Three weeks ago right now I was at the job fair in Cambridge, MA—the mother lode of recruiting fairs for international schools in the United States. We landed on the Wednesday narrowly avoiding the recent three-foot dump of snow on the Boston area. We got there fine. Two weeks ago right now we were at another recruiting fair, just across the Charles River in Boston, and again, that fair avoided another recent one-more-foot of snow. The day the fair ended another blizzard dumped two more feet of snow on the Boston area—cancelling my return flight. One week ago right now, just back from Boston, nearly a foot of snow fell in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan shut down for several days. These February leftovers are all about the weather. When I wrote on Facebook about the “biblical-esque Epic Snowstorm” that left Boston with 8 feet of snow (now over 100 inches!) on the ground just in February alone I got an email from an old North Carolina friend who noted a verse from the Old Testament about weather: “God’s lightnings enlightened the world: the world saw, and trembled.” (Psalms 97:4)
Weather may be the single most frequently discussed topic in the world. Certainly in New England this month that was a surefire ice-breaker conversation that never let you down. A decade ago when I lived in this lovely elderly Greek lady’s second-floor apartment, the weather was actually the only topic we could discuss since her English was limited, and my Greek was just a bunch of historical words from the writings of Sophocles, Homer, or Aristotle. In Jordan, the weather—be it the beastly heat of summer, or the surprise unexpected snowfalls that come once or twice a winter—the weather never lets you down for conversation.
Of course Facebook and its instantly posted photos allow us all to take in the varied, striking, magnificent beauty, and awesome power and destruction of weather. But in the days before social media diaries and sermons of centuries long past reliably featured weather as well and often weather as a spiritual matter. In just this century we have witnessed a tsunami of horrific proportions, deadly mudslides, rapacious wildfires, vicious tornadoes, and humongous hurricanes like buzz saws that appear out of nowhere, wreak their havoc, and then disappear. We are left to deal with the consequences.
Life upon this earth is lived with weather, reminding us of the fragility of our mortal lives and the transitory nature of whatever securities we treasure. Each day as I look at the news from the day before in the United States, the leading stories are about the February weather.
Should I tell you what today is like on this fine Friday afternoon in Jordan? It is sunny, in the 60s, blue skies, and trees are showing the first buds of spring. But enough of the weather. Surely there has to be more than just weather to discuss!
Let me return to the job fairs—these exhausting, interview-packed days meeting candidates, reading resumes and recommendations, judging and evaluating who will want to come to our school and best enrich our community. Two topics dominated the sign-ups at the job fairs this year: the New England weather and the news that was front and center about Jordan in the media. Oh yeah, that’s right. There was another thing in February. Just hours before I boarded the plane for Boston the news world pronounced the tragic death of Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Mu’ath Kassasbeh at the hands of ISIS. I didn’t get to see the reactions in Jordan because I left just hours later for the job fairs—but the American news media portrayed the scenes and fearful possibilities for Jordan as apocalyptic in the news. Again, it was so difficult to know what was really the feeling in Jordan since I wasn’t there. Again, like with the weather, fragility and transitory themes resonated in my head. I will come back to the story in an upcoming blog entry.
The news of Jordan affected our prospects with recruiting veteran teachers—when we left Jordan we had email correspondences all set up with 18 seasoned teachers to meet at the sign-ups of the first fair. None of the 18 showed at our table for the sign-ups (despite our having baklava for prospective candidates). That does not mean we did not have a slew of interviews—the buzz is good about our school and its young faculty, and we had college seniors and recent graduates signing up in droves for interviews.
The most invigorating and fulfilling interviews were with extraordinary young women. The young men paled in comparison to the young women. We several dozen—eager to teach, transform the world, smart, tenacious, you name it. So many of these young women passed my twin rules for interviewing: will I learn from you, and do I want to see you every day? Several candidates confessed that this was their dream job (I think the first time I heard that) and several genuinely moved to tears with a job offer. Two of them realized that this would be a hard topic for their families, and we invited their families to the hotel so we could meet them and talk with the, Both families came with many questions (one family came bearing food!) and we spent about an hour with each family. In the end, both young women signed their proffered contracts.
For me the most moving thing about the job fairs has been the interaction between these young teacher wannabes and our veterans. Oh wait—that’s me! I’m the veteran, along with my job fair buddies and colleagues Lilli and John. For so long, I was either the youngest one on a faculty or close to it; now I find myself at the opposite side of the spectrum. Shocking! These conversations are more than just interviews but very real exchanges between the generations. Here on campus I spend some of my day working with the 9 Teacher Fellows in our training program. Experience and a reassuring word are traded for a timely boost of energy or an inspiring new way to look at something. And once again we have real life reflecting the core of the weather message — life goes on, we experience the wonders of Nature, we learn from one another, and it's all as it should be.
When asked why I have stayed at this school in a volatile area of the world so long, I quoted Teddy Roosevelt, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I didn’t get to see the finale of the TV show Parks and Recreation, but I read about how the character of Leslie Knope quoted that 1903 line of Roosevelt and added her own twist, “Do the work worth doing with a team of people you love.” When I think of the fragility and transitory nature of life in all its forms, I echo that wonderful assessment.