I do not particularly enjoy proofing students’ quarterly comments, which are written by each teacher and tutor at the end of each marking period. I’m not especially good at it either. I’m not sure if my lack of skill relates to being dyslexic, impatient, or some of both. One could argue that proofing students’ comments is a low-value use of a head’s time, and it might be. It doesn’t create revenue, build relationships, or achieve strategic objectives.
However, it does do a few very high-value things:
- It allows me to keep in touch with students’ achievements.
- It allows me to see what, and how, our teachers are writing about kids (read quality control).
- It puts me at the front line or in the trenches (whichever military metaphor you prefer) with all the faculty, so they understand that there is nothing I ask them to do that I won’t do myself.
- It reminds me how hard it is to proof well, and to remember to respect and acknowledge those who do it a lot more, and more skillfully, than I do.
In short, it is what servant leaders should do if they are to lead effectively—embracing high-value, low-value work.
Time for me to get back to my proofing.
Years ago, when talking with a colleague about her performance, we came to an impasse. She stated that it was not her job to make the students like her class and subject matter. I said that, within limits, it was.
Paula O’Keefe’s Sept. 7 op-ed, “Liking Work Really Matters,” makes the case that effective teachers are those who foster interest in the subjects they teach. It can make the difference, literally, between a grade of A or a grade of B, which is a pretty big change. When we are interested in our labors we work harder, have less mental fatigue, and so feel our efforts less. This can be achieved simply by asking students to write about the usefulness of what they are studying for any given class.
Qualities like passion, affinity, and zeal may be difficult to write into a teacher’s contract, but if we think about our favorite teachers we will probably agree that the best of the best were those who, like Tom Sawyer, got us really excited about painting the fence.