I did something a week ago I am not particularly proud of, but if I’m completely honest about it, I don’t regret it either. Well, maybe one partial regret; I could have been more tactful and less forceful and direct, and still get my message across.
I gave a speech while I was angry at my audience.
After writing about The Lost Generation and our Sense of Workplace issue over the past month my emotions got the best of me I guess, for I very bluntly (as in very bluntly) told my audience of 15 to 17 year-old students how hugely disappointed I was in them for not asking questions —and not caring. Not questions of me (for we hadn’t even gotten that far) but of teachers and adults in general, and in particular of our Mea Ho‘okipa (hosts) for the day who had laid out the welcome mat for them.
Parents and teachers, I blame you
Parents: Are you really upset about Hawai‘i’s Friday furloughs because your children are not learning, or because you’ve lost 17 days of babysitting?
I ask because I just don’t see that the learning which counts is happening anyway, where both you and your children’s teachers have this partnership in shaping our youth, growing them to be life-skilled adults.
Teachers: Let’s say you get your instructional days back. If you keep using them the way you’ve used them up to this point, it doesn’t matter. I know that you rant about parents expecting you to babysit too; I’ve heard you. Yet you still put up with it, and you still do it because your expectations of our students in your schools are way too low.
The full story
I was asked to speak to a group of students over their lunch, talking to them about Managing with Aloha, and in particular my personal story of “local girl done good.” They attend a private school and were on a field trip, and I was scheduled to be their end-of-the-day motivational speaker.
Whenever I speak, particularly to a new audience, I will be sure I arrive early so I can mingle and meet people much as the opportunity presents itself, for the more we connect ahead of time, the better my presentation ends up. This time their teacher invited me to join the rest of the field trip, and having the day free I eagerly accepted, then watched with increasing dismay as these highly fortunate students barely paid much attention to what was presented to them.
It was one of those situations where the workplace host really made the best of it; the students were given 8 other presentations before mine, all only 10- 20 minutes each, while we took a fabulous walking tour of their business. The presentations were made by managers who normally do not speak, and working with middle managers every day as I do, I could tell how much careful preparation they had put into what they did; they went “all in.” The students barely pretended to care, showing very little interest and asking no questions unless pressed to do so.
The other adults there, their teachers and chaperones, and the other embarrassed host reps, jumped in often to fill the awkward silences and give the presenters whatever acknowledgment and interesting questions they could. It didn’t help: The students still were not interested, and still didn’t care. They only became a bit more talkative when they started whining about being hungry, asking where we’d have lunch.
So we fed them. Then I had them circle their chairs around me in a tight circle for my presentation, I forbid the adults in the room to talk, I threw out my prepared presentation, and I gave them a much more forceful one about respect, Ho‘ohanohano and the strength and demeanor of Alaka‘i initiative they will need to make it in our world. Then, I told them I really didn’t care what time their school bus was scheduled to leave and take them back to their campus; I wasn’t going to dismiss them until they asked me or the other adults still in the room (with their jaws on the floor) some intelligent questions. And guess what? They did. They struggled with it, but they did.
They have the smarts. We don’t demand they use them
Parents and teachers, you are doing a miserable job at preparing our youth for the workplace. Heck, you’re doing a miserable job at preparing them for life. It was rough, but honestly, at their age (two thirds of them expect to graduate this year) I think I was easy on them.
I wish I could say this was a one-time experience, but it wasn’t —though it was the first time I let my emotions get the best of me. Normally I take it on the chin and politely plow through my presentation the civilized adult way, and therefore, it has gotten to the point where I usually stick to teaching adults in the workplace and refuse these speaking ‘opportunities’ knowing how high the chances are I will be disappointed.
I mentioned this was a private school, and yes, knowing of the privilege I feel these particular students have was likely another accelerant of my anger that day, but I have had this same experience in public schools, and worse, in colleges where students are supposed to care a bit more (at least about the encroaching certainty they will soon be on their own).
Do you know why desperation does not kick in during college either? We have been spoon-feeding our youth, and they just expect it will keep happening in the workplace too. That is what they expect, no, they know us adults to do. It’s our m.o.
I used to tell myself it was me —I’m better with speaking to, teaching and coaching adults who already have some workplace experience as the context they draw from ”“ and I think that is still true; the workplace is my playground and laboratory. However I am done with letting the rest of you off the hook —you parents, teachers, coaches and counselors who get the first shot at the people we in business eventually hire.
We in business accept our Kuleana too: As a manager and now as a coach, I have always taught managers about their profound responsibility with taking over for you, and treating the workplace as the ‘next classroom’ wherein we are willing and able to do our part with shaping a good citizenry, mentoring people who can Ho‘ohana and be Alaka‘i in our Sense of Workplace —ensuring that business is now a healthy environment where they will continue to cultivate their life skills, and they will care.
But hear me on this: We want to continue your good work. We’ve been starting it, and doing it for you. You have been doing a horrible job at getting our youth ready for the challenge called life, and you better dig deep, uncovering the reasons why and fixing them once and for all.
Not giving up, and I fully intend to continue championing this Call to Action I’ve added on the blog’s sidebar: Share Your Sense of Workplace. But you’ve got to know that it is really hard for employers to welcome the youth you ‘graduate’ into the workplace right now, because they simply aren’t ready.
If you are new to Say “Alaka‘i” this post may help with some context with our Hawaiian values of Alaka‘i and Ho‘ohana, and our Language of Intention here: Labor Day Aloha
My mana‘o [The Backstory of this posting]
Each Thursday I write a management posting for Say “Alaka‘i” at Hawai‘i’s newspaper The Honolulu Advertiser. Today is less management and more a timely commentary on our current issues. Here is the link to the original article there: Students Need the Life Skill of Caring and Speaking Up. The edition here on Talking Story is revised with internally directed links, and I can take a few more editorial liberties.
Photo Credit: Waiting for Time to Pass by Orange42 on Flickr
Related articles on Teaching with Aloha: