#SOLSC20: Day 25

As I listed jobs in my work history this week, I wondered if some of my college work study jobs were hints of my future and my fascination with some of the tools currently available in my life. This picture of phone evolution did not include the wall party line phone that I remember from my childhood. More recently I do remember the various iterations of “cell phones” from bag phones that remained in the car to cell phones that fit into my pocket.

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One work study job was a favorite because I could literally work in my pajamas. No one saw me especially on weekends.  Quiet, peaceful weekends. I could literally go from my dorm room to work in less than a minute without leaving the building. My travel path meant walking down one hall, going downstairs and across the hall. Convenient!

Does this picture look familiar?  What do you think of when you see this image?

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A search of Google Images found this picture above of a 1970s switchboard.  Physically connecting phones by plugging in the connections. My switchboard did not look like that! But I find the picture fascinating as this would have required fine motor skills and memory far beyond my capabilities.

I don’t find actual pictures of the switchboard in my college pictures.  At the time the job was important for covering costs of college. I’m sure that I didn’t think it “newsworthy” to capture this job setting. Switchboard operator was just one of my three work study jobs.  The device we used was similar to this because it sat on a desk and was about this size to the best of my recollection.

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The buttons lit up when the phone rang.  I had lists of extensions to transfer calls to specific offices. I had a specific protocol to respond to calls.

Good morning, this is Ottumwa Heights College.  How may I direct your call?

No voice mail. Nada. I wrote messages on pink message slips put into mailboxes that resided in an office that I accessed at the end of my shift through a door on the south wall.  A switchboard sitting on a desk in a room barely bigger than a closet.  A phone system that distributed calls to college offices. No phones in the dorm rooms.

How did we ever survive?

I remember that I was paid to talk.  To communicate clearly. To be polite. To match “customer” requests with their needs.  Sometimes the caller would not know the specific office that they needed.  Being helpful meant that I would listen to their brief request or story and match it with the corresponding number/office to provide answers.

Precursor to googling for answers?

A search for solutions?

A job in comfy clothes?

All of those factors played into my college work study job of switchboard operator.

What “interesting” jobs have you had? 

Did the skills required for your job relate to or impact your current job/work? 




Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for this daily forum in March. Check out the writers and readers here.

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15 responses

  1. Our tools have changed but your work connecting people to what they need is in a ver big part of what you do. Tweeting away on your phone or computer. The reach is larger but you are connecting people and ideas together.

    Beautiful memoir!

    1. Thanks, Julieanne!
      People and ideas keep us alive and thinking!

  2. My mom was a switchboard operator in the early 60s for a brief time. It is fascinating how jobs have changed over time and how they will continue to change (look how fast teaching has changed in the past 2 weeks!!) Love your slices around this topic, Fran!

    1. Paula,
      Love these connections that are building!

  3. This is interesting about the evolution of phones and jobs. Some changes happen over time through the development of new technology while some changes happen overnight due to a pandemic. I had a dream last night that I was out for a run (that’s how you know it’s a dream) and stopped for water at a school and they were having school. I was in running clothes and had to teach a subject I didn’t know much about, French and art. This whole thing has affected my sleep and my dreams.

    1. Margaret,
      Maybe the time to slow down is a perk!

  4. When I worked at BonTon in customer service part of the job was answering the phone and transferring calls to the appropriate department. We didn’t have a switchboard in our area, that was reserved for the day time switchboard operator.

    1. I’m not sure I can transfer calls on a cell phone, but a phone with buttons made that easy back in the old days

  5. I saw a payphone in a school recently and literally stopped. I had to pick it up (pre-COVID-19) It had been so long since I saw one. I can now talk to a family member across the country from my wrist. Times have changed — but the skills we need to be successful really haven’t. Important to think about…

    1. So insightful, Clare!. Many of our skills are the same; the devices have changed!

  6. I loved the way you used the phone evolution to illustrate the cause and effect cycle so many of our journeys take. It made me think of how important it was for me to serve others in a restaurant, treating each customer with dignity and equality. This prepared me for teaching in so many ways. Thank you for the reminder!

    1. Thanks, Sarah!
      Folks who have never known the JOY of a party line have totally missed out!. And to have to listen for your own ring!
      And as you said . . . so many skills “prepared” us for teaching!

  7. I always loved the phone. My first was the one on the wall, and my parents had to get a super long cord so I could go in the other room without disturbing them. I have an old school phone with dial numbers with a four prong that plugs into the wall. I show my kids…they think it’s so funny. I try to let them figure out how to use it before I tell them. Thank you for this post. My jobs were not so historical and fun. I worked at restaurants and clothing stores, delis, and frame shops. I always had a job from the time I was 13 when I started babysitting. Great, great post. Thank you.

    1. Oh wow. How long was that cord? Our phone was next to the TV. I don’t think we could hear the TV if someone was on the phone . . . but both had limits for kid usage! LOL! Fun memories!

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