Friday, January 12, 2018

Extra work

During my first week of teaching, many years ago, I talked with my fifth graders about their career aspirations.  At least half of the boys dreamed of a career as a professional athlete.  Several of them played little league, Pop Warner, or Junior Dribblers.  Many of them simply showed their athletic prowess during recess.  All of them had a dream that was years away and, statistically-speaking, very unlikely.  I didn't anticipate how man kids would aspire to become a professional athlete.  I guess I thought that there were still a bunch of future police officers and firefighters and doctors and teachers.

 In conversations with my aspiring Dallas Cowboys, I would turn the talk to the necessary work to actually become a professional football player.  I would ask, "What are you doing to make your dream come true?"

"Well I play Pop Warner for the Chargers and we practice twice a week."

I would ask, "What else do you do?"  This question usually resulted in a blank stare so I would explain a little bit, "At your age, I hope you are loving every minute of your play as a Charger!  As you get older, you'll need to do more than everyone else if you want to be better than everyone else."

"What do you mean?"

Great question.  The kid might already be the best player on his team.  He might have a natural gift that will give him an advantage.  "I mean that you might be the best player on your team right now, but to make the NFL, you might need to be the best player in the entire city of Austin, and that takes extra work.  If you do the same work as everyone else, you might be just as good as everyone else.  If you do more than everyone else, there is a better chance you will be better than everyone else."

In my third year of teaching, an extremely gifted basketball player asked, "How do I do extra work?"

He was the first child that truly wanted to do more.  He wanted to be better than the rest.  He wanted to work for it!  To the ten-year-old, I asked him back, "What can you do on your own that will make you a better basketball player?"

"EASY!  I can shoot baskets at the park every day and I can dribble my basketball to school every morning!"

Is this idea different for teachers?

Most teachers work hard.  Really hard.  They cram a year's worth of work into 10 months, then work through June and July too!  This year, there was not a day over Christmas break without several cars in the school parking lot.  Teachers are dedicated to their students.  Many teachers are also dedicated to their craft.  Teaching is an ever-changing and growing profession that requires continuous learning.  Many teachers know that every classroom is really a laboratory with 20+ different learners.  Each kid is a project that lasts 36 weeks.  Each year of teaching is a project that lasts 36 weeks, plus weekends, nights, holidays, etc.  These teachers know that teaching requires continuous improvement.

I do find it interesting that some teachers complain about the amount of work that is necessary to do their job well.  Indeed, the amount is overwhelming.  Indeed, the responsibilities are numerous and never-ending.  This is not uncommon in education.  The State of Texas continues to add red tape to every single thing that we do.  The red tape rolls down to districts and principals.  The micromanaging accountability is absurd.  This red tape has added to the busy-ness of the profession from stem to stern.  Nevertheless, we must operate under these absurdities while advocating for their improvement.  We must follow the rules and work to improve them simultaneously.

Likewise, the profession itself is also changing.  Educators are awakening to the fact that the lecture/test/stand-at-the-chalkboard teachers of the past do not prepare kids for the future.  These changes are met differently by different educators.  Every campus has runners and feet-draggers.

The term, "Just one more thing that doesn't fit on my plate," is uttered every time something new or better is brought forward by someone.

Along those same lines, there is also someone who exclaims, "Yes!  This is exactly what I need right now!"  The new (or better) fills a need.

Some teachers complain when improvements are made.  Some teachers embrace the change.  Some teachers understand that the "extra work" is actually a normal part of the job.  Other teachers resist the "extra work."  Some teachers easily assimilate new or better within their current system while others shake their heads and stick with the status quo.

I can speak to my work involved in public school education from 1994 to the present.  In that time, I did not have a year that did not include extra work.  The job description for any teacher in any district does not do justice to the actual work that a teacher must do to be successful.  Nevertheless, there are some teachers that do it gladly and gratefully.  There are other teachers that say they can't fit one more thing on their plates.

Professionally, teachers see their own improvement as a fundamental part of the job.  Other teachers simply look at the amount of work they are already doing and throw their hands up in the air.

Extra work is not really extra.  It is the job.  It can be frustrating and tough.  It can be challenging and seemingly impossible.  It is OK to ask why changes and new things are important.  It is OK to ask for support.  It is OK to fail.  It is not OK to resist the extra work because you are not willing to try.  The schools that need the most help are full of teachers who are least willing to help themselves.  They are least willing to learn.  Successful schools are full of teachers who are more than willing to do the extra work it takes to learn and improve the art and science of teaching!