Tuesday, August 07, 2012

On Drudgery

As the next school year approaches, I am reminded of this simple fact: 

You don't have to enjoy a task to be good at it.

Too often, when I encounter people who learn I am a teacher, they make comments regarding the "passion" I must have for the job, and that it must require a great bit of "dedication," etc. Passion and dedication most certainly do exist for some career teachers. Even as I write the words "career teachers," I catch a snort in my throat. 

I've been teaching for 20 years, and I don't consider myself a "career teacher." 

That's because, I think, I stopped enjoying it long ago. Passion never really existed for me in the job. Dedication, not really. Curiosity? Maybe. Advocacy? Definitely. Creativity? Most assuredly. 

It was probably the creativity that stuck with me. And with recent (within the last 10 years) developments in education, the creativity is completely gone from teaching. Just gone. Curricula are structured, and teachers are expected to teach it and keep up. Yes, meeting individual student needs does take some creativity. 

It's not the same as it was before. 

Now, don't get all weepy and lament, "Oh, Amy! You really must get out if you don't like it! Think of the CHIIIIILLLDREEEEN!" The children? They have never been the problem with my enjoyment of teaching. Never. They are the challenge, they are where the creativity comes from, and they have such an amazing energy. I enjoy my time with the kids. I really do. 

This helps me get through my day. So many teachers around me say, "If they would just leave me alone and let me teach my kids." The kids are the most enjoyable part of teaching. 

But the reason I'm doing the job today is not because of children. Shocking, I know. It's because I am stuck in a system that pays me just enough that I can't afford to get hired anywhere else, and entices me to stay with a nebulous agreement called "retirement." I'm stuck. The risk I would take for my family by leaving is just too great right now. 

How do I keep on? How do I continue to show up, every day, and do a great job? (Not just a good job, folks. I kick ass.) 

It's because of a very important business skill. Tenacity. 

That's it. Tenacity. I keep showing up because the public school system will not win. It will not break me. It will not take my creativity and spark and energy from me. It will take my time---that's the trade. I'm trading my time and skill and talent for money. 

And that's ok. 

I learned tenacity in my childhood, when I was presented with the task of hulling strawberries. My dad had a rather large strawberry patch in the garden, and he would spend a lot of time out in the heat, squatting in the garden, picking strawberries. I would then have to hull them. I would dump the gallon bucket of strawberries into the sink, run water in the sink so they were soaking, and would cut the tops off each one. I would then cut each one in half (or quarters, depending on size), and place them in a bowl. 

It felt like I stood there for hours on end, hulling/cleaning strawberries. I'm sure it wasn't that long, but that's drudgery. Time stands still. And oh, how I hated that job. 

Why did I do it? Obviously, I wanted to eat the strawberries. And it was a fair trade. Dad always said, "You don't have to clean them. But if you don't clean them, you don't get to eat them." Since I wanted the reward of the fruit, I put in the work. 

Today? You should see me with a pound of strawberries. A pound? Shoot, that's 5 minutes of work. Not even work, if it's only 5 minutes. BRING IT. 

My hands know exactly what to do. The muscles in them are perfectly trained to slice the top off a strawberry and slice it in half, drop it into a bowl, and pick up the next one. I barely have to look. 

That's teaching, for me. I know exactly what I'm doing, and I go in and kick ass doing it. I don't have to like it to do a good job. And I'm trading my skills for money (just like I did for strawberries). 

In business, tenacity is an amazing skill that I think you should hone. And it often comes from drudgery. Do the repetitive work that needs to be done. Or hire it out, if you want, but you are paying for it in any case. Keep at it, and it will become easier. 

And when it does, your creativity will kick back in. Which is what I'm finding for myself. 

Stay tuned. 

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