Friday, May 17, 2013

It's An Anniversary

Two years ago I got laid off.

It was an all-around shitty deal. As I've come to believe, layoffs are a failure of the top management. Only in sports are those at the top given the axe. If the strategy fails and the players screw up, the players don't get fired. The coach gets fired.

Too bad it doesn't work like that in the real world. The big boss can completely earn more than he's worth, then set a strategy ensuring failure, and then when things inevitably go south, what happens? Layoffs.

How does this make sense? Do the workers in staff positions make the big decisions that run the thing aground? Of course not.

Anyway. The bureaucrat responsible for my layoff was a cold fish who to this day has never worked in the private sector. After sucking at the government teat his whole life, he landed this cush job making six figures via a contact in his good-ol-boy network. As he no doubt learned in his government gig, he instilled a climate of silo management and fear, developing a total top-down, suck-up-to-move-up atmosphere.

Although the business was on the surface very people-oriented, that wasn't this guy's personality. Everyone else there (with one notable exception) was good with people. This guy was just a phony. I still cannot fathom how an NPO with an overall budget of $1.5 million a year can justify paying its CEO more than $100,000 a year. But I guess that's me.

The title of this post is a poke. Bearing this title, Mr. Warmth used to send a company-wide e-mail every year on an employee's anniversary. I always saved them to use for employee news. What I found out after the first year was that he essentially re-sent the same e-mail every year. I thought it was lame and insulting. First, that someone was that lazy who couldn't be bothered to create something authentic and not canned every year. We didn't even have 30 employees... it wasn't like he had to look hard to find out about his people. But that would have taken an effort.

The limp attempt at annual recognition was apparently not worth the bother. For me, I found it demeaning. I wasn't so stupid that I didn't know he'd made no effort to be heartfelt, sincere and original.

This is not what this post was supposed to be about.


The last two years have been hard. We had gotten out of debt and built savings of $10,000. Not Rockefeller, but more than I'd ever had on hand in my life.

Then suddenly I was without an income. I got some UI for a while, then managed to land a part-time job. Then we moved, and I started all over. The savings is almost completely gone. Further, we now have some debt. I don't want to get into the gory details, but let's just say without a major change, we're beholden to some others for the near-term future. That +10k is now the opposite.

All because a short-sighted exec with no real-world business experience was running the show. Military men aren't great at taking suggestions from people smarter than they are, unless they're higher in rank.

Yes, Colonel Clink, I am and will always be smarter than you. I don't know how you sleep at night. You put my family in a real hard way. You put others in an even tougher position. Did you ever think about cutting your own salary to make sure others weren't hurt? No, you didn't. I know because your pay is public record. You're one of those clueless hypochristians.

But this is not what this post was supposed to be about.


Since December, I have been able to work on a freelance basis for our town's public school system. Sometimes it's as a classroom aide, other times it's as a teacher. It's been a marvelous experience, potentially life-altering as I feel a real calling for this work.

I've always been someone who felt like money was great, but not as important if it meant sacrificing some of the fabric of my soul.

Journalism at one time felt that way. There was a nobility to providing a daily historic record of our lives.

Then the business got sold to slackers and hucksters who put a price on truth and booked passage on a slow boat to Idontgiveafuckistan. The people like me who were passionate about the work wound up getting either squeezed out because we'd accrued a living wage and benefits, or because we weren't glossy-eyed kids yet to see the sellout and less ready to question the drift.

Those of us who were journalism lifers had always believed it was holy to confront authority and bullshit. We were all a little stunned to realize how that rot and corruption and mission-shirk had crept into the doored, corner offices. It had always been us against them -- them being the charlatans and chiselers outside the fourth estate. When we found out that the charlatans and chiselers were now our bosses, we became hunted almost to extinction.

Alas, this is also not what this post was supposed to be about.


What this post is about is that after working sporadically with these schools, I've not only enjoyed the work but approached each task with the utmost professionalism I can bring to the job. So if I come in expecting to do one thing, and find that I needed to be reassigned to something else, I've smiled and taken on each challenge. This has created some interesting days.

