Profile Of The Language & Job Readiness Class.

Bob Geake, Blackstone Valley ARC

My initial question to the Inquiry Grant was based on my own belief that students in my reading and writing classes would improve both their skills and self esteem if they were to be integrated with newer Americans who also needed to improve their reading and writing to get the type of job they wanted.

In my outline to the Inquiry Project, I envisioned a kind of post ESL opportunity to graduates in the community who wanted to continue with reading and writing english. I knew that for the students at the Blackstone Valley Arc Resource Center, this would be a uniquely integrated class and I was anxious to see what their response would be.

Once the grant was approved, I retrieved the ESL books from my bookshelf, gathered resources on job development, and set about to write a manual to be used by the class. I also printed up posters and flyers and distributed them everywhere. I recruited students from present classes and referrals from the staff at the Resource Center, and I called other agencies to inform them of the class.

Initially, I found that putting the word out for such a class was one thing and getting a response was another. As there are a multitude of both ESL and job development classes in the community, I faced some stiff competion and had to find participants through avenue's I'd not sought before. Two people responded to posters I had placed in the libraries and supermarkets. One person was referred from another agency, and others were recruited by my own encounters in the community including one incident where I found a hispanic couple having great difficulty in understanding a cashier's questions about their coupons. Eventually, the class came together of the following:

Luisa-Marie : A young woman from Columbia who wanted to improve her english so that she could find a good, full time secretarial job.

Lino: A young man with developmental disabilities who currently has a job at a restaurant near his home but would like to imrove his english and is also involved with speech therapy to overcome an impediment.

Mila: A middle aged Russian woman who presently works with a local community center to assist recent emigres from her country.

Anthony: Another young man with developmental disabilities who has attended ABE classes at the Resource Center.

Michael: A young man who is also trying to overcome a speech impediment that has been a detriment in finding a job.

Maria: A young woman from Colombia who is attending the class despite pressure to stay at home and babysit her relative's children while they work.

Chris: A young man who speaks Portuguese and some English. He would also like to improve his language skills to find a job.

For the first session of the class, I videotaped interviews and people on the job who had come from other countries and faced many of the same conditions and challenges that the class members face today. This half hour of tape was followed by a discussion of the types of work most people with a minimum of English could find, and we reviewed each job with an eye toward how much someone would need to know in a given position. While the class found that jobs could be obtained without a good knowledge of English, that these jobs were often difficult and offered poor wages with little chance to increase wages or find a better opportunity.

We next reviewed the job interests of each class member, breaking down the components of each job to see what education one might need or experience that would help someone to be hired. Some class members were very specific as to the job they wanted, even if it meant going through training; and clearly viewed the class as a stepping stone. Other class members were varied in their choices, but all were within reach of their capabilities.

As it was important for each member of the class to feel an equal to the others, the next few weeks were spent letting those who wanted display skills already known to them that could well be channeled into a future job. Among these were: Lino, who works in a restaurant , instructed the class on how to make a large quantity of spaghetti and meatballs. Chris, who would like to work in a bakery, brought in a favorite cookbook and stirred everyone into baking festive cupcakes. Maria showed us the skill of handweaving as she had been taught in her native country, and Mila read a Russian fairy tale that she is now translating into English for her young grandson.

As I hoped, these opportunities to share skills fostered respect for each other and prepared the class for the lessons ahead.

The next step in our class was to select a few of the job choices students had made and explore them beyond what was discussed in our initial interest sessions. Some class members knew the fundamentals of a certain job or career, but most admited to knowing very little about the dynamics of each work place, the language that would be expected to be known in such a setting, or the hours they might be expected to work. Again, video was a tool that enabled the class to " visit " several places that offered the types of work in which they had expressed interest. They witnessed and heard from a local baker while working his 5 - 11 am shift, saw how many times an interview with a corporate secretary was interupted as she tried to explain how much responsibility went into her job, followed with the camera as a young carriage checker collected a seemingly endless string of discarded shopping carts, and also saw the unfathomable clutter as a computer repair specialist installed new hard drive on a computer that had been disabled by virus with a host of others waiting ( my home computer among them ).

