Lesson 4: Make me

February 17, 2014

Obligation is something that I have never liked. I despise having to do something just because I ‘have to’ or for no apparent reason.

And being obliged to do something as a result of someone else’s lack of organization or negligence is something that bothers me even more. Let me tell you about this with further detail.
One way or another, we managed to get all the needed teachers to complete the high-school level lessons. The moment to record ALL of the lessons had arrived. And I am about to tell you how it happened.

I was told to get my lessons ready and start recording a certain day. I don’t remember exactly when, but they gave me a day’s notice, which was fine. Now, I was still working there as freelance, so they assigned me an afternoon recording schedule.
The first day I arrived at about 4 o’clock. They had 6 sets. But only 5 working (to this day, 3 years later, only 5 of them work).
All of the sets had one of those circular windows, like in the kitchen doors that restaurants have. Nobody knew where I would record my lessons.
This is what Larry did:
When I arrived and went to his office, he said something like ‘hey, you came’-which was strange because HE was the one who told me to record that specific day and at that specific time.
Anyway, we went to the sets and he stood outside of set number 1. He looked inside and said ‘somebody is in here’, so we moved to the next set. He looked at the window and, again, said ‘someone is in here, too’. We finally found a set that was available and told me ‘here, use this one’.
So, I went in. Alone. Again. I started to record, had some problems with the software and at about 7 pm I finished the recording session. I needed more days, so I went back the next day at about the same time. Larry said that it was OK and I could go back the next day to continue recording. He told me at what time and everything.
So I did. But when I arrived, there was no set available. Apparently, someone else arrived first and now all the sets were occupied.
I went back home.
This went on for about three weeks. I didn’t go everyday, just the days that they told me there would be a set available. But there were some days when I got there and someone beat me to it. Other days, they would take me out of the set to record a demo or to let someone else record.

During that period of time, when I was almost done recording-I think I had like three lessons left to record- I got a call on Saturday night, at about 8 pm.
Guess who it was?
It was Larry. For your information, I had specifically told Larry that I could move my schedule around what the school needed, except for Sunday. That is my sacred day. I never work on Sundays. It’s the only day that I have to rest, so I made it clear for him that I wouldn’t be available on Sundays.
Well, he called me that night asking if I could go record the next day. At about 8 pm. I told him ‘look, I can’t tomorrow. Besides, I have been there several days and I just waste my time, because you guys have no control over who records what or where.’
He just insisted that I go, but I said no. I told him I would record the remaining lessons on Monday and that it would be finished.

ron-burgundy-phone
Please, please, please pay for my incompetence

If I had gone there on Sunday, I would have probably wasted my time, because there were A LOT of teachers recording. And this guy had no order whatsoever about the recording sessions.
Believe me that, it was much, much worse than what I am describing here. I just don’t want to steer off from the main topic.

So, lesson 4 is this:
Order and organization are indispensable in any project and in any task.

With something as simple as a recording schedule, they could have known who records in which set and at what time. They had 5 sets working from 8 am to 8pm. That was A LOT of time available for recording. But they simply didn’t want to do it that way.
From the beginning of this project, Mr. Gestures gave complete control over how things were done to this guy. So he could have easily done this schedule and saved a lot of time and a lot of extra work. Some poor teachers were here recording until 12 midnight.  AND they had to come back on Monday morning to finish. There was a lot of stress to finish, a lot of people that had problems with the software. Some were cursing and hitting the walls while others even cried due to the frustration of not being able to record due to technical difficulties.

All because organization did not come in through the door. The process could have been much simpler and much more calm. You can imagine the quality of the recorded lesson and the physical appearance of a teacher that had been recording at 11 pm. I think it was not the best.
That is why I refused to record that day. I had to go and record at night, because they couldn’t organize a schedule. I had to pay for his lack of order. I was not OK with this, therefore I didn’t go.
Anyway, Monday arrived and I finished recording the lessons. Nothing bad happened because I didn’t go the previous day.

Others did record at night, on Saturdays, Sundays- you name it, because they were told that they wold receive a bonus if they finished on a specific date. They are still waiting to receive that bonus. Some of those teachers already quit and have other jobs. And they never got to see that bonus.
In short, don’t lie, don’t deceive and work in order and organized.

Next: Lesson 5-Staring at the sun.

Lesson 3: No man’s land.

Feb 13-2014

There is a perfectly good explanation for the title of this lesson. And I will attempt to write it now.

When the project of this new on-line school was starting out, they were working in an old building that was adapted with stationary desks and other equipment that you can find in any office. One space that was not common in a conventional school was a recording set. They were these small rooms (about 2 meters wide by 3 meters deep) equipped with a computer, a camera and three monitors.

This is where we would record the virtual lessons. They had even designed a software that linked the slide show to the camera and to another slideshow that displayed the text that the teacher would read during the recording. All of the lessons were designed by a teacher, and every teacher was responsible for writing their own ‘script’. So we would just read this script while recording, but everything we said came from our own minds, not from a trained writer.

Anyway, this software was complicated and it took a lot of practice to learn. And every candidate that wanted to work in this new school, had to record a demo lesson, so that they could be evaluated. The evaluation consisted in checking the content, the visual aid that the teacher had used, the class objective and the overall performance in front of the camera. Pronunciation and body posture was also checked. In short, there was a lot of pressure when recording the demo lesson because it was something completely new. And any evaluation -on its own-always brings a certain amount of stress.

