How are students in our classrooms like a glass of iced tea? Kind of an odd question, but read on to find out.
Before becoming a teacher, I, like many other college students, paid my bills with money earned waiting tables in a restaurant. For over five years, I served up turkey pot pies, Caesar salads, and apple pie a la mode to hungry customers at Marie Callender’s. Though I didn’t know it at the time, some of the training I received during those five years would serve as an excellent illustration of effective teaching. Restaurant training leading to good teaching? Let me explain.
When I first got my job as a server, I was taught that each server in the restaurant was responsible for a particular number of tables and customers seated at those tables. Nothing unique there. This is standard practice at all restaurants. But one thing the managers of Marie Callender’s emphasized was that servers should work as a team. Yes, each server was supposed to pay particular attention to his/her assigned tables, but I was taught (and reminded of time and time again) that when walking the floor of the restaurant, I was to keep an eye open for customers in need of assistance, regardless of whether or not they were seated in my section. For example, if I had a free moment and walked by a table where a customer needed her iced tea refilled, I should refill it. Makes sense. Not the most novel idea in the world, but stop and think about it for a moment. How often does this happen to you when you dine out? In my experience, not very often. You don’t have to have waited tables to know what I’m talking about. How many times have you been in a restaurant, needed a refill or something from the kitchen, but your server was nowhere to be found? We’ve all been there. Frustrating, huh? And how many times have you, while waiting for your server to return to your table, seen other servers pass by or stand idle against a wall, completely ignoring your empty glass that’s begging for a refill? If you’re like me, this happens all the time. Why? Because most of these servers have tunnel vision, focusing only on their assigned tables. Unfortunately, the servers who pass us by in the restaurant probably are thinking If iced tea needs refilled on Table 21, that’s not my problem, because I’m only responsible for Tables 16-20.
So here’s the question – Are we treating students like empty iced tea glasses? Are we passing them by, thinking That’s not my student, the same way servers pass by customers thinking That’s not my table? It’s easy for teachers to focus solely on the students in their classroom and on the subjects they teach, just as servers focus solely on their assigned tables. But is this what’s best for students and their learning? I think we’d all agree that restaurants offer better service to their customers when their employees serve not only their tables but are open and willing to assist anyone in need, regardless of where they’re seated. What if educators adopted this mindset?
I’m an administrator at a middle school, so I’ll use that educational setting as an example. What if science teachers stopped looking at their students as strictly science students, but as reading students as well? After all, there’s plenty of reading involved in science. What if a social studies teacher, while delivering content about the American Revolution, worked individually with a student who struggles with comprehension? What if a PE teacher came alongside a student and said, “Hey, I hear you’ve been working really hard in Language Arts class and did well on your last test. Keep up the great work!” Nurturing the affective domain of students is just as important as delivering the ABC’s and 123’s. How much more would students learn, and since we live in a world of high-stakes testing, how much better would they perform on the English Language Arts section of the state test if they had six teachers helping them with reading rather than just one?
The bottom line is this – they’re all our students. Returning to the restaurant analogy, if the glass needs refilled, fill it. Remember, the important thing is not who fills the glass (teaching), but that the glass gets filled (learning).
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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