WORK ETHIC 101
Today was fun. I had to lecture my 8th graders (again) about working—which would be annoying enough in itself, but then I had to get attitude for requiring them to work in the first place. The nerve of me! However, I didn’t feel so badly about it when, the next period, I had to stop into another English teacher’s room and found her literally yelling at her students for the same thing: not working and then giving her attitude for actually expecting them to work. And I’m not talking about difficult work, either. What she and I both require of students is to read and write—and while they’re writing, to do basic things like capitalize sentences and names, use punctuation where appropriate, and spell words correctly. (This is 8th grade, mind you.) And I’m only talking about spelling basic words, not words like “ridiculous” or “inappropriate” or even “literate”. And forget knowing how to use quotation marks—that’s like asking them to explain the theory of relativity. But again, it’s because we teachers are so unreasonable, asking students to accomplish such monumental tasks. Not that, according to some parents, we’ve even bothered to teach those things in the first place. So, in a nutshell, it’s our fault. All of it.
Who Cares Anyway?
Not all students are apathetic, of course, but too many students just don’t think anything they learn in school (or don’t learn) matters a hill of coffee beans anyway. So part of our endless lectures—as was the case today—are to try to inform students about why they need to care. Not that we haven’t had that conversation countless times before. (Wish I had even a nickel for every time we’ve had to have that little chat.) But part of the revelation we try to impart to students is the fact that employers do care. They care very much.
It turns out that the English teacher and I have both had the same experience before we went into teaching; we’ve both been responsible for hiring. Consequently, both of us have played the same game: trash can basketball with myriads of applications. I am not exaggerating when I say that words on applications are misspelled, punctuation (if even present) is used incorrectly, and sentences are not capitalized. True story. And we told students why they should care now—because in high school, if you can’t pass all of your NYS Regents exams, you won’t graduate.
If you don’t graduate, you can’t even get a job flipping burgers at McD’s anymore.
No lie. Recently, I’ve seen a number of signs in windows for entry-level fast food and retail jobs requiring a high-school diploma. Nevertheless, the idea that employers might actually want to hire people who can read, communicate effectively and legibly in writing, and count without a calculator—well, we just made that up. We’re lying to students. Employers don’t really care about any of that…
The Challenge Is Real.
I’ve had a number of conversations with employers and business owners who regularly lament the fact that they can’t find employees who show up for work on time (or show up at all), know how to follow directions, or even expect to have to put forth effort on the job. Not making that up, either. Ask some of them. And while I’d like to say it’s gotten better, I can’t. The challenge of finding good employees has only gotten worse.
Recently, I saw a show on television where an expert in the corporate world was giving advice about what to do and not do at a job interview. One thing not to do? Tell the employers that you’re really not a morning person and so they shouldn’t expect you before 11am. Really. Other issues? Not showing up for the interview on time, wearing jeans to the interview, and looking at your phone during the interview. Sad but true.
Cause and Effect
So why are students and young adults having such a hard time grasping the concept of hard work? There are a number of reasons.
First on my list is a thing called “social promotion” where students are passed through grades K-8 without having to pass their grade levels or courses. If you’re not in the field of education, you might not know this is happening but it is and has been for many years. Moreover, it’s happening in public schools all around the country and so what this philosophy is breeding is truckloads of kids who don’t believe they are required work in high school, college or the workplace. And why should they? They aren’t required to work in their formative years in school so unless parents are instilling a work ethic at home—which is increasingly a challenge for them—kids aren’t learning it anywhere. I’ve actually had students tell me that they don’t have to do any work because they know they’ll pass anyway, even if—and I’ve seen this—they have zeroes in all their classes. A few days ago I even had one student say to me, “I figured out in 6th grade that I don’t have to do any work and I’ll still pass.” The result?
Students and young people have essentially been programmed that they don’t have to do anything to succeed. Rather, it’s our job to accommodate them.
Hence the “participation trophies” and rioting in the streets because people don’t get what they demand.
Honestly, I don’t know the solution for the whole system. All I do know is that until we start holding students accountable with consequences, all of the “real life is coming” lectures in the world won’t do the trick. However, I can say to whomever is willing to listen: There are principles of success in the world that will work for anyone willing to implement them. The primary principle of success is work ethic. Period. The fact is that I have never seen—never—someone who worked hard and didn’t succeed. And it doesn’t make any difference how old you are, what race, gender or creed; if you’re willing to work hard, you will be successful. Of course, that doesn’t mean that folks start out at the top of the heap, but point out the hardest worker in any organization or business, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict who gets promoted.
And the amazing thing is, that’s all it takes.
It’s really very simple. To achieve success, to fulfill our destinies, and to make a difference really only requires one thing: a willingness to put our shoulders to the plow and work it. If we don’t have that mindset, all of the education, talent and connections in the world aren’t going to “bring” us success.
The bottom line is this: Success isn’t owed to anyone. It’s earned.