Are You Getting Enough?
I’m not sure whether the headline grabbed your attention because it doesn’t seem to fit with the usual content of this website or it hit a raw nerve! It’s important that we talk about this vitally important issue.
Teaching is REALLY demanding. Jobs that work with people can be unpredictable. At times we can feel that we are at the mercy of other people’s moods. Whether it’s students, parents or colleagues, we never quite know what is going on in the rest of their lives. People can sometimes be unreasonable, emotional and erratic. At times THAT person might even be us.
Often we work in challenging environments. Playground squabbles, neighbourhood disputes and dysfunctional families often impact on our work.
A class of upset four year-olds who are exhausted at the end of the day or a class full of smelly Year 9 boys, who just finished PE and we are supposed to engage in a double English lesson on poetry? I’m not sure which class I’d prefer to teach.
We are constantly ‘on stage’ in front of a demanding audience. We are expected to be engaging, entertaining, knowledgeable and effective.
It’s important that we are at the top of our game, can access on-demand, reserves of energy, good humour and wisdom in equal measures.
So back to my original question, are you getting enough….job satisfaction?
There are six key factors that determine the level of satisfaction that people gain from their work.
People want to feel that their work is important – This should be a ‘no brainer’ for educators. Our work is vitally important. We play a critical role in society.
Most adults, when asked about what is important to them, reply that family and in particular their children are their highest priority. They are more valuable and important to them, than their car or even their house. We are not only charged with the responsibility of looking after the safety and wellbeing of their most prized possession, we also expected to educate them and prepare them for the future!
Teachers also have a significant role in passing-on and imposing community expectations. This aspect appears to be growing, on a daily basis, to reflect changes in society. Whilst parents are (and should be) their child’s first teacher, schools should be partners in setting and maintaining community standards and expectations.
I make a difference is the second key factor in achieving job satisfaction. This factor should also be easily achieved by educators. Whilst at times we can feel frustrated that some students don’t achieve as much as we had hoped, we have the opportunity to make a difference each and every day.
There can be a LONG lead time between helping a student and seeing the difference that we made. One of the benefits of having taught for 20 years is that I often meet past students who say nice things about something that I had done for them. (Perhaps past students who wouldn’t have anything nice to say, avoid running into me!) It can take a number of years to have this experience. It can feel a bit like planting seeds that take a long time to shoot. We might not see the results of our work every day, but we should be confident that we do does make a difference.
At times the progress of our students can appear to plateau (flat lining is never good in any industry – frustrating in education and tragic in health!) Even when learning is painstakingly incremental, each and every day we make a difference to the students and adults who we work with, through listening, showing concern and helping them.
We don’t work in mindless factories, making widgets! We work with people! We have an opportunity to make a difference every single day!
I’m good at what I do is the third aspect of achieving a sense of job satisfaction. For many teachers, ticking this box can be difficult.
Most teachers when asked, “Are you a good teacher?”, respond, “Yes I think so!” The vast majority of teachers receive little, if any feedback. They continue to do what they have always done and presume that they are doing a good job.
At times it can feel like we are operating in a void. 99% of teachers want to do a great job and are committed to continuous improvement. At the end of each lesson we reflect on what worked, what didn’t and how we could tinker with the lesson for it to be even more effective.
What I do is appreciated is also a factor that contributes to our sense of job satisfaction. All of us like to be appreciated. A pat on the back or a simple note of thanks is always welcome. At times it can feel that our work in schools is not appreciated. The difficult situations that we deal with, troubled students, cranky parents and crashed IT systems, often go unnoticed. At times we can feel that nobody cares.
Whilst teachers don’t do their job for the thank you notes and small gifts that some receive at the end of the year, it can be a long time from March until the end of the year. It is important to treasure the small tokens of appreciation that we do receive. Collecting the little handwritten notes or cards in a folder can be helpful in times of despair.
A sense of belonging and feeling part of a team also contributes to our job satisfaction. Connecting with colleagues, developing friendships and offering mutual support are all important and helps us feel a sense of satisfaction. It is important that we venture to the staffroom to catch up with colleagues, let steam off, share strategies and offer support, especially when we are feeling stressed. Isolating ourselves in our classrooms, eating lunch alone and working excessive hours are all counter-productive.
Schools provide an opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Engaging in school events and initiatives can lift our spirits, reenergize us and help us to see the big picture of what we are achieving.
The final factor that contributes to our job satisfaction is having some autonomy about our work. People don’t like to be micro-managed. Whilst there are clear boundaries about WHAT needs to be taught and WHEN our lessons are timetabled, staff in schools generally have a lot of flexibility about HOW we do our work.
Acclaimed author Daniel Pink in his book “Drive: The Surprise Truth About What Motivates Us” highlights the importance of autonomy to engagement. Pink argues that a strong motivator is the desire to achieve mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters. He states, “The opposite of autonomy is control. And since they sit at different poles of the behavior compass, they point us toward different destinations. Control leads to compliance, autonomy leads to engagement….Only engagement can produce mastery.” Pink, D. 2012, p.110
If you aren’t getting enough satisfaction from the important work that we do in schools I have three suggestions.
1 Reflect on these six factors and why you might not be feeling enough satisfaction.
2 Monitor your self-talk (that little voice inside your head) and catch yourself whenever the conversation is undermining your sense of satisfaction.
3 If you have revisited the six factors and tried changing your self talk it may be time to investigate exit strategies. If teaching or working in schools isn’t satisfying you then start to plan your exit strategy. Explore other fields that you believe would give you more satisfaction. This may require doing some extra study or considering a completely different path. However this is important for both you and your students.
Your work takes up a large component of your waking hours and SHOULD give you a sense of satisfaction. If it doesn’t, do something for you!
Teaching students is too important to have someone in front of a class who isn’t passionate and dedicated. If you aren’t, do it for them!