The Deep Dive into a New Career

Notes from a curriculum brainstorming session.

I wasn’t meant to become a teacher. It wasn’t part of my grand plan. Instead, I chose broadcast journalism. I was attracted to the fast paced newsroom, chasing red and blue lights, and capturing the stories of New Englanders.

The daily events changed, but the work was always the same. I’d report to the assignment editor, be paired with a reporter, and we’d head out the door. I would drive to some place in New England, allowing the reporter to pick the night’s soundtrack. We’d arrive at an event, shoot some footage, interview some people, and spend an hour to edit it. We’d do a 5pm live shot, and repeat the days events to prepare for the 10 and 11pm shows.

Drive. Shoot. Edit. Repeat.

That’s it. That was the job. Our everyday was someone else’s worst.

Cal Newport, Author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” would agree with me that this work was considered “Shallow Work.”

Shallow work
“Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” – Cal Newport

Don’t get me wrong, the media industry is super important! Every now and then I would create something fulfilling and rewarding. I’ll never forget the first time I produced something that mattered. Rhode Island had this strange loophole that allowed prostitution indoors. I was part of a team that performed an undercover investigation into this practice at local strip clubs. (Yes, it was also the most disgusting assignment of my career!) Our story ended up being used in the State House’s legislation, and ultimately updating the law.

The following day, I was on cloud nine. I felt like my efforts actually mattered, and had a direct impact to society. Then I received my next assignment. I was sent to East Greenwich, RI where a manatee had been spotted swimming around. You read that correctly, A manatee. Where’s the news value in that? Say goodbye to that feeling of fulfillment!

As much as I loved the broadcast industry, I longed for something more fulfilling. Then I stumbled upon a high school media production teaching job. Media? Television Production? High School? I can do that!

I applied, interviewed, and made a list of pros and cons. I was conflicted. I got an offer for the job, and left the decision to a coin flip. As the coin was in the air, I was hoping it would land a certain way. I caught the coin, didn’t even look at it, and a week later, I took the plunge and entered the classroom.

I had no experience, no training, I didn’t even have a license. What was I thinking?! What I did have was a passion for media arts, a strong desire to learn, and lofty, ambitious, goals. I wanted to create something that was valuable to high school students, and I wanted to fundamentally transform how media arts was taught. Unbeknownst to me, I would find that deep work I was desperately seeking.

“Deep Work Helps You Quickly Learn Hard Things”
-Cal Newport

The first year was difficult. The program I inherited was near death, needing serious revitalization. Navigating the layers of the education world, developing an engaging curriculum, and managing teenage personalities was all new to me. I found myself focusing 100% of my focus onto teaching, and developing a valuable media arts program. It started to consume me. All I could think about was teaching. It transformed who I am today.

I’d put my phone onto “Do not disturb” mode, queue up Spotify’s “Deep Focus” playlist, and I’d enter a worm hole of possibilities for hours. I’d stop for snacks, and jump right back in. In the end, I’d come up with 100’s of lessons, activities, and tiered assessments. I’d then reach out for feedback from students and other teachers, and repeat the process. Finally, year 1 was over, the program saw a 133% increase to enrollment, and the high school was awarded their first ever student Emmy awards. I was hooked.

As I look back at the past 8 years of teaching, I realized I couldn’t be here without an eagerness to learn. For me, learning was the key to my success. Now, I’m trying to share my passion for learning with my students. I worry my students often conflate learning with failure, and associate learning with grades, however, learning should focus on experiences and growth.

I read on a fellow teacher’s twitter post “If you’re teaching a kid to ride a bike, and they fall off 9 out of 10 times, but on the 10th try they get it. Would you give them a 10?”

I wouldn’t fail that student. I’d be celebrating that kid’s learning achievement from the rooftops! I could’ve failed miserably as a teacher. The risks were there. However, the art of learning helped me overcome most obstacles in the way.

I’m not saying everyone needs to become a teacher to experience deep work. I would argue that we are all life time learners. Learning is simply an opportunity everyone should take.

“If you can’t learn, You can’t thrive.”
-Cal Newport

1 Comment

  1. Your intro to deep work and mine sound similar: needing to lock yourself away to learn a job because it is what you said you would do! Great work. (Also if more people realized teachers were just fallible humans learning how to be people just like everyone else, we’d be in better shape!)

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