Yet at the end of each one, I've emerged tired, but sublimely happy to be in that environment. I've faced things I never have before, but tried to observe others, use good judgment and pursue the goal of helping young children learn in any way I can contribute.

I always worry about the things I don't do as well with, but I think that's normal for anyone with a conscience. At least, it should be.

This morning I was slated to sub as an aide in a kindergarten classroom. I'd worked with them before, they're great kids.

I was in the room, and went down to the gym to help corral the pre-first bell students. They assemble in the gym awaiting the start of the day.

This morning, the last 10 minutes prior to the bell was a "dance party." Let me tell you, if you don't think seeing more than 100 students dancing, a lot of them in lines, is a great start to the day, you've got things to learn. Adorable.

Kids this age are just without guile.

When I got back to the classroom, I was asked to go down to the office. Turns out I needed to work with a fourth grader who has someone assigned to him to help keep him on point.

I've been put in this role a few times and it isn't my favorite thing. But I admire the district's devotion to the kids who need a little something more, as well as its devotion to making sure the other students have a good shot at a less-distracting work environment.

The day went well. The student was a good kid with some focus issues. I don't know if Hank done it this a way, but I always try and find a way to make a connection with these kids. It's that reporter training coming in handy: if you can get someone to relate to you on a personal level, and break down that barrier, then you can get to some truth.

Kids have underdeveloped minds. That's what school is about, teaching them to develop their intellect. If some kid has some issues that stand in the way of that, when they're my charge I want to help them get over or around those hurdles so that they can get to the learning part of the thing.

I was very cautious and cool around my student this morning. I was told by his teacher -- a phenomenal educator -- that the student had a good rapport with the regular I was standing in for, and that he was sometimes cool to new people. So I felt it was very important to be non-threatening and calm.

In time I found moments to help. The breakthrough came in art class.

For this class, the teacher had an assignment and allowed the students to move to a new location if they wanted to.

He sat at a different table with three other boys. In moments, two of them got up and left the table. My student sensed rejection. He laid his head on his crossed arms on the desk. I think he started to cry. I sat down and placed my hand on his back and asked what had happened.

"They didn't want to sit with me. They left me."

"That's not your fault. That's their decision. I won't leave you. I will stay with you, I want to see your work."

It seemed to turn then. Two other boys at the table completed this odd set. I was pleased when the art teacher came by later, smiled, and said "This is the right mix."


A bit later I was called back to the office.

The Conductor told me of an opportunity to do 1-on-1 work with a student through the end of the school year, which runs through June 21. Five weeks.

Of course I will do it. And at almost double the rate of pay, that money will be a real shot in the arm. We need it.

But I would have done it at the same rate, because these people have shown faith in me. They make me feel valued.

Coming two years after someone threw me away like I was trash, it gives me hope.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Always the Bridesmaid...

Got impatient waiting to hear back from the people who told me last week I'd hear back. So I slyly crafted an e-mail saying how busy I had been this week, and if I'd missed a reach-out, wassup?

It got a response. At least now I know.

I'm not first on their list. They've got they eyes on someone else and that someone else is getting the up-close-and-personal followup. My contact said she liked what she heard from me, but that they were looking first at the other or others. If none of them panned out, then I'm still on the list.

Alas. It's not the new I wanted, but at least it is information and a status update, and that's better than not knowing.

So now we all know.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


... Yeah, still waiting on that callback...

I wrote quite some time ago about what I call "Rejection Etiquette" -- the lack of civility and professionalism from employers who don't acknowledge a job applicant. Even if there are 10,000 applicants for a job, it's incredibly easy for a reply a-mail that says "We got your stuff, if we like it you'll hear from us." That's the least they could do, because it tells the prospect that their material was received, and absolves them of the obligation of any further contact if they're not interested.

It's quite rare, actually, that even that happens.

So last week I had a strong phone interview that ended with the employer saying "We'll get back with you about coming in for a face-to-face interview next week."

Here's how I heard that: "We WILL contact you and we WILL have you come down to learn more about you. You ARE a candidate for this job."

That was Wednesday. It's the following Wednesday. I would like to have heard from them by now.

So I wait. I guess this is one of those that I have to be understanding about their possible scheduling issues and assume that this is just slow-moving. But ... hurry up!