How to Pursue Your WHY

Last week, I wrote an article called, Teachers Don’t Need to Find Their WHY. Its main point was that the vast majority of teachers don’t struggle to find meaning in their work; they know why they became a teacher. What’s frustrating and at times demoralizing is their feeling that they cannot pursue their WHY. The article generated a lot of interest and some discussion, but it was not optimistic and failed to provide any solutions to the problem. Fortunately, some readers offered advice.

One of those readers was Bill Cecil, who taught for more than thirty years. Bill was the 2003-2004 Michigan Teacher of the Year, and he spent much of his career inspiring teachers to be effective leaders through high-energy presentations and his book, Best Year Ever. His website includes 100 short videos that can help any teacher improve his/her practice. Bill is endlessly positive, which is why I’m sharing his response to my article below. If you’re looking for a way to reengage with your WHY, then follow Bill’s advice.

Bill:

“I hope you are right about most teachers already knowing their WHY. If so, with all the many distractions and challenges going on in education right now pulling teachers in many different directions, maybe there are some teachers who can use your article to reconnect with their purpose. I will say, I do disagree with you that teachers aren’t being allowed to pursue their purpose. Maybe this is their perception, but it does not have to be their reality! Please let me explain.

Throughout my 30+ years teaching, I used my teaching and time in my classroom each day to pursue my purpose by trying to uplift, elevate, and empower my students to believe in themselves, adopt and/or maintain a growth mindset, always give their best effort, and try to approach each day looking for things to get excited and happy about.

I NEVER once asked anyone or waited for anyone to give me permission to do that–or waited for the conditions to be just right for me to be able to pursue my purpose! Instead,  I just learned to filter all the WHATS (what I was being told to teach), WHENS (when to teach my lessons), and HOWS (being told how to teach my lessons) and anything else I was being mandated to do through my WHY(my purpose) each day.

I would always try to keep my focus on my bigger mission while going about all the other business, which seemed to cut down on my students’ and my stress, help create a more positive, productive learning environment, and to be able to drive home each day still feeling tired as all hell but satisfied and fulfilled knowing that I was making a difference in my classroom!

Over my long career, I saw many, many WHATS, WHENS, HOWS, and other challenges come and go…But my WHY never changed! I used it like my North Star to keep me on the path I entered this profession to pursue. I would encourage those of you still teaching to do the same thing!!

There are many things teachers don’t have a lot of control over, but I STILL BELIEVE no one can ever take away your ability to teach with purpose (and to positively impact your students) each and every day!! I wish all of you still teaching the very best and the courage to always pursue your purpose for teaching with passion!”


So, what do you think?

Are you able to pursue your WHY in your school? 

What makes doing so harder than it should be?

Knowing what you now know, what is something you would tell your younger self?

Sound off in the comments and share this post to amplify the discussion.

Till the Heels Fall Off

The following is a guest article by Anthony Meals, an 8-12 grade agricultural educator from Kansas. He’s in his fifth year of teaching and blogs at ProfilesinLearning.org.  You can also find him on Twitter here: @Mr_Meals. This article was originally published on Anthony’s site. It’s republished here with permission. 

Personal fashion isn’t a strong suit of mine. Typically, I don’t buy my next pair of black dress shoes till I’ve gotten as much mileage out of them as possible. I vividly remember walking with students at a National FFA Convention a few years back beneath the bridge between Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center in Indianapolis. Suddenly, on my next step and without warning, my foot dropped hard. I looked back and saw that my right shoe heel had ripped off completely. The timing couldn’t have been better, though! We were walking to the charter bus and it was our last evening in Indy…so I didn’t have to try thinking of how I’d need to patch my heel for a few more days of walking! 😉

Then there was my students’ favorite shoe incident my first year teaching. We got to work on landscaping projects around our community and I was shoveling up old landscapes in my dress shoes, competing with a group of boys to clear a section out the fastest, when my right heel got stuck on the shovel. We got some great laughs and figured out an epic story for the Payless ShoeSource salesman.

Though these shoe incidents bring back great memories and joys, the metaphor speaks to a lie…a lie that was destroying my passion for working with young people, a lie that almost destroyed my marriage, a lie being widely peddled by society.

This lie: It is a badge of honor to work yourself till the heels of life fall off. 

It earns no badges to be burned out. It earns no badges to neglect the most precious relationships of your life. Yet, what do societal pressures say? MORE. MORE. We don’t remove spinning plates. Instead, we try to find ways to balance them all and then maybe add a few more.

