Sean TeachingWhen I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? In a series of detailed drawings and simple language, Scarry illustrates a variety of jobs around Busytown.  He invites readers to be workers and reveals how different people are connected through the work they do.

I still think of that book often. Some of it may be outdated, but that essential question sticks in my mind. “What do people do all day?”

As a high school teacher, I engage with students continually, managing and monitoring learning for around 100 young people with unique interests and individual needs.  Then, in the single hour I have without students, I rush to plan lessons, create resources, evaluate students’ work, reflect on our progress and needs, design individualized accommodations and modifications, check emails, make copies, contact families, consult case managers, attend meetings, go to the bathroom, and, if I’m lucky, catch my breath. Because that hour is never enough, I work through lunch, stay late, and come in early.

Asking myself, “What do I do all day?” helps me stay efficient and motivated. What do I do all day? I work with young people and facilitate learning. What a great way to spend my time!

Now, let’s ask, “What do students do all day?” When I was a new teacher, I had a mentor who would comment on my lesson plans, “I can see what you’re doing, but what are students doing?” To find success in the classroom, I had to stop thinking only in terms of what I would do, what instructions I would give, or what questions I would ask. I had to start thinking in terms of what my students would do, what instructions they would need, and what questions they would ask. In short, I had to start asking, “What should students do all day?”

At City Neighbors High School, a typical student attends five different classes on five different subjects, takes a lunch break, and then joins her pod (an extended advisory) for an hour. Asking myself to consider what students do helps me empathize with teenagers who spend the day watching their “to-do” lists grow with limited time to organize, prioritize, or catch their breath.

Imagine working hard all day, always being told what to do, and never getting a break. At City Neighbors, we’re fortunate to have time to address as many needs as we can in our extended advisory pods. In our efforts to make every minute count, we need to remember the big picture, to consider what people do–and what they need to do–all day.

“What do people do all day?” It’s not just a question for Busytown. It’s a question for all of us. It’s a question that, while deceptively simple, is absolutely essential. At least, it always has been for me.

~Sean Martin, Teacher, City Neighbors High School~