Today is Labor Day, most often referred to as the unofficial end of summer. On Friday morning when I asked my students what they knew about our upcoming holiday, they were stumped. I even heard a comment or two saying, “My mom said she doesn’t know what Labor Day is.” I did a bit of double-checking my own understanding of Labor Day and its history and we revisited the concept of Labor Day before the students left for the day. We talked about labor and the ways other people’s labor helps us and how our labor helps others. We also talked about the fact that not everyone gets the day off from work on Labor Day.
Today was not an official work day for me, and while I enjoyed my Labor Day holiday I was also thinking about labor and what that means in my work as a Writing Project director and educator. Teachers often get a bad rap about their summers off and short work days based on the hours that students are physically present. And yet, outside of those hours spent directly with students there is a lot of labor going on. This invisible labor–the work of planning, preparation, communicating, collaborating, researching–frequently is not seen as work at all. I understand that this work is not physical, backbreaking labor and yet without it the quality and effectiveness of our profession is diminished.
And I’m often reminded that I make a choice to work beyond my official work hours, and I admit that much of the work I do is a labor of love. I love creating spaces for learning and working out ways to support the learners that walk through my doors. But I also spend time doing things that are expected that I don’t love–preparing for standardized testing, attending meeting after meeting after meeting, writing and preparing report cards–but I do those things too.
I’m interested in the role that invisible labor plays in our society. I am also wondering how labor is viewed depending on your point of view. Here’s an example that comes to mind: some people in my neighborhood pay a gardener to mow their lawns and keep their yards trimmed and healthy, other people do their own yard work–often less frequently than the gardeners. Clearly the paid gardeners’ labor is acknowledged–they charge a fee and make their living doing yard maintenance. What about those who do their own yard work? Is their labor considered a hobby? A chore? What role does it play in our economy? Does the fact that some people do their own yard work somehow diminish the importance or skill required of professional gardeners?
What invisible labor do you take for granted? Whose labor is diminished because it seems like work anyone can do? What invisible labor do you provide? What do you wish others knew about your work?
Hope you all had a happy Labor Day, especially if you had to work today!