Connecting Disparate Dots

As an only child, when I was sick or we were on a trip, my family always loaded me up with the latest and greatestdottodot CTDcaptainkangaroo in interactive toys of the time: puzzle books.

Yeah, that was my time – 1960’s, B.T. (Before technology.)

The books I favored the most featured a lot of word searches and brain teasers and word puzzles usually a couple of grade-levels above my chronology. I enjoyed them all, but even though they were the easiest pages in the book, I always had a thing for connect-the-dot pictures. Most of the time you could figure out what the picture was before you placed pencil-on-paper going from black-spot to black-spot to black-spot on easily torn newsprint, but oftentimes I was surprised at what the resulting picture really turned out to be, in detail. Especially while cruising some highway in the backseat of my parent’s Oldsmobile station wagon with my grandpa sitting next to me, this was not always the cut-and-dried, simple activity it may have appeared on the gas station magazine rack.

A new school year is beginning, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connecting the dots of my life; how I ended up an English teacher in an inner-city, high school classroom. It is not a linear, algebraic equation.

I am a teacher in what has been, historically, one of the poorest performing cities (new Orleans) in one of the lowest-performing states (by most educational measures) in the country, Louisiana. My wife and I came here nine years ago as part of an influx of educational reform and general societal and infrastructure rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the area – though the problems in education here predated the storm by decades. I have seen some notable improvements in our years here; I have also encountered a huge number of folks who came here for many of the same reasons.

microphoneThough to date, I am the only classroom teacher who began their professional life as a radio announcer.

Start with that dot.

I joined a one-year program at Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis, immediately following my high school graduation from Denver (Colorado) South High School.  There are lots of dots I can connect leading to the front of a New Orleans classroom. To be sure, the picture turns out more Salvador Dali than Norman Rockwell – to the naked eye, sans connecting lines, the picture dots would not come into focus at all.

I may need to sharpen an extra pencil.

I am about to begin my tenth year as a teacher- time to take stock. Also, with one son having finished his senior year of high school, and my elder son entering his senior year of college, getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and beyond has become a conversational focal point around here; it has also sparked some discussion as to how we even got to this stage in life as a family.

Eyebrows frequently become cocked and locked.

Objectively, I get that.  Analytically, maybe I can provide some inspiration to others also choosing a less-than-traditional path. In my days as an employment counselor, I was adept at helping people identify their ‘transferable skills’ – things they knew how to do, and could perform in other environments,

This a Readers Digest shot, working backward from now to then. Starting at the end was much the same approach I used so many years ago with those puzzle books in the backseat of the family Oldsmobile, so why not?

I first came to Louisiana in 2006 as a corporate trainer, helping the company I worked for in Minnesota get their Louisiana operations back on track following Katrina’s onslaught in August of 2005. I enjoyed training folks and helping them succeed, traveling all over the state – a unique experience.  My wife and I had long discussed getting out of the corporate rat race and doing something more meaningful with our lives, so when sitting in an IHOP Restaurant in Alexandria, Louisiana one night, reading a newspaper article about the TeachNOLA program recruiting folks to come to New Orleans to help rebuild the city’s long-distressed school system, it was a sign that my wife and I both took seriously.

We both applied, and were accepted for the 2008 TeachNOLA cohort.

I was dramatically changing everything:  locales, to be sure, and going from training adults to teaching inner-city teenagers. Logical, to a point, but I had become a corporate trainer only after I was laid off from my position as a job search trainer and employment counselor for the state of Minnesota – who had hired me away from my position as a county financial-aid (AFDC, food stamps, medical assistance) case worker and job coach in Minneapolis – all of which gave me great insight in dealing with my new students and, just as importantly, their parents.  (Dot, dot, dot.)

thanksamillionI had come to the county job after having spent a very rewarding year working for a millionaire philanthropist/newspaper columnist named Percy Ross – who gave away money to folks in need via the column.  A logical stretch from that job to case management, when you think about it: I was still helping people in need. (More dots linked.)

