If I were still “factory-mindset me,” and if I hadn’t been sick this week, what would I have done? I would have been a good little worker and headed over to the school, requested a room key, and spent several hours moving furniture, putting up posters, and “getting the room ready.” Why? Because that’s what good little workers do, even though time is (theoretically) available next week. “But you know,” said Mr. Y one year, when we were both there in advance, “if you don’t do it early, you won’t have time, because They will have all those meetings for us to go to.”
It’s a good thing I was sick this week, and it’s good that I’m not entirely well this morning. The fever and Other Yucky Symptoms helped finish the purge of factory-thinking that you regular readers have probably noticed. Even if I were physically able, I wouldn’t go over to The School today, and I wouldn’t spend hours “getting the room ready.”
Because doing so would perpetuate a toxic system in which I no longer want to participate: the notion that good little workers “donate their time” (yes, I know a Power who actually used that phrase) to the greater good of The Organization. And because it isn’t necessary, especially when you’re building a learning community with students rather than a pretty showplace for them. There will be a few posters – not many, since the New Classroom has built-in bookshelves on one wall, huge windows on another, and whiteboard space on a third – and we’ll make a preliminary arrangement of desks and tables. But if the space is to belong to the Latin Family, it only makes sense for all of us to be involved in its arrangement and decoration. It’s another way we can be in but not of the factory-mindset this fall … and I realize it’s extremely important. A “perfect” space sends a strong message: this space belongs to the person who made it perfect. You weren’t involved, so the space doesn’t belong to you.
For the past few years, posting student work has been an initiative throughout the Local School District. “I want to see student work on those walls!” barked one Power, clearly frustrated after a long day of meetings. “And not just worksheets, either! Authentic, meaningful work!” Ms. X and Mr. Y (and their counterpart who lives inside me) rolled their eyes silently. “Where am I supposed to put student work up in my classroom?” asked Ms. X later, when the Power was gone. “I already have my posters and things up!” Mr. Y, who had been thinking about moving away from physical posters, changed his mind because “They said the work needs to go on the walls.”
I’m sure That Ms. X and That Mr. Y were “over at school, working on my classroom” this week, if not before. I hope it made them feel better and more prepared.
From a particular perspective, their behavior makes sense. They schedule meetings (random, disconnected ones), so You “have to” or “need to” adapt. But if I were a Power, knowing that most teachers “come in early and get their rooms ready,” I’d be tempted to schedule important, purposeful meetings – or mandated ones that have to happen before school starts – precisely because the “room ready” work had already happened. Like many complex systems, the dance between Teachers and Powers requires all parties to participate.
A former student, about to start her first year in the classroom, is desperately seeking “donations” of books and classroom furniture from family and friends. And the offers seem to be rolling in: “I can buy you a rocking chair,” said one relative, as others offered old children’s books and other things she needs. And Powers That Be in that Nearby School District, knowing that “good little teachers” like W will somehow find the supplies they need? Why should they go through the unpleasant process of seeking extra money for classroom furniture and supplies? The dance between Teachers and Powers isn’t a happy dance; it’s not even a dance that either party (mostly) wants to continue. But the dance continues because neither party knows how to stop.
I started re-reading Seth Godin’s recent book, The Icarus Deception, last night when it was clear that I was really beginning to recover from That Bug. Just a few pages in, I’m already reminded of one of his central points: factory-thinking is built on fear and scarcity and the fear of scarcity. What brings Ms. X and Mr. Y to “donate their time” and “get the room ready?” Fear – specifically, fear that they won’t have enough time, that students will arrive with the room imperfect, that somehow they’ll look bad, be judged and found wanting by someone. What caused a lot of my own struggles this summer? Fear again – fear of scarcity, of not enough resources, not enough money, not enough potential customers for the Next Right Thing.
When you’re sick, and you can’t move, and you can neither fully sleep nor be fully awake, there’s no way to hide from those fears. I spent a lot of time with them over the past few days. And as I started to recover, I realized something: fears are scary, of course, but they’re less scary when you face them. Did I look bad when I couldn’t attend That One Meeting the other day? No; the Relevant Power sent me a kind email. A few weeks ago, at another meeting, I chuckled at a story told by a Different Power. It seems that there had been a software glitch, one that prevented a Vitally Important Report from being generated. “We can’t serve lunch without that report!” Yet Another Power had exclaimed. And then everyone in the meeting had laughed – because of course lunch could be served, and lunch had to be served, to the students in those schools, report or no report.
Whether you’re working in the factory or alongside of the factory, for it or against it, fear is probably unavoidable. So are times of scarcity and times of abundance. But in the end, each of us has a choice: do we keep dancing if the dance is toxic, or do we stop? Do we let fear control us, or face it? Do we hide our talents and “fly too low” in Seth Godin’s metaphor, or not? Do we build joyful community together or hide in the shadows for fear of Them?
I’m challenging myself to face the fears, stop the toxic dance, and build the joyful community. Care to join me?