For my birthday this past year, my daughters purchased a membership for me in Story Worth. I currently write an article a week for the collection. Each week, I get a new question to write about and at the end of the year, Story Worth will bind and publish my responses in a book to be shared with my grandchildren. This week’s question was “How did I get my first job?” What follows is my response. I felt that I wanted it added to this collection as well.
The question here is whether we talk about my first job or my first career job. My first jobs were all part time in nature starting with my very first job as a busboy for an exclusive country club. I followed that up as the weekend car wash manager and from there, graduated to a combine operator for a canning company harvesting peas. My first life skill job was that of a rough carpenter on a house building crew. Over the next eleven plus years I would work for several different contractors building homes and apartments. This job provided me with skills that I applied throughout my life. All of these first jobs were landed through the connections my father had. Though he got me in the door, it was my willingness to do more and to learn everything I could that kept me employed and often promoted. I learned through my father to make connections, to always be networking, but also to go above and beyond the job expectations. Hard work does pay off but so too does ingenuity and initiative.
My first career job was in teaching and came immediately after graduation. Due to circumstances, I graduated in December and looking for a job in teaching meant my opportunities were limited. If I were to teach, I would have to accept a midterm assignment or offer myself up as a substitute teacher. The latter was not very attractive and the former meant I had to replace someone. I threw my application out statewide and even some out of state schools as well. My only opportunity, there was a glut in teachers due to the Vietnam War, came out of a tiny town in far northern Wisconsin.
A teacher was being let go for discipline reasons and I was granted an interview along with three other math educators. When I arrived for the interview, we were all in one room. Sitting across from me were three highly gifted math students. I knew they were sharp because they had been my competition through my degree program at the university. We had all just graduated from UW Oshkosh that December of 1973. How could I even compete for this position? Listening to them talk about how they were going to present themselves, I realized they were going to sell themselves based on skill and knowledge. I had to take a different tack. I decided I would root my answers in discipline and relationship. If I could maintain discipline in the classroom, I could develop a relationship with my students. I would inspire them with my passionate belief that learning was easier in a safe and relational environment.
Loyal High School Logo
Twenty-five years of teaching later, spread across two different districts, I retired on my terms. In between I would make numerous presentations to multiple school districts, win a District Teacher of the Year award in my third year of teaching, and receive two nominations for State Teacher of the Year awards. I would develop educational games, create project based curriculum and write concept based curriculum for the district math department, K-12. My proudest achievement was that my students always knew why they did the math. On one occasion I was asked how I answer the question “why do we have to learn this?” My response was “I don’t know. I’ve never been asked.” As the saying goes now-a-days, mic drops!
I hope the take away from this piece is that who you know is important as long as there exists a relationship of trust. Networking is an important part of that relationship and will help open doors, but ingenuity and initiative will keep the doors open. Never stop growing, learn everything the job and the world have to offer. And one last piece of advice, and this too came from my dad. Whenever I wanted to change jobs, he would look at me and ask why I wanted to do that and then he would follow it up with “whatever you decide, be the best at it.” Wise words from a wise man.