Oh, and, you also had to record it by yourself. You, alone, inside the set. Nobody else, just you.

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Don’t know where to go? Here is some water and a map. Bye!

So you go to this interview, you are expected to do something that no one else has done and you are expected to do it alone. Does this make sense? Of course not.
Larry and Matthew both knew how to do it. Kind of. And there were two other teachers that were leading the project: Sam and Frank.
Sam was much older, around 40 something years old. And Frank was about 28, which was a few years younger than me. Sam had studied philosophy and Frank was a computer whiz that studied computer science in college.
The four of them knew how to record a demo lesson (or so we believed at the time). And they sort of explained the process to candidates, but not enough to let them record by themselves. To this day I still don’t understand why they didn’t just assit while recording this demo class. It was just about a 5 minute recording. And they didn’t have THAT many candidates.
But anyway.

Every person that recorded that demo lesson, went through the same frustration with the new software. And everybody recorded it the best way that they could and to their best understanding.

So here is the lesson to be learned: When looking for people to help you out on a project or in a business, don’t leave them to their own faith. Even if they are close to you, like friends or acquaintances. You need to assist them, make sure they know what they have to do. Explain what is expected of them and be available for any questions that they might (and probably will) have.

Something important that I always try to practice in interviews is kindness. Be nice and be helpful. Make them feel comfortable. Take the stress out of the table, tell a joke. How would you like your interviewer to behave with you if you were looking for a job? Keep that in mind while searching for people to work with you.
Not having a job is stressful enough, so try to relieve some of that while you talk to candidates.
Also, give them feedback in case they don’t get the job. Send an e-mail or call them to give thanks for their time and let them know that you can’t hire them right now, but there may be a position available in the future. Or, simply tell them that their abilities are very impressive, but sadly they are not the person that you need at that time.
I can tell you that the gesture will be well appreciated.

And besides, this world has its ups and downs, so you can’t be sure if, in the future, YOU might be the one looking for a job and THEY might be the ones looking for employees.

Next: Lesson 4- Make me

Lesson 2: Stealing

So now we know that Larry, -this guy who had no specialized training- was leading this new project.

What happened next?
When he started working over there, he made sure that everyone at school KNEW that he was working for a big-shot investor and that the project was big and would eventually, thrive. Remember he was still teaching, but working with Mr.Gestures in the afternoons. He has always been cocky and somewhat arrogant, and he doesn’t even try to hide it.
But he needed something else to make the project work: teachers.
Math teachers, history teachers, science teachers, english teachers and so on.

So, this guy started talking to some of us who were currently teaching. I was one of them. But the idea didn’t really convince me at that time. I was focused on my current job and on my newborn son. And besides, I didn’t really know him that well, so I couldn’t just quit my job without knowing what I was getting into.
There was another teacher, who I will call Matthew. He taught chemistry and math at school and he was a good friend of Larry. To me, he had a lot more common sense than Larry, was more focused and I believed he was a more honest person. Not to say that Larry wasn’t, but Matthew just seemed like a nicer guy. I also knew him a bit better than I knew Larry.

So, they started talking about the new project and, eventually Matthew quit the job at school and started working with Larry and Mr. Gestures.
Some days went by and I got a call from Larry, asking me to try out this new project. I declined, again.
A few weeks went by and I got another call. This time from Matthew. He told me they needed a math teacher. It wasn’t my specialty but I had taught the subject a couple of times and believed I could design the lessons. I would have to design and record the lessons since it was an on-line school.
Matthew said that I didn’t have to quit my current job. I could do it on my own time, as freelance work.
So, I accepted and eventually I started working with them on the new project. How did they convince me? Well, I figured it was an interesting idea, it was new, I believed that it was the future of teaching and I thought to myself ‘well, if Matthew is there and he is close to Larry, maybe he can knock some sense into him’. Therefore, I went for it.
The school year had also ended and I wasn’t getting paid a steady salary. I had to wait for two months until the new school year would begin. My child needed his formula and diapers, so I thought ‘what the heck’.

Now here is where the stealing part comes in.
Larry started calling ALL of the teachers at the school and offering them high salaries, great benefits, a cool working environment, constant raises and a load of other things so that they would go work for him. And he succeeded with a lot of teachers.
He got about 8 of us. We all believed in what he said. And we were in for the ride.
Many thought that it wasn’t right for him to bring teachers that he knew from the previous job and let the school have a hard time replacing us.

That, of course, was not something that Larry should have worried about, but the principle is the same. He took people that were already tested and trained, and brought them for his advantage. You could even say that this was clever. But, in time, he would pay for this feat in a similar way.
So, the lesson to be learned here is to be honest. In a way, he lied to us to get us where he wanted. He took advantage of the trust that most of us had for Matthew to convince us. Of course he didn’t put a gun to our heads to do as he pleased, but it’s always better to be honest, not lie and cheat to get what you want.
As a consequence, the owners of the other school, who are-to this day-some of the most influential people in the city-can’t even look at Larry. He sacrified an important contact for a project with someone who he barely knew and who didn’t have the same reputation as the other people.
So, always be honest. At your job, at home, wherever. Honesty truly is the best policy.

Next: Lesson 3- No man’s land.