On a recent train adventure cross-country, I had the opportunity to learn about a young woman (Sarah) who has been a kindergarten teacher for fifteen years.  (One of the perks of long-distance train travel is being seated with others at meals…and meeting interesting people from different parts of the country.)  At one meal, I sat with Sarah’s parents.

After learning about my work as a career coach, Sarah’s father told me that it took 33 interviews before their daughter was offered a position.  “Armed with her teacher’s certificate,” he explained, “Sarah brought to each interview her warm and engaging personality and a passion to work with children in a school setting.”

“While Sarah has always been a natural with children,” her mom continued, “she lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.”

Perhaps, Sarah did not convey confidence in her ability to perform the job on her first 32 interviews.  Perhaps, Sarah did not match the first 32 interviewers’ image of a kindergarten teacher.  Sarah’s mom believed it was due to school administrators’ fears around Sarah’s ability to negotiate emergencies in the classroom.

But whatever the explanation, kudos to Sarah for her persistence!  And what we do know is that messages that we hear growing up impact our perceptions.  Depending on a whole array of differences – without thinking – we assign positive or negative associations, abilities and shortcomings to people.  What’s your first image or thought when you visualize an 80 year old man?  How about a WWII veteran?  A person who attends AA meetings?  A young woman who lives with bipolar disorder?  OR A PERSON WHO USES A WHEELCHAIR?

Some great suggestions came out of a forum (co-sponsored by the Mental Health Association in N.Y.S. and the Capital Region Human Resources Association) in December 2016.  The conference was called WIN – WIN:  Complying with the ADA and Creating Inclusive Workplaces.

Here are some of the suggestions made to human resources professionals and others involved in the hiring process!

  • Cast your recruitment net as wide as possible! You never know where or how that right person will learn about the job opening…or for whom, it will be a good job fit!


  • Clarify the position’s essential job duties and the skills and abilities needed to accomplish these.

So let’s consider the skills and abilities needed to accomplish a kindergarten teacher’s essential duties…AND THE FEEDBACK that Sarah often hears:

“Sarah is effective day-to-day in engaging children and giving them a positive view of school.”  She has always scored high on her organizational skills, lesson-planning and follow-through with required documentation.

This is not to say that Sarah has not grown in self-confidence and skill over these past fifteen years.  But she clearly had (and continues to have) what it takes to fulfill the essential job duties of a kindergarten teacher…AND BEYOND!

  • And strive to go beyond assumptions/even biases…Look for each applicant’s strengths and capabilities.

That means RE-EVALUATING ASSUMPTIONS!  Consider the qualities that it takes to negotiate emergency situations.  Staying calm and level-headed are certainly at the top of the list!  And just as we can’t assume that the most physically agile person has these qualities, we can’t assume that the person who uses a wheelchair does not!  In terms of emergencies, Sarah has always aptly followed clearly articulated emergency procedures.

Whatever the reasons behind each school’s hiring decision – knowing Sarah’s strengths and talents – it would be hard to disagree! The school at which Sarah was hired was the one that lucked out…and so have the children in Sarah’s classes over these past fifteen years!


Marsha Lazarus, MBA, Career/Workplace Coach and Trainer


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