Invisible Work

When I got home from work today, I noticed my apartment had been vacuumed. Somebody cooked dinner, and when I went to use the restroom, I noticed the toilet had been scrubbed since yesterday.

I didn’t do any of those things. And since I am fifty percent of the people living here, by logical reasoning, the only explanation is that my spouse did those things. Thank you, spouse!
Cooking and cleaning can sometimes turn into invisible work, which means work we take for granted. You don’t really think about the tasks because you aren’t the one who does them. Because of previous imbalances in who did which chores in our household, I try to make a point of seeing what work my spouse does, invisible as it may seem, and thanking him for it.

I was thinking about this after dinner, about how easy it can be to let the work others do become invisible. We frequently don’t realize how much a person does until they are not there to do it. I notice this especially in a social workplace like a school. Things run ever so much more smoothly when everyone is there.

So when a teacher friend shared this link on Facebook, I laughed — a lot. In less than two minutes, NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia lists all the things she, as a teacher, might do in a day. And I think it might even only be a partial list! Much of what teachers do is invisible, even to other teachers. We only notice how helpful and important others are when they’re not there to do their normal things. And if what we do is invisible to each other, there’s no way people outside of schools could fully understand the scope and spectrum of what a teacher does in a day.

So just as I thanked my spouse for doing the “invisible” work at home, I am going to make a point of the people doing invisible work at school this month. The people who keep wastebaskets empty and coffee pots full. The people who stand outside, reminding cars to drive slowly; the people who work inside, keeping copies coming fast. Even some of the students do invisible work, even if they don’t have official classroom jobs; they deserve thanks and respect for that.

And I think I will cast my net wider than that, even. I am thankful for the person in the coffee shop drive-thru who counts out my change. I am thankful for the person who gathers the shopping carts in the grocery store parking lot. I am thankful for the landlord who comes and changes the light bulbs in the apartment building hallway.

Mr. Rogers once advised us, in times of tragedy, to look for the helpers. I want to remind us, on ordinary times, to see the day to day do-ers as well. (And don’t forget to look in a mirror!)

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