Mr. Ross had hired me after the children’s radio network I had been working for as an assistant business manager went out of business.  That had come at the end of a ten-year run in the hotel business, which I had grown weary of only due to the twenty-four/seven nature of the beast…which was why I had originally phased out of the radio biz. But that’s another story.

My last hotel gig was at a four-star hotel in St. Paul where I assisted the night manager. One night, a situation required me to remove an intoxicated gentleman from our crowded lobby. As a rather exclusive property, our management wanted such things handled unobtrusively. Jeff, our restaurant manager, was so impressed with my subtlety and tact in getting the drunk guy out without notice, he wrote it in his nightly report. That prompted the hotel general CTD5manager to instruct my boss the night manager to have me train new security personnel in how to handle delicate situations without confrontation. (Direct-line-dot-dot-dot to the corporate trainer gig.)

My skills at low-key, tactful, drunk-removal-with-dignity, I had picked up from Dennis, our night manager at a Holiday Inn I worked at previously. Dennis liked the way I handled people, and had also witnessed me training newcomers to the hotel. I remain grateful for his tutelage.

These big dots are directly connected to eventually training new security folks in St. Paul, but what I learned from Dennis also helped me greatly in working with the county and then the state.

I had begun my hotel career after ending (so I thought) my professional radio work, moving back to Minneapolis and deciding to go to college for the first time at the age of thirty. Three years at the University of Minnesota didn’t result in a degree, but by the end of my freshman year, I had been hired as a teaching assistant, thanks to one of my professors, Dr. Yahnke. Via that gig, I also did some work as a tutor in the computer lab of the U of M’s General College. You can draw a direct line (with heavy lead) from those dots directly to today. Bob deserves as much credit for where I am as Dennis.

My first stint as a college student came on the heels of a dozen years of bouncing around small-market radio – not often a financially lucrative endeavor. That was why I became quite adept at supplementing my income corelationdotswith side jobs. Through the years, I moved pianos, and did construction. I had stints as a convenience store clerk, racetrack security guard, and census taker, to name a few.

Before getting into the hotel biz, I was a data courier – daily picking up and dropping off huge reels of computer tape for transcription and storage – for a company that, when I applied, asked if I had ever had a security clearance. As I had been working in radio in Iowa during the presidential primary season of 1980, I had gotten Secret Service clearance, which turned out to be an important dot to the data folks, as they had contracts with big name defense contractors and other security-minded firms. I not only got the

I not only got the job, but the higher paying, preferred, high-security routes. Dot, dot, dot…

This came in handy during my hotel days in St. Paul, where we hosted a number of V.I.Ps – which sometimes required staff to get security clearance.  Mine aways came through first, as I was already on file, which again got me preferred shifts and duty assignments at the hotel.

Again, not a linear progression, but a solid gathering of a wide range of transferrable skills, all leading me here.

Each of those dots that I have touched on represent a number of different things; professional and personal experience, new skills, different CTDCTDperspectives, increased understanding of and empathy with folks covering a wide spectrum of socioeconomic America.

Experiences that continue to serve me well.

Which is why I feel pretty comfortable and confident in standing in front of a high school classroom of inner city New Orleans kids as their English teacher, trying to get them prepared on some level to take on the world, trying to relate to them all how what you do today has an impact on everything you do tomorrow in some way. In so many ways that are hard to convey, I tend to ‘get’ them (and their families and various situations) on levels that others may not.

Time to crank things up for one more year in the classroom.

Dot…dot…dot…

First Quarter Earnings and Learnings

Dear Shareholders: Mr. Lucker’s first quarter 2015 did not live up to the high expectations expressed as 2014 drew to a close, due primarily to his unexpected layoff on January fifth. This occurrence necessitated a quick retooling and1Qgraph reshuffling of prospects and potentials, and a reallocation of resources, including, but not limited to, time, resourcefulness, resumes and minimal pandering in various guises.

Mr. L FQ 2015 could be summed up as a bull market: when you are in a job search, plenty of it is flung at you in various forms verbal and electronic, and human nature being what it is, you also end up shoveling some of your own.

