At the end of this year, I had a major thought: I need alcohol. Then, I had a more productive thought: I need a change. You’ve had those years, right? When the challenges of teaching stalk you like dementors, sucking the life out of your soul?
But as much as I’ve thought about waving goodbye to education, I know that my sense of purpose would suffer. There are aspects of education that no other career can offer me. I also know that the grass is greener where you water it.
If you are like me, and you know you need change, consider doing a little job crafting before kicking your calling to the curb.
Job Crafting? Tell Me More . . .
Job crafting is a practice studied and supported by researchers like Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale, Justin Berg of Upenn, and Jane Dutton of the University of Michigan. Wrzesniewski describes job crafting as, “What employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that can foster job satisfaction, as well as engagement, resilience, and thriving at work.” Research on job crafting has looked at thousands of workers in hundreds of occupations.
Interestingly, it is not the type of job that dictates a person’s level of satisfaction. For example, some custodians describe their work as a “calling,” something that gives them purpose and helps others. Meanwhile, some doctor’s describe their work as simply a “job,” a means to different end.
How a person redesigns and thinks about his or her work can define whether that person is engaged and satisfied. In a re:Work with Google talk, Amy Wrzesniewski discusses the three main methods for job crafting: task crafting, relationship crafting, and cognitive crafting.
Method 1: Task Crafting
Task crafting alters our job requirements, content, or the nature of what we do. For an educator, this may look like changing what we teach.
Change grade levels/classes
My wife, a second grade teacher, and I both have benefitted from changing what we teach. Whether it’s bumping to a different grade level or taking on a new class, the change of content can reinvigorate our energy, catalyze our creativity, and push us out of our comfort zone.
Take on a new role
Chair a department, join a committee, coach, or even create a new role that could help the school.
Run a club
Maybe a new class or role adds too much to your already chaotic life. Go small scale and organize a club—one in which you define the task, the time commitment, and the involvement of others. Not only can a club cultivate your passions, it can allow you to work with students in a different capacity. Work with students who make you want to high-five rather than punch yourself in the eye.
Method 2: Relationship Crafting
Relationship crafting is changing the style, intensity, or frequency of the interactions we have with others.
This year, I stopped going into the teachers’ lounge. I mainly did so because I needed to get things done during lunch (#newborn #balancestruggles). But, it was also nice to get away from some of the negativity. This isn’t to say that the complaints during lunch were unfounded; there was plenty of crap going on in our district and in education as a whole. I simply needed a break to keep my sanity.
I discovered another benefit of avoiding negativity in the lounge: solo time. If you’re an extrovert who benefits from a lot of human interaction, ignore this suggestion. If, however, you are an introvert like I am, give yourself permission to get away from people. I would lock my door, savor my lunch, and bump my soul jams (I simply can’t be stressed while cranking D’Angelo’s “One Mo’ Gin”).
Collaborate with passionate teachers—even virtually
Interacting with inspiring educators is another way to relationship craft. In every building, every district, there are teachers who make teaching positive. Find ways to increase your interaction with these educators. Craving even more interaction? Connect virtually. Countless organizations, twitter chats, and bloggers provide opportunities to network.
Maybe your adult relationships are strong but you could use some relationship crafting with students. We can’t always choose our clientele, but we can increase our interactions with students who remind us why we got into teaching. Choose even just one student and find ways to connect more. Share an occasional lunch, do a before school check-in, or enlist his or her help after school to provide community service hours. I’m thankful I’ve had a chance to mentor so many great students—beyond my attendance roster —who rejuvenate my passion for teaching.
Method 3: Cognitive Crafting
Cognitive crafting involves altering our perceptions about our work. In what ways is our work—even on a moment to moment basis—meaningful? In what ways are we fortunate to do what we do? How does our work transcend ourselves, adding benefit to students, to society, to our future?
This type of crafting isn’t easy for every job. For example, think about parking enforcement folks. They basically ruin peoples’ days EVERY day, making it hard to frame one’s work as meaningful and beneficial. (But they help prevent wonton parking and the funds they help raise pay for valuable municipal services.) On the other hand, it’s almost hard not to frame teaching as a noble cause. Despite the red tape and nonsense that gets thrown us every day, we still educate young people and thereby positively influence lives.
Focus on transcendence
Teachers are often in a rut because we focus on the moment-to-moment or day-to-day of what we do. Thinking in the short term is necessary, but it can also add frustration if the moment-to-moment isn’t going well. Think, instead, about the long-term service we provide. To practice transcendent abstraction think about the impact you make on students in the long-term—as well as how your work benefits society. Dig up those old “thank you” letters from former students if needed. Our work matters, beyond short term data boosts. Focus on the bigger picture.
Ever found yourself “universalizing” your job? If you’ve ever said, “this job” or even “teaching” is terrible, you’ve universalized, or grouped an entire set of tasks into one bad label. A lot of our job requirements aren’t fun (Parent-teacher conferences? Blagghhh!). But, there are aspects I’m sure you love. Separate the good from the bad. For example, grading essays can be miserable. I love seeing that spark when a kid finds an amazing book though. Useless staff meetings make me want run through a wall. Trying a new teaching technique? Yes, please!
What kind of change do you need?
By no means do I suggest that a teacher in misery “suck it up and deal with it” if things are horrendous. But if you know education is your calling, consider a round of job crafting change. It may save your soul.