Monday, August 24, 2009

Work Ethics vs. Laziness

How many times have I wondered why my students think working is beneath them? How do I teach a good work ethic? How can I show my students that they should take pride in having a job and doing it well? My parents told me many times that it was important to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. If I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid and I couldn’t do anything in life that I wanted to do. I had never heard of welfare until I was in college and never knew it was an option for some people. When I did hear about it, I thought it was only for old people who couldn’t work.

I guess now is the time to apologize for this rant and didn’t realize where this was going until I started to write. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir but I’m about to say things that I’ve thought about for a long time and felt like it was probably politically incorrect to voice these opinions.

“Here in America, a good number of folks tend to think our young people carry with them such a strong sense of entitlement that the idea of working towards a goal is simply deemed as asking too much.

Indeed, the outstanding performance collectively of Asian-American students provides strong evidence that we need to look at our culture as well as our schools. Because when a sense of entitlement is removed from the mix and hard work emphasized, this group of students represents living proof that teens can and will actually focus on their education and their future in the right circumstances.

Drop outs are an important issue and schools must be part of the solution process. But to continue to insist that the problem is one that can be solved solely by schools demonstrates a dramatic failure to understand the true scope of the issue.”

I suddenly realized that is exactly how my students were acting, like they were entitled to something, anything, everything! My parents would have slapped me into next week if I had this attitude. I was taught that I had to work for anything I got. I paid my own way for college and even my own wedding. Nothing was handed over to me. Even after we were married, I didn’t live beyond my means. If I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t buy it. Even if I bought it on credit, I had the money in the bank to pay it off but I was just trying to build my credit rating.

It makes my blood boil to see my students on the free lunch program coming into my class every week with new name brand blue jeans and high dollar tennis shoes telling me they had thick juicy steaks for dinner. Yet, here I am giving an “honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” and my own children wear Wal-Mart brand clothes and shoes and eat ground beef at dinner. No wonder my children didn’t want to grow up to be like me. They want to grow up to be like these other kids’ parents! At times, I want to grow up to be like them too! I get tired of struggling and feeling defeated when I see these people with everything that I’m trying to work to get. Then I wake up and realize that I have my pride. I am proud that I’m working, that I earn what I get, that others know I am a hard worker.

My dad had to retire at 88 years old when he suffered a mild stroke. He retired actually twice before but he needed to work because it made him proud to work. He never took a hand out from anyone and expected us to be the same way. Not working was never an option in his mind. If you were healthy and breathing, then there was no reason why you should not contribute to society. Even now at 90, he is constantly doing something. Yes, I really feel proud of what he has accomplished in his life and I guess I want to be like him! He was pretty upset when he heard that I retired from teaching but since I have become a consultant and give presentations as well as teaching some courses on the college level, he has forgiven me.

How do we instill this work ethic in our young people? I wish we could institute some form of the Civilian Conservation Corps again. I think adults should have to do some kind of work service if they are not disabled in order to receive any kind of government benefit. We have been too accepting of giving the handouts and not accepting something in return. By doing this, we perform a disservice to our young people. I had one parent of a student who volunteered every day at my elementary school because she got government help. No one told her she had to do this and she didn’t get paid but this was her way of paying back in the way that she could. I really respected her for doing this.

Before you get too mad at me, let me make it clear that I have no problem with the government helping those who really need it. There are many who are medically disabled or even elderly who should benefit from government programs. There are many that would benefit but their pride actually keeps them from asking for help. These are not the ones that I am talking about. There are so many who are just taking advantage of the government who really don’t need it and these are the ones that I have a major problem with. Maybe if we start speaking out about it, we can change society. Maybe there needs to be better controls on these programs which would save taxpayers more money during these economic times. Maybe then, there will be money for the people who really need it instead of being turned away because of lack of funds.

Okay, I’m done ranting. Feel free to lamblast me if you disagree. I can’t help feeling this way though when I look at my father and see his generation of hard workers. I guess I’m feeling nostalgic and want it to be the time of “happy days are here again…” I really want my students to be successful in life and if they are healthy and able, I believe that working will improve their self esteem, keep them out of depression, and make them contributing citizens in today’s society. What do you think?

Original image: 'Demo: Leaning against the wall' by: Tao Kitamoto


Nick James said...

