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.

I Used To Feel So Uninspired

Barack Obama makes me feel like a natural woman.  Especially this morning.

I’ve been preaching for years that education funding should not be locally funded.  If our goal in education is to equalize opportunity, it makes no sense to let poor kids in poor areas go to poorly funded schools and rich kids in rich areas go to lavishly funded schools.  (I say this, ruefully, as a child of one of the richest counties in America.  People there were willing and able to tax themselves like crazy to give me a great education.)  This additional federal funding is one more step toward equalizing some shocking gaps.  If it comes with additional federal oversight, I have faith that  it could be worth the annoyance.

And adding funding to Pell Grants?  I can’t imagine a better investment in our country.  Of course we should fund the college education of people with drive and skills but no money!  My fear about educational inequality is that some kid somewhere is born with the brains and creativity to cure cancer, and instead of going to med school, the kid is changing my oil at Jiffy Lube.  (Yes, very honorable work, but inappropriate.) 

Equal opportunity is not about compassion, or fairness, or any touchy-feely stuff like that.  It’s about cultivating the knowledge and talent we have in our country.  We’ve got to build up what we have.  (And incidentally, I don’t think anyone’s going to reject that cancer cure if the lead researcher was an illegal immigrant’s kid.) 

People from all over the world still come to the U.S. seeking education.  The fluidity and creativity cultivated by our educational system are unrivaled.  (To those people who felt stifled by their American education, I have to say: at least you weren’t born in Europe.  Or Asia.  Or Africa.)  The government here doesn’t control your major or your track in high school, and your studies here aren’t all about memorization and obeying authority.  That’s our weakness, but it’s also an incredible strength. 

Americans are a wildly creative bunch.  We might lag in math and science right-and-wrong tests, but we invent things like nobody’s business, gobble up and regurgitate everyone else’s languages, and mix cultures without killing each other a whole lot of the time.  Also, we’re good dancers.  That’s just my opinion.


Finally, merely because I have been brainwashed to think in threes: does Obama’s election really change anything?  Could having a black president really influence ideas of race in a meaningful way?  If I hadn’t seen these researchers’ theories in action myself, I would think they were silly.  Here’s what they found: the black-white achievement gap disappeared in two sets of tests that was administered before and after Obama’s election.  I know.  It sounds nutty.   Again, touchy-feely, self-esteem worksheet crap.  Still, on my final exams, I always have students (all of mine are African-American) write something positive about themselves before they start the questions.  How silly.  Or maybe not.


Today’s Good News

We need good news at the beginning of January.

Several items today in New York Times pleased me.  First of all, I smiled at the article describing the ad campaign put up by atheists in Britain.  I have a soft spot for atheists.  It’s a very reasonable position, often taken up by smart, sensitive people who just can’t swallow that any God would let the shit go down that goes down.  I admire that, although I usually believe in God.  The ad, featured on London’s city busses, says, ” There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  Which also made me smile.  It really makes no sense.  Whether or not you believe in God, you could worry like crazy.  Worry that if there is no God, you are totally responsible for making the best of things.  Worry that if there is a God, you can’t figure God out.  And if there is no God, that doesn’t naturally lead to enjoying life.  Maybe the thought of no God is so depressing that you can’t enjoy anything.  Regardless, I love that atheists are getting their message out there.  Especially British atheists.  All those Europeans think Americans are nutty for being religious.  God bless them.


Also, hey, we can copy our iTunes.  I believe in paying for music, and I faithfully and regularly pay for music, but I was always annoyed that iTunes kept me on such a short leash.


Finally, some guy wants to open a “civilian service academy,” where you “pay” in five years of community service.  I don’t know who works for the government, but I do know that lots of us here at my urban public high school had to bury ourselves in outrageous debt in order to teach.  It’s one thing to sacrifice salary for public service.  When you have to pay back student loans on that salary, it’s an additional burden, and it keeps a lot of people from working in urban schools, as public defenders, or in other low-paid government position.  It hasn’t always been this way– people in my parents’ generation didn’t take on this kind of college debt.  That’s another complaint about lack of state funding for education…. And I mean this as good news.  Maybe his civilian academy won’t work, but it seems like it might be worth a try.


Nuclear Football

I enjoyed several bits of “SNL” last weekend.  There was a bit with a family that shoots off into grudges and attacks and fury without any provocation– specifics of the conflict were left out completely, all that remained were the common elements of neurosis, which, in a vaccuum, are quite recognizable and horrifyingly funny.

And then they did a bit about the Illinois governor on “Weekend Update” that was not as funny as it could have been, considering the fact that my fetish newspaper, The New York Times, has this to say of him:

…Mr. Blagojevich, 52, rarely turns up for work at his official state office in Chicago…is unapologetically late to almost everything, and can treat employees with disdain…for failings as mundane as neglecting to have at hand at all times his preferred black Paul Mitchell hairbrush. He calls the brush “the football,” an allusion to the “nuclear football,” or the bomb codes never to be out of reach of a president.

Then again, is must be challenging to satirize a man whose behavior is this absurd. 

I immediately recalled my old friend Jo-Megan (that was her name, and it’s not as odd as the governor’s).  Jo-Megan had a Paul Mitchell brush that she loved, too, and I remember her at one of my slumber parties, holding that brush up in the air after she ran it through her long brown locks, quipping, “Paul Mitchell Systems,” just like the commercial.  The thing is, Jo-Megan was ten years old at the time. 

The full article can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/15/us/politics/15blagojevich.html?_r=1&hp