I used to tell everyone that I was going to become a teacher. I would tell them that it was the novels that I read in high school that made me first want to do it. I would say that those novels were the ones that I wanted to read for the rest of my life. Whether it was The Old Man and the Sea or The Stranger, I turned to that argument for describing my passion for teaching. I did that for years. Mostly, because it was easy.
I didn’t have to explain any other part of why teaching was so appealing. I didn’t have to go into the way that it made me feel when something I had done caused someone else to learn. I never had to retell each of the times that I had tried to teach someone else and learned something in the process. I could just say that the books were enough, and people wouldn’t go any further. They either totally agreed and really enjoyed the books they read in high school and therefore had no reason to doubt my sincerity, or they 100% disagreed and wanted to have nothing to do with a conversation about them.
And yet, the real answer was always more complicated than that. I worked as a teacher so that I could be happy. I am most fulfilled in my working life when I am helping other people to know more and be able to do more. I am most engaged when there is the ability for improvement. I am tuned in to any kind of revision available, especially within a human being. And reading books was just a shortcut to those moments. I could see the change within the characters and I could then help to create those same changing experiences for my students.
And yet, I don’t do that anymore either. I am willing to work for so much less now. I don’t see daily change within those around me. I am not part of translating characters and stories for others, but rather, I have become a transcriber of the same stories. I am trying to create the same outcomes across the board for adults, which was something that I never expected out of my students.
So, while I am paid more, I am willing to work for less.
This is also why I drink coffee so much now. It is why I go out to lunch. It is why meetings for me are no longer obligations, they are a source of sustenance for me (at least the ones I set up or willingly take part in).
I now take part in a ritualization of going to coffee shops to talk over big ideas with other people. I eat food in order to build out what is possible. I meet with others to prove that sanity is still possible without reading The Catcher in the Rye once a year.
And that is what I am working for now. I am working for a single refillable mug that I can keep on going back to the counter with and having them fill it up. I am working for a panini sandwich, pressed perfectly while I sit with the next interesting person that I can’t wait to collaborate with.
Because it isn’t enough to answer e-mail. It isn’t enough just to finish a project and have someone say good job. It isn’t enough to launch a space that others will use or be “visionary” about your planning. Mentoring and being mentored is what I am willing to work for. Nothing else is good enough when I am not in the classroom. Everything that takes me away from sitting down with someone else over coffee or a meal seems to be wasted time.
Even if I am getting work done by answering e-mail or by sending out tweets or by responding to discussions that are going on in online classrooms, I’m not willing to work for those things alone. I am not willing to work for a piece of technology or a system that can’t see the value in two people sitting across a table from one another and hashing out the world’s problems.
So, here is to hoping that our next paychecks have a lot more mentorship and a lot less e-mail attached to them. Here is to hoping that our work isn’t defined in how busy we are, but in how much we made time to go out to eat with others. Here is to hoping that for every meeting that gets called on a regular basis, you have many more that are held in just one time and space and that give lasting value to the things that are discussed.
That is what I am willing to work for.
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