The metaphor usually goes something like this, and often when a teacher is frustrated with a class of students: “School is your job. You need to show up to work every day and work hard. Your grades are like your paycheck—the harder you work, the more you can earn in our classroom. Some of you aren’t working hard and need to be fired.”
I have said it myself, years ago when I was a teacher, and I have heard teachers say it pretty regularly over the years. There is some truth to it—I have told teachers before that we want secondary students to feel like they are in a professional atmosphere when at school. This is why certain types of clothing or accessories are not allowed. There will be rules in the workplace like this, and as future professionals, we need to prepare them accordingly.
Debunking the School = Work Idea
But in many ways, the idea that “school = work” really doesn't fit in most classrooms. Yes, there is an expectation to be there every day and work while you are there, but after that, the connections really don’t work. Here are a few reasons why this doesn’t apply:
- We apply for jobs, but we don’t apply for classes: There is a desire on both ends of the hiring process to work with one another. The employer chooses the employee and vice versa. This is not the case in a school—students have no choice in their teacher most of the time, and teachers have little (if any) choice in the students in their room.
- We have both short-term and long-term incentives when we work: Any job I have ever worked at had a pretty regular paycheck. Either weekly or monthly, there was a tangible incentive coming my way. When things were hard or boring, the paycheck made it worth it. There are also long-term incentives in a job, such as working to reach the next promotion or the next step on the ladder. These opportunities didn’t come right away, but they were another motivation to work hard and show up every day. As teachers, the short-term incentives of education are hard to muster at times. There are many long-term reasons to persevere, but for some kids, those seem so far in the distance that they are not practical incentives.
- We can easily see relevance when we work: Even for entry-level jobs like food service or retail, the work that we do fits into a larger picture of why we are doing it. Cleaning bathrooms isn’t fun, but we all know how important that job is in a restaurant. But in a classroom, this relevance is often missing. “Why do I need to learn algebra? What importance does the War of 1812 have in my life?” These types of questions are ones that employers don’t have to answer.
It is possible to create this in a school setting. Here are some great options:
- Extracurricular activities: These are much more like a job than the classroom is. Students try out and can pick the sports they want to participate in. Coaches can pick the players they want (depending on the size of the school), and can definitely incentivize playing time to get the work and results they want. In the end, if the student isn’t meeting expectations, they can be benched—sort of like getting “fired” from the job. Coaches instill a great deal of these workplace traits into their sphere and kids often benefit a lot from it.
- Career/technical classes: Another area that can be reinforced with the classroom as a workplace are career and technical education classes. These classes naturally feed into career fields, so they can be set up to be much more like a workplace would be. Some examples of this would be a shop class or family and consumer science classes, since these focus more on training and practicing actual skills.
In the end, what is the detriment to saying “school is your job” to students, anyway? It isn’t a big deal, right?
I think the reality is that students who experience failure in school may translate that to future projection of failure in a career. Teachers who say this to students, in my opinion, are attempting to motivate them. What they may not realize is that this may motivate them to fail instead of succeed.
There are probably better ways to motivate students than using this line with them. Teachers want students to have skills that will help them to be successful in their future careers, but most classrooms are not like a job in the ways that teachers want them to be.
How do you keep your students motivated? Let us know in the comments below! And for more insightful teaching tips, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog.