A skeptical view of the social sector

I am sitting in a crowded classroom, there is not a moment of absolute silence. But silence is relative after all, and I have come to accept this calmly. This is what my day looks like, mired in obscurity of my work and my impact. Impact is a big word in this world and yet, you will find many of us dismissing it as vague corporate speak. I am mostly disillusioned and tired, a sense of despair always prevails yet we trudge along.

The social sector has a glamour of its own. We have altruistic heroes, super humans in capes of funding and grassroots reach and my oh my, are they revered. To anyone just entering, this sector seems interesting and powerful, a chance for retribution and show of dedication to a ‘cause’. But as someone who is a recent entrant myself into the field of grassroots education, I would like everyone to keep this in mind:

  1. It is not always problem-solving.

Sometimes, it is identifying problems or whether a new situation is even a problem. The lines are very blurred here. I manage a classroom and I am constantly analyzing whether I need to be worried about something that has come up. And it is exhausting.

2. Building relationships is very hard. Leveraging them is harder.

In this sector, there are more gentlemen’s agreements that you could imagine. All of which requires careful planning and calculating. There is a lot of scheming too. I have spent months building an effective relationship with my headmistress of my school. It took effort and time and a lot of additional work. It required me to re-prioritize and plan ahead on when I say what to her. A year spent on this, and yet she punishes my classroom almost everyday. It gets frustrating after a while.

3. Your mental health will take a toll.

Many social work employees suffer from a various array of mental problems. They are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression along with several personality disorders. I have found myself in the same basket and what aggravates it that they usually in excessive denial or have no time or money to seek help.

Entering this sector is a difficult choice for many, and they would have to have taken several difficult decisions or fought their way through. This stigma makes it harder for them to seek medical help for mental health issue.

4. The daily grind will test your patience.

I entered this sector because I was thrilled to work for improving education in low-income communities and impact students’ lives. But the inspiration dies away by the second month and all that is left to push you through is your sense of discipline and one or two anchors that you have left.

Another stereotype that propagates through is that the job will be rewarding ALL the time and you will always be flushed with happy hormones while you work. Sadly, a shot of morning caffeine is all that helps me survive certain days. There will be bad days, and then worse ones. And the ‘cause’ won’t get you through those.

5. Nothing replaces time and consistency as a way to progress.

The teacher who has been in the school for 16 years can have terrible instruction and may vapidly propagate corporal punishment, but the HM will listen only to her. Time is the only way that you can gain a footing here and for someone like me, and most of my peers it takes a lot of effort to be this patient.

Keeping aside my cynic’s cap, the ecosystem I have experienced is the best that I have known. I have a vague professional support system, that I can always connect and further my career. One of my friends remarked, “ Since no one is looking out for us, we look out for ourselves”