Diversity Career Stories Education

Director of after school program strives to change lives, despite oppressive management

This professional spent 10 years as a chemist, and four years in Christian children’s ministry before moving his family to take a job as the director of an after-school program in an impoverished area in the US. He shares his frustration that his ability to create change is limited by management, and explains that in an area that is so depressed, short-term impact is minimal. Despite this, he holds to the hope that long-term change is possible through the children with whom he works.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I am currently a director for a non-religious after-school program (6 months). Before that I was a children’s pastor for four years, and before than I was a chemist (organic synthesis and analytical) for almost 10 years.

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
I plan programming for about 50 children (ages 6-13) each day after school. Other staff, volunteers, and I help children with homework, facilitate discussions about character and leadership, do arts and crafts, and play sports outside.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
I would say a 5 out of 10. I love being with the children, but I have a boss who, though talented in some aspects, is a micro-manager in many areas. I often feel belittled and devalued. I would love to be more free to make decisions that would have a meaningful impact on my kids, but much of the policies that are directed to me are about making things look good to outsiders.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
In my job as a children’s pastor, I learned that I needed to empower others to work, and give others freedom to make decisions. I had a good friend who was a volunteer under me, and once when I was talking to him about how I wanted things to go, he said, “You know, I am feeling really micromanaged.” He was absolutely right. I was glad that he felt comfortable giving me honest feedback.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
They didn’t teach the importance of putting together presentations that razzle and dazzle, even when you have to be creative with the use of your data.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I wanted to be a chemist since I was in the 4th grade, and pursued that for a long time. I joined the staff at our church after volunteering for a long time. We (my wife and I) were continually asked to take on more and more leadership roles, and then the next step was that we needed to be paid for the full-time work that was needed.

I heard about the job at the after school program through some partnerships that our church developed.

I wouldn’t change a thing. Even though I’ve worked in three very different work environments, I learned a lot at each step that shaped me into who I am.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
My first few weeks in the after school program, I was thrown off by how little emotional self-control many of the boys had. I could not figure out why boys (even at ages 8 – 13) would pull their shirts over their heads and cry violently when they got upset.

On a good day, when things are going well, what’s happening and what do you like about it?
I love being able to have heart-to-heart conversations with the kids, and to learn about their lives — their families, backgrounds, and so on.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
There are some days where the kids are extra whiny and unkind. I hate having to take most of my time to deal with a few children who are disrupting the rest of the programming.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
I love being with the kids. The stressful part is my relationship with my boss.

The job can be pretty consuming; even if I’m not actively working, I’m thinking about what needs to get done.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
$16,000 for the year; the job is part-time. I think it’s way underpaid, not just for the hourly rate, but for all the extra hours I put in and for the responsibilities I have.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
The most rewarding moments are when I see a child make a positive choice (not fight, do homework, eat healthily, etc) because of something I taught them.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
Seeing kids fight with each other out of anger. I look back and wonder how I could have prevented it.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
Experience with kids is a must!

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Always remind yourself why you are doing it. It will be a huge amount of work and little immediate reward.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I work whenever there is school (and all day through the summer). I have not taken any extra vacation, but would like to.

Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
Not that I know of.

Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
Yes, absolutely. The pay is not enough to retain someone who isn’t passionate about the mission of changing lives.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Writing and coaching others about working with kids (including parenting.)

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
I work in the most under-resourced county in the state. The area has horrible statistics (teen pregnancy, education, family situations, poor governmental leadership as a whole, etc). I have to see this as a 20 year mission, not a 1 year one.