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Work Ethic in the Classroom: Can It Be Encouraged?

"If you want to make an impression in the sands of time..."


My 9th grade principal (way back when) woke us up each morning with a quote.  Most of the time, I ignored them, but this one particular morning, I perked up to pay attention. 

"If you want to make an impression in the sands of time..."

It sounded as if something profound and life-changing was coming.  He had the secret to my becoming important in this world.  He had a guide, a key, and manual.

"...wear work boots."

What?  That was it?  Where was the conclusion?  Work boots?  I couldn't make an impression by being a construction worker or a working on a road crew.  I wanted to be a journalist, an author, a teacher.  And then, of course, I wanted to save the world from itself.

"If you want to make an impression in the sands of time, wear work boots."

At 14 years old, I just didn't get it.  I had been raised with a good work ethic, but it never came to my mind that such a concept would help me to reach my goals.  It was simply what you did because you did!

In the classroom, as a teacher, many year later, it became apparent what that quote meant and how important it truly was.  I saw some students who worked incredibly hard just for a taste of success, yet many seldom put forth the effort, even when they were capable of so much more. 

Years later, in the start of the assessment craze, I realized that I could turn this idea back over to my students.  No matter how much I preached to them about the effects of a strong work ethic, they just didn't get it, but when they assessed their own work ethic in relation to assessment data, it suddenly became clear. 

In creating my simple Student Study Survey, I solved many problems with one tool.  It helped me to see where my students were in terms of content understanding versus lack of knowing the content, it helped my students to see the potential given added effort, it served as an RTI data tool, and it helped tremendously to have them on hand during parent conferences. 

John's Mom: "MY little Johnny studies very hard, but your tests are just too much..."

Teacher: "Well, Mrs. Jones, here is John's survey on his study habits.  You see where he admits to only spending 5 minutes in preparation over the last 3 weeks for this unit?  That explains his test grade..."

John's Mom: "Oh."

Find tools that will help your students find their own way.  In the end, if they want to make an impression in the sands of time, they will need some sturdy boots!

Happy Teaching!