I thought I would give you all a sneak peak into my work life. I started last March at a non-profit ESL learnign center (email me for the website). (PS- Don’t judge us by our website. It is a work in prograss. Ten points to the person who can find the picture of the creepy Easter bunny!) We offer free English literacy classes to adults in the Vickery Meadow and West Dallas area. I work at the Vickery Meadow campus, where we have around 800 students from 46 different countries. My job description says that I’m the Adult Program Assistant. I do all the data entry, computer stuff for the program. Actually though, I’m the Question Lady.
11:59 am: Before I even sit my purse down, I am called “Bet” or “Betty” approximately 15 times. That’s right. Out of 800 students, not a one can correctly pronounce my name. So, I now answer to any name that starts with a “B” -Bert, Bath, Bit, Barf….They’re all acceptable now.
12:00-12:30pm: From students, I field a million questions about everything under the sun.
“Can I move up three levels because there’s a cute boy in that class?” NO
“Can you watch my child while I go to class?” NO
(An African student hands me a Lipitor prescription card and wordlessly walks away) WAIT! What? NO!
About once every 6 minutes, I have to run into the workroom to rescue a volunteer from our evil copier that is fixing to ingest them and spit out their limbs on the multi-purpose tray.
12:30-12:50- I harass students for coming in late. It is 1:00. Class starts at 12:30. YOU ARE LATE! Sometimes, the best I can do is shake my finger and point at my watch and then smile to show them that I’m not mad at them.
1:03- While typing feverishly on my computer, I am interupted by the ENTIRE Level 1 class cramming into my office. “What room is this?” the teacher asks. “The office” they all mumble. She then asks, “What things are in an office?’ To which they all heartily respond with the basics, “Ceiling, window, chair, door…air.” “What does Beth do in the office?” The teacher wants them to say that I’m working but really, the correct answer is, “She is sitting awkwardly at her desk while 20 people point at her and say ‘Pencil’ or ‘Stapler'”.
1:15-1:35- I put on my parking lot nazi hat. The children’s director comes running in and says, “There are two cars parked by the fire hydrant, four cars parked in the apartment lots, someone parked between two rows of cars, and someone ran over a trashcan to park on the sidewalk.” I then have to go out to write down the models of the cars because my brain only remembers cars in color. Going in to a class to say, “Does anyone drive a white car? It’s kind of small” is not very helpful. Mostly because some of the students only understand the word ‘car’ in that sentence. It’s amazing though. If I say, “Who drives a white Mitsubishi?”, even the most basic English student will say, “Mitsubishi! Me!”
1:35-2:00- It’s break time! Students get coffee and cookies. Don’t forget the cookies or you will have a riot on your hands. This is the time when students come and hand me three sweaty $1 bills for their books. As I’m running up and down the halls, I also yell, “English only!” as I walk past students speaking English, Arabic, Pig latin, etc……
2:01- A male student comes and stands at my desk while staring at me lovingly, while I search for the answer to his “question”. I finally chipperly say, “Okay, time for class!” and scoot him out of my office.
2:15- I try to figure out which name goes on the nametag of the Burmese student who calls himself Mario. It’s a real toughie.
2:30-3:00- Class is over, but there’s still lots of questions. A Burmese student comes in and mumbles, “Tomorrow…..no class…confused” to which my answer is writing a short novel so someone that speaks English can read it and explain it ’cause I don’t speak no Burmese.
3:00-4:00- Quiet time (sort of)! I get to check my voicemails (at least, six, sometimes people in Kansas asking if they can come to class here). I do the attendance, chat with my boss, attend staff meetings, and tell people, “No, there’s no more room. You have to come back later.”
4:00-5:00- Because my schedule is so weird, I have to eat lunch between 4:00 and 5:00. Sometimes I eat my twice baked potatoes in a classroom while I read a book, sometimes I go browse Target or Old Navy, and sometimes my day is so crazy that I eat and work at the same time. Look at how efficient I am, ma!
5:00-6:00- More quiet time!
6:00-7:00- This is about the time my magical night assistant arrive so that they can do my dirty work while I try to figure out why this student is asking about graduation (it’s September!) Quite honestly, the night students are my favorite because they’ve been working all day and they just want to kick this pig and get outta there so they can go home and sleep. ME TOO!
7:00-7:30- I chastise more students about being late to class, get people books, pens, paper, diapers, etc. I also get the scoop from our police officer who patrols our parking lot. For example, just last week, the 7/11 that is a mere block away was robbed at gunpoint. The moral of the story? Those Slurpees are worth something, man!
