Work Experience as Education

Nothing is as as good an educational experience as work.

That’s as true for teachers as it is for their students.

Do you want to know how to prepare your students for an entry-level job? The best way to learn what students need to know is to do different entry-level jobs yourself.

Unless you already know somebody at the business, you’ll have to fill out a job application, just as your students will unless they, too, get their jobs through networking or nepotism. Completing a job application requires what the Common Core State Standards refer to as reading informational text. I-9 form

You may also have to write a cover letter or, more commonly today, an e-mail, showing you can write 200 words that fit the situation. (That’s what Common Core calls writing informative/explanatory texts.) Not all applicants can write those 200 words, even if they have graduate degrees in English.

If you get the job, you’ll have to complete some paperwork. This is where your ability to read complex texts is really tested.

In the US, at minimum you will have to complete an I-9 before you can begin work and a W-4 before you can be paid. Depending on the state in which you work, you may also need to file forms for state income (and possibly local) income tax.

If you don’t recognize the paperwork jargon, you may be in trouble.

The burden is on employees to bring acceptable proof they’re allowed to work in the US. Most people will use a drivers license and Social Security card as their I-9 form proof. If you don’t have those documents, you’ll have to research acceptable substitutes to show your new employer.

Form W-4

Completing an I-9 is fairly simple. Completing an W-4 is confusing, even if you know what you’re doing.

Many small businesses (and some larger ones) don’t know understand the W-4 questions, and even if they do, few employers are willing to assume responsibility for giving tax advice to employees. Again, it is up to the employee to figure out what to put on the form.

If you are able to jump through all those hoops, you’ll get the chance to show that you have entry-level skills. We’ll open that can of worms another day.

In the meantime, think about how well your students are prepared to perform these pre-employment tasks. If you decide they might not present your school as the beacon of educational excellence you know it to be, perhaps you might want to think about steps you could take to change that perception.