After my first two years of teaching - 6 classes a day with 5 preps plus sponsoring the yearbook, newspaper, class plays, and speech contest, I wanted a job that required absolutely NO thinking.
And I got one.
During graduate school, I worked at the University of Iowa hospitals in the Central Sterilizing department. (We sterilized equipment, not living beings.) Each afternoon at three, I would put on a scrub greens, a hair covering, and plastic gloves and begin to make Three Gown Packs to be used during surgical procedures.
The process was simple. Lay a cloth wrapper (inspected for holes) on a stainless steel table, place three surgical gowns, a paper towel, and a bowl on the cloth, wrap it, tape it, label it with a wax pencil, and place it on a metal cart that would be pushed into the autoclave for sterilizing. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. For eight hours. Until eleven at night.
After two weeks I was bored out of my skull and, like the rest of the college students working there, spent many of my breaks smoking pot in the parking ramp. The evenings went faster with a buzz. I still wonder how many people we may have killed - having perhaps missed packing a bowl - while working under the influence.
That job taught me that no matter how stressful, a job with autonomy beats one that has no freedom of thought or action hands-down.
Daniel Pink in Drive, speaks to the importance of autonomy in job satisfaction. And in a recent post in his blog, he recommends the book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans*. The wisest Americans (those over 65) say this about job satisfaction:
- Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones.
- Don’t give up on looking for a job that makes you happy.
- Make the most of a bad job.
- Emotional intelligence trumps every other kind.
- Everyone needs autonomy.
My sense is that a lack of autonomy is a very real reason a lot of kids either tune out or drop out of school. Not given choices, not given the chance to be creative, and not given the opportunity to work socially, school becomes as mindless as a soul-deadening job.
That's why libraries and technology programs that honor students' individual interests and abilities by giving them access to materials of personal interest are so very, very important. The one-right answer, the one-right activity, the one-right course of study mentality is worth all our efforts to resist by offering autonomous educational experiences.
* I am not much of an advice book reader (although I've written one), but I would recommend 30 Lessons for Living. It's very down-to-earth with no startling insights or off-the-wall recommendations. Just very thoughtful reflections from those who have lived a lot of years. One comment that is still running through my mind after reading it days ago is "You will never be happier than your most unhappy child." Think about it.