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.

Top Writing Requirement: Read the Directions

Teaching students to adapt their writing to the situation never was easy, but is is becoming increasingly difficult. Within a few minutes’ time, we expect students to turn from texting friends to writing research reports to blogging—and to meet the different requirements of each of those situations.

One of the ways we can help students learn to navigate between writing situations is teach them that when directions are provided, they should read and follow those directions, regardless of what they’ve been taught was the appropriate thing to do.

I’ve seen all too often students tripped up by following what their teacher said rather than following the directions provided for a specific situation.

One afternoon when I was working in the human resources department of a resort, a local high senior came in to complete an application for summer work. He was a polite, personable young man with an engaging smile and clean-cut good looks.

I gave him the standard employment application. The top of the application form said all information had to be completed and warned prospective employees not to write, “See resume.” The warning not to write “See resume” was repeated above the employment history section of the form and again above the place for the applicant’s signature.

When the guy brought me his application a few minutes later, I glanced over it quickly, thinking that I could check his references immediately and possibly get him an interview with a department head that afternoon.

In each of the work history blocks, he’d written, “See resume.” paper shredder

It was a mid-week afternoon. I was the only person in the office. There had been no applicants all day. It looked like a good time to do a little teaching.

I said to the applicant, “You seem like a bright guy. Would you like to see what will be done with your application?”

He said he would.

I pointed to a black, box-like machine in the inner office, told him to insert his application in the slot in the top, and push the green button.

The applicant was horrified.

“That’s a paper shredder.”

“That’s right. To make sure we are not unfairly discriminating against any individuals, by law we are not supposed to consider information that’s not on the application. So too protect ourselves from accusations of unfair labor practices, when we get an application that says ‘see resume,’ we shred it.”

“But my English teacher said to put ‘see resume’ on the application.”

“I don’t doubt that she did. But since we’re not allowed to do what your English teacher expects us to do, it seems to me you have two choices. You can either complete the application the way we are required to have it completed, or you can get your English teacher to hire you for the summer.

“Which would you rather do?”

He choose to complete the application our way rather than his teacher’s way.