Irresistible Work and Learning

After reading a blog post on Cooperative Catalyst called “Irresistible Literacy,” I got to thinking. The post was about how to create an environment in the classroom that draws students to want to read. It included ideas of how to make the space fun and safe; it would have “touch-screen tables, one-to-one iPads, an entire wall that is a dry-erase board, tile floors that can be used as a canvas for brainstorming,” and more. The ideas were wonderful and creative, and they got me thinking. What can I do to make the work of my classroom and the learning that happens there be irresistible?

I discovered a my new love in the past month, while I was supposed to be resting and enjoying some summer quiet. I started preserving summer vegetables for winter. I found a new joy in canning, pickling and dehydrating, working with the abundance of summer farm stands and our own garden. I didn’t think that I was going to like this process, but we have a wonderful garden, and I didn’t want any of it to go to waste. I had never canned before, so to start, I decided that I needed to have at least one test run, making sauce, before our tomatoes fully ripened. If I was going to make a mistake, I wanted to do it on someone else’s fruit.

I bought a large basket of tomatoes, over 100, brought them home, skinned and cooked up the sauce. Then I canned them, using a water bath method, for dozens of jars – 5 jars at a time, 50 minutes per bath. It was the work of an entire summer day. Real work that lasted the course of a day! And much to my surprise, I loved it. In fact, I found the process “irresistible;” I simply wanted to do it again and again, because the work and the product satisfied me so much. I quickly moved onto pickling and then to dehydrating, experimenting with each one and figuring out what each has to offer. To the question, “How did you spend your summer vacation? ” I will be answering, “Working in the kitchen.”

It was real work, days and days of it, but I learned again and again the joy and peace that comes from doing work that is both hard and fulfilling. I kept making the choice to leave my novel and my lawn chair to instead stand in a hot kitchen for hours, chopping, pealing, stirring and bottling, because at the end of the day, I felt great, relaxed and yet with a deep sense of accomplishment.

I realized that I had found my vision for what I want for my students, “irresistible,” hard work that causes them to learn and grow each day! I tell my students every year that my class will be hard. I mean it. I explain that it won’t be in a traditional way of being hard with lots and lots of homework and mountains of rote learning to climb, but hard in that it will make them think. It will force them to accept that there are no easy answers, that they need to wrestle and challenge their own minds to find the answer.  It will be hard in that the goal is not pleasing me as the teacher; it is not about playing the game of school the best. It is about taking on challenges and learning the process of discovery and creation. I want to create lessons that accept the need for work, because the task itself and its goals are irresistible.

So, the beginning of another school year, “Irresistible Work and Learning” is my motto! Together, my students and I will work hard and learn together!

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