John Dewey, the landmark education researcher & philosopher, was famous for asserting that a student hadn’t really learned anything until he or she had taken time to reflect on the educational experience.
The last few months have been rich with educational experiences for me personally, often in the context of work. I’ve come to the end of a vast array of significant projects, culminating in a huge event on campus that was developed and managed almost entirely by me, my boss, and an event planner. The fact that everything went off pretty well is actually a picture of Grace if ever there was one. lol
So I’ve spent the past few days recuperating and reflecting. And sleeping, napping, resting. Those were some 60 hour weeks.
I don’t feel as euphoric as I thought I would — though the night before our big event, I was nearly giddy with anticipation of everything finally being DONE — like a plow horse who’s caught sight of the barn at the end of a very long and hard day. That emotional numbness sparked some further reflection.
It’s not just that I want my work to provide a sense of reward at the end of big projects, though I always appreciate a pat on the back if it was truly a job well done. And I take pride in my work, in providing quality execution or developing a good idea.
But what I really crave is fulfillment, a deep and rich sense of fulness that comes from doing what I was factory-built to do, and in a context that carries significance.
Apparently, I was crafted to help build up human beings — and that explains why I identify so strongly as an educator. I love helping humans flourish as better versions of themselves. Other work might be satisfying or provide me with a sense of pride, but event planning or even design rarely pulls out of me a deep happy sigh.
Over the past few weeks I’ve seen several of my former students, either by random encounter or at social gatherings, and their continuing growth into young adults resonates with me. My work as one influential educator among many continues to pay dividends in my heart and soul. To watch them grow up, find their passions, discover career paths, select a soulmate — it’s incredibly satisfying and enriching. It leaves me thinking, Yes. It was worth the trouble and toil and pain to be a teacher. They are worth it!
I’ve commented before on the strong interpersonal dimension of my workplace orientation. Given a choice between a great job with meh coworkers and a mediocre job alongside my best friends, I’d sacrifice job quality any day to spend time working alongside people I love.
The old saw goes, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Or something like that. And I realize that my bent toward relational teaching pushes me toward workplace solutions that look like teaching, instructing, communicating, and relationship-building, regardless of the type of “problem” we’re trying to solve or project under way.
But I’m realizing that I’m actually pretty good at anticipating how actions or policy or structures can either hinder or assist in developing positive relationships in the workplace. I tend to feel in my bones the future effects of current decisions. Emotional arthritis, perhaps, as the barometer shifts.
My interpersonal intelligence makes me a stronger employee … but it also costs me something. I expend a lot of mental and emotional energy scanning for signs of distress — it’s a habit I picked up from constantly reading the emotions of volatile adolescents. But it’s not really my job here to address any problems that could arise. In fact, it’s not even my job to worry whether there are problems at all.
So I switch off that unit in my brain (along with the teaching module and the counseling panel and the button that makes me laugh extra-loud).
Forced to restrain my personality and ways of knowing/working to fit a job — this is labor indeed. Hard work. I’m glad for the training session the Universe has arranged for me, but this wrong-sized hole is really starting to rub me in places.
I’ve never wanted to put a wall between who I am all the time and who I am “at work.” (I realize my Texas-sized personality is probably too loud for my little office and the quiet administration building where I work, so I try hard to reign myself in …. but it’s hard. lol) At points, I’m loud, bombastic, overly-talkative, too excited, too energetic, too fast to make a decision and jump off into a project, overflowing with too many ideas for other people to sift through, a bit too random, annoying in my habit of cutting people off before they’re done talking because my brain non-stop insists on guessing the ends of people’s sentences (because I’m too impatient to wait for them to finish). All truth.
The irony is, that whole mess right there was the backbone of why kids who hated English classes still enjoyed mine. And why the kids who would be dropouts or failures when left to “the system” found themselves engaged and learning, sometimes despite themselves.
I’ve digressed a bit far in what I intended in this post, but perhaps the moment of blunt honesty will spark a conversation.
It’s easy to look back at teaching with wistful eyes and a fog that covers over what was broken and the legitimate issues which provoked me to leave the classroom. Those reasons hold me where I am now — that, and an appreciation for the mission of the school where I now work. It’s a mission I align with, one that I support and would like to further.
And I’m sure that I will be back in a classroom eventually. I don’t think I can escape that destiny.
Till then, don’t take my musings too strongly. Dashes of salt.
But I know some of you have walked this road too – of craving a deeper interplay between the work that eats so much of our waking hours and the hard-wired settings of our psyche. You too have filled a role you didn’t expect to be cast in, for the show must go on.
*salutes* Hats off, fellow actors. Tell me how you did it.