Being a Waitress Was Real Teacher Training

October 5, 2011 — Leave a comment

One of my first jobs was as a waitress. The job was physically demanding. The variety of customers meant that no one day was like any other day. There were usually three “waves” during mealtimes. The hourly rate was a little below minimum wage, but there were tips.

My job now is to teach. The job is physically and mentally demanding. The variety of students means that no one day will be like any other. But there are four to six “waves” a day depending on a school’s schedule, and I certainly make more now than the minimum wage an hour.

In a recent discussion about teacher training, I made the observation that being a waitress was great training for preparing a teacher for managing the classroom. My colleagues were surprised, so I made the following argument.

Picture this. In a restaurant customers arrive and are seated at tables with every expectation of a great meal. Hopefully, the arrivals are staggered, but quite often there is a rush of customers who are presented with a menu to make selections. The waitress manages several tables at once.

In contrast, in the classroom, students arrive en masse with a variety of expectations. They seat themselves at desks or tables and are given an opening set of instructions. The teacher engages every student in the activity at once.

Back at the restaurant, customers make their selections from the menu; their individual requests are recorded by the waitress. The clock is “running” once the order is taken.

Back in the classroom, the students’ attendance is recorded, homework collected, and lesson materials distributed by the teacher. The length of class is fixed; once the bell rings, the clock is running.

At the restaurant, the waitress delivers the meals in the order the patrons arrived, the patrons eat accordingly at their own pace. Their progress in monitored by the attentive waitress. Once the patrons are done, the meals are cleared away….leisurely.

In the classroom, the lesson is delivered to an entire group of students, perhaps the students participate together or perhaps there is differentiated instruction. The attentive teacher monitors the students’ progress while keeping all students on pace to complete the lesson. At the end of the lesson, the materials are put away….in haste!

In completing the meal, the customers pay their bills and leave, planning to return soon because of their great experience at the restaurant. Because of the waitress, they have been served good food and provided good service.

In contrast, at the bell, the students scramble to leave the classroom. They are required to return for another learning experience in the classroom. Hopefully, because of the teacher, student learning has been accomplished and good academic habits reinforced.

In retrospect, being a waitress was a great way to develop the skills of timing and monitoring, the skill of delivering materials, and the skill of closure that are needed in the management of a classroom. I did enjoy being a waitress. I liked the busy pace and interaction with people, but I love teaching as a profession much more. However, I  miss the tips.

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