I am a woman who has taught creative writing, literature, communications, theater, language arts, grammar and general humanities for over 16 years, and I am also a published novelist. On Tuesday, May 17th, I was hired on-the-spot to teach two classes at John Robert Powers in Chicago and also told to give lesson plans, a 10-week course outline and a total clearing of my schedule-- to get all this to the woman who hired me by the morning of Thursday, May 19th. I taught one class the following Saturday, and chose to not return for the reasons I narrate here.
Not only was I a bit taken aback by the excessively negative and deprecating approach of the "Training Director" who hired me (but gave no training, and no directions), but also I actually felt kind of sorry for a crowd of children. They were crammed at a front desk waiting to get into classes 10 minutes before they started, while teachers sat in a room laughing and I (as a new instructor) had to find out from them where I went, what I was to do and what was going on.
Although she at first seemed very professional, formal and pleasant in our interview, I found the Training Director to treat me like one of the children and be a bit too focused on negativity for me to even want to get too much more involved beyond teaching one class; I chose not to return to that place for $20/hour for 2 hours, one Saturday or Wednesday a week, every other week. As a lifelong practitioner of the arts and an educated woman who knows the power of reinforcement, I really did not see a point in children taking or me teaching classes which met every other week for once a week. That is not immersion into a subject, but a waste of time.
Here is the narrative of events:
On May 16, 2011, at approximately 7:00 p.m. (well after business hours and when most professionals are not taking work calls), I received a call from the training director to interview for a "Teacher" position with John Robert Powers. It had been so long since I applied to something there, that I did not even remember what it was for. I was told there had been a "weeding out" process that took a long time. I do not think that was the case. I think the woman was disorganized, the place was very informal, and she was just looking for someone to quickly fill a spot due to another professional possibly quitting or getting the feelings I did. We made an appointment for me to come interview in less than 24 hours, at 3:00 p.m. the next day, about 20 miles from my home.
On Tuesday, May 17, 2011, I arrived at the U.S. Cellular Building where this particular JRP franchise is located. I had been given no instructions about the layout of the building, which was actually 3 buildings in one. I had to figure that out after I parked. I arrived in between 3:05-3:10 p.m. after drifting through the first building to get to the third. I was given a brief application which took 10 minutes for me to fill out. The Training Director did not come to meet me until after 4:00 p.m. I had been waiting for an hour. I did not think negatively. I did not go to the front desk to demand to know what happened. I did not alert them that I was going to be stuck in rush hour traffic near O'Hare Airport if I did not get out of there by 4:30 p.m. I was just pleasant, patient, kind, friendly and very talkative in the interview.
At approximately 5:00 p.m., and after a conversation where I discussed my particular disappointments with arts education and feelings that most arts educators were just failed artists who exploited children to work, I was hired on the spot to teach TV One and Communications. The irony of me being hired to teach "Communications" was that this Training Director did not even communicate to me that she had hired me, what my schedule was, what my pay was and what amount of time I had to give a response of acceptance. She just returned to the room with the JRP books on the subject, told me to send her a lesson plan for TV One by Thursday, and told me to give her an outline for Communications (the entire 10 weeks) by Thursday as well. At that point, I said, "Well, are you hiring me?" She said: "Yeah, you're teaching on Saturday." I was happy, since I was looking forward to teaching children who were motivated by parents who would pay for arts education. That happiness did not last.
The Training Director explained that the classes were Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, and that they met for 10 weeks. That was a totally different schedule and routine than I was actually going to be doing, and was just plain inaccurate. The reality is that I was NOT teaching 3 times a week, but the general classes at the place ran for 3 days a week. The reality is that the classes were NOT 10 weeks, but actually 20 weeks with students' one class staggered by every other week. None of this was explained. I left thinking I would be arriving at JRP on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for the next 10 weeks to teach 2 classes per day. In reality, I would be coming up there on Wednesday and Saturday to teach one class, and those two classes would not meet at all for one week and then resume the following week.
In retrospect, the Training Director treated me like a mind reader--not a woman she had called up the night before who had no familiarity with the school whatsoever, who had never taken a class there and who maybe had other things scheduled long before JRP had a desperate need for a teacher on Saturday. She did not give me the HR packet to fill out, which would have included a dress code to let me know how to dress. She told me to meet her back at the school at 10:00 to teach TV One. I wrote all of this down right in front of her. It would change later.
