Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Drives Me

Daniel Pink's book Drive boldly analyzes why we humans do things.  His analysis was meant to be read by business CEOs and managers, but many have applied his research and conclusions to education.  While his ideas are interesting, they certainly do not fit into the current public education model.  His book did cause me to ask myself, "What drives me to be a teacher?"

The Test
Pink discusses of the two types of people that exist according to him in Chapter 3.

Type X
"Type X behavior is fueled more by extrinsic desires than intrinsic ones.  It concerns itself less with the inherent satisfaction of an activity and more with the external rewards to which that activity leads."

Type I
"Type I behavior is fueled more by intrinsic desires than extrinsic ones.  It concerns itself less with the external rewards to which an activity leads and more wit the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself."

Well, of course after reading these descriptions and the more detailed analysis that follows, anyone would want to be classified as an I.  No one wants to think they are motivated to do things merely for the reward or recognition.  Everyone likes to think that they make choices for honorable reasons.  Also, Pink claims in bold lettering that "Type I's almost always outperform Type X's in the long run."  Well, after that claim, being labeled a Type X has very little appeal.  It is as if a Type X is sentenced to a lifetime of mediocrity.  Pink offers the Drive Survey on his website to help with self-evaluation and reflection.

So, I am an X. Ugh.

Upon reflecting on the test, there were a few questions that I felt could be regarded as invalid for teachers.  Here are some examples:


Public school teachers' work lives are definitely fixed.  My ability to consult with colleagues, meet with students, and even to eat and use the restroom are dictated by bells.  The bell systems of the Industrial Revolution have been eliminated from most work places in most industries, but not in education.  I've also had to make tough choices about child care for my own very young children as a result of my work schedule.  My husband can only take vacation time from his job to be with me when school vacations are scheduled.  Spontaneity is not really a possibility.  Doesn't sound intrinsic to me. 


Our professional goals are set by the district, school, and department administrators who are our supervisors.  Although we have some input at the department level, we certainly do not have individual autonomy.  I agree that each of the written goals we have been given are important, so I'm on board.  On the other hand I have my own goals that might not apply to other individuals in my department, school, or district.  These include expanding the use of primary sources in the classroom for all ability levels, going paperless, and networking more with other history teachers who are integrating technology.  All three of these things make history more real and exciting for me.  They get my students to say and do amazing things in my classroom.  So I do set my own goals and I do monitor my own performance, but officially the answer is that I disagree with the statement on the survey.  The goals by which I am formally evaluated are not goals that I set for myself at all.  Once again, not much room for intrinsic motivation here.


Some entities make the choices for me at work: Department Head for the classes I teach, Massachusetts Curriculum Standards for content, Common Core standards for skills, and school administration for the daily bell schedule including when I teach/eat/prep my lessons.  Some choices I get to make myself: which colleagues I want to collaborate with, which activities and primary sources I want to use in my lessons, how much emphasis the place on writing/media literacy/communication skills on a day-to-day basis.  The answer to this question had to be that I'm neutral, especially since it was specifically asking about work.

Autonomy is Important
I understand the need for consistency in public schools.  Parents and students need to know the intended outcomes.  It is a very extrinsic need, but it is one that teachers and administrators have to respond to.  It is built on the Motivation 2.0 system that our society has been built on for decades.  Parents want their children's lives to go smoothly.  They want to know that there are certain actions they can encourage their children to take, and that successful completion of those actions will lead their child to become an intelligent well-adjusted adult workers who can function in the Motivation 2.0 world that we live in.  In Chapter 1 Pink says:
"Workers, this approach held, were like parts in a complicated machine.  If they did the right work in the right way at the right time, the machine would function smoothly."
This approach has caused schools to educate students in a way that has prepared them for the socio-economic system that exists where good is rewarded and bad is punished.  But, do our students and teachers really CARE about what they do every day?

I would argue that a lot of them do actually care.  But they don't care about the bell schedule, the lesson goals on the Smartboard at the front of the room, or the curriculum standards.  They care about the interesting interactions they have with their classmates and colleagues.  They care when they learn about something in school that truly changes the way they look at the world.  I am motivated by the laughter from students who learn about the sarcasm in political cartoons for the first time.  I am motivated by how emotional they get when they read a primary source that advocates for maintaining a system of slavery.  I am motivated by my fellow teachers who are so knowledgeable and creative and who teach me new fascinating things every day.  These moments don't occur because of the bell schedule, curriculum standards, or skills rubrics that have been handed down to me.  They happen because of the way I have crafted my lesson, built relationships with my students, chosen to collaborate with my colleagues.  They happen because of the part of my job in which I have autonomy.  In Chapter 4 Pink explains:
"Autonomy is different from independence.  It's not the rugged, go-it-alone, rely-on-nobody individualism of the Americans cowboy.  It means acting with choice - which means we can be both autonomous and happily interdependent with others."
The part of my work that makes me happiest are my interactions with students and colleagues.  They challenge my thinking, teach me new ideas and approaches, and inspire me to have fresh perspectives every day. So, fine, label me an X because of the way others structure my work.  But labels mean nothing on a day to day basis.  The meaning comes from the choices I make within that structure day in and day out.  The meaning comes from the way my choices have an impact on others and the way others' choices have an impact on me. 

That is what drives me.