Though the Midwestern sensibility I was raised with sees that aspect of the process as nothing more than good preparation of soil to make it suitable for the sowing and reaping of your next career step.

How am I doing so far?Too Big To fail

It has been an odd start to the year for me not because of the job search (which is a process I actually enjoy and used to train people in) but because of it’s totally unexpected nature and that fact that finding teaching gigs in the middle of a school year is neither the norm nor the ideal. Unlike my previous professional incarnations in the year-round corporate world, being an unemployed teacher at mid-year is a whole different ballgame; most of the available positions are open for less than ideal reasons.

The job I have at present teaching English and TABE (pre-GED, vocational related) test prep is a bit more corporate in nature, being at a year-round vocational training program, and has its own set of unique attributes in terms of student mindset and methodology. Maybe it is more a pathology. On any given day…

There were not a lot of reasonable teaching prospects available throughout most of the winter, but with my varied background and array of experience, I did have other options to explore; options that made sense to me, but required some convincing of others. Broadening my search to more than just the classroom steered me into a whole different set of job search websites and parameters than I have been used to dealing with the last few years.

The byproduct of this was triggering an algorithm avalanche of oddities to my email inbox – along with the usual flood of requests to interview for sales positions, ostensibly based on ‘the perfect fit’ my resume seemed to be for their particular product.

I really love this combination, T.P. and private airtravel, which tends to crop up two, three times a week:

tpandorjet highlighted

Affordable. Yep.

As has been the case since I was teaching Internet job search a decade ago, insurance companies of all ilk are still trying to suck up anyone and everyone in their inimitable, voracious ways. There were days when I was receiving two and three requests to interview with different managers of the same companies.
Heston

Every time I get one of those insurance, investment, or real estate company queries all I can hear in my head is Charlton Heston crying out, “Soylent green is people!!!”

Full disclosure time: as a former job search trainer who still dabbles in the field and writes the occasional piece for a job seeker newsletter, I tend to come at the whole process of job search with a more discerning, questioning, at times cynical, eye.

Man, there is some weird stuff coming my way.

One of the biggest head-scratchers was a posting for a ‘Secondary English Teacher’ (Aha! said I, initially) that began with this:

ESSENTIAL JOB DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Actively monitor students during all duties which include, but are not limited to bus, morning, lunch, dismissal, after school and class transitions
Report and sign in on time daily
Have current lesson objective, current lesson agenda, positive message and all other required information clearly posted
Maintain professionalism at all times. This includes, but is not limited to:
o Professionalism in attire (no flip-flops. Attire determined inappropriate by admin will be addressed individually)
o Discussions/conferences involving or concerning students and parents are to be conducted in an office or conference room; not in hallway or front office

About the only thing about this one that screamed ‘secondary’ to me was that fact that the first reference to what the school Socrateswas looking for in terms of the classroom was actually on page two of the posting. Even then, the lead was the incredibly vague ‘create engaging lessons.’

‘Report and sign in daily and no flip-flops’ seems like a professional no-brainer to me, but then again…this IS New Orleans. Maybe they would let me wear leather sandals on Socratic circle days…

Not to be outdone in the ‘hey, potential employee guy’ oddities department was the application for a local temp service I thought I might have to utilize as a stop-gap.

I have filled out a lot of job applications throughout the years – both in New Orleans and in Twin Cities area, where I temped for over fifteen years. I have never encountered a lengthy series of questions like these rather, um POINTED inquiries:

  • drugusefriendsHow would your friends describe your current use of illegal, non-prescription drugs?
  • If someone disrespects you, how likely is it that you would hit that person?
  • How often do you report for work in a condition where you feel your work performance may be hurt by alcohol?
  • In the past two years, how often have you physically had to hurt a co-worker to get him/her to leave you alone?

As charming as the actual questions were, the drop-down menu answer choices were reasonably balanced, I thought. For example, I could describe my friends describing my use of illegal drugs with ‘out of control’ ‘a little out of control, but still manageable’ ‘recreational use only’ and ‘does not use.’ I breathed a sigh of relief at that last option, knowing I would be safe for at least one more question.