7:30-8:15- It’s announcement time! You should see me in action. I put on my loudest ESL teacher voice (which means you speak loudly, slowly, and don’t use contractions or idioms) and draw pictures on the board. Like a picture of two houses with an arrow drawn from one to the other. My speech…”If you live at this house and then you move to a NEW HOUSE, then you have a NEW ADDRESS. You need to come tell me (with a point to my chest) your NEW ADDRESS. Do you understand?” I try to infuse some humor, like
“What time does class start?”
Whole class responds, “7:00!”
“7:15?” I say with a weird disgusted look on my face.
Whole class responds, “NO!”
“7:35?” I ask again louder, with a more disgusted face.
Whole class responds, “NO! 7:00!”
“Good!” I say. “Class starts at 7:00. DO NOT BE LATE” A quick point to my wrist (the one without the watch, strangely) and my point is completely understood by (almost) all!
I also make the claim that ringing cell phones make their teachers cry. The cool teachers make a sad face and pretend like we’re all crying. The serious teachers look at me like I am a freak.
(Oh, and Alex is teaching a pre-GED class on Tuesday nights. After my announcements in my class, he leaned over and said, “You’re yelling.” To which I responded, “Oh Alex, you have to.”)
8:15-8:45- Generally, this is downtime where I can get more work done or talk to my night assistants about prison and Lady Gaga.
8:45pm – Class is over. It’s a mad rush to take book money, field any questions, make nice with the volunteers, check all the windows, make sure no one is hiding in the bathrooms, put away the laptops, turn the air off, lock the fire door, tidy the classrooms, and
lay on the floor from exhaustion. Usually, we try to get out of there before 9:00, but sometimes you have to take care of the volunteer who bit it in the parking lot and is losing his life blood in the sink, yelling “Do you have any bandaids?”
That’s pretty much my Monday-Thursday. On Fridays, I work normal hours and it’s more of a normal day.
Sometimes, I am asked to do the following:
-Take free golf umbrellas out to the curb, only to be ogled by an old man who says, “I don’t mean to be offensive but you ladies is fine” and then looks me up and down
-Dispose of a dead bird using those grabber things that apartment maintenance guys use to pick up trash. Unfortunately, the grabbers kept dropping the bird and its’ head kept flopping around. I was afraid that the head would flop completely off and then I would barf and have TWO problems to take care of, so I got a whole foods bag and dropped the bird into that to carry it to the dumpster.
-Write a letter to my boss from Obama that includes his signature and the presidential seal. No one asked me to do this, but they didn’t not ask me to do it either
-Organize an entire library, which includes crawling around on the nasty floor and velcro-ing the laptop cords to the table
– Research a 1980s coin collection that was donated to us so that we can sell them on ebay
– Kick my leg into the open door of our office manager, scaring the bejesus out of her. Again, no one asked me not to do this…except for the office manager.
– Organize and throw away things like broken binders, jewelry boxes, and 8×10 pictures of Obama that I pin to my bosses chair while she’s on vacation.
– Go to Home Depot looking for 26 plastic bins that are exactly 16 inches tall and 89 inches wide. Sometimes I buy miniblinds too and talk to the lady who is customizing them for me about her sick-o roommate situation. I also visit thrift stores looking for wooden frames that I can paint to match our new logo.
– Assist 70 adult students on a field trip. What this really entails is…getting them to the DART station, making sure everyone validates their tickets, making them run up the stairs to catch the train, getting everyone onto the train, convincing the DART cop that we did actually try to validate all of our tickets, getting every one off the DART bus by waving my arms and saying “Off! Off!”, waiting for the next DART bus, waving my arms again to indicate the next train is ours, more arm waving, being the caboose in a long line of students, waiting for the picture takers to take pictures of everyting -leaves, statues, bird poop, speaking in my ESL voice that they need to hurry up, eating interesting food for lunch, speaking in my ESL voice to let everyone know what time they need to be back (even though I’m the only one with a watch), wandering around answering any questions, drinking a proffered Pepsi, taking pictures of students enjoying themselves, waving my arms to indicate that it’s time to go, repeating the whole DART process in reverse, driving students from the DART station back to their apartments, which means it’s time for them to wave their arms because left and right are taught in our Pre-GED class.
Seriously, though, I stinkin’ love my job. Our students are great; the volunteers are DA’ BEST; and I have little to no stress throughout the course of my day. Couldn’t ask for much more at this juncture in my life!