Not a dull read after all

I am an artist. I have never said that out loud let alone in print. It sounds vain, pompous even. So, why am I saying it and why am I saying it now? Because it’s important.

I am getting ahead of myself, let me take you back a bit. I am reading a book that my husband presented me with saying, “I want you to read this.” Linchpin: Are you indispensable? by Seth Godin, a favourite author of his. Well, it is non-fiction which ties in with my goals for reading this year and it will please him and give us something to talk about. However, it’s not my usual pick of read especially because it is about labor and management. So far the book has been talking about how and why you should be indispensable at work and the shift in the job market / industries in the recent years. It sounds…interesting…informative……dull. But, I am reading it anyway.

Fast forward to page 39. Seth starts talking about the key role that schools served in the creation of an obedient work force well-suited to factory work. Well, as we know, those jobs are being easily filled with technologies of all kinds. He mentions how standardized testing forces students to perform for a test and pushes teachers to “teach to the test” because teachers, schools, and boards are ranked by these tests. It stamps out creativity and thinking in students and teachers. Read the book if this peaks your interest, this section kept me reading.

Fast forward again and I am on page 80. But wait, I need to remind you that I am a teacher. That is the lens through which I see life. It’s a mindset that colours everything I do from shopping with my girls in the supermarket to arguing with my husband to reading books.

Okay, that being said. Page 80.

“Emotional labor is the task of doing important work, even when it isn’t easy…Work is nothing but a platform for art and the emotional labor that goes with it.”

Teaching is my art, the school and my classroom are my platform and the emotional labor is what drives my art. You may have already sighed or rolled your eyes and you maybe ready to scroll on to something else and I understand but I hope you keep reading.

Godin goes on to say that emotional labor is a gift. A gift you give that comes back to you. What you give will benefit you.

“The essence of any gift, including the gift of emotional labor is that you don’t do it for a tangible, guaranteed reward (page 82)”

Emotional labor. It is why we go to class early and greet each student with a smile and a hello. This is why we ask how their recess or weekend was and take an interest in what they are doing. We pick up dropped items, hand out new pencils before someone realized theirs is too short, and dry wet mittens. It is why we do hands-on activities, create lessons that are fun and interesting, and try new approaches. It is a gift we give and the joy and connection that happens is what we get back.

“Art is about intent and communication, not substances. An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to change the status quo. And an artist takes it personally….
Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another…
By definition, art is human. A machine can’t create art, because the intent matters. It’s much more likely to be art if you do it on purpose. (pages 83 and 84).”

Change that first sentence. “Teaching is about intent and communication, not subjects.” That’s why I am writing this post. Education is changing. Online courses are being pushed for. But, teaching isn’t about just passing on information. Students can access that on their own just like CEOs of corporations can. You don’t need teachers for that. Teachers use the subjects they teach to change students. Change them into people who have their own ideas, who solve problems, who know to communicate well in order to share their thinking clearly with others – we need a future generation with these abilities.

Everything we do, we do with intent. From the insight it requires to know which strategy a child needs to see in order to tackle a problem on their own to the creativity of designing that group the math activity that gets students to connect factors to area and area to volume while you stand back and let them make that connection. Every teacher move has knowledge, skill, problem-solving, intent, and emotional labor built in – it’s an art.

Read this but change “artist” to “teacher”.

Passion is a desire, and willingness to give a gift. The artist is relentless. (They say), “I will not feel complete until I give a gift”. This is more than refusing to do lousy work. It’s an insistence on doing important work. This relentless passion leads to persistence and resilience in the face of people not accepting your gift. The artists in your life are gift-focused, and their tenacity has nothing at all with income or job-security (page 88)”

Wow. That, right there, is an important message. It hit me and I needed to share it with you. Teachers are relentless. We don’t stop until we make a change – until our students improve, until they get it, until they feel connected and become engaged.

Secondly, teachers refuse to do lousy work which is why we work at home and during the summer, take courses after we earn our degrees, and purchase what isn’t provided for our classrooms. We won’t do lousy work because our work is too important which is why we stand up against increased class sizes. The amount of emotional labor and passion and energy and artistry it takes to connect students to the world and each other is enormous. And, we are relentless. To do this we need to be able to connect with students and the more of them there are the less time we have for each individual one. So, we take it on ourselves to do more, be more, give more.

Speaking of emotional labor, consider the special needs students. We anticipate and respond to needs, design creative, engaging lessons and activities that help them learn the way they learn. When you take money and support from special education, you deplete the resources we need to be relentless on behalf of those students. Teachers need to see and understand what a student is feeling and why so we can guide them in choosing acceptable outlets for the their feelings. If not, there could be biting, hitting, scratching, throwing, and other ways of expressing their emotions. But, don’t forget – I am still teaching those other 29 students. Again, we are relentless and we won’t leave a student behind. We want to see all our students learn, grow, and succeed.

Another thing we need to remember is that people don’t always accept our gifts. Not every student comes to school eager and ready to learn. But, we are so grateful and so blessed when they do. Sometimes no matter how much work and artistry we put into what we do there are members of the government and the public who don’t accept or understand our emotional labor like the things we do to make classrooms cozy, the special crafts and activities we create and pay for, the time we spend after work (away from our families) to do interviews, planning, marking, learning, and thinking about our students. But, we are so eternally grateful for those that do understand and accept what we are doing and we are blessed by that every single time.

As Godin points out, it isn’t about money or job security. It’s all about the fact that we have essential work to do, art to create and perform. We won’t do a lousy job so we do what we must inside and outside of school hours. It’s about creating change and inspiring and equipping young people. We strive to provide a learning environment where parents, students, and the community feel connected, appreciated, supported, and important.

So why am I saying all this? In part, to share with you my connection to what Godin was saying because books strike different people in different ways. And, it seems that what started as a dull read is turning out to not be so dull after all. Another reason, is to process and communicate my thinking about the circumstances surrounding teaching in Ontario, at the moment. I just needed to write it down. I thank you for reading all the way to the end, I am so grateful that you did.