“If someone disrespects you, how likely is it that you would hit that person?” gave me interesting options: ‘I definitely would’ ‘I probably would’ ‘I probably would not’ and ‘I definitely would not.’  No vacillating on that one, by golly.

passthepeeinthecuptest
Exhibit ‘P’

Hands down, my favorite question and option choices was, ‘If you had to take a urinalysis (urine test, drug test) for illegal drugs today, do you think you would pass the test?

As an English teacher, I am reading this question and thinking are they asking if I would actually pass the test by having drugs in my system. Whoever wrote this questionnaire could use one of my handy-dandy lessons in inference. The answer choices (see exhibit P, right)  were the mundane ‘I would definitely not pass the test’ “I might not pass the test due to recreational drug use’ and the absolutely priceless ‘If I did not pass the test today, I would later in the week.’

I think this particular answer is meant to assess just how high (pun intended) your level of determination for the job is. ‘If I did not pass the test today, I would later in the week.’  A little cramming the night before, and badda-BOOM! Test passed.

One question asked specifically about ‘the category that best describes your current use of meth’ that included the wonderfully oxymoronic option ‘Heavy,but controlled.’   Heavy stuff, man.  And like the teacher posting above, the actual skills/abilities (a.k.a important stuff) was secondary.

Not that all the questions dealt with substances: they also asked me ‘In the past two years, how often have you physically had to hurt a co-worker to get him/her to leave you alone?’ and ‘If someone disrespects you, how likely is it that you would hit that person?” 

I left the whole mess mid-application.

Amongst the daily insurance/investment/sales inquiries (‘reviewing your C.V. we believe you to be a perfect fit for our autopsy assistant - Copycompany’) I did get something a bit more, ummm…targeted. Just not (in a way I could grasp) to my skill set and/or resume: Autopsy Assistant.

Curiously, the requirements for the position are ‘High School Diploma or equivalent’ with ‘1 – 3 years experience is preferred.’ Always love the innocuous ‘preferred’ in this setting, because it leads to ‘knowledge of standard autopsy techniques and procedures required.

Near as I can figure, the algorithm gods tapped me for this one because of a Marty Feldman comment I had made on a friend’s Facebook post the previous day.

Now, D.O.A or don’t I apply for this opportunity

So, rolling on into the second quarter of the year, the Mark-et has stabilized, so to speak. Back working in a vocational setting is different, and presents its own challenges – not the least of which is dealing with the same types of students with the exact same issues I have had at the high school level. Only many of these kids believe, since they have a high school diploma in hand and are in a vocational program, that they don’t need to be in a classroom trying to improve their reading proficiency.

Their test scores and their demonstrated abilities in my classroom say otherwise.

For now, things are on the upswing for the second quarter. Keeping things on an even keel is starting to give way to more of an upswing in all aspects of the process. I am planealready seeing a higher degree of orders, and anticipate a definite uptick in sales and production, along with a much stronger R.O.I.

If not, then I may just have to delve into my Spam folder, rent a private jet, and get the heck on out of here. I just hope I remember to bring those coupons I printed out.

Onward we go

My pink sip was eggshell white, with jaunty blue-and-yellow letterhead; feigned cheerfulness that, bureaucratically, told me nothing of substance, yet spoke volumes.

Terminated. ‘Let go’ and my personal favorite, ‘released from your contract’ – like I was a Hollywood star jettisoned by a studio and not an inner city high school teacher who enjoyed his school, students, colleagues and administration and had never had any expressed negativity from any of them.

Well, except for the students. But that was just typical teenager stuff; too many expectations, too much work, not enough of not-those-things.  Mostly, they were a good bunch who had given me very little trouble in or out of the classroom.