I won’t mislead you. I’ve been a very slow learner of this and there are times even now that I am struggling. This year has been a hard reality check; I cannot be it all for all people. Though I thrive off my current schedule, it is by no means healthy for me or my young family, notwithstanding that it is in no way sustainable. I’m wearing out the heels of my life much too fast and I’m only 27.

All of us need to be strong, healthy models for those newly entering our teaching profession. We need to be teaching them how to be strategic in saying ‘Yes.’ We need to provide opportunities for personal reflection and growth.

I’m blessed that my school administration has allowed me to come down to San Antonio this whole week for the National Association of Agricultural Educators Conference. It has recharged my battery and equipped me with tools to enhance my teaching, but above all, it’s expanded my support network in the profession. This week is shaping up to be a game-changer, but the goals I’m developing for myself look different than ever before.

I’m looking at strategically scaling back in different facets of my work life, starting this spring semester. Putting First Things First at home, so Annelle stops getting the leftover pieces of me…

The following observation will come off as harsh…please be aware it is for me not my readers…

What did I do with the shoes I wore out? Did I idolize them? Hang them on a plaque?

NO, THEY GOT THROWN IN THE DUMP…IN TATTERED PIECES! They served only a fleeting purpose…

ouch…this cannot be my life!

We must start talking about teaching differently because it is unlike any vocation. Our goal should not be to seek balancing competing silos. This compartmentalizing is wrong. We need a holistic view of an educator. Many of us find our life’s mission in this field, so how do we harmonize that with our desires and need for family and personal development?

I don’t have the answers. I’m a young pup, but I know that I need to be better. I know that I can be better! It starts with the first step in harmonizing my schedule to reflect the values of my life.

I’ll finish with a final anecdote:

My wife loves her pairs of boots. One pair in particular she has taken great care of and has taken to be resoled over the past ten years close to three times. They are still functioning like new and show little wear. Yet, she uses them constantly!

I’m not disposable. It’s not a badge to view my life as disposable, even if my time seems to be filled with worthy work…I need to be resoled. Lord give me the resolve, strength, and courage to do so!

 

Original Article: Till the Heels Fall Off

Half Of Teachers Don’t Like Their Jobs

I wrote an article near the end of last school year titled, “Most Teachers Don’t Love Their Jobs.” I held off publishing it for a number of reasons, one of which is it’s never a good idea to write anything near the end of the school year and allow others to read it. Another reason was I wasn’t sure if I was right. This is true of almost everything I write, but in this instance, the self-doubt was particularly strong. And, also, I knew that such an article would not be received appreciatively. I even tested the waters — focus-grouped it, so to say –by asking the following question on Facebook: If teachers love their jobs, how can they be excited about not doing it for two months?

Responses were as expected, but perhaps that’s because those comments were in a public forum where colleagues, bosses, parents, and students might stumble across them.

I have reason to doubt at least half of those responses because I keep running across data that suggest my original hypothesis was, if not exactly true, then more true than we would like to admit or believe.

There are a lot of teachers who do not like their jobs.

WHAT TEACHERS SAY

Spend some time with teachers and you will likely come away believing that they really love what they do. Many of them will straight up tell you, “I love teaching.” Some come close enough: “I just can’t imagine doing anything else.” Others will acknowledge some frustration, but convey that, on the whole, they’re satisfied with their profession: “The administration (or parents, or paperwork, or lack of trust, or stupid laws, or stress) is awful, but I love the kids.” Some go further than mere love. For them, teaching is a “passion.” A few even elevate teaching to the level of the clergy. For them, it is a “calling.”

I have no doubt that there are some teachers reading this who really do love their jobs (and also no doubt that they will let me know in the comments). I have less doubt that most teachers have felt this way at some point in their careers. I’m also positive that there are moments (maybe even a fair number of them) when teachers love their jobs. And I’m sure that it’s true that many teachers really can’t imagine doing anything else. (I know I can’t. I’m pretty sure I’d fail miserably in literally every other profession.)

But the data suggest that at least half the teachers who claim to love their jobs just don’t.

THE DATA

According to a 2014 Gallup report, just 31% of the more than 7,000 teachers surveyed reported being “engaged” at work. That’s in line with the general American workforce, which self-reports engagement at 30%. So it doesn’t seem as if teaching is any more engaging than any other job, and it’s hard to imagine loving (or even liking) a job you don’t find engaging.

2015 AFT survey of over 30,000 teachers found that 89% of them “strongly agreed” that they were excited about their jobs when they started their careers, but by the time those teachers took the survey, just 15% still felt that way. The same survey found that 73% of teachers found their jobs “often stressful.” So teaching, at least for those who’ve done it for more than a few years, is unexciting and stressful. Not typical characteristics of things people love.

