Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Call

June 17th-ish
"Dunbar Senior High School."

"Hi, this is Alizabeth Szilagyi. I'm a new hire for next year, I was wondering if there was someone I could talk to about how I can prepare for the school year."

"Ummm . . . who do you want to talk to?"

"Well, I'm certified in English, so I guess the head of the English Department."

"Oh, okay, well, what was your name. I'll leave a message."

"Alizabeth Szilagyi"

"How do you spell that?"

"S-z-i . . ."

June 23rd-ish
"Dunbar Senior High School. How can I help you?"

"Hi. I've been hired on to teach for the next school year. I was wondering if I could speak with the Dr. Kargbo or an assistant principal about what classes I'll be teaching next year."

"Dr. Kargbo is busy right now, can I take a message?"

"Sure, have her call Alizabeth Szilagyi, it's 43-"

"How do you spell that?"

"S-z-i . . ."

June 28th-ish
"Dunbar Senior High School"

"Yes, this is Alizabeth Szilagyi. I've called before, I'm trying to get a hold of Dr Kargbo or possibly the Head of the English Department. I'd like to talk to someone about the curriculum I'll be teaching next year."

"Okay, how do you spell your name?"

"It's Alizabeth S-Z as in Zebra-I . . ."

July 2nd-ish
"Dunbar Senior High School, Ms Clayton speaking."

"Hello Ms Clayton. May I speak with Dr. Kargbo?"

"She's in a meeting right now, can I take a message?"

"Yes, I'm a new hire for next year and I just want to talk to her about what I'll be teaching. My name is Liz Szilagyi."

"Sure, sure sweety. I'll let her know you called."


This call continued at least once a week until August 17th-ish. I tried everything, I asked if I could come in and start getting ready for the next year, could I look at the books the school had, could I have the e-mail address of another teacher?  Anything?


Monday, March 21, 2011


I flew back to Utah crushed, with several new friends on my feet. I'd spent an entire week trudging my body around the city I was about to reside. DC is complex, especially when you are looking for a job as a public high school teacher. I interviewed at Bell Multicultural High School, love at first sight -- a teacher's dream school. I was told by the security guards at HD Woodson I did not want to work at that school. After visiting Ballou I rode the bus home as the only white passenger, and smiley no-teeth Jo sat next to me shacking his sledge hammer in my face while he told me I needed to be safe in these kinds of neighborhoods.  Thanks Jo.

I even met with the Principal of a charter school, which is totally against my well rooted belief that I hate charter schools. I was impressed when he addressed some of the myths I heard about charter schools. He claimed their goal was to accept kids who had failed in the "traditional" public school system. He even admitted their test scores were still terrible. Then I started to feel it, there was no air conditioning in the building. The pay I'd get was comparable to public schools . . . but the hours were dreadfully longer + the lack of cool air = I wasn't interested. Sure, I'd have considered it if it was my only option. He was VERY professional and one of the only (in fact, the only) Principal who followed up with me, even though his decision came in the form of a hand written thank you card, wishing me good luck at another school.

After long days on the metro, mile walks through disastrous neighborhoods - I was finally informed of a (public school) district teacher fair to be held the day before we were to fly out to Utah. I of course only found out about this fair through constant nagging to the Human Resource department. They were so certain I'd find a school that fit me. Obviously she didn't see what Cardozo High's principal saw -- a young white girl from rural Utah, pass.

I went to the fair and left in high hopes. Several middle school principals seemed more than thrilled to meet me. I looked at the lines for schools like Bell and decided to give up on waiting for them to return my calls. And just when I was about to leave the Principal from Dunbar came walking in with a huge pile of paperwork. She seemed a little scattered but many people eagerly got in line to meet with her. She didn't take a seat and as a result neither did anyone she was meeting with. My turn in line came and I opened my files to hand her my resume. She glanced at my PRAXIS papers and asked, "Oh, so you've already taken the PRAXIS?" I smiled and assured her I was qualified for the job (the principal at one middle school refused to even meet with me since I didn't yet have a copy of my DC teacher license).

I flew back to Utah, exhausted and feeling like I was destined to teach in one of the middle schools. Before the end of the week I recieved a phone call from a Ms Blue at Dunbar. She wanted some information from me so she could start a form 52. When I asked what the form was she assured me it would speed up the hiring process. I asked if that meant Dr Kargo (the principal) would want to set up an interview in the future, if so it would have to be over the phone. She assured me she'd pass the message on and thanked me for giving her the needed information.

I called back for several weeks to try and set up that phone interview. Finally I called my friends at HR and asked about the form. I was told a form 52 meant I was hired. I couldn't believe it "but I wasn't even interviewed." They agreed that, that was strange so the voice on the other end of the line promised to find out what my status was. Sure enough, I'd been cleared for work at Dunbar. All other choices were off the table. Even if Bell offered me a job I'd have to say no.

Mixed emotions. Had I just been hoodwinked? I researched the history and location of Dunbar and felt at ease. Named after a famous Black poet, Dunbar was America's first African-American school; Black families came from all over the country to send their kids there. The school had a long list of high profile alumni. Great location, just half a mile up the road from Ben's law school. Newer building, in the NW quadrant of DC (the "rich" side). And ironically, the school sports teams wore Red and White with DHS on their jerseys, and they crushed all their opponents (though it was inner city, it seemed to have a lot in common with my rural hometown across the country, Delta High colors Red and White). I was certain everything would work out. I was at ease for the rest of the summer and anxious for the year to begin.

And I had definitely been hoodwinked.