‘It wasn’t working out’ was the phrase that accompanied my walking papers at the end of our first day back following a two-week Christmas break, with an added ‘it was not a good fit’ for extra measure.  I am still not sure what they meant by either of those things; my former colleagues remained mystified as well…not to mention paranoid.  A week after being released, I noticed an on-line job posting for a different position at the same school I had been at. Texting a few folks asking what was up got me puzzled responses that eventually gave way to the knowledge that the other teacher was told they would not be retaining his/her services next year, hence the posting.

Nothing like spending the rest of the school year looking over your shoulder. Sometimes, being on the outside looking in can be advantageous.  It is a small consolation; I liked my job – a lot and thought everything was fine with no reason to believe otherwise.

It is difficult to not be introspective and retrospective simultaneously: where did this thing go south and why did I not see this coming? I pride myself on being intuitive, insightful and proactive – that all failed me here.  It is truly a puzzle, but I need to move on.

Thirty years.  Thirty years since I have been abruptly told ‘hit the road’ by an employer. There have certainly been other situations that I have come and gone from, but there was always some sort of prior indication that things were not progressing positively.  This was totally out of the blue.   As they say in my home state of Minnesota, “That’s different.”

‘Terminated’ ‘let go’ ‘released from your contract’ are euphemisms that mean something much different from they did thirty years ago – and not in a semantic sense.  Being unemployed at middle age, in the middle of winter, in the middle of a school year is not comfortable territory for a teacher – especially one as new to the field (six-point-five years now) as I am.   his is the mid-life, mid-year, mid-career-change crisis I have heard about, but didn’t want to contemplate.

Being contemplative about career choices is not something I have the luxury of at this point in time.

My previous incarnation as an employment counselor and job search trainer is now equal parts irony and instructive.  I know how to play the game; I have the skills, expertise and varied background that should make me an attractive candidate for someone who needs something done and done well.  The specific who, what, where is still unknown.  But ‘it’ is out there. Somewhere.

Once upon a time, I was a state-certified Creative Job Search trainer, and one of the most challenging but interesting segments of the class to me was chapter one; moving on what was, and start focusing on what is next.  Easier said than done to be sure, but I had a plethora of anecdotes and strategies that addressed the issue and I always felt energized when I could get a class to buy into those ideas.  Yes, it usually took a fair amount of follow-up in more intimate, one-on-one settings, but it was one of the more gratifying aspects to teaching the class.

Probably because it was one of the most challenging things I had to teach.

Time now to practice what I preached lo those many classroom sessions; it is time to move on, not dwell on what was, focus on what will be. There is a world of opportunity out there, I just need to corral some of it.  Starting noIMG_20150123_143929w.

So if you know someone who needs a writer, teacher, trainer, mentor, consultant, jack of most trades master of the majority of them, drop me a note.  If you are in the market for someone with abundant talent, strong work ethic backed up with a broad background…a creative thinker infused with drive and patience and an uncanny, dogged ability to make it work when it really isn’t, you know where to find me.

This past Christmas I got a tee-shirt from my grandson, aged three, and the phrase across the front of it has become quite prophetic and will become my new mantra:  ‘The diem aint gonna carpe itself.’

Indeed it isn’t.  Call me, I can fit you in. We’ll make it work.

A Teachers Summer on the Road; Episode 1

My first Monday back in my hometown of Minneapolis.Hire Me computer key

Reupping with an employer you haven’t worked for in over ten years is a bit like having dinner with a former lover. You start by discussing your separate, mostly unknown here-and-now’s before you move on to on shared pasts, getting each other up to date, filling in some blanks. Sometimes it is smooth flowing conversation; sometimes it’s a bit clunky.

Then you get a bit more comfortable, relaxed.

You also begin to remember all the good things you liked about each other ‘back in the day’ and why the relationship was so mutually beneficial…while also realizing why the relationship came amicably to an end, and just why it probably wouldn’t work for the long-term, then or now.

Or would it?

The folks at my favorite old temp service, Pro Staff in Minneapolis, have been gracious and helpful, and I am now officially back in the fold for the summer.

I can use the work, and I can do it. Jack-of-All-Most-Trades, master of a goodly percentage of them, proficient at the rest. A freelancesummer work fling would be just the ticket, with them or someone else.

