Taking Risks: Satisfying My Customers
July 30, 2013
“So you’re the one the restaurant is named after,” I noted as he beamed, smiling at me. He was proud to be part of the business, had looked forward to helping his father once he was old enough to do so. His passion and excitement was evident in the way he greeted his customers.
“Yep,” he simply replied, adding that he will miss working there when he leaves for college.
“Naming the business after your sons?” I questioned. Too often they are named after the founder, and the children are expected to follow in the footsteps of their father or grandfather. “It is a nice way of making sure the business stays in the family, isn’t it?” I jokingly added as his father handed him a basket of ribs for the customer standing beside me.
“It is a home-grown program,” she explained as she took the bag of BBQ through the drive-up window. “Several of our faculty members are from here. They earned their undergrad degrees here, and earned their graduate degrees nearby.”
Each educational institution seems to adapt their own programs to their own regions, primarily addressing issues that seem most pertinent to them: urban race, horse-training management, museum curatorship, rural education. Do these emphases, though, at times become blinding, or do they serve the same purpose as the blinders a horse wears while pulling a heavy load?
Educators, when presented with obstacles—whether administrative policies that seemingly contradict their own pedagogical practices or daily encounters with challenging students within their individual classrooms—must be like artists, willing to take risks, try new approaches. Go the extra mile, if you will, to reach their final destination.
Yet often, we are resistant to new procedures, new theories, new ways of presenting old material.
How often do we take the same approach the Disney character did when he declared, “If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it?”
And how do we define brokenness within education? Is it low scores on standardized tests, high drop-out rate, low employment rate after graduation?
If these are the standards whereby we measure our success as educators, how, then, do we address the brokenness?
Often, blame is placed upon the students.
“Students don’t seem to be as motivated as they used to be.”
“Students aren’t as respectful as they used to be.”
“Students don’t seem to care any more.”
“Students come in unprepared. They don’t even bother to read the assigned material.”
Or blame is place upon parents, administration or society.
“Students come into the classroom too tired, too sick, too hungry to learn.”
“Parents need to be more involved in their children’s education.”
“Classrooms are too crowded.”
“Budgets aren’t big enough to provide the materials the students need to learn.”
Perhaps because I am an educator, I rarely hear blame placed upon the educators themselves, those same educators who have taught the same subjects year after year, approaching the material exactly the same way they did ten years ago, approaching the material the same way their own mentors had done.
“Do we want to discuss the material, or shall we begin with the little PowerPoint I have prepared?” he asked as he turned his back on us while walking toward the computer to show art students a few sentences he had thrown onto slides that were bereft even of color or animation. We knew we had no real choice, in spite of his rhetorical nod advocating a democratic classroom.
“What do you think of the essays on Social Justice?” he asked, but immediately bristled when I pointed out all the assigned readings had been published over ten years earlier.
“I don’t want to be the only instructor in class,” she informed us on the first day, adding, “You will each be responsible in presenting the material.” Yet at the end of each class period, when only a few minutes were left after she had spend nearly all of the allotted time presenting her own material, she would glance at the clock and say, “We have only a few minutes left…,” having thoroughly presented the same material we had ourselves prepared for discuss.
He had assigned Derrida’s seminal essay, “University without Condition,” yet openly took jabs at Russian culture with as sideways glance toward the Russian student who later withdrew from the course, was highly critical of corporate sponsorship of academic research, and freely admitted to me during office hours, “I don’t think veterans have any business being in college.”
“Sorry about the miscommunication,” the email read. “We usually don’t meet the first week of class,” even though the syllabus clearly stated that since it was an independent study course, if we missed a single scheduled class, we were at risk of failing. “Sorry, I am not going to be able to meet with you today because of the weather,” he said after I had already taken a train into town. “I am sorry, I guess you didn’t get the email I sent saying class was cancelled,” he later told me after I had noted I had waited in an empty classroom for over an hour. “Sorry, usually I schedule the last class before thesis symposium so you can go over your material before you have to present it,” he explained the last week of class.
“Do you feel as though you got what you paid for?” he asked.
Sometimes, lessons are learned only by listening carefully to voices that surround us. Sometimes, lessons are learned by reading the assigned material and doing the assigned tasks. Sometimes, though, the best lessons are learned by example.
I can only hope my customers, my students, are inspired by the way I greet them, the way I passionately approach my material, and the way I meet their individual needs. Only then will I be able to say, “Yes, I got what I paid for,” confidently adding, “And so have they.”