‘The highs and lows of six decades on the job’

Jul 31, 2021
From a photography model, to decades as a teacher, and some time as a funeral director, Liz has had a lot of jobs. Source: Liz Sier

Recently on Facebook a ‘game’ post appeared on my feed, whereby a friend listed six jobs she’d held and a seventh that was bogus. The game was to guess the odd one out. It was interesting to see the job descriptions on her list and intriguing to wonder what one was false. It allowed further insight into her life story and also her sense of humour, but it got me thinking about mine. I could not stop at six!

My first job came as a pre-teen. I’d been encouraged to earn my pocket money by babysitting a neighbour’s toddler on Saturday mornings.

I also worked in my father’s petrol station shop, filling oil bottles, sweeping out the shop and forecourt, and selling various items from behind the counter. The packets of chewing gum with cards of various football players were very popular.

There had also been the non-paying job — a serious commitment nevertheless — of teaching a Sunday School class for the Prep and Grade One children. I would get them to act out stories from the Bible. They loved it. It sowed the seed for my eventual vocation.

Let’s not forget the ‘Bob-a-Job’ efforts made as a Girl Guide, though I didn’t get to keep the money.

Then, when I was about 15, I spent a few Saturdays as a process worker in a factory where I assembled car headlights. It was so boring I didn’t last very long!

There were the casual jobs I tried while I worked my way through university and Teachers’ College, and saved to buy a car. I had been granted an Education Department Studentship, which paid tuition, books and a small wage, but in second year I had so much fun I failed two of the three subjects. I lost the studentship and had to go it alone for a year while it was suspended.

I was once a process worker in a frozen foods factory. Peas and snails, beans, frogs and mice! It’s amazing what comes out of the par-boiler and on to the conveyor belt for sorting. The frogs and mice also went through the top-and-tail machine, which did them no good at all. I did try to save one mouse, took it home and kept it in a box under my bed until Mum found it! Poor thing was dead by then anyway.

I received a promotion at the factory. Then I became the office cleaner and canteen attendant! I never did like cleaning, so that didn’t last long.

After a six week training course I took on a part-time gig as a technical school teacher! Aged only 19, I was only marginally older than the 5th Form boys, who liked to embarrass me in the hallways between classes. However, I stuck it out for the whole year.

I had a job as a waitress — I was a bit of a klutz! There was the time I spilt Coke on a boy’s suede jacket and another where the plates of spaghetti were burning my fingers as I hurried to the table. The inertia as I released the plates made the spaghetti slide off them and on to the table! But I got free food at the end of each shift, so it wasn’t too bad.

There were jobs that didn’t last long. There was the time I was a French tutor — my only student had better French conversation skills than I did! The time I was a photographic model — the studio catered to amateur photographers who wanted life art models. Posing nude was not my scene! I went back to being a process worker in a fruit cannery, standing for hours on a cold, wet, concrete floor watching the occasional piece of cling peach make its way along the conveyor belt. I took off home at lunchtime on the second day and refused to go back! I think a theme is emerging.

I took a job as a motor spares courier, but I couldn’t cope with the driving and delivering spare parts all day to service stations. One of the cars I had to drive had no air-conditioning and kept getting stuck in second gear. After a hot day, having to pull over multiple times to open the bonnet and adjust the gear linkage, I sustained a small scrape on the side of the car. When I was questioned by the boss, I hyperventilated and fainted. I left the job by mutual agreement.

Another boring job, was as a plant nursery worker. I mainly propagated Azaleas from cuttings. I got fired, but they wouldn’t tell me why! I suspect it was that I had just turned 21 and younger students were cheaper.

At last I graduated, married and began some career jobs.

I took on a full-time role teaching French and History to girls whose second language was English. One day as a fundraiser the staff dressed as students, who in turn came in casual clothes. I looked so much like a student with my pigtails and borrowed uniform that a male member of staff told me off for being in a student-free area!

I got pregnant in the second year, much to the principal’s displeasure. I worked until four weeks before my daughter was born, spent the night in hospital before being induced correcting assignments, and went back to school with her the following week to write reports. As there was no paid maternity leave in those days, I was back at the coalface nine months later, already pregnant with another child. The principal kept me on as a full-time relief teacher until the next maternity leave, when this time I was paid. Teaching while pregnant had its drawbacks especially with the chronic morning sickness with baby number two. Supervising PE with Greek dancing and volleyball was physically challenging as well.

I became an emergency relief teacher. This went on at various schools for 15 years while I raised two more children. Although Language (French) and Social Studies were my methods, I was often given German, Japanese, Maths and Science! I was even expected to teach in the laboratory conducting experiments as long as the lab assistant was present.

I worked for 18 months part-time as a weight loss counsellor while going back to uni for another degree. I thought there must be more to life than teaching, but returned to it, rather than waste my qualifications.

I retrained and was ready to go again, full-time, part-time and emergency for 10 years. At one school, in addition to Social Studies and RE, I was given the new subject of Computer Studies to teach, despite having very little knowledge of it. This was 1994 and the software program was Multimate, a precursor of Word for Windows.

With no manual or teaching plan and four classes of 28 students sharing 14 computers, I stayed one step ahead of them until my voice gave out from talking over the hubbub. After surgery to remove the vocal polyps I was instructed not to talk for a few weeks! Pretty hard for a teacher to do, but Hubby was really happy about it!

By the end of the ’90s, the new technology had given students the opportunity to secretly play games on their laptops in class as well as afford the lazy ones the chance to copy whole articles and essays from the internet and pass them off as their own. This was the last straw for me. My aged parents’ needs had become more demanding, so I was happy to walk away after my last contract expired.

I did try to obtain casual work but fell foul of ageism. I was looking for something low-key and easy. The young interviewer for a call centre job implied I was too old to learn new tricks. The manager of a locksmith shop thought I would probably get bored as I was overqualified. He was probably right, considering my past!

I thought I had retired from teaching but, as a favour for a friend in a Catholic primary school, I helped out with a Grade 4/5 composite class. Let’s just say that trying to run a class of eight, nine and 10 year olds without the proper training is like trying to herd cats! I caught every germ they generously shared with me and had to quit after one term.

Finally a company that valued life experience! A career change at the age of 50 had me working as a funeral director doing administration, arranging and working on funerals, driving the hearse or the family coach, doing transfers and assisting in the mortuary. I officially retired at end of 2018, after 17 years, but they kept asking me back as a casual until early-2021.

Despite the stresses and the sadness, this was the most rewarding job. We used to claim ‘there’s no fun in funerals’, but you wouldn’t believe some of the funny things that happened – though they must remain confidential out of respect. Humour was our great de-stress.

Now I’m a writer — not a job, but a hobby I enjoy. With a CV like that, who would employ me now? Well, actually, I could probably get a job as a tea lady at wakes. As long as there are no suede jackets or hot plates!

How many jobs have you've had in your time? What have been some of the highlights to your working life?

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