Friday, June 21, 2013

Memories of a Lousy Job

I hate this job
Photo credit: Yasser Alghofily
For some reason, a few days ago I started thinking about this incredibly crappy job I had back when I was in grad school. It was teaching English as a Second Language to Chinese immigrants living in Brooklyn. For less than minimum wage. The salary negotiation went like this:

Her: What's hourly rate are you looking for?
Me: [I don't remember exactly what I asked for, but I was something like $7 an hour, or maybe $9 It was a really low number.]
Her: Oh. It only pays $5.
Me: OK, that's fine.

Because I wanted teaching experience. Dumbass. 

This woman, who was about my age (my age at the time, so early 20s) started the school (first in her house, later in a storefront) to raise her standing in the community. Political ambitions, I guess? She certainly had no business sense.

The school wasn't self supporting because she charged the students $1 per lesson. So she started selling real estate on the side as a way to bring in more money. We had a teachers meeting early on, and she ordered in hot tea from a takeout place for everyone. The meeting was at her house. In the kitchen. With a presumably working stove. Most of us didn't even want tea.

She wanted us to stand on the sidewalk handing out flyers for the school, saying "This is a group effort!" Making you look good is not a group effort. Not for five bucks an hour, lady. 

I had to teach class at the buttcrack of dawn before the students went off to work. I liked the students. One guy delivered a Chinese language newspaper by car, and brought in a recording of a traffic report so I could help him understand what they were saying because they were talking so quickly. I got them to tell me recipes to practice their English. This is how I discovered that they all made rice with rice cookers instead of on the stovetop like my mom. It's also how I discovered that Chinese-born people think chicken and broccoli is hilarious. (It's an American dish--you can't get it in China. Well, maybe in restaurants that cater to American tourists, but you know what I mean.)

There was one guy in my Level 2 class who spoke perfect English. His name was Poon. The boss was paranoid that he was a spy from another ESL school. He was a chauffeur. He'd learned to speak English by talking to customers, but couldn't read English. Not a spy.

Then she went on vacation for a week. She left her brother the keys so he could open the school in the morning. But she didn't leave him cash to pay the teachers. The day she got back, after my first class another teacher was leaving, but boss lady wasn't going to pay her. She was busy interviewing two new possible teachers. My heart broke for these idiots who'd worn suits to interview for such a low paying job.

I told her that if she didn't pay the other teacher right then, I would quit. Mind you, I was the only gringo teacher and the students wanted a honkey teaching them. It didn't matter how many American-born teachers she had. I was her MVP. She was always pushing me to take on more classes.

Enough was enough. The other teacher was kinda timid and was just going to leave, but I wasn't going to be going through the same nonsense in an hour when my class was done. We'd kept coming in under the assumption that we'd get paid when she got back. She was paying us so little that there was no reason not to stand up to her. Any of us could've gotten better paying jobs in a day.

But she still didn't pay the other teacher. She had a tantrum and actually said, "Can't I even go on vacation?" Um, you didn't have to force us all to take a vacation from getting paid. 

So I quit. And she had to pay me what she owed me in front of the job candidates. And she was stuck with a Level 2 class with no teacher.

Without any teaching certification, the experience did me no good. I'm less of a hot head these days, those I still think that there is a definitely a place for pitching a fit in the workplace.

What's your worst job ever?

Zebra Garden


  1. I once worked as a telephone salesperson (read: solicitor) who called up people straight out of the phonebook to try to get them to buy horribly overpriced photo sessions. We worked out of a motel (read: scary) and had these ridiculous quotas to meet every day (like TWO, if you can believe that) and I got fired because I kept getting all these old people who were on a fixed income and just wanted to chat with me. Sometimes for hours. The important lesson I learned was that working out of a motel was not something I ever wanted to do again.

    1. OMG, that's so creepy! I was a telemarketer, but we had a real office. The managers there were total jerks.

  2. Door-to-door salesman in the sweatshop part of Brooklyn (Williamsburg), selling cheap generic toys to locked rooms full of women who didn't speak English. As the "junior salesman", I had to schlep all the samples. But the worst part was driving from western Queens to the office in Suffolk to then drive with my boss back to Marcy Ave., and then the reverse after the day. I lasted two, maybe three days.


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