58% of respondents in the 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey, a poll administered to almost 5,000 teachers and school staff across the country, reported poor mental health for at least a week out of the previous month.

But the one that really got me was this graph, one of many produced by CEP in a report titled, “Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices.”

About half of the teachers surveyed agreed with the statement, “The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it,” and they would leave the profession altogether if they could get a higher-paying job.

Think about that.

Assuming this is a representative sample (it claims to be), half of America’s teachers think exactly the opposite of what almost every teacher claims, that in spite of the challenges and frustrations, teaching is worth it. Half our teachers are telling us that, actually, it isn’t.

And while at first blush it shouldn’t be surprising that anyone would leave one job for a higher-paying one, in the case of teachers we’re talking about people who already made the choice to forego higher salaries when they decided to become teachers in the first place. What the graph really says is, “This job is nothing like I thought it would be.”

But perhaps you don’t believe them. After all, we all know plenty of educators who like to complain and most teachers keep on teaching. It’s actions that matter because people’s words are often self-soothing stories they tell themselves. Actions are tangible and measurable. As Emerson supposedly said, “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” So what do teachers’ actions reveal about how they feel about their jobs?

WHAT TEACHERS DO

Chad Aldeman spends his days (and probably his nights) studying and writing about pension plans. Because the plans involve billions of dollars, states make careful assumptions based on what teachers do, not what they say. According to Aldeman, “States’ own assumptions show that, on average, more than half of teachers do not receive any employer pension benefits because they leave before they are eligible. Just one in five stays on the job long enough to receive full benefits at retirement.” So in spite of a strong financial incentive to stick it out, four out of every five teachers, a fair number of whom undoubtedly claimed to be passionate about teaching while they were doing it, don’t make it to full retirement age.

If teachers love teaching, not many of them love it for long.

The few that do stick around get out at pretty much the first opportunity. Aldeman writes, “Out of 100 teachers who are still teaching at 55 years old, the median state assumes that 65 will retire by their 60th birthday, and only 8 will remain teaching until they reach age 65. That is sooner than U.S. averages for all workers.”

That’s not exactly the behavior of people who see their job as a calling.

Source

WHY IT MATTERS

So why does it matter? Where’s the harm in teachers lying about how much they enjoy their work?

First, the truth, even when it tastes bitter, is more important than a lie.

Second, current teachers owe the truth to aspiring teachers so that young people can make informed career decisions. Half of teachers should not suddenly realize, once they start doing the job, that it’s nothing like they thought it was going to be and they should have gone for the money instead of whatever ideal they thought they were choosing. The gap between the expectations young people have about teaching and the realities of the job probably explain a lot of early career attrition.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, policy and societal expectations are based on a belief that teachers love what they do; that because teachers derive pleasure from their jobs, it’s okay to treat them differently than professionals who don’t.

If you love your job, goes the thinking, then why should we pay you more money?

If teaching is your passion, then surely you wouldn’t mind doing more of it?

If your job is a calling, then what wouldn’t you agree to if it means helping your students and fulfilling your mission in life?

Saying you love your job might easily be interpreted by exploitative people as an invitation to further exploit you. At the very least, it sends the message that nothing needs to change. That everything is okay, and even if it isn’t, we still think it’s “worth it.”

Let’s start being more honest about our work. Teaching is rewarding, but it is also damn hard. It’s draining, frustrating, and stressful, and those lows are occasionally ameliorated by moments of joy, relief, and success. It’s meaningful work, made more meaningful by its challenges.

But it’s exhausting and things could and should be better.

As a nation, we should want more than half of our teachers to love their work and we should start asking why they don’t. The only way change will ever happen is if teachers share the realities of teaching, stop sugar-coating their frustrations with assurances that they love it anyway, and offer suggestions on how to make things better.

Teachers might not deserve to love their jobs any more than anyone else does. But parents deserve to send their children to schools full of teachers who want to be there, and students deserve to learn from someone who doesn’t regret her career choice. Only by being honest about the job will the conditions of it ever change.

When Teachers Should Work For Free

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe professionals should be paid for their work. I believe it even more strongly for teachers because unlike their counterparts in business, teachers will never earn a promotion or a pay raise based on their willingness to donate their labor. While others may put in 60 hours of work each week, many of them do so with the belief that they will personally benefit from such a sacrifice at a later date. That’s why I bristle when people who aren’t teachers make the argument that everybody puts in extra hours, so teachers should quit whining. Teachers’ extra hours are different because those hours are almost always given selflessly, which is why asking teachers to donate them is exploitative.

