'As a teacher, it's important to get good at what you don't like to do'

20th January 2017 at 17:52
teaching, school, students

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No matter what you do as part of your work, there are likely to be parts that you enjoy less than others. In their book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans advise you to get good at what you don't like to do. This will allow you to do it quickly and efficiently. If you are bad at these things, however, they will likely take longer and you may find that you have to do them over.

When I read this I realized that I had been following this principle ever since I started teaching in 1971. At the time I was very excited about getting my students as excited about my subject, chemistry, as I was. 

On the day before the first day of school I met with the faculty and got my schedule. Much to my dismay, right in the middle of my schedule was LUNCH DUTY. Ouch! So I went to college for five years and earned two degrees so I could monitor a cafeteria filled with middle school and high school students. That certainly wasn't the plan.

It was then that I decided that if I had to do this job, I was going to learn how to do it well so that my time in the cafeteria would at least suck less. I quickly got to know the students who seemed the most rowdy and it wasn't long before they were behaving well for me. I simply found out what they were interested in and talked to them about it. 

While getting good at tasks you don't like, it's likely you will learn to dislike them less. If you're lucky, you may even start to enjoy them to some extent. For the most part, people tend to enjoy things they do well.

Another approach is to try to shift the task to someone else. Be sure to let your supervisor know which parts of your job you like and which you would rather not do. You can indicate your willingness to continue with the less likable work, but make sure the boss knows you would like to offload it if possible. Enlightened leaders want happy workers and should try to make tasks with everyone's skills and passions. 

If you are a supervisor, you can look for opportunities to delegate the work you like less to others. Be careful, however, as if you delegate every task that is seen as unlikeable, as you will be seen as someone who isn't willing to do their share of the dirty work. You can even look for dirty work to take on that you don't mind too much.

As a principal, I would patrol the property prior to the start of school each day. When I did this, I always had a small plastic grocery bag in hand so I could pick up trash as I encountered it. At first I did this to keep the place neat. I soon realized that I was sending a message to parents, staff, and students that I was willing to do some dirty work, so look for opportunities to do the same. 

In some cases undesirable tasks present themselves to an organization. When this happens, be careful about taking them on as once you know how to do something, the job may be yours for good. In my case I made sure not to learn how to clear jams from the copier that the teachers and office staff used. I knew that if I did I would be called upon frequently to do so.

In my view the best leaders see to it that undesirable tasks are spread around. People will notice who does what and should be more motivated to do some dirty work if they see that it is fairly shared - they might even get good at it.

Douglas Green is a former school principal, administrator and university lecturer, who runs the drdouggreen blog with ideas to support busy parents and teachers. He tweets at @drdouggreen



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