I grew up in a commuter town and when I was 11-18 years old walked passed the train station on my way to school. There on the platform stood a few hundred besuited men (and a sprinkling of women) all holding suitcases waiting for the train to London. As a teenager that was everything I didn’t want to become. To me these people seemed to hand in their happiness in order to have their well paid job.
Of course if work was fun and enriching and fulfilling then they wouldn’t have to pay us to do it. But if you are ONLY there for your own benefit – to earn money to get a promotion, to gain status – then such a narrow view will smother any value your work might have.
I worry that in my profession, teaching, we are drifting away from what makes the job valuable. Performance targets for individuals, departments and whole schools means our worth is continually analysed and judged by what grades our pupils are achieving. We are forced to constantly check how each child’s progress against a set of targets. Then, at the end of the year we are judged on that. Consequently teachers have allowed themselves to narrow their outlook on what constitutes the core of their job. In the staff room you can hear phrases like “Last year I got 85% A* to C’s in my class” or “I got all level 2b’s and above in my group” This language is all wrong. This perception of the job is all wrong. We did not get those grades or levels, we did not sit the exam or write those sentences in that assessment. The children did.
THE PERSON WHO ACHIEVED THE GRADE WAS THE PUPIL NOT THE TEACHER.
By accepting this accountability as a measure of us personally, by seeing our job as a means to gauge our own worth, teachers are devaluing themselves and their work. It becomes less of what Buddhists would call “Right Livelihood” and more a self centred pursuit. We all know that the real joy in teaching is when we see someone in our class understand a key concept or break through a barrier that was holding back their learning. The reason this is a joy is because the teacher has cherished the child’s well being and not because the performance target is now one ticked box closer.
All the positive parts to this short post were taken from what HH The Karmapa said on this topic. (click here for a link to the book) His advice about when work feels pointless and where to find the “real worth lies” in your job is
“Giving rise to a single moment of cherishing others can bring us much deeper satisfaction than making money. Our own positive qualities can be rich sources of joy for us. Even if we have just one altruistic thought,this is a cause to be deeply happy. We have ample resources for happiness in the bounty of our own mind.”