On Wednesday, May 18th, I called the Training Director with an exuberant "Thank you!" and "I am looking forward to teaching some great classes!" as my voicemail message I left. This Training Director did not respond to that at all, not through an email reciprocating such enthusiasm for me or not through a voicemail thanking me for accepting such a rushed job. I proceeded to continue with other interviews I had set up for Wednesday, as well as temp work, with nothing sent to me by email to confirm what had been said to me. I did not have time or energy to read the JRP materials I was given, come up with a viable lesson plan, or do a 10-week outline in advance for a class that was not even going to be finished until September. I had planned to call the Training Director to let her know she would receive my advance work for this job on Friday. On a side note, every teaching job I had ever had allowed one hour of paid time for lesson planning or homework grading. She did not mention that. This was all unpaid work.
On Thursday, May 16th, I received a voicemail from this woman--the very first contact she had given me since I left her office and jumped on board with her team like the type of employee someone would appreciate immensely. She briefly stated: "I did not get your lesson plans, so please send those." I had a cold, since the weather changed, and I had planned to call this woman later that afternoon after I rested. She called me back--again--first. She did not mention my "Thank you" voicemail to her. She did not ask me if I had read the books. She did not express any gratitude, positive reinforcement, or enthusiasm whatsoever. She just reminded me she did not get my lesson plans. I explained to her that I had had some other things to do, I was tired, and I had not had the chance to complete the lesson plans. I left out the part about getting such short notice. I told her I would send them on Friday. She kind of just mumbled "O-o-kay..." and left it at that. She then told me, "I will see you Saturday at 9:45." That was a change from what I had been told. I was the one who had to tell her to have a nice evening.
On Friday, May 20th, I spent my day finishing reading their materials in order to put together a 10-week outline for a Communications class that I had not visited before, seen before or been told the age group for. I comprised a lesson plan for TV-One as she had told me. It featured a Do Now introductory exercise, several ice-breakers, an explanation of great vocabulary or key terms, lecture notes and a homework assignment. I had made the mistake of leaving the Training Director's business card at home, and there was no professional staff list online to make sure I sent it to the right address. She was also not listed at all in Google. I tried a variety of combinations of her name, shot off the emails, and went home to prepare for driving all the way to O'Hare Airport to meet her at 9:45 a.m. Again, that was a change from what she had told me.
Due to traffic and other things I had to do in that morning, since I was suddenly teaching at John Robert Powers with less than 4 days notice, I arrived back at their offices at 10 p.m. The Training Director did not come to meet me until close to 10:20. She gave me a long packet to fill out. She did not say anything encouraging or positive. The first thing she said to me was "I didn't get your lesson plans." At that point, I discovered I had sent it to her wrong email address. I asked her if she had a flash drive, so I could transfer it to her computer. She told me no. What office in the 21st Century does not have a flash drive? I then asked her if there was Wi-Fi, for me to email it to her now. She told me she was not sure, and then mentioned Starbucks. She left the room. Oddly and suspiciously, I went to my Wi-Fi connection settings and saw a bold, strong signal for the entire U.S. Cellular building address. I found it quite odd that someone who claimed to have worked there for 7 years would not have helped out a new teacher with that information or explanation. I connected, emailed her and started filling out papers.
At approximately 10:45, she returned to the room. She did not apologize for not giving me the dress code. She only mentioned that she should have. I was dressed in stockings, black heels, a long silk/rayon royal purple dress, and a black leotard top underneath. I had on purplish earrings with a matching bracelet, and a royal purple and white headwrap. I am African-American. I could have been Muslim. She told me at that point there were no "scarves." I explained that I always wore scarves. As a matter of fact, when she interviewed me I had been wearing a nice brown fedora hat. She had said nothing about it in the interview. She explained that many instructors had "natural hair" and that it would be fine to reveal. I said okay. She said nothing about everything about my dress which was right and compatible with the code.
She wanted to copy my social security card and drivers license. I had been the victim of a stolen wallet recently. One of the things I had wanted to do that Saturday was get my license copy back. I could not. I had to be at John Robert Powers at 9:45, and I had been reading their books and doing lesson plans on Friday. When I told her I just had copies, the look on her face made me very uncomfortable and seemed to be disgust. It was very weird. It seemed like she had a problem with me that I was not sure of. I was not quite sure how I could be a teacher who had been called into this on a Monday, accepted to help her on Tuesday, doing work on Friday and there promptly on Saturday with a "Training Director" who had given me no Training, responses to my emails or ideas on what I was supposed to be doing. I gave her my original birth certificate to copy, and she left again. I was wondering if this was their way of getting grown adults who were teachers used to a condescending regime, and if it reflected the school's tactics.
