla’s highly personal review of Grace and Frankie, the Netflix series.
Carla Stockton graduated in May 2016, at age 69, with an M.F.A. in Nonfiction Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She is also a mother of three, grandmother of two, writer, theater director, filmmaker, teacher, and traveler. Too Much of Nothing, her first book recounting her experiences as an older woman re-entering the youth-dominated arena of higher education and publishing, is in process, as is her translation of King Gordogan, by Radovan Ivšič. Her work can be read at carlastockton.me or in GET REAL, the bi-weekly column she writes for the Columbia Journal online.