On the heels of our observance of Labor Day, a series of questions come to mind about the meaning of work. One question I have is: What motivates us to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money. But it’s not exactly joy either. Scientific research has shown that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has presented two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work.
Also on the heels of this holiday, Chicago Public Schools are opening their doors to begin the new school year. I can’t help but try to connect the dots between the meaning of work and why teachers teach? What compels someone to stand in front of young impressionable minds?
According to Seth Godin, the school system was redesigned to meet the needs of the factories born out of the industrial revolution. Students were taught respect and obedience in order to fit in, so they can do the same after they graduate and secure a job on the assembly line. Obviously, times have changed and the economy has changed. If they’re not training kids for a life in a factory, what is a teacher preparing students for? Is it still about fitting in? Reciting what’s on the text book? Knowing what’s on the test? Today, is it more important to ask kids to collect dots than to connect the dots?
I will never forget what my high school English teacher, Emannuel Leviste, said to me in our writing class: “Don’t fall in love with one idea. If it ends up not working, don’t be afraid to throw it out the window and start again.” His words have always been a pillar for me whenever I face a fork in the road. A great teacher knows what school is for: With passion, insight and love, to spark courage in every child to follow their dream.