I had looked on the schedule of classes for that day to discover I was not, in fact, teaching "TV One"--the class she had told me to d a lesson plan for. I was teaching Communications. Luckily, I had read the books in order to do the 10-week outline. I did not do 10 weeks. I only did 5. With this Training Director contributing nothing to my training, and me actually having a life long before she called me on Monday, I did not want to put the free labor into doing 10 weeks of this outline until I knew I was on the right track. Thank God I did, however, do half. It helped me to have a sense of the goals of the course I was actually teaching that day, when I had prepared for TV One. I was aware students were going to be coming in soon, and she left me sitting in a studio once more by 10:45. It was the same thing which had been done for my interview--times I was told to come way too early, was just sitting there, and was not getting paid for it. Luckily, I was able to do a Communications Lesson Plan for that day.
At about 11:10, she came in to tell me she did not look at my lesson plans. I was chewing gum, since I know from a lifetime of teaching that your mouth will get dry while talking and modeling to students that they are not to have drinks in class. I also had had coffee that morning, and was just making sure to freshen my breath and not have the dry mouth coffee often brings. This woman who had given me no "Thanks, " no instructions, no directions and wasted time sitting in her studios then emerged once more. She told me, an experienced teacher of 15 years, "You can't chew gum in the classes." At that point, I put down my pen and was getting a bit fed up. I was not sure where she was coming from, or why she even hired me in the first place. I was used to being hired because people liked me, had faith in me and wanted to appreciate me. This Training Director had been doing nothing but pointing out what I was doing wrong--in a job I had just been hired for, had no orientation in and had no responses for.
I had to tell her that I had had coffee, I had been teaching for awhile so knew better, and I planned to dispose of my gum before. This was a place which claimed to be committed to proper manners, teaching style and courtesy, and giving children the tools to succeed with the highest character possible. At that point, she was severely testing mine. However, as a former pageant winner and debutante who thought I had been hired for some belief in my experiences, I spoke to her professionally and articulately. I believe she sensed my irritation. She just said "Okay."
At that point, I took advantage of her coming in to reprimand me again to ask her the essential questions I should have been told in a great phone call before teaching, or sent in writing over email, or discussed in this hour and a half before class that she told me to arrive. They were: "Where am I teaching? Do I have a chalk or dry erase board? What age are these children? How many will be in the class? Am I supposed to be giving them grades? What kind of breaks do we take?" She quickly answered these, and finally clarified I would only be teaching 4 sessions a month with two classes, taught once a week, every other week--and not 24 sessions a month with 2 classes taught 3 times a week, every other week to staggered groups, and what anyone who was not a mind reader would have thought given what she stated.
Around 11:15, I was primarily focused on giving these children the best experience possible in a classroom. I did not really care about my dynamic with her. I love to teach. I was focused on the children. The front desk of this place was a madhouse. It was ridiculous. I wondered how in the world would all of the students be in their classes on time and ready to go; some parents were paying, some needed directions and some were trying to register that day. I found a room full of teachers who were just sitting there. In the schools or organizations where I had taught, and where educators play multiple roles, we would have all been instructed to direct children, answer questions and work as a team. There were a group of actors and artists sitting in a room having a great time. I wondered why the Training Director had appointed no one to walk me to my classroom, explain the "break time" that I just happened to quickly read in the materials, or do anything close to a proper direction of well over a dozen children just standing around.
It kind of confirmed my suspicions and words to her in the interview about the risks of having artists who are not educators by nature working in schools. If this had been a group of people who had the degrees and teacher trainings I had, we would have all been accepting that this coordination was apart of our job. I was, at least, told what room to go into. I also met a woman who had what the Training Director must have meant by "natural hair, " to explain to me why my headwrap could be sacrificed in this environment. That was the most positive encounter of the whole experience.
I started my class with 8 of the most ambitious, gorgeous, excited, and cooperative students I had seen in a very long time. It confirmed the reasons why I had wanted to work with motivated, aspiring young actors and models who were not being forced to be in a class--but wanted to be. They helped me and each other, came back on time from breaks, and worked together in a way where I am truly going to miss them and I do believe there were some future stars in the room.
The Training Director had given me "progress reports" (with attendance) to fill out for the class. I took attendance, and chose to maximize my experience with the children (as well as their money) by not thinking of those reports at all--but instead giving my undivided attention to teaching, a lesson, the children, and what we were all genuinely, sincerely happy to be there for.