If you need a writing or other creative project accomplished in a pinch, let me know. I am not a monogamous guy when it comes to earning some extra cash. If you are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and have some other sort of job or project you need handled, and handled well…hey, you know where to find me. I have wheels,desire, talent.

Have skills, will travel.

Hey, I won’t even expect you to buy me dinner first.

Dream dissonance

My dreams set themselves to music.

My search for a new teaching gig is stretching on into the first week of the new school year – not unusual here in New Orleans, where historically, a lot of teachers simply don’t show up for the new year, and where, with the shifting charter landscape and open enrollment, enrolments can fluctuate wildly, necessitating additional staff.

In my three years here I can count over 30 some schools I have worked at either full time or as a substitute, many I wouldn’t ever want to work at again as a sub, let alone full-time.  There are others that friends of mine work at that I also would not want to work at, then some others that virtually nobody wants to work at.

But as the year gets under way, I may not have the option of being picky.

I have this recurring dream that a school I absolutely don’t want to teach at calls and offers me my ‘dream job’ of preferred grades and subjects. This has happened most every night for the past few weeks, with a different school every night and musical accompaniment.

Tell me your dreams don’t come with a soundtrack.

Just imagine the name of the school I don’t want to work at is ‘Indiana’, and flashback to your car dashboard A.M. radio, circa 1975, and you’ll understand why I wake up in a cold sweat with R. Dean Taylor’s voice and school-specific lyrics running through my head:

“Indiana wants me, Lord I can’t go back there
Indiana wants me, Lord I can’t go back there…”

Like insert the school I was at a few years ago, now defunct, F.W. Gregory: “Gregory school they want me, Lord I can’t go back there! Gregory school they want, me…Lord I can’t go back there…”

See? And if it’s a really bad school, the dream becomes a full-fledged nightmare as the latter verses of the song roll through my sleepinCuriously odd 70's album title & coverg head:

“..red lights are flashing around me
yeah love, it looks like they found me…
the alternative school wants me!
Lord I can’t go back there…”

Wait. Your dreams don’t choose their own soundtrack?  Eh!  Just forget we had this conversation.

Résumé

Paperboy.
Mower of lawns,
painter of fences;
ice-cream-scooper-
slash-soda jerk,
lumberjack.
Old- folk odd-jobber,
potato peeler
dishwasher
donut seller

Early vocations of a
professional amateur,
experience invaluable;
financed my adolescent
frivolity while banking
interest-compounding
life lessons.

I still make regular
withdrawals.

Radio announcer, sales
consultant, commercial
producer; census taker,
construction worker,
radio station manager.

Boss? For a time.

Different lessons from
more life lived; setbacks
professional, personal –
some debilitating.
Still the bills got paid.

Mostly.

Bellman, waiter, artist.
Driver of vans, limousines,
cars; passengers and data
hauled, coddled, delivered.
Security guard, file clerk,
receptionist, print maker.
Writer, announcer, tutor
…condom inspector?

Yes, I was.

Warehouses, factories, cafes.
Offices, loading docks, streets.
Vehicles, assembly lines, home.
Construction sites, studios,
laboratories and back rooms.
Restaurants, kitchens, hotels.

Service with a smile. Always.

Suits, uniforms, dungarees;
shirts, ties, lab coats, work boots
in prairie dog cubicle villages, dimly
lit, noisy, grimy, OSHA eschewed
houses of manufacture, shipping.
Blue collar, white collar, always
a ring around the collar.

Worked hard. Always.

Case manager, trainer of job
seeking and on-the-job skills; how
to find employment, how to keep it:
promoted, finally to professional.

Middle age, finding my true calling
the front of a classroom: high school
students looking at the adult world
skeptically, lacking the confidence,
missing the skills, high on bravado,
looking to me for all the answers.

Credibility an issue, as they see me
as privileged, incapable of relating
to them: their world, lives, dangers.

If it were only as simple as that.

Hiring?

Heed a one-trick pony;
clunky transferrable skills,
short careers at stud.