“We have an incredibly short time to spend with 90% of the people we come into contact with during our days–the paper delivery person, the waitress or waiter, the receptionist–such a very short time. Make that time something they’ll remember you by. Be the version of yourself you’d want to meet for ten seconds. Be the best.” -2013
Have you ever worked customer service? Retail? What about the food industry? Do you know what it’s like to make other people your job?
Well, I do. I worked in a grocery store during high school, college, and again in grad school. I worked every department because, “Sure, I need all the hours you have!” (Gas was expensive, babies-toddlers-small children still are expensive, and food… it’s [always] expensive.)
However, during that time I learned a great deal about what it means to communicate. Sure, words are great. Writing, obviously, is a good thing as well. But what about the way you make the person feel that walks in a door directly behind you? The person that rings up your lunch order when you’re hangry and frustrated? The woman who walks slowly in the crosswalk delaying your driving for an extra six seconds?
I learned a lot while checking Lotto tickets, scanning broccoli florets, and putting together floral arrangements. I learned that the old man who makes a punny joke about currency makes my brain hurt a little less when it’s almost the end of my shift. I learned that saying “please,” “thank you,” “sir,” and “ma’am”–even and especially when being treated rudely–make my heart less heavy. I learned that when I feel the worst, the lowest of the low, that if I make a point to compliment every single person I work with, my day is 100% happier.
So why is it only today that I’m relating this to my actual career in education?
Just this week, I’ve had several students say things to me that have given major pause. Today, I was sharing an anecdote about my dad getting frustrated with me and using what I call the “Dad Voice.” You likely know the voice–it’s full of equal parts frustration and annoyance carried out with a stern admonishment. It makes me want to cry every time. I used this tidbit to explain the vocabulary word “acrid.” While explaining my story, I said: “My father has never been truly angry or ever hit me in his life. It’s just the very sound, acrid in nature, that makes me emotional.” And after I said that–I don’t know who said it–a student said “Lucky!” as if they, personally, know otherwise from their own father. I didn’t know what to say.
Other students have talked in their initial “About Me” papers detailing their families’ separations, divorces, etc.
Why am I not making ridiculous pun jokes? Complimenting every single student I see? Why am I not making their day the best freaking day on the planet by being the giddiest, most freakishly accepting and optimistic person with whom they’ve ever come into contact?
It is in this moment that I feel I’ve been doing this job all wrong. This job has never been about data, writing, reading, vocabulary, Common Core, ACT scores, MAP testing, or getting into college.
This job is also about people. This job is only about people. I get 180 days with these kids, 46 minutes per day. That’s 138 hours. Not much, not in the grand scheme of life. I have to get back to doing what I did before: I need to make sure I’m focusing not only on content but on making them feel important. I need to be the best version of me so that they are able to become the best versions of themselves.
I won’t win them all, but maybe I’ll win one.