I awake to the sound of my alarm buzzing at 6:00 am. Morning shower complete, I head downstairs to find my 14 year old son already dressed, lunch made and bag packed. He is waiting for me, eager to start his day. “Hurry up Mom, Let’s go!” he says as he heads out the front door. It is not a school day and he is not going on a special excursion. He is going to work during his summer holidays. He has been getting up, packing his lunch and working 8 hour days each week for a month now. What would motivate a 14 year old boy to get out of his bed so early each morning during his summer vacation? Money? Sure, that helps. But he works hard to earn that money. He is working harder than he ever has in his life. What is it about his job that he likes so much?
I wondered if I could take what makes my son so motivated to go to work everyday and apply it to my own teaching practice. Can I provide the kind of classroom environment where kids can’t wait to get to school?
I decided to do a little digging.
Top 5 reasons why my son likes to go to work besides the obvious that he gets to earn a paycheque:
- Learns something “fun and different” everyday
- Yes, he does sweep, cart garbage, paint trim, carry dry wall to its assigned areas and play gopher to the rest of the crew. However, he doesn’t just repeat the same boring entry-level activity over and over all day long each day.
- He is introduced to whatever his mentor will be working on and is provided with the opportunity to watch, to ask questions and then is encouraged to try on his own.
- Moves around all day long
- He is inside houses, outside in the elements, wedged underneath crawl spaces. Standing, sitting, squatting, kneeling, lifting etc., he is physically moving all day long.
- The work is challenging: physically, mentally and hands on
- From calculating the square footage of a room, measuring to make accurate cuts without wasting material to learning how angles on a square work.
- Laying hardwood floors, setting tiles, hanging doors, nailing trim work, painting, sanding and staining to name a few of the tasks he has covered so far.
- Questions are encouraged and not rebuffed. In fact, I have never heard my son ask so many questions that go way beyond the task at hand. My kid is connecting all of the dots and starting to ask in-depth business questions ranging from building permits to how to handle cash flow issues.
- There is a point to each task. The work is applicable to the real world.
- He actually LIKES his boss
- This is a huge part of the reason why my son likes going to work everyday.
- His mentor has a sense of humour. He quickly earned my son’s respect through his willingness to patiently demonstrate each task and then through providing my son the freedom to try it on his own.
- Easy going and affable, his guide also sets clear guidelines and makes known his high expectations. It doesn’t matter that my son is new to each task. They still have to be completed to the degree of quality that is representative of the company name.
- Proud of his accomplishments – they are tangible and visible
- “Hey Mom, when you come to pick me up, you have to just come in and see.” My son can’t wait to show me what he has worked on each day.
- One of his proudest moments so far was having the opportunity to lay a laminate wood floor. It didn’t go smoothly. Time wise, what would have taken an experienced person a few hours took my son two days. He had to rip it up and start over 3 times before it was acceptable. It is amazing what patience, guidance and opportunity can accomplish. First thing asked in the car ride home that day, “Can I do that in my own room?”
I believe there is a lot to be learned from my son’s experience. I want my classroom to be a place where kids choose to be, where my students are motivated and excited to learn and try new things, where it’s not only okay to get messy in the process but it is expected. I will strive to provide real world opportunities and to help guide the development of student ownership. One of the first questions I will ask myself when planning is “Would I want to do this if I was 13 years old?” Would this excite me and motivate me? And if the answer is no, then I will strive to find something that does.