50 Things Servers Should Never Do

Based on “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do” by Bruce Buschel on the New York Times website (see link below), I have compiled the “50 Things Teachers Should Never Do,” from his Part I, which perhaps shows that service is service, or perhaps shows that I am an annoying stick-in-the-mud, just like Mr. Buschel.

I can’t say I follow any of these perfectly, but I think they’re all good goals.  I also fudged and made some of them “should”s rather than “should never”s.

1. Do not let anyone enter the classroom without a warm greeting.

2. Do not make a kid without a partner or group feel bad. Do not say, “Anyone want to work with _____?” Sometimes let the loner kids work alone. Other times, give them support and structure in finding people to work with.

3. Never refuse to help someone because you are annoyed with past behavior.  If they are respectful and reasonable in that moment, help them.

4. If the lesson is not ready or something goes wrong, have a backup plan for something productive to do.

5. The classroom should be as neat and clean as possible, so students are comfortable.  That said, make them participate in keeping it clean.

6. Do not lead the witness with, “So, you didn’t do your homework again?” or “You’re in trouble again?”  Remain neutral.

7. No flirting, no favoritism, no slyness.  If in doubt, just tell the kids you are kidding or being sarcastic.  It’s not a show.  You are not a character on “Seinfeld.”

8. Listen for a second before you interrupt a conversation. Sometimes the kids are working something out, or they are just about to return to their work or correct their own behavior, and you don’t need to step in.  Wait for the right moment.

9. Do not present information too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition.  Repeat yourself.  Clarity is king.

10. Inject your personal favorites, but don’t ever make the class about you.

11. Hustle them constantly.  Push, push, push.  You may fall asleep, but you won’t sleep well.

12. Touching of arms or hands or shoulder is acceptable for greeting, expression of sympathy, and waking up a sleeper.  You probably don’t need to do any other touching.

13. Clean the doorknobs, desks, keyboards, stapler, pencil sharpener, and mice (mouses, whatever) like crazy.  With bleach.

14. When you ask, “Does that make sense?” or “Do you understand?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right.  Ask another, more open-ended question, if it is obvious they don’t understand.

15. Never say “I don’t know” to any reasonable question without following with, “I’ll find out.”

16. If someone requests a book or a supply, always suggest that they help themselves.

17. Do not offer up the answer just because you’re getting bored with the lesson or the kids. Wait, wait, wait.  They don’t learn anything by you announcing answers like a trained parrot.

18. Know before approaching a kid what their basic mood and approach to school is.

19. Offer students fun supplies to get them going: sticky notes, highlighters, art supplies.

20. Never refuse a reasonable request from a kid.  If you have time, go ahead and think it through: is it going to hurt anything?

21. Never try to teach a lesson that you don’t understand.

22. If someone is unsure about choosing a topic, help him. That might mean offering different examples or talking through his interests.

23. If someone likes a book, make sure he gets the author and suggest he get it from the library, or let him borrow it.

24. Never use the same example if it didn’t work the first time.  At the very least: ask the kids for a better example.  Sometimes they have one.

25. Make sure the handouts make sense.  The clearer they are, the fewer annoying questions for you and the less time spent repeating yourself.

26. Never assume a student’s question or area of confusion. Inquire.

27. Whenever possible, offer students choices and let them choose

28. Do not be up in a student’s face when you discipline.  Your power does not come from physical intimidation.  This also lets the student save face.

29. Do not make noise while students are working quietly.  Protect them from intercom and hallway interruptions whenever possible.

30. Never let students touch each other inappropriately.  Say something.  Observe and explain.

31. Never move on from a pile of failed tests or assignments without spending some time asking: was it them, or was it me?  And: what would I do differently?

32. Never touch a student when you are angry or disciplining, except to stand in front of them to encourage them not to leave the room.

33. Do not bang on things or make loud noises to get attention.  One loud “Hey!” is the limit.   If they don’t listen to that, you have to try something else that doesn’t require noise.

34. Do not have a personal conversation with another teacher within earshot of students.

35. Do not eat or drink during class.  Except water, coffee, or tea.  You are, after all, the teacher, and you need to preserve your voice and to stay alert.  Your job is harder than the students’ (and their job is very hard).

36. Never reek from perfume or cigarettes. You are in the personal space of a lot of people.

37. Do not discuss your own views on alcohol, religion, or politics on the job, even if invited by the students. “I don’t discuss that with students, but we can talk about it after you graduate, if you want.”

38.  Exaggerate your manners.  Be more polite than necessary.  Use “sir” and “ma’am.”  Sometimes call your students “Ms” and Mister.”

39. And be relentlessly polite.  Especially when they are in a bad mood, or when you are disciplining.  It’s very hard for students (or parents or administrators) to get any leverage against you if your tone of voice and your language is courteous.

40.  Describe their work as “effective” or “ineffective,” “working” or “not working,” “clear” or “confusing,” not “good” or “bad.”  The quality of their work is not an ethical issue.

41. When you need to get really harsh, go there.  Then pull it back and get really nice to balance out the energy.  Always try to end class on a positive, or at least neutral, note.

42. Rarely compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. Kids spend a lot of time thinking of themselves as their physical appearance, and they don’t need their teachers reinforcing that.

43. Always mention your favorite fields of study, favorite books.  Model academic enthusiasm.

44. Do not discuss your own opinions without acknowledging and explaining the logic of the other side.

45. Do not curse, no matter how young or hip the students.  Model a full vocabulary and a respect for your audience.

46. Never acknowledge any one student over and above any other. All students are equal. You can easily spend half the class dealing with one kid’s behavior or questions.  Discipline yourself to evenly distribute your time.

47. Do not gossip about parents or other students within earshot of students.

48. Ask the kids for help with as many physical and housekeeping tasks as possible.  Say “please” and “thank you.”  They like to help, and it builds community.

49. Never mention how many As, Bs, Cs there are.  Let kids compete with themselves and work with their own abilities.

50. Do not be merciful in passing kids with a 50%.  That’s not mercy.  It’s pity or guilt.  Do a better job of teaching next time, but also let the kids own their mistakes.

3 thoughts on “50 Things Servers Should Never Do

  1. Dropped in from the Bruce Buschel list.

    This is excellent advice. I’d only add that I’d like to replace ‘kids’ with ‘children’ or ‘young people,’ ‘boys and girls’ or ‘ladies and gentlemen’. And gossiping shouldn’t be done by teachers even out of earshot of children. There will always be someone ready to pass on what is heard. Take it home to your husband or your cat.

  2. I should add, then, to keep from sounding like Buddha on the mountaintop that the ones I am worst about would be: 1, 34, and 47. I just broke #47 today, in fact.

    But I intended to write a list of ideals, not laws, anyway.

  3. I fought being a teacher for years– then I was one, in a Catholic girls’ high school (I was the house Protestant) and man, did I have fun teaching English and music.
    I later taught real estate finance and English as a 2nd Language– also very fun.
    I asked my high school students to write about their ideal school (fascinating– they wanted discipline problems kicked out permanently and promptly) and their future biography. We did a speech unit, which reminded us all that we are individuals and not cookie cutter look-alikes. It made us appreciate each other as people.

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