writer, speaker, content creator

In Which I Find Myself Overqualified For a Good Cause, and Subsequently Return to Teaching

In Jobs on May 12, 2009 at 8:37 am

Until recently, this was my routine: Get up, check Craigslist and other listings, and respond to job postings. All sorts. Nearly anything I was qualified for. I thought of it as a numbers game- eventually something would come up, and eventually something did. I recently did a stint working for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the nonprofit made famous by Jerry Lewis.

I’ve never actually seen any of Jerry Lewis’ movies, and the most prominent detail I knew about him was that he once let the word “faggot” slip while doing one of his telethons on live TV. The only thing I knew about muscular dystrophy was that Stephen Hawking has one version of it, albeit a rather rare one. Nevertheless, it was for a good cause. I certainly believed in funding medical research more than I believed in the child sponsorship model of private aid, which is what I was pitching in my brief stint as a street canvasser. Inviting people to fundraising events was definitely something I could do.

That was the job- calling up local business owners and professionals and asking them to come to fundraising events. Many of the contacts were warm leads or referals, but there were just as many people there who had never heard of us. “I don’t want anyone to say ‘I work in a call center,'” said one of the coordinators at the group interview, “you don’t. You’re not selling anything. You’re trying to get people to participate in a good cause.” This was true, but the job seemed very telemarketer-like, calling a long list of people and hitting them up for their time, money, and participation.

There were a little over a dozen people in the group interview, all of whom seemed to have been unemployed for some time. Many of them were young people of a certain demographic (mine) who had recently moved to Portland. Everyone seemed happy just to be in an interview. The whole process lasted for about two hours, and afterwards I got on the bus with a bunch of my fellow interviewees, each of us talking about our prospects for getting the job. In mid conversation, my phone rang and I answered it. I’d gotten the job. I suddenly felt a bit awkward- no one else’s phone rang. My fellow interviewees told me “congratulations” and I got off the bus awkwardly.

There were five of us the next day in training, in addition to five other volunteer coordinators. Cubicles of phones dominated the office. There was a script which we were expected to follow, and we were given a stock set of answers to deal with people who did not want to come to the fundraiser. There was also an MDA FAQ if anyone had any questions about where money was going, and we went through some telephone roleplays. The next day, we were good to go and on the phones.

Reaching for my list of numbers, I was nervous. The very first call seemed like an alien thing to do- calling up a law office and inviting the lawyers to a fundraising luncheon. I dialed with uncasual slowness, and asked for the names of one of the partners. The receptionist told me that he wasn’t there, anyway. I went to the next number on my list.

And that was it. That was my whole job. Most of the time when I was asking for a lawyer, business owner, doctor, or other such person, they were busy or away. This seemed logical, as we were targeting professional people who had fairly active lives. But, on the occasion that I got through to someone, I was surprised how easy the conversation was.

I tossed out the script, for one thing. We weren’t supposed to, but I found it poorly written and insincere, so I made my own rap. I wasn’t reading anything and didn’t sound canned at all. “We’re putting together a community event,” I said, “it’s a fundraiser and business luncheon to benefit families in Portland Metro Area who are affected by muscular dystrophy,” and so on. I got several people, maily lawyers, to say yes. A few said that they couldn’t come, but would be happy to write a check. None of the professionals told me to fuck off. They were really polite, even when saying no. That’s all part of being professional, I suppose. The secretaries, though, frequently took on snide and bitchy tones. I thought of the “bitchy secretary” as a hackneyed streotype, but apparently there are plenty of them. I imagined them filing their nails while they contemptuously talked into the reciever, like they were in an 80s movie.

I was pretty good, though, consistently getting yeses. It wasn’t particularly rewarding work, or stimulating, but it was a job and I could get results at it. However, I rather unexpectedly got an email from Kaplan, the tutoring company, while I was doing this. I’d applied to Kaplan some time ago, and had gone into their offices to do a teaching demonstration, which I thought had gone rather well. They hadn’t contacted me for some time, so I just assumed that they didn’t want to hire me. Out of nowhere they contacted me and said that they wanted to interview me as a potential ESL teacher.

This was great, of course. A teaching job with them was better in all possible ways- it was more money, a shorter commute, and loads more interesting. The interview went very well. I talked all about my time with GEOS, about my ideas regarding teaching, and about my general work habits. The interviewer, as it turned out, had spent a year in Osaka, which was a nice bit of rapport. A few hours later, he emailed me to tell me that I had the job.

Which meant I had to quit the MDA, of course.

When I went in yesterday, I knew it was my last day. I almost quit a day ahead of time, but decided to be responsible and get myself a day’s paycheck. Three of my coworkers had been let go for not getting enough yeses, and the office as a bit emptier. I was sort of proud of myself, knowing that of my hire group I was one of the two best people. The coordinators were a bit friendlier with me, after I’d proved myself. I didn’t really want to talk to them, though, since I knew I was ditching them. I felt bad. There would only be one person from my hire group left when I quit, and they would have to start all over, getting new people to call local businesses for them. Had I been bad at the job I wouldn’t have felt all that terrible about quitting. I would have thought, “well, I’m sure my replacement will be much better than me,” but I don’t think that’s the case.

Later today I’m going into Kaplan’s offices to fill out paperwork, do some training, and other such things. Apparently most of their ESL students are from Japan and Korea, which I think is sort of funny and sort of awesome. I’m imagining it as the inside-out of my GEOS experience. What I’m most looking forward to, (besides a paycheck and steady work), is being around people who are out of their element. Here in Portland, I’ve found it both fun and odd that the landscape seems to reflect my values and biases (or vice versa), and I’m looking forward to meeting students who’ve come from abroad and find this place foreign. I was in their shoes for so long, it’ll be nice to see it from the other side.

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