Part 1: Bad Work Habits Don’t Get You Fired
You know what sucks? Becoming an adult. This includes joining the workforce, and going to interviews, and of course inevitably Getting Fired. I thankfully have not been fired from many jobs. Which is surprising, seeing how I was not a star employee in many places by any means. But you know what I learned? Getting fired could be the best fucking thing that could happen to your life.
Working like, totally sucks. My first ever job as a teenager, still in high school, was working at the vet as an official animal holder (it’s a thing! I wrote about it here) and I called off for reasons like “I have a headache” or “I’m too tired.” But I was not fired! It was clear to my boss that I would soon leave for college and not ever work there again.
Another summer my senior year of high school I worked at The Bagel Store (I know, imaginative name) and boy did I learn to hate serving food to the public. This was the only kosher bakery at the time, and so most of the clientele were Jewish. I made some major mistakes, but because Denver was such a small Jewish community, the people were kind and really forgiving. Once a lady asked me to pack her fresh-out-of-the-oven bagels in a separate bag than the donuts and I was like “No, they totally fit in the same bag.”
She came back fifteen minutes later and said all the frosting had melted off the donuts and I felt so bad but she didn’t demand a discount or anything, which I should have offered. Nor did she yell and scream as so many people tend to do.
One time someone, clearly a tourist from New York, had the audacity to ask me to make them a bagel sandwich with toppings and I had to explain that we just sold bagels and the person was just very confused. Another time my skirt kept slipping slightly whenever I bent down and some customer demanded I buy and wear a belt. This was so weird and my boss, who happily was there to hear the complaint, brushed it off. I stopped wearing that skirt at work.
One time I dropped an entire loaf of bread on the floor after putting it through the cutting machine, but nothing happened except me being made fun of for being clumsy.
I even had an internship at this newspaper called the Intermountain Jewish News post-high school where the boss was this foreboding guy with a long beard and piercing, judgmental eyes, and Clark Kent glasses, who saw my application and said “We’ve never hired anyone who hasn’t had any published works” to my face and all I could think of was, “How could students in high school have any published work??” and I got hired anyway.
I did boring stories for the summer and even did one interview of a Holocaust survivor, but overall it was stressful and I promised I’d never work with the AP ever again. I made plenty of mistakes there, too, like when I wrote in my first draft about the Holocaust survivor. She claimed with pride that her brother was such a good violinist, just like Izhak Perlman, and the editor made me take it out because it wasn’t “factual.” To which I replied, “No, I’m putting it in as a quote” and the editor was just like “No.”
Which I’m still mad at because, come on, just let this woman remember her poor dead brother with love and dignity and it doesn’t matter if it’s “factual” or not. Jeez.
But I did err many times in that article about specific facts and dates (glad I wasn’t writing part of a history book!) because I had done the interview by just taking notes like I was in class, and I didn’t record it at all. And I was too nervous to call the woman to clarify some facts, and when she called a week later to correct me, I just took the call and said “OK” and wrote no actual corrections. I hope she forgave me.
My biggest mistake, however, was when I was told to write an article about summer allergies, just like the one in the Denver Post, and so the sources I quoted were exact copies of who was quoted in the Post. Then the editor had to have this discussion with me that “You actually have to do some work and call your own sources.” Exhausting!
These jobs, no matter how unqualified and bad at them as I was, did not fire me. Which is, I agree, astounding.
Part 2: Teaching Is Hard
The first ever job that I got fired from was actually a teaching job: my first ever official teaching job fresh out of grad school. So, my grad school experience was…unusual. They just threw us into the classroom and said, “OK go.” So, I survived working part-time in this Junior High school in a random city with no teacher training at all. I had small groups (6–8 kids) and was supposed to just…make up my own lessons. Two years later, and I had finish studying the theory of teaching and I had somewhat of an idea of what Junior High school kids were like in Israel.
I interviewed and got the job to teach two classes of ELL, (meaning kids who made it to 7th and 8th grade and didn’t learn any English) and one 10th grade class that was not on the highest level. My Hebrew was decent, but not good enough to yell at students (“Hey! Sit down!” “Stop doing that!” “Why are you climbing the walls?”) especially when I’m panicking.
Teachers will tell you that the first year of teaching is the worst. The advantages that you have, of being fresh out of school, full of energy, and having a healthy sense of optimism, are outweighed by the fact that kids will find your weakness and destroy you. I had said in my interview that I had taught kids who were on lower levels: students who didn’t know the ABCs and had some discipline problems. This was true. But little did I know that teaching a kid one-on-one with dyslexia and ADHD is different than teaching six kids at once who hate school, have anger issues, and also have dyslexia and ADHD.
That first month, I was miserable. I had a senior teacher assigned to help me, and all I could do in our sessions was cry. The kids wouldn’t listen. I didn’t know how to make a lesson plan. How do you not lose your patience and break down every day??
My 10th grade class was even harder. I had 31 kids and I had not put in the effort to learn their names. (Why? I had no good excuse. I was just very overwhelmed.) They wouldn’t be quiet when I attempted to teach. It was chaos. My lessons weren’t appropriate, either. The worksheets I made were too high of a level. I recall at one time I tried to teach them the expression “as drunk as a skunk.” These were 10th graders. I also attempted to teach them about the concept of a soul (that story is here). Any kid who just wants to pass the English test at the end of the year will not pay attention to their 1) brand-new American teacher who 2) cannot even get the class to be quiet and 3) wants to discuss the concept of God and mortality and the afterlife, instead of teaching 4) the actual curriculum like the words for “members of the family.”
So, the school waited until the 10th grader’s second exam, which they all totally bombed, and fired me. Honestly, I was relieved. I had no idea what I was doing and the fact that I couldn’t control a single class was proof that I was not fit to teach.
Obviously, after that, I was crushed. I felt like a failure. I wished I was more prepared coming into that job. But honestly, with teaching, you get experience while on the job. And this was an act of mercy. The other teachers, including the senior teacher assigned to coach me, knew that if I continued attempting to teach, I would get too burnt out to even start my career.
Yes, being fired was terrible. I felt bad and lost a lot of confidence. But I was a better person. I had nothing left to lose now when I started looking for more teaching jobs because I knew exactly what not to do and, most importantly, what to expect. I knew from then on, I wanted to teach students with learning disabilities; students with ADHD and dyslexia and were living in school dorms because their home life was unsafe. I felt so drawn to those kinds of students, and I knew I could improve. So, like an idiot, I kept on trying. And now, I have 10 years of experience teaching in very specific specialty fields, with students who do not have all the advantages in the world. And I could only get there by reaching rock bottom.