Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Other Skills People Don't Mention

Valuable lessons my mom taught me when I was younger:
* Sometimes she would call me from work, leave me a string of numbers (this was before the days of email or texting), and before she hung up, if I had asked to repeat all the digits back to her, my mom would be exaggeratedly pleased. She said this showed a care of mind in completing tasks, and therefore a general competence in doing any job. In various situations similar to this, she taught me to always tend to the details.

* One summer when I was 16, I had a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant and I had to frequently clean well past my shift without pay, because the (cleanliness) expectations were high and our store manager tried to squeeze work out of us without wishing to pay anything extra. (And my work ethic was too good to just leave after I clocked out, if the job wasn't finished.) I was very upset about the store manager systematically taking advantage of us, and my mom told me that I needed to learn to quit jobs on principle. She said that if I couldn't quit then, I'd never be able to quit jobs on principle when I had a family to feed and bills to pay.

At some point in my first internship, I realized that:
* People recognize and appreciate motivation. Even though I was only a QA intern, I wanted to program. I always stayed an extra two hours at work that summer, to do my own project after work. On my break, I would chat about the project with other colleagues / adults, and they were always impressed by my motivation. (At the end of summer, they all wrote me glowing recommendations.)

At some point in my first job (as a software engineer), I realized that:
* Your manager is responsible for your happiness. If you are unhappy, they are liable. So, your job as an employee is not simply to sit and endure all the things that are thrown at you; if you need something (additional resources, time, support, etc), you need to feel brave enough to say it and to expect that something is done to address it.

* Soft skills like the ability to work with people and the ability to ramp up on a multi-faceted project or situation quickly, are just as important as hard skills you can write down on a resume, even in a technical situation. I was never the most technical person on my team, but my supervisors always thought I was very valuable.

When I became a teacher, one of the first things I realized was...
* People will bully you on the job. A school is like a self-contained sphere, wherein you need to be a strong enough person to stand up for yourself. If you do it once, and then you do it twice, and you never let someone walk over you, then eventually that person will stop trying. But if you don't do that, it will get worse.

These are still valuable work skills that I carry with me. As a teacher, often I find myself needing to "manage" horizontally (to get my peers to work together), to "manage" upwards (by stating my concerns or by gently pushing back), to manage logistics, or to understand that I always have a choice to stay at or to leave a job (which, again, only matters to people if you are motivated and it is evident that you try to do a good job).

Sometimes I think how I work with adults is just as important as what I do inside the classroom with children, because if I don't do those things well outside of the classroom, then my work with kids is made infinitely more difficult. Do you teachers agree?

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