Joan�s Dilemma

When I agreed to teach this course I was excited! I had so much information that I wanted to share with these adults. I�d collected employment forms from employers in the community so that students could have relevant classroom experiences. I had plans for an employer friend to come to class and actually interview students for hypothetical but realistic jobs and then give the students feedback on what their chances were for the job and what they could do to increase their chances. I�d done some research on key employers within the community about what specific knowledge they were looking for in potential employees. Although they said that they�d teach the job-specific information after they hired the worker, they did give me a few pointers on the content-focused job skills that would impress them if workers already had them. I made plans to incorporate several mini-units on employment-specific job skills, e.g., waitressing and custodial work, into my course but also planned to focus on more general job skills that were transferrable from job to job.

What I forgot to consider was that some my students have a perspective on work that is very different from mine. They didn�t think it was necessary to discuss what you need to do to impress an employer in order to get hired. Their experiences had shown them that in today�s economy getting a job isn�t a problem. Entry level jobs are a dime a dozen.

When I presented them with exercises regarding what I considered to be "good employee" attributes and "poor employee" attributes, many of them chose the description of what I considered to be the poor employee as the employee likely to be promoted. When we discussed scenarios that sometimes cause people to lose their jobs, my students could more easily identify with the behaviors that resulted in the person losing his or her job, seeing that employee as acting naturally and appropriately. For example, if someone doesn�t treat you right, then you must stand up for yourself. If that means walking out, then that�s what you must do to maintain your self-respect.

Similarly, many of them saw showing up for work late as often unavoidable. After all, they reminded me, people have important responsibilities outside of work. When kids are sick or a friend needs your help, it�s sometimes impossible to get to work on time. It�s better to just pick up a different job later than to let your family and friends down.

When we discussed the employee�s perspective vs. the employer�s perspective, some of them had difficulty seeing the employer�s perspective. Their experiences had always been as employees, not employers.

A final problem was that a number of them often had not had sufficient opportunities to develop some of the basic skills that many employers expect - reading skills, math skills, computational skills, etc. This hindered them from being able to participate effectively in course activities.

What does Joan need to do? First, Joan needs to know the characteristics of those in her class, and she needs to realize that their social and work experiences have shaped their perspectives about work. She needs to be realistic about the entry-level jobs available and be realistic about how much assistance she can give. She also needs to consider a variety of positive solutions to her problems.