“You need to be professional”: An analysis of teacher positioning and imagined job interviews in a hospitality training program

Tamara Shane Sniad, University of Pennsylvania


In this study, I examine how two Life Skills teachers in Possibilities Inn—a program aimed at training underemployed and unemployed African-American adults for guest relations positions in the hospitality industry—prepare their students for job interviews. The study explores how the teachers conceptualize the workforce and gatekeepers, how they educate their students to succeed in their job interviews, and how their classroom talk perpetuates and challenges dominant attitudes toward non-standard language and social behaviors. Using data from classroom observation field notes, audio taped classroom interactions and participant interviews, I initially examine what knowledge the teachers identify as necessary for succeeding in the hospitality job interviews. The answer is two-fold. First, the teachers perceive the need for the students to know how discriminatory and tightly guarded the industry is. In classroom discussions and through practice, or mock, interviews, the teachers portray interviewers as unwelcoming and seeking out reasons not to hire the students. Second, the teachers perceive a need for students to know how to win over the gatekeepers. The teachers advise students to use Standard English and explicitly identify themselves as possessing a strong “service attitude” and as lacking personal problems. While these instructions all touch on common assumptions or stereotypes of low-income African Americans, I show that the teachers only implicitly suggest this connection. Rather, they frame their teaching in terms of “professionalism” and industry standards. In the second part of this study, I explore how the teachers draw on their shared background as African Americans and on their success in the hospitality industry. These roles become salient through the teachers' characterizations of the industry and students, through their language choices, and through their explicit assignments of value to mainstream and African-American linguistic and social behaviors. By looking at what assumptions the participants draw on and how competing sets of beliefs and positions are negotiated in the classroom, this study contributes to the growing area of research on ideologies, identity, agency and education. Pedagogically, these findings can lead to improvements work readiness programs by encouraging more critical review of workplace standards and power relations.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Adult education|Continuing education|Communication|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Sniad, Tamara Shane, "“You need to be professional”: An analysis of teacher positioning and imagined job interviews in a hospitality training program" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3095943.