At one point, the Training Director came into the class to "observe." I was not sure why. She did not give me any feedback--good or bad--from her observations after the class. She simply came back at 1:35 to tell me we were running over and to wrap up. It was very bizarre. It was almost as if she had no trust or faith in my teaching, or was the type of person who only looked for things to be wrong. Most classes go over for the very first time. I had not needed her to let me know that, and I had already told the children we must hurry and clarify homework. Again, she gave me no feedback whatsoever from her observations. In the pattern of her negativity, she pointed out that I did not fill out the progress reports during class and I should. I had not been told that. I did not see how that was possible. With just 2 hours and 8 students, there was no time (other than partnered activities) for a teacher to fill out a couple of sentences about students. Also, since this was the first class, I was not sure what "progress" I was to record. I think that this was just a "paper trail" document for them to prove they had actually taught some classes, in case of auditing or investigations. She also had something to say about me taping paper to the wall in order to write down my lesson points, exercises and what key points for the students to know. I was told to make sure the tape I used did not hurt the walls.
In any case, I filled out progress reports for all students to the best of my abilities. She told me "We'll touch bases on Monday." She did not address the fact that she had told me the wrong class, or what time to be there in the class (which was 10 minutes early, as I later had to read the HR documents to see). I assumed we would discuss what was right about my lesson plan, what to do better or next, and how to continue the 10-class outline (in May?) for a class that was to run until September. I also thought we would arrange an earlier time for me to meet her to discuss my ideas for lesson plans, compared to what the book suggested. I had planned to ask her which exercises were used most often, which ones had worked, and which assignments she preferred.
Although she had been calling a new teacher to let me know that I did not do my lesson plans with one and a half days notice, she did not check my references until 4 days after she hired me and after I taught the class. A friend called me to let me know she had called to get a reference for me after I left JRP that Saturday. I explained to him that I had already been hired, and thought that was taken care of beforehand or shortly after in a hiring process. Again, I am not sure if this is just a system of checks and balances or paper trails to justify what student pay.
I never got a phone call from her on Monday. I also never got an email response from her to my emails with the Lesson Plans or outlines, sent that morning from the JRP Wi-Fi connection. I was not surprised. Essentially, the point of doing something in advance is to get feedback on it. I was just working for nothing, for free, in advance. At one point, I thought maybe I had emailed the wrong address again. I started to call her to verify she had received it. I did not. I am glad I did not. She certainly received my emails, but just did not take the time to respond. I think the reason may have been that they were quite good, detailed and formulated to their formulas. It seemed like a place that had a problem with giving any positive feedback.
From the moment I extended my hand in thanks for the offer, it had been an experience of belittling and deprecation. I was worried that this was the climate of the school and its attitude to the young, budding, ambitious and great children. The entertainment industry depends on such tactics, the reason for the extreme eating disorders and low self-esteems of otherwise whole children. I was not planning to be that type of teacher at all. I was going to have very little bad to say about any child who was spending their weekends or evening bettering themselves, rather than sitting in front of a television or running the streets.
On Wednesday, it occurred to me that I would have to fight 90/94 rush hour traffic to get a stone's throw from the busiest airport in the world--O'Hare--to teach at JRP at 6:00. I was going to take the train, but decided not to, since I was not sure where it let off. Since I was aware I had no board, I spent an hour preparing poster board for the key points and instructions I wanted to give. I thought back to how none of the other studios or classrooms had this.
I also thought back to how there was no supply room for paper, markers, highlighters, tape, construction paper, or anything else that a teacher might use to truly engage students practically and appropriately. I brought all of this myself. Even if I was teaching a TV-One class and wanted to make sure the terms of an exercise or Improv were clear to my students, who could have been as young as 9, there needed to be some materials. I suppose people were just coming in winging it. After this unpaid lesson preparation time using my own materials, I set out to waste nearly a quarter tank of gas going up to O'Hare Airport and arriving 10 minutes early. I may have had to use the bathroom before my class, but I was sure that I would have enough time to tape my poster boards up, lay out the materials for students and be ready to go.
Apparently, the "Training Director" did not think so--or had too much time on her hands to think about what could be going wrong, while paying no attention to what all was going right. I felt sorry for the children. I thought back to how one mother of a student had told me they would come back in the Fall. WHile I was busy saying "Awww" and praising how much this youngest student had been very protected and led by the older children, so would be very missed, the Training Director had just started complaining about how she told them not to even sign up in the first place. It seemed like they were going for ultra-formal, impressive looks, and the illusion of extreme professionalism. In that motive or goal, it just seemed like a grim and disorganized place to work.
