I was fortunate enough to work with an older gentleman (Bill), in the multimedia section at one end of the building, while in other places, people were slotted into cubicles (though I'm not sure what those people did). As I walked through the cubicled area, my attention was often drawn to one lady's cubicle. While the rest of the office buzzed with telephone beeps and keyboard clicking, this lady's cubicle was always silent. She sat hunched over her desk with her back to the cubicle "doorway", sleeping. Everyday. Every time I passed, I wondered what this woman did. What was her actual job? And did her boss ever figure out that it wasn't getting done? Here was a person who was not interested in her job, but I'll guess that she would fight tooth-and-nail for her paycheck if it went missing.
We could talk about government waste, but that's for another time.
Angela Duckworth writes about interest in her book, Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance:
First, research shows that people are enormously more satisfied with their jobs when they do something that fits their personal interests. This is the conclusion of a meta-analysis that aggregated data from almost a hundred different studies that collectively included working adults in just about every conceivable profession...What's more, people whose jobs match their personal interests are, in general, happier with their lives as a whole.
Still, it might be one of those simple things that we forget about, and it might be one of those things that we forget to teach. I am reminded that the simple things - the things I assume do not need to be taught - are the things my students need the most.
I keep thinking about that woman in the environmental management office. Her disinterest in the mission clearly did not translate into performance. Duckworth points out:
Second, people perform better at work when what they do interests them. This is the conclusion of another meta-analysis of sixty studies conducted over the past sixty years.
I worked the drive-through at McDonald's one summer. When people ask why I chose to work in fast food, instead of teaching summer school or doing something more career-related, my answer to them is, "Because I wanted to." That's an honest answer, too. I had never worked in fast food, and now, as an adult, I wanted to try it out. All cards on the table, there was something in the back of my head that told me I didn't need this job. It didn't really matter if I got fired from that job, because I would be returning to the classroom in August anyway.
Still, I went in with a different attitude. I was there as an observer and an example. There were, of course, many young people working on my shifts, and the manager had to constantly give them things to do. They did not seem to have the wherewithal to fill the needs of the restaurant on their own. They were perfectly capable, but chose instead to stand around or talk to each other. In the meantime, I was scrubbing the fly specks off of the menu board. I was mopping the restroom. I was cleaning trays. Not only that, but when the drive through was backed up, I would engage the people at the speaker. I was even known to offer a song once in a while.
Unlike other employees, many of whom were hired one day and quit the next, I kept myself busy. I was a self-starter. I was focused on service. When I left, that summer, the managers even broke out a Ronald McDonald cake to see me off. My point here is that even if I wasn't interested in the job itself - pressing buttons on a keypad and making change to customers - I made the job interesting, and I kept myself busy. I went home tired, but not because I was bored.
According to Duckworth, citing Gallup polls, "more than two-thirds of adults said they were not engaged at work, a good portion of which were 'actively disengaged'." In fact, worldwide, only 13 percent of adults call themselves "engaged" at work. "So," concludes Duckworth, ""it seems that very few people end up loving what they do for a living.
Shouldn't this concern every conscientious educator?
In an interview with psychology professor Barry Schwartz, Mrs. Duckworth found his explanation compelling:
A related problem, Barry says, is the mythology that falling in love with a career should be sudden and swift: "There are a lot of things where the subtleties and exhilerations come with sticking with it for a while, getting elbow-deep into something. A lot of things seems uninteresting and superficial until you start doing them and, after a while, you realize that there are som many facets you didn't know at the start, and you never can fully solve the problem, or fully understand it, or what have you. Well, that requires that you stick with it."
There must be more to the psychology of interests, and I am drawn into the conversation as I read further in this chapter of Grit, in which I - and you - might become perplexed and frustrated, with statements such as this one -
A seventh grader is just beginning to figure out her general likes and dislikes.