Carol Ann Tomlinson
One to Grow On
Watching Us Work
I was like
The only adults
saw at work
Both of my parents were hard workers and proud of what they did. Nonetheless, I had no opportunity to watch them on the
job, nor did I understand in any hands-on way
what it meant to work as an adult. I was like
most kids in that way, I suspect. The only adults
I repeatedly saw at work were my teachers.
It occurs to me that one way teachers can
prepare young people for the world of work
is by making sure that as they watch us work,
we model the traits, attitudes, and habits of
productive, fulfilled, and successful people in
any job. We also have many chances to talk
with students about what
it means to do work you
can be proud of and joyful
about—and to show them
we believe they can work
like that, too.
in school so that I could get a job that would let
me afford some good clothes. Teaching was the
answer for me. I love what I do because I get to
work with you. Every day when I get up, I put on
something nice because it’s a way to say to my students that you are important to me and the work I
do with you is important to me.
Then she went back to the explanation she’d
As I watched that teacher with her students
over the next few months, I came to under-
stand that she was preparing them for life as
productive, contributing adults in a variety of
interconnected ways. Just
as with the dress comment,
she never missed an oppor-
tunity to help them imagine
and be ready for a good
future in which they could
use their distinctive skills.
Here are some ways in
which she did so.
n She respected her
students. She saw them
as having great capacity
to succeed. She invested
her time and energy in
them. She was unfailingly
respectful in her conversations with them and
accepted only respectful interactions from
them. For some young people, the respect of
a teacher is a precursor for self-respect. For all
young people, the respect of a teacher enhances
their sense of worth.
n She started with the assumption that
they were smart. This teacher set very high
achievement standards for her learners; her
standards of success were the same as those for
the best students in the state. She made sure
the students knew the criteria for success, and
she gave them consistent and focused feedback.
Almost without exception, they grew into what
she saw in them.
Carol Ann Tomlinson is
William Clay Parrish
Jr. Professor and Chair
of Educational Leadership, Foundation,
and Policy at the Curry
School of Education,
University of Virginia
She is the author, with
Marcia B. Imbeau, of
Leading and Managing
Living Out “Making a
I was a frequent observer in
an urban school a few years
back. The students typically
came from complicated and
often challenging homes.
Most of their parents were
unemployed or working on the fringes of hope.
One day as a 3rd grade teacher explained an
assignment, a little girl raised her hand. She
looked wistful as the teacher acknowledged her.
“Your dress is really pretty,” the child said.
The comment was, by standard measure,
inappropriate. It had nothing to do with what
the teacher had been saying, and this teacher
had little regard for off-task behavior. None-
theless, she didn’t give a hint of displeasure as
she answered. “You know,” she began, “I’m glad
you said that. It gives me a chance to tell you
something important.” She continued,
When I was your age, my family was quite poor. I
didn’t have any nice clothes. I made up my mind
then that I was going to work hard to learn