Monday, September 10, 2007

Jobs I Ran Away From

Scavella tagged me

to post 3 jobs I've run away from. Actually, there've only been two.

1. While in college back in the 60's, I worked one summer in a factory which built electric motors. I was first assigned to the packing department, which was a breeze. So, naturally, they moved me to one of the production lines where I had a couple of different jobs, none of which were particularly difficult. One night, however, one of the other guys on the line had cut his hand and I was assigned to fill his slot. His job was to attach the nameplates to the completed motors. Sounds simple. Yeah, right. The plates were attached with two tiny brads which had to be pushed through holes in the plate and in the shell of the motor; alas, said shell holes were clogged with dried, baked-on paint which made them too small for the brads. Somehow, one had to hold the brads (and nametags) in place and hammer them into the holes, even though the brads were only about a quarter of an inch long and the motors were on the moving production conveyer belt. And I have never been a possessor of fine motor skills. Needless to say, it quickly became a nightmare. The end result was that, instead of producing the 1,500 motors which were the line's quota for that shift, we produced a grand total of 53 that passed the final inspection. The next night, I was given a different job. I still occasionally dream about trying to get those damned brads into those nameplates while hundreds of motors back up on the line and the bosses are freaking out. Heh. I had no regrets when that summer was up and I went back to the safety of undergraduate life.

2. After I completed my master's degree, I applied at dozens of colleges for a teaching job, but there was a teacher glut at the time I couldn't find anything. Eventually, out of desperation, I accepted a teaching position in a rural Georgia high school. Because of my checkered background, I was qualified to teach both English and math, and was assigned to do so at the 10th grade level. I was told I would be teaching English and math to three classes, two of which were advanced placement classes. What I discovered the first day of class was that one of those "advanced placement classes" was an advanced placement remedial class -- i. e., a group of students whose educational level was roughly at the 6th grade level even though they were in the 10th grade. These were students who were discipline problems who made no attempt to learn and were stuck together so they wouldn't bother the regular students. I quickly came to understand why lion tamers carry whips, chairs, and sidearms when they walk into lion cages.

The math program at this school was, at the direction of its head, based entirely on the "new math" which had been developed in the 50's. Now, this was 1971, two years after the originators of new math had publically announced that they had been wrong and that new math was a disaster. Unfortunately, the math director at this high school believed new math ought to work and was going to prove to the whole country that it could, so we were stuck teaching a system of math recognized as a failure. I discovered the first day that neither my regular students nor my acutal advanced placement students could divide any number bigger than 2 digits by any number bigger than 1 digit and get the correct answer because the new math system they had supposedly taught didn't work. when I tried to get the math director to come to my advanced class and watch them not divide, she refused on the grounds that the theory said they could, and the theory couldn't be wrong. (My intense dislike for educational theory and educational theorists, already firmly in place at this time, received an enormous boost at this poin.) So I told the students to put away their new math textbooks, and I invented a basic math course, including teaching them to divide the old fashioned way. After exactly one classperiod of such instruction, 50% of them could divide for the first time in their lives, and within a week, every one of them could. (I even found out later that my students were surreptitiously teaching students in other classes to divide, too. Burrow from within. Heh.)

I couldl talk about the English classes as well, but I'll just say that the head of the English program was also pursuing her own crackpot notion: Teaching without textbooks. We were supposed to teach English for the first 12 weeks without any kind of textbooks or course syllabus. exactly what this was to prove I can't remember. Needless to say, the result was chaos.

Fortunately for my sanity, the second day I taught there, I was offered a teaching position at a junior college and accepted it on the spot, although I had to work for 5 weeks at the high school before the college term started. When I informed the high school administration, they tried to convince me to stay, and their argument was interesting: if I stayed there at the high school for just 17 years (and of course went back to graduate school and got an education degree, at the end of that 17 years I'd be making the same salary as I was going to make my first year at the college. Now, how could I pass that up?

Needless to say, I did. And never looked back.


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