Monday, September 7, 2015

"I've been blessed with a lot of great things in my life, and one of them was a work ethic. And with a work ethic, you can make anything happen." Jon Runyan

The official Labor Day has its roots in 1894, when President Grover Cleveland declared the first Monday in September as a federal holiday honoring the economic and social achievements of American workers.  Sadly, this declaration came after  a failed attempt by government to break up the Pullman railroad strike, in which many lives were lost.  The movement to have a day to recognize the contributions of workers actually began around 1882, but was not formalized until 1894.

Labor Day has become accepted as the unofficial last weekend of summer, and the day has become synonymous with "back to school."  

I like the idea of a "Labor Day"  as much as I like the idea of work itself.  I grew up in a little town called Natrona Heights, which is a part of the valley of the Allegheny and Kiskiminetas Rivers, about 25 miles northeast of the city of Pittsburgh.  The Alle-Kiski Valley has its roots primarily in two industries- steel and coal - and many ethnic groups settled in "The Valley" to pursue their dreams of learning to speak English, working hard for a fair wage, and raising their children with the hopes that their children would enjoy better lives because they were born in America.  My brothers and I were taught the significance of hard work and responsibility by both our parents and our extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.  More important than discussing a good work ethic, both of our parents led by example.  My dad worked for Allegheny Ludlum Steel for 43.5 years- on the swing shift for all of those years!  8 to 4; 4 to 12; 12 to 8, for 43.5 years.  I do not know how he kept that crazy sleep-depriving schedule, plus he managed to do big carpentry and woodworking projects for our home.  Dad also worked with the Little League Association and managed to build a 12 by 16 platform of beautiful scenes, towns, and running trains each and every Christmas.  My mother volunteered at school and kept our house running ship-shape.  We never ran out of any product, dinner was never late, and she made our house into a welcoming and inviting home for both family and strangers.  I have to add- she even ironed my dad's T shirts, underwear, and dust rags!  

My older brother George and I were encouraged by my mother to take a little sales job (selling candy, door to door, for the best candy maker EVER) in order to make money to buy Christmas gifts.  Mom helped us to write and submit our orders, and to count the money (it had to be exact- she was a graduate of Duff's Iron City Business Institute.)  She monitored our sales progress and advised us on our sales pitches.  She came with us on the first deliveries to make sure we were appropriately business-like and grateful (meanwhile, George was 10 and I was 8.)  We learned some big lessons those first few years, including: not everyone is nice to kids; some people are so lonely they will buy candy from strangers; as kids, you have the ability to turn strangers into friends; collect the money up front; and if you say you are going to deliver on Tuesday, you MUST deliver on Tuesday!   We sold candy for about 8-10 years, and neither George nor I ever forgot those early lessons of learning to deal with people, committing oneself to be responsible to others, and working to fulfill one's duties (even if you don't feel like it.)  Those early lessons have served us throughout our lives.

As a teacher for 37 years, I witnessed the lessening of a strong work ethic in students and young people as my career advanced.  I have wondered : do parents still teach their children about the importance of being reliable, being on time, and doing what is asked ? I am not sure that answer is a resounding YES across the board.  In some cases, parents seem to be trying to be their children's friends, rather than teaching and guiding as parents. What to do?  As classroom teachers, you are in a powerful position to influence students. You can teach, model, and extol the importance of a strong work ethic, and the value of being responsible and reliable. If you are a teacher, perhaps you are thinking "Once again, the teacher must help to parent in our society."  True, but in many cases, teachers spend more time with students than their own parents, so teachers are modeling a strong work ethic not only for the good of the child, but for society as a whole.

I know how much I appreciate it when a repairman is on time, or when a task is done correctly the first time.  Our society is better when people are responsible to not only themselves, but to others.  Do you agree? 

Have a great Labor Day weekend! 

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