Less Sick, Less Tired

If you’re reading this “live” on Tuesday, I’m feeling a lot better.  Not completely better, but well enough to attempt a day at school.  It’s funny: I had been extraordinarily productive early Sunday afternoon, right before I got sick, and had written a bunch of small-group-oriented material for my students to use on Monday.  Little did I know they’d be working without me!

When I was a young teacher – and even a not-so-young one – I hated being too sick for school.  Maybe it’s because I I got sick every year when I was a child, and I hated the feeling of “all that make-up work.”  And maybe it’s because schools encourage attendance and punctuality among teachers, just as they do among students.  (After all, 20th-century factories need workers who show up on time every day!)  A former principal even had a “special award” for teachers who had “perfect attendance” (as she defined it) each year.  It was a plaque!  With your name on it!  And everything!

Ironically, attendance went down when the award was around.  It went back up when the award went away.

If you’ve read Daniel Pink’s books, you probably know one reason: extrinsic rewards for intrinsically motivating tasks discourage intrinsic motivation.  In general, teachers are intrinsically motivated to spend time at school, with their students.   On the Google+ thread about Monday’s post, Pam said:

Whatever it is that drives caring, make a difference teachers, we educators have a hard time prioritizing our own needs – health and otherwise – over our work. We are always on call, and often even downtime is spent with educators and others talking about our work. Unlike docs today, we’re on call all the time – in stores, working out, at church, on the street. We talk with parents, community members, former students anytime, anywhere. We know it’s almost never better to have a sub than ourselves – and trying to give someone else work to do on our behalf almost always feels like we’re letting the kids down. It’s how we feel and it’s what makes teaching a different profession.

Letting the kids down – and letting ourselves down!  Helping them – and feeling the warm glow of being the Heroic One!  It’s a complicated web of motivations.  And the “special award” might be correlated, not causal, anyway.  At the time, at that school, many teachers had young children – who do tend to get sick at the most inconvenient times!  By the time the award disappeared, the children were older.

But on Monday, motivation wasn’t a factor for me.  Neither was that internal labeling so many teachers do: “I need to go to school or I’ll be a bad, lazy teacher.”   I was too sick, too tired to be “motivated” by carrot or by sticks, externally or internally.  Instead, I  sat on the sofa, napped, drank tea, slowly recovered.  And by late afternoon, I was almost well.

I’m guessing my students benefited from their day without me, too.  Have we really built a joyful learning community with shared ownership?  By the time you read this, I’ll know.

Thinking back on my sick and tired day, I realize a built-in irony in the factory-model message about attendance and punctuality.  Be there, be on time, no matter how sick you feel – be heroic because you need to be there, we say and hear.  At the same time, we also send and receive the message George mentioned:

Why aren’t you teaching in total lock-step, sir, so you can just hand over a couple of lessons and pick up where your substitute cog… er, wheel… er, teacher left off in a couple of days when you get back?

As we move beyond the factory-model approach to teaching, will we also have to address the factory approach to seat time and physical presence?  What would a school look like, feel like, if deep learning was really more important than seat time?  Would attendance be higher or lower?

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Published in: on October 16, 2012 at 10:01 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] heard about Sunday, of course, and about Monday.  Getting sick is nothing new, but I had a new, more accepting perspective about my enforced day […]


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