What really matters when you’re at work?

Of course, I answer as an educator…

It’s the people in front of you. Those of us who love our jobs as educators constantly put the work of listening and advising first. We do it because as human beings we love to tell stories, to listen to others’ stories, to find humor and humanity in our shared experiences, to probe for the deepest and most adequate answers to our questions, to create opportunities for learning and teaching.

A significant portion of our workload though extends beyond conversation and human-to-human connection and learning. Much of our work is predicated on our individual time spent toiling and twittering away at our computers, copiers, and classroom materials. The actual “work” of our work–or so it seems. When do we have time to create our lessons, find the right reading, assess and sort student work? Or as administrators, when do we have the time to finish the PowerPoint presentation on our school’s data, write and send the reminder letter about classroom expectations to families and students, locate missing student records? For so many of us, what stresses us most is the constant drain of this competition for our attention: human development and learning vs. followthrough on tangible products.

Layer onto that the reality that we increasingly seem to suffer from the attention deficit disorder of internet multitasking at our computer screens and desks. Many of us living in this “Web2.0 World” turn to our email or favorite news sources for one reason but end up gleefully following curiosities and new questions further afield from our original intents. We see the interconnectedness of our interests and needs, and suddenly all information seems to be somehow relevant to our goals. And it is because our interests and our questions expand with the vast array of knowledge and tools at our fingertips. The more we learn, the more we search. Before we know it, instead of “getting work done” and making headway on those all-too-numerous products we so desperately want and need to finish, we have constructed a time and space to advance our own learning. So when does the work get done? When do we shut off the learning?

When you choose to work in education it is because you are good at learning. You learn from communicating with others. You learn from the music you listen to and create, from the art you consume and create, from what you read, from your hobbies. You love learning, so perhaps the work of the educator is ever-expanding and borders between home and work easily penetrated and falsely constructed because of this deep desire and capacity to learn that we have as educators.

What really matters when you’re at work? Learning. Teaching.

Stepping into the role of intern and outsider this fall has allowed me to more easily take on the perspectives of others and compare and contrast them with my own values and actions. Today I observed educators more experienced than I answer this question for me about what really matters when at work. They didn’t answer with their words, and I didn’t even have to ask it. Their actions spoke clearly and convincingly. When you’re at work as an educator, what matters is the learning and the teaching you do with the other human beings around you–students, teachers, interns, administrators, parents, community members. The importance of products and followthrough corresponds to your personal ambition. If you are ambitious, you carve out time of your evenings, your mornings, your weekends to toil away at these products. What you come to work for each day though has nothing to do with making photocopies, organizing binders, or making sure you have speakers for your computer. As an educator you come to work to learn and teach. You will find time to do all (or at least the most essential) of the detail work that marks your reputation as a doer elsewhere. Showing up to work is all about investing in the people that make the organization, the teaching, and the learning excellent and long-lasting.

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