It’s been a month since school started. A month since a school-free dream, worry-free Sunday, since my mind has been at rest. It’s also been a month since I’ve written, the one essential aspect of my life I have yet to find balance for.
There’s a few ideas that have brewing up, restless in my brain until I get them out into the world, and I’m hoping this making time for writing will lead to making more time for writing. Making time for writing is making time for me.
It’s all about the numbers
My husband and I have had a lot of conversations about work lately. Not just the daily, “How was your day?” exchanges. I’m talking, long, tv-off-while-we-eat conversations. On paper, our jobs are not a lot alike. Brett’s a salesperson. Me, of course, a teacher. Yet, we have been finding ourselves with similar highs and lows in our days, similar triggers for stress at night, and similar frustrations with “the system” (the higher-ups, making decisions from afar that have very big effects on how our performance is measured).
Brett has worked for three very different companies in his career, yet one common thread in sales is it’s all about the numbers. Of course Brett’s performance is measured by quarterly and annual revenue goals. These aren’t the numbers that stress him the most. It’s the daily numbers, numbers of calls dialed, that leave him feeling unsuccessful after an otherwise victorious day.
A bit more on Brett’s job, then I promise back to teaching.
Brett’s always been frustrated by this philosophy, the more calls made, the better the day. Companies have even begun a sort of tracking system, sending data to the higher-ups on how many calls were made by each employee, which even get shared nightly for colleagues to see. It is, in my opinion, a shaming tactic that is unfortunately not atypical in schools.
What this computer, or reader-of-data can’t see, is Brett’s thoughtful approach given to each potential client and meticulous attention to detail that goes into each proposal. With each call, comes a labor of research, Brett’s strategy to find a way to connect and make the call more personal. With each call, comes preparation for the pitch, practicing a specific tone, phrasing, and even length that the client will be responsive to. The data doesn’t show that Brett only made ten calls last Friday (instead of the targeted 75) because he had worked tirelessly on a proposal that could fulfill his quota in one sale.
We’re one month in the school year, and I’m already ridden by the numbers. The data for which I am measured each day, each quarter, each year.
4-year-old “K” only knows one letter, and no numbers, and I’d better teach her them FAST because she needs to read at a level D-E and count and recognize 1-100 by June. This worry can quickly overshadow the triumph that today K spoke for the first time at meeting, sharing with the class how hard she worked to make a bracelet.
Or Today we spent an hour cracking different seeds open and cutting open fruits and pumpkins because one of our acorns split and half and we discovered there’s something inside. That got us wondering if other things around our classroom had smaller things inside, which we soon discovered were seeds. We counted and compared the seeds, drew and labeled the parts, took turns observing the seeds with magnifying glasses, and had community conversations about seeds. Yet, if you looked at the minutes my whole class was independently reading and writing in a workshop setting, my data would show an unsuccessful day.
I get why accountability through numbers exists. But I think there are serious flaws in how we are measured to be successful salespeople, teachers, nurses, lawyers, chefs, police officers, students and so on. The people keeping us accountable in our careers, the people that make decisions, are often so far removed that what they set in place is inaccurate, unauthentic, meaningless, and the cause of unnecessary stress.
I hope one day the numbers from above will mean less. The numbers that have trickled all the way down to elementary school children, who are burdened by performance tasks, state testing, reading levels, all which are used to sum up the “success” of each child.
It’s all about the numbers. Not the number of minutes spent working in each content, but the minutes spent exploring, playing, and outside. Not the number of books kids are reading and writing each day, but the number of minutes they linger on each page, deep in conversation about the topic, or attending to small details in their drawings. It’s the number of kids that came running into the classroom this morning, embracing each other and hurrying to return to projects they left last week. It’s all about the number of times kids showed compassion, solved problems instead of making them bigger, persisted through challenges, compromised, laughed, cried, hugged, said, “This is the best day of my life!” or “I love school!”
Every number tells the story, but not the whole story. We can’t control the numbers that are set for us, at least not yet. We can find the numbers that matter the most and celebrate the successes that aren’t shown on a spreadsheet.