Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I still remember some advice I was given the year I graduated from teachers' college. Early in the spring, before the school boards started to advertise teaching positions, I was getting nervous about my future employment. A couple of locations in Ontario appealed to me and I wondered if I should send in a resume and letter of application.

It happened that the school inspector from my elementary school days had risen in his profession and was now based in the city where I was in teachers' college. I made an appointment with him and asked his advice. Should I get ahead of the pack and send in a resume? He frowned. It wasn't ethical to jump the gun. By doing so, I was asking to be hired for a position that was currently held by another teacher. In other words, I was trying to take her job away from her. Best to wait until the ads were published.

I did, and taught for three years in a school system that sounded good in its ads, but that's another story.

Nowadays, in this very competitive and aggressive time in which we live, I doubt if anyone would hesistate to jump the gun and submit an application. Anything to get ahead! But it still doesn't feel good when someone, in effect, asks to take over your job.

I haven't taught in the regular school system for ages. Rather, I have been teaching creative writing with continuing ed. departments, libraries, community centres, etc. The rest of the time I write. For pay.

On three occasions, other writers have contacted me for information about a magazine in which I am published frequently. "Does it pay?" they want to know. "Whom should I contact with an idea for a column?"

Perhaps these writers don't realize that the number of pages in a magazine is governed by the amount of advertising revenue it earns, and that if a new article or column appears, an existing one may get chopped.

Or maybe these writers think that I've had a good run and that it's their turn now, as if we were all sisters in a family where it should be share and share alike. Perhaps they think I admire their work so much that I'll take them under my wing and sacrifice my own opportunities for them.

It's hard to approach an editor cold, with only your good name, your resume and your clips of published work. I know, because that's how I made contact with the publications in which my work appears.

If a writer wants to approach a publication, all s/he has to do is look at the masthead, which lists the names of editors and contact information. Reading this information is called "doing your homework." But I suspect that the writers who contacted me want me to shepherd them through this process, contact an editor on their behalf - to recommend them either directly or by implication.

When I next get this kind of inquiry, I'll either pass on the information which anyone can read from the masthead, or I'll say, as I did to the rudest one, "You have one hell of a nerve! I'm going to hang up now."

A post script: In the days when retirement was mandatory, a teacher I knew, who was nearing 65, was pestered regularly to retire by two younger aspirants who wanted her job. She was indignant enough to write to the school board and secure special permission to work an additional year past retirement.

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