I completely agree with you. Government programs are not inherently bad, but many of the people collecting from them must be held accountable once given the aid. I work in an area where entitlement is like the plague. Students feel as though they should be given everything - especially by teachers, as we are the highest-paid workers in the community.
While part of a younger generation of the Americans, my parents still gave me the good sense to know I had to work for a living. Perhaps this growing sense of entitlement corresponds with the disappearance of blue-collar, working class?

The long and the short of it is that if children are not made to work for what they want, they will never want to work when they grow up. They may not even know how to.

Mike said...

I feel your angst. I just kicked off year 30 in the classroom and I've seen everything you spoke of in your post. Yup, the kid has changed. In our past you were normal, in today's world you are just lucky that you had parents who would slap you into next week. Just look, you still have a relationship with your parents and are still proud of them. Many of my students cannot answer yes to either.

Those of us still in the classroom have a powerful tool working in our favor. We love our students. And yes, love covers a multitude of sins, but it also, sometimes, changes a kid's brain chemistry and they realize a life for themselves they had never dreamed of is possible, and that life might include a work that not only supports them and the ones they love, but also makes a contribution to our world.

Great rant, now go love a kid.

Teacher Food

Abbie Fox said...

Great post. It makes me think of attribution theory, which describes where people think success comes from. (I learned about it in the book, The Skillful Teacher, by Jon Saphier: Some students believe that people are successful because they're "born with it," born with intrinsic intelligence or talent. Others think that people are successful because they're lucky. Still others think that people are successful because they work hard, they put in the kind of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" effort that you describe.

As I remember it, studies show that most people (students included) think that it's mostly intrinsic ability that makes people successful. They believe you're good at math if you were born good at math (and the opposite, too). They don't think that effort really has that much to do with it.

If you attribute success to genes and luck, then from that viewpoint, there's not much of a point to working hard. And yet, research shows us that effort -- effective effort, as Saphier calls it -- has much more to do with success than genetics.

So the theory is that we need to retrain kids to understand that they can ALL be successful if they put in the time and the effective effort. Simply put, effective effort + time = success.

I try to make this the theme of everything I do at the elementary level with the hope that kids have retrained their mindset by the time they get to middle school and beyond. Because they're not going to try -- especially with all the deficits you highlighted -- unless they believe they can succeed.

Anonymous said...

You must have been channeling Rich (my hubbie) when you wrote that. Although not a teacher, he sees the young men and women in his office ill-prepared to do a day's work. They don't seem to respect his work ethic and wonder why he is a valued employee earning pay raises and receiving bonuses. When one young man was let go, after missing work for days with no other excuse than he didn't feel like coming to work, he considering suing the company for his dismissal!
It's a scary world out there now with so many parents giving kids everything and demanding nothing in return. How can they learn to value anything when it costs them nothing.
Whatever happened to our society?

loonyhiker said...

@Nick I know my parents made me work for lots of things. It is a shame that many children don't anymore. They expect a weekly allowance without doing any chores. I hope eventually that parents wake up to how this is not good for their children. I think you are right about the disappearance of the working class too.

loonyhiker said...

@Mike I worry about my students and their relationship with their parents. I have heard how they talk to their parents and I'm amazed. If I ever talked to my parents the way they do, I wouldn't be standing here today. I also feel that society has taken away parents' power to discipline their children but that is another post. :) Thanks for commenting!

loonyhiker said...

@Abbie I like the thought of retraining students. I agree that if they think they have no control over their lives, they won't do anything to change it. They need to have some successful experiences so they can see the effect they have on their own lives. I will check out that book too. Thanks.

loonyhiker said...

@Anonymous I agree that society is going down the tubes. But it is not totally gone yet, which is why I'm bringing up some touchy subjects. If we start to talk about it and think about solutions, maybe we can make some changes.

Ava said...

As a teacher at a school for teenage mothers, I totally agree. I had no idea about many of the government assistance programs available until I started teaching at the school. Most of my students think everything should be handed to them on a silver platter. Very few of them have plans for the future and have no desire to work. It is also sad that some of my students come to school just so that they can continue receiving a check. They do not do any work at school, but as long as they are present their checks keep coming. It is frustrating to see that our tax dollars are paying for people to sit around and do nothing.

Unknown said...

Just exploring new tech, but couldn't resist commenting. Why do you think our parents generation lived into the 80's....they had worked long and hard and didn't "suffer" the illnesses of our improved, less manual labor generation. Hard work is good for the soul.

loonyhiker said...

@eflater I agree. Hard work never hurt anyone.