That said, there are times when teachers should be willing to work for free.  Here are four.

To Set Up Their Classrooms

Let me be clear. Teachers should be paid to set up their classrooms. They aren’t doing it for fun, they’re doing it because their work, which is done on behalf of the school district, requires that it be done. The logistics are tricky for the district, though. Should teachers who spend 20 hours Pinterizing their rooms be paid more than minimalists who only spend 3? Might not some teachers, those without kids or who dislike their spouses, perhaps,  just spend eight hours a day for an entire week, tinkering around in their rooms, so they can pile up the dough? It’s easy to see why districts don’t offer an hourly rate to teachers for this work.

Districts could, however, and should, offer a flat-rate. Respectful employers should negotiate a dollar amount to give every teacher, knowing that every teacher will be spending some time setting up their classrooms. They never will because they don’t have to and they know it. They know that no self-respecting teacher is going to show up at the school open house or the first day of class without having most things in place. District leaders also know that they will not be blamed if teachers do exactly that and say, “Well, the district won’t pay me to come in, so I don’t.” That makes the teacher look bad, not the district. If it makes you look bad in front of kids and parents, you will work for free, and so you will continue to do so. It isn’t ideal, but it’s understandable, and there’s probably no fixing this particular practice.

To Make Your Job Easier

As much as I wish it were not true, there is no way to do this job without putting in some time outside of your contractual hours. Having done this for 18 years now, 15 of them at the same grade level and with the same district, I have a ton of advantages that many teachers don’t enjoy. I’m familiar with the curriculum. I have a library of lessons that can be counted on. I’ve found efficiencies through trial and error. I am able to leave school at school almost every night by focusing on what’s most important, constantly asking myself why I am doing what I am doing, utilizing technology, and taking practical steps like getting rid of homework and focusing on written feedback instead of grades in writing (I write about these strategies and others in my book, Leave School At School).

Even so, I still come in 45 minutes to an hour before school every day. There are just too many things to do. Not coming in early would add considerable stress and make the job all but impossible, which is why one of the dumbest things unions do when they are in the middle of contentious contract negotiations is tell their teachers to work to the contract. Teachers hate doing this because it makes their job even harder than it already is. Being unprepared makes everything more stressful.

Work for free when doing so makes your job easier.

To Have a Say

I have served on three interview teams and I wasn’t paid for any of them. These were full days, requiring me to drive 30 minutes each way without any reimbursement and listen to new teacher candidates earnestly share why they would be the best hire. This was time given to my district to help them select the best people to educate the kids in their community.

I have also served on a district committee to evaluate a new reading program, and I know a number of teachers who joined a team of fellow teachers, district leaders, and community members when the district went through restructuring. While all of this work was performed on behalf of their employer, it was all consequential to teachers. I want to have a say in who my colleagues will be, which reading program I’ll be forced to use, and how a transition to a new building will be handled.

Teachers should be willing to work for free to have a say in their work conditions.

To Personally Benefit

Money is not the only form of compensation. Teachers might choose to work for free if they personally benefit in other ways. If you are passionate about something, then working for free won’t bother you because you’re doing something you love and your “pay” is the joy you feel while doing it. I work with a teacher who is passionate about Make a Difference Day. Most years, she spends hours coming up with and implementing ideas to make this day special for the whole school.  She derives immense pleasure from it, more satisfaction than any amount of money would give her (well, maybe not any amount).

I am an unpaid member of the district’s technology team, but that doesn’t mean I’m working for free. First, I like technology and use it a lot in class. It’s made my teaching more efficient, relevant, and fun. So I benefit in those ways. Second, I like knowing and having some influence on what direction the district is heading in with respect to technology and I enjoy bringing staff concerns to the district. Third, I benefit because members of the tech team receive piloted devices and programs. I had one of the first Chromebooks in the district and I have one of a handful of SMART boards in my classroom. I’m being “paid” in other ways, so I’m willing to work for something other than money.

Be Careful

The danger comes when teachers see their entire job this way. When you claim that teaching is your passion, you’ll be willing to take on countless extra duties without pay. If teaching truly is your calling, you’ll feel no resentment over serving on every committee and attending every after-school event. Rather than exhaust and demoralize you, you’ll get a charge out of it.

