I walked into my first training class yesterday, took one look at the other new hires, and prayed that I was in the wrong place. But I was not. These were my fellow trainees: a teenaged girl with the largest ear gages I have ever seen, three African men who I would soon learn spoke basically no English, and a woman with whom I have a very awkward (and recent) history.
I got a new job as a therapist working in elementary schools. And since my new employer is not Iowa City’s most well-known pot dealer, I now get to do official things like attend training classes.
This training is required for everyone in this very large organization, which includes three separate divisions. Two of those divisions provide shelter care to the mentally and physically disabled. My division is mostly unrelated, and provides therapy to non-handicapped people in the community.
I was the only therapist at the training . The others were hired as caretakers for the handicapped. (A job that I learned, during this class, has an annual employee turnover rate of 75%–likely explaining what I felt to be quite an unusual pick of employees).
Our presenter introduced herself by saying she’d had no interest in working with handicapped people when she started this job four years ago, but that she’d applied because she needed the money. She then asked us to all state why we had applied, and everyone else also listed money as the only reason.
The presenter then admitted that she knew absolutely nothing about the therapy division for which I’d be working. So we spent the next five hours talking exclusively about how to care for the handicapped and how to restrain them when necessary. Not a single relevant thing for my job was mentioned.
Imagine the driest PowerPoint presentation you have ever suffered through, and now please try to understand that whatever you are imagining might as well have been an uncontainable fit of passion compared to this PowerPoint presentation I endured.
I think that at some point in our presenter’s career, she must have been encouraged to garner audience participation. But that no one ever told her how.
One of her PowerPoint slides said “Mission Statement,” followed by the organization’s mission statement. She paused the presentation here and asked, “Does anyone know what mission statement means?” Dead silence. I thought about answering but refused to out of principle—I mean, even if you hadn’t heard the term before you could certainly use the context clues in this situation. She rolled her eyes as the silence continued. “This morning is going to go on a long time if no one participates,” she scolded.
Her next attempt at getting us to participate was at a slide that described the organization as innovative. “Does anyone know what the word innovative means?” she asked. Silence, and more eye rolling on her part, until I eventually answered.
The only time that anyone perked up was to ask questions about taking time off and missing shifts. Everyone had a situation that they wondered if it would count against them as a tardy or unexcused absence. Including the three African men, who each had to repeat themselves about seven times before anyone could understand what they were asking.
We seriously spent about ten minutes trying to understand one of the men as he asked his question, which at it’s most decipherable, was phrased something like this: “But… chronic disease… what if… have disease… chronic symptoms… happen unpredictable… miss work… chronic disease?” We eventually just had to move on.
After the training portion, we had to take a 60-question quiz as a group. The presenter read each question out loud and we had to call out the answer. Even though none of the questions had anything at all to do with my own job, I answered the first ten questions in a row because no one else would. At the 11th question I decided not to answer, because I didn’t want to keep being that girl. There was dead silence for a solid sixty seconds.
The grand finale of the training was the presenter saying that she would not let us leave until everyone asked one question, which was long and painful and made me wonder if I would just eventually starve to death and die in that very room.
Luckily, I live on.