Along with the video tape were lessons that introduced selected jobs to the class in a way that gave them a personal perspective on time, language and expectations in each workplace. There were a few surprises. No one in the class really knew that a baker's hours could be so early, particularly Chris who admitted to having a hard time getting in for a class at 10:00 am; let alone begin work at five in the morning. Others who had expressed a real desire to find an office job, had little idea how much was involved or what they needed to know aside from answering phones and making copies.

In this way too, the integrated class provided a valuable source of information to my own students. Those members of the class who were newly arrived in this country had some work experience in their country of origin and could explain these experiences to the class. Luisa- Marie had been a teacher's aid in an elementary school, Mila had been a library assistant, and so on; whereas most of the students from BVC were just learning about the potential they had in the job market. Consequently, their own viewpoint of certain careers and jobs were what they had garnered from television and movies or from what they had witnessed around the community. For Anthony, an office job meant that you were able to dress in fine clothes everyday and perhaps carry a briefcase. You worked on your own computer that no one else used and people treated you as though you were important, calling you all the time for advice on one problem or another.

For these students who found their expectations altered by the lessons and video, only two decided that their initial choice might need re-thinking and were undeterred by the prospect of classes and training that they needed to get that job.

As the classes continued however, the dynamics began to change. First, Luisa-Marie was forced to drop the class because her temporary job changed her hours from morning to afternoon during the time the class was held. Maria began too miss classes, at first calling me apologetically and then dropping from the class altogether. Mila also missed some classes as her work demands increased.

As this happened however, other students from BVC who had witnessed some of the goings on in class began to drop in to learn what they could from the remainder of the lessons. Chris' friend Michelle also began to attend classes, impressed by what he had told her and the worksheets he had brought home to study. I continued to send class materials to those who had missed lessons in the hope that they would come back to finish with the rest of the class, but this failed to happen.

The remainder of the group continued with our new members and delved into the work of creating resume's, filling out applications and preparing for job interviews. Before the class was through however, there was a last revelation.

As the group had finished exploring the dynamics of job choices and prepared to put together those tools needed to find a job, we paused for a lesson on equal employment opportunity. To my surprise, the class members knew very little about their rights as workers or how they were protected by the law even in the act of finding employment. Even Maria, to whom I'd sent this information , called to ask important questions concerning her rights. The reaction that the class had to this information was dynamic and led into two sessions of discussion on the issue. We clarified situations that others had experienced and explored other potential issues that could be discriminatory. We learned for instance, that Michael had once been dismissed from a job interview because the employers frustration with this young man's speech impediment led him to somehow believe that he was incapable of hearing instructions and would be unable to perform the task of running a dishwasher as the job demanded.

As we all know, with every experience there are lessons to be learned and valuable insights to be gained that will enable us to hopefully improve our experiences in the future. So it proved to be with the Language And Job Readiness class at the Blackstone Valley Arc.

I can say that my initial Inquiry Project question of whether an integrated class of new Americans and developmentally disabled adults would benefit each other in the continued learning of English and Job preparedness was answered affirmitively. The class members did help each other with pronunciation and spelling of words, with reading the lessons and also with shared experiences. Any barriers or inhibitions that my students might find with people in the community were quickly dissolved in the classroom as people began to know and grow comfortable with each other, and most importantly; began to learn together.

As with an question, one often leads to another and then yet another question. And this is true of this experience as well. In summing up this class held over the past months, I asked myself if it might not be better to integrate some students in- to a community class for job development or even an ESL class for those who have poor language skills. The answer is that this solution would probably benefit some students. Another question I pondered was whether the class had simply been too long, and the answer is that for those whose lives with family and work demanded much of their time, it probably was.

But as with any experience, this class will lead to another valuable opportunity.

There was immense interest on the part of BVC students in those who had come from another country to make a better life for themselves in America. There was a kindred spirit between these new immigrants who faced challenges with the language and the effort to be understood by others, the struggle against certain prejudices that still exist today, and the desire to have a good job and live by your own means. For very often, the students themselves face these same obstacles and are looking for the opportunity to learn and prove their abilities.

excerpts from Bob Geake's Manual, Learn the Language to Find a Job

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