The problem is this: While you may enjoy donating your time, many of your colleagues do not. And when enough teachers are willing to work for free, working for free becomes an expectation and those who don’t do it suffer unfair reputational harm.  No teacher should feel like they have to work for free. Years of selfless teachers giving away their time has led to a culture of exploitation. Districts don’t even think twice about asking teachers to work for nothing.

So be careful. Although your motives may be pure and you really want to do whatever it takes to help kids, the consequences of working for free can hurt your colleagues and it already has hurt the profession as a whole.

 

Related Articles:

Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

 

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Do Not Join That Unpaid Committee

The start of the school year is closing in fast, which means that in mere weeks (maybe even days) you will be welcomed back, told how important your job is and how appreciated you are, and then, before such words have even dissipated into the ether, asked to give away the most important thing you have, your time.

Your boss will want you to join a committee (or three), be a team leader, or serve on a school improvement council. In some cases, you’ll be asked to do this work for nothing.

Say no.

You’ll be tempted to say yes. It’s the start of the year. Optimism is high. The summer worked its rejuvenating magic and you and your fellow teachers are bursting with energy. You can practically taste the positivity.  Idealism runs rampant. You’ll do whatever is necessary for this school, for these kids! The job ahead of you is hard, but together you can do it!

Say no anyway.

Say No For Yourself

You are going to be overworked. You will be stressed. There isn’t enough time in a week for teachers to do everything they know they should be doing, and that’s if you do nothing other than teach the kids in front of you. By Halloween, you will be exhausted. You will resent whatever extra work you agreed to in that heady fog of feelgood at the start of the year. You’ll dread sitting through an hour-long meeting after school when you should be at your kid’s soccer game. Jumping off a bridge will sound preferable to the prospect of filling out another stupid survey that the state has mandated and the principal has pawned off on your team.

Teachers complain about not having enough time and then they give it away for free. Teachers complain about how much they’re paid and then work for nothing. Do not allow August exuberance, guilt, fear, or the opinion of others to cause you to do something you know you shouldn’t do. And don’t be a martyr. We have enough of those in education already.  The work you do is difficult and tiring. It makes zero sense to voluntarily take on even more of it, and even less sense to do so without pay.

Say No For Your Students

There is only so much time in a day, a week, a school year. The more of it you spend in one area, the less you have in another. If you want to help your students, spend more time on things that will help your students and less time on stuff that won’t make a difference in the classroom. Most committee work does not affect the students under your care.

George Couros says that teachers shouldn’t be classroom teachers, they should be school teachers:

““School teachers’ can do all of those things that classroom teachers do within their own classrooms and subject matter, but when they walk out of their room, every child in the school is their child.” 

Teachers should be careful with this mindset. It’s easy to go from smiling and encouraging every student you encounter to signing up for every committee because you tell yourself that every committee is doing good work that will, in some way, benefit some kids somewhere inside the school eventually.

The best thing you can do for your students is fully commit to them. That means saying no to anything that won’t make you a better classroom teacher. Burning yourself out with extra work won’t help your students. Resentment over being stretched too thin is not an attitude you want to carry into your classroom. Being overwhelmed and stressed out won’t make you more effective.

An hour spent in a meeting is an hour not spent planning better lessons. Or reading your students’ writing and providing feedback. Or communicating with parents. Or reading the latest research on best practices. Or anything else that might make a direct impact on your students. You cannot do it all, even if all of it benefits kids.

Say no for your students.

Say No For Your Profession

In too many schools, teachers who give away their time resent or look down their noses at those who don’t. They see them as selfish or lazy and feel aggrieved that they are working so much more than some of their colleagues. That’s a script that needs to be flipped. Instead of assigning virtue to those who help perpetuate exploitative practices, let's honor those who stand up to such practices. Click To Tweet

You are a professional. Pros get paid. The reason teachers get asked to donate their time is because they’ve always been willing to donate their time.  The asking won’t stop until the answer is consistently no. You can’t blame an employer for trying to get employees to donate labor. Blame the teachers for continuing to give it away because they are undermining the teachers who want to be treated with the respect employers afford their workers in other fields. Put bluntly, they are the problem. When every teacher says no to unpaid extra work, only two things can happen:

The committees disappear because there’s no one on them, or teachers are paid to do the work.

The only way to change the way teachers are treated is to change the way we respond to the treatment. Click To Tweet Saying no to additional, uncompensated work is good for your colleagues, it’s good for teachers you don’t even know, and it’s good for those who won’t step into a classroom for years. Saying no gains respect and it’s good for the profession.

Do yourself, your students, and your profession a favor. Say no to unpaid extra work, and get your colleagues to say it, too.