My Crap Jobs Taught Me How To Function in My Career

Throughout high school and college, like a lot of people in high school and college, I held a number of what I call “crap jobs.” You know what I’m talking about – jobs that put spending money in your pocket, but that just basically suck. For some people, that’s working in fast food or other types of restaurants. My sister worked as a golf caddy for many, many summers.


For me, it was retail. I worked in a variety of retail settings and I hated every second of it. I hated rude customers, I hated folding a huge stack of T-shirts only to have some customer mess them up sixty seconds later, and I couldn’t stand my mangers who thought that working in pet food sales was the equivalent to developing a cure for cancer and took the job of managing my snotty teenage self way too seriously (or so I thought back then, ha!). But I liked not having to ask my parents for money and I liked being busy, so off to my crap jobs I went.


Actually, though, I probably shouldn’t call the jobs I had crappy. Working in retail taught me a lot about functioning in the workplace and instilled in me a set of social skills that I absolutely use every day as a high school teacher. It might seem crazy, but retail taught me how to:


1. Cope with very unreasonable people

In retail, you deal with a lot of unreasonable people. People who think it’s ok to return shoes that have been worn multiple times, people who think you should let them use coupons that aren’t for your store, people who think that you should keep the store open an extra hour or two just because they aren’t finished shopping. Little did I know that learning to cope with the unreasonable nature of others was very good training for my career as a teacher. Students can obviously say and do outrageous things, but parents can be very unreasonable, too. Luckily, I’ve been trained to diplomatically deal with ridiculous requests. If only others were trained to stop making them.

2. Fake a positive attitude when I feel totally not positive

I just don’t accept the idea that a teacher’s bad day should translate into a bad attitude towards her students. We’re all human, but I think I have the obligation to fake it if I’m in a terrible mood for the sake of having a productive, positive day with my students. My retail days allow me to do this very easily. When I was a store clerk, I was young and stupid and was often dating highly inappropriate boys who would have me crying in my car all the way to work (what a ninny I was). But once I was inside the store, I transformed into Positive Polly; it’s not an option to be a sour puss in retail – you won’t sell anything. Now it’s very easy for me to fake a good mood if I have to.

3. Solve my own problems

In retail, I worked with a couple of bosses who were frequently MIA. I quickly learned that raises would come more quickly if I learned to solve minor problems on my own instead of waiting for the boss to return. As a teacher, I’m much better off developing my own systems and procedures for dealing with classroom problems than dumping every little issue on my administrators. For example, if a student is using a cell phone in class, I lock it in my desk for the day instead of turning it in to the principal. Trust me, a day without a cell phone is pretty bad punishment for a high school kid. This way, the student learns a lesson and I don’t have to create paperwork for others. Win-win.

4. Say “have a good day!”

One of the cardinal rules of retail is to tell the customer to have a good day on their way out the door. I always do the same for my students on their way out my classroom. I’m sure this doesn’t make a difference for every student, but I know that some really appreciate it.

5. Be infinitely patient

This sort of relates back to #1, but when you’re working in a busy store and 10 different customers are demanding 10 different things all at the same time, you have to keep calm and do your best to help everyone – with a smile. The same goes for a classroom where one kid needs you to sign a note, another kid needs make-up work, another kid needs a pass to the nurse…you get the idea. Working retail gave me an infinite reserve of patience to draw on, which is very valuable to have as a teacher.


What kinds of “crap jobs” did you work? What did they teach you?