Although this woman did not call me to "touch base" on Monday as she had said she would, in order to talk about the classes in advance and have the real positive dialogue to form the best experiences, she must have been sitting by her phone to call me 10 minutes before my class in order to remind me I was late. Traffic to get there was hellish. Amazingly and as I was sure of, I was at the building on time and before the class. My phone rang just as I was pulling off of the exit to go one block and a half to the U.S. Celluar Building. I am sure I would have been there 5-7 minutes before my class, with no washroom break even necessary for me and (of course) my gum spit out. I checked the voicemail she left me. It was: "Hi. This is...from JRP. Your class starts in 10 minutes, and you are not here, so I am wondering where you are." I was not even late, and it seemed like these people were looking for me to be late rather than for me to be there. I have severe concerns about the children being led by individuals who think they are this important, and I also noticed they barely smiled at the children. It was not what I had expected.
At that point, I called back to ask for the "Training Director." It was clear I had been "discussed"--and not positively. The receptionist who answered the phone asked me my name, told me "You're supposed to be here teaching right?" and then immediately transferred me to a woman who had never immediately greeted me or answered my calls before. I turned my car around. I did not want to mislead any children to think I would be their instructor they would see again in two weeks, or get attached to them, or make them think I had been fired or quit.
I determined they would never meet me in the first place. I picked up the phone, politely told her she should find someone else, explained it was not a right fit, repeated my "Thanks for the opportunity, " and really had nothing whatseover to say when she asked me "Why?" I just repeated that it was not a right fit, she should find someone else and have a nice evening. She hung up on me. I wound up taking myself to dinner, reading a good book book and enjoying the Spring storm.
The first email I ever received from this woman who had called me up at 7 on a Monday to get an interview from me on a Tuesday and an enthusiastic, totally overqualified teacher like me on a Saturday (with unpaid lesson plans and work done with no guidance or clue), was sent that night. She had never sent me any logistical or confirmation email, responses to my Lesson Plans before the next class, or similarly courteous response in appropropriate manners to my "Thanks so much and I am looking forward!" email. With no greeting or similar courteous breach given, in a "charm" or "life skills" organization that should be teaching all children to take the highest road, this woman skipped past the "Hello" and "I am sorry this did not work out" or even "I was surprised by your response and hope you reconsider, " the "Training Director" had her first and last email to be as: "Please send back the JRP books I let you use to do your lesson plans." I did not respond.
I had seen many reports online with disgusted patrons complaining about this place being a lukewarm "Charm School, " ripping people off, making false promises and not giving the level of instruction or career guidance they promised. Unlike the people I encountered there, I have a very optimistic view and decided to go forward with it anyway. Perhaps I did not fit in. Perhaps they are prejudiced. Perhaps they had just rebounded from bad experiences with teachers who did not show up, teach properly, or complete lesson plans--and this was projected onto me.
Whatever it was, I could clearly see that this was a "franchise" with the quality you would expect at a fast food restaurant--versus a 4-star one. Parents would be better off making sure their children get involved with extracurricular activities, attend church or community programs in the arts, take advantage of all arts classes offered, and fly to New York or LA for meetings with real casting agents or managers. I learned some of the students were driving pretty far for this. They could stay at home. These books should be offered online or through mail order, or private tutoring/coaching should be paid for. This was very disorganized. If was brought in there this way, I am sure others were. The fact that I was hired right before it started, with absolutely no orientation whatsoever or group meeting with my colleagues, indicates a climate of haphazard continuance of sessions just to collect for the franchise. I am quite sure there have been some great experiences here and multitudes of children who received long-term benefits from this training. This is only my experience, and it is just one. I am not discouraging others from checking it out. However, they should be aware it is not a place of true teaching, organization, or positive reinforcement. It may just be a cash cow.
I am sorry if there had been some personal problems or extenuating circumstances going on at this place during my experiences there. That can often be the case. However, in those cases, it is best to defer to others who are a bit more fit to give the proper information and do justice to what these people are paying for, what teaching artists are driving for, and what the entertainment industry expects. I do not plan to return the books, and I consider the paycheck I will not bother to pick up to be more than a fair exchange--given all the gas money I wasted driving up for this.
Ironically, I had been thinking of my young relatives for this place. I am glad I know better now. They are better off in church, school, afterschool programs and community centers or private dance/theater institutions. There is no way on this Earth I would want to pay the amount of money these classes require, for children to be sitting in a classroom with either a person with no training at all or people who did not care they had no training. I am not sure what it was. I just knew it was not something I felt would be appropriate for me to be apart of.