Last year I read an interesting article that actually made me stop and think long and hard about it's content; even applying it to my own career. The article suggested that to want something and even to work hard for it is not always enough. Strange, you may think, that to suggest hard work and determination will not always pay off but this article wasn't just implying this, it was suggesting that in order to really achieve success we must be willing to endure the process to get there.
Ask someone what they want out of life and they may say to be happy with a great job. Such a response is so ubiquitous that it really doesn't mean anything; like the beauty queen pageant who simply wishes for world peace.
Everyone wants a great job but not everyone is willing to endure the 60 hour weeks, long commutes, paperwork, disappointment and sacrifice in order to achieve it. Nowadays people want to get rich from a quick idea, a hit song or perhaps something less legal.
They may want a beautiful/handsome partner in a great relationship but are not willing to endure the tough conversations, awkward silences and the emotional rollercoaster associated with developing and sustaining such a relationship.
We all want a great physique but how many of us are willing to endure the pain and physical stress that comes from living in the gym and planning out your life in plate size portions?
A more interesting question is 'what pain do you want in your life, what are you willing to struggle for and what will you endure to achieve success?' That seems to be a better determinant of how our lives may turn out.
Classrooms are full of students wanting success on a plate, money in the bank and a fast car for as little effort as possible and it's just this attitude that makes it so difficult to teach; especially a subject as varied and demanding as D&T but one that is also still seen as 'vocational' and perhaps not the best/quickest route for getting that lifestyle. It's often those same students who expect a grade they were predicted before puberty or their first smartphone even though they now plan to do as little as possible and, as educators, we are compelled to ensure they do...or get berated at the next parents evening or professional review, maybe even fired.
The ability and willingness to endure in order to achieve goals is often what differentiates the lazy, privileged students with a sense of entitlement from those hard working individuals we so rarely see in classes nowadays. Their sacrifice might seem almost trivial to an adult but by choosing not to 'follow the crowd', to stay at home and revise rather than sneaking out to a house party, or to give up any sense of being cool by studying hard, they are accepting what is necessary for success.
I'm sure we all knew someone at school or college who, despite a flagrant disregard for revision or conforming to 'geeky' stereotypes, still managed to bag a load of GCSE's and head off to further education. Nor does every hard working student achieve success commensurate with their efforts but it's the attitude that makes the difference; maybe not at secondary school or sixth form but at some time in their life, the ability to endure will ensure some level of success.
If you are still reading you may be wondering how all this applies to design and technology. Bear with me...
Simply wanting something badly is not enough if you want the benefits in life you; also have to want the costs. Positive experience is easy to handle, it's the negative experience that we struggle with. Happiness requires struggle, the positive is the side effect of handling the negative. D&T is one particular subject that requires a level of commitment both physical and mental and the very nature of iterative design means that you must expect to fail regularly in order to understand how to improve. As Nelson Mandela said; "I never lose. I either win or learn". If only many of today's students fully understood that concept or teachers were allowed such a luxury.
It would be great if D&T had such autonomy and importance in the curriculum that it could disregard those without talent or motivation, or if the educational system was allowed to just let lazy students accept their just desserts without the teacher being to blame. Sadly, that's not the world of education we currently live in and we are far too accountable for our students' failures.
Perhaps we should start asking students not what job they want or what they want in the future but instead lay out on the table all that they can expect to 'endure' in the process from design brief to finished project, the frustration at learning a CAD package, at struggling to draw the ideas in their head. The heartbreak at dropping your portfolio of work in a puddle or leaving it on the bus. The disappointment when a project doesn't turn out as expected or breaks on first testing. The feeling of rejection when user feedback is less than positive, the constantly missed deadlines and the lunch times, evenings, weekends and even school holidays lost to catch up to them to name but a few. It wouldn't surprise me if half the potential students for your D&T course ran a mile but the ones who remained would either be great committed candidates who will stay the course...or just hopelessly and blindly optimistic.
Now if you were to ask a D&T teacher what they were willing to endure in order to achieve success...
Paul has taught a range of creative and technical subjects specialising in design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools, including stints as head of D&T and head of a creative arts faculty. He continues to work within D&T as a consultant but is currently taking a break from teaching to explore design in industry.