From May until September, the time when most educators are preparing to say good bye to their students and prepare to recharge and reload with fresh ideas over the summer, I am doing something quite different. I work 50 hour weeks as a waiter in a restaurant. Growing up in a tourism driven community along the Southern New Jersey coast, I have worked every summer since I was 13.
I have learned many things from working in the service industry, and many of those things have made me a better educator.
Let’s start with a simple crossover: as a teacher, I typically have a million things to do and they all need to get done, now. Waiting tables is similar. There are tons of things to do and remember during the night. Not only is it part of your job to do all the things, but to figure out ways to do them most efficiently. Thinking through saving steps, being efficient, and multitasking in a fast paced environment is an extremely valuable skill anywhere. Spending so much of my life working in food service has taught me how to multitask at a very high level, prioritize tasks, and accomplish many things in a short amount of time.
Working in a restaurant has also taught me humility. People are generally nice, if not at least polite, but not everyone. There are many people who will judge you based on what you are doing. Don’t let them fool you, anyone can go out to eat. But, it does provide a certain sense of understanding of the world when I realize that I can make more money serving people martinis and fish tacos than I do as a teacher with two masters degrees (let that one sit for a minute…)
While I have a certain level of distaste for those that are rude, judgmental, or struggle to understand basic human etiquette, it is also my job when waiting tables to help them have a positive experience. It involves an understanding that how I feel about the people I am providing a service for is irrelevant, only that I provide the service and provide it well. This, as is the case with many more areas of waiting tables, parallels working with the wide variety of individuals we come across. I don’t have to like every parent, nor do I have to like every coworker, but it is important that I understand my role in providing children an education. I need to get over any of my own personal feelings and take care of the needs that arise.
Finally (and mainly because I don’t want to spend too many hours drawing this parallel) is my experience with diversity. Working in a restaurant for so many years has provided me the opportunity to work with so many different types of people. I spend significant time with people from all sorts of educational backgrounds, heritages, and up bringings. I have worked with immigrants, both legal and illegal. I have worked with staunch conservatives and the extraordinarily liberal. I have worked with college kids, convicts, and drug abusers. I have worked with the incredibly intelligent and talented, to the other end of the spectrum. All of those groups spanning many different age ranges. All of those people need to find a way to work with one another to make a restaurant work. Having spent time with people from so many walks of life, having listened to their stories, their concerns, and their dreams, has provided me with a perspective that I feel helps me in working with parents. Parents often fit into one or many of these categories. Many educators don’t spend a lot of time socializing (restaurant work is very social work and is exhausting for us introverts) with such a diverse collection of characters, yet our parents come from so many different backgrounds.
Every summer I have relived this experience for the past 20 years. By the time a new school year is on the horizon, I am more than grateful for the ability to return to the school and get back to the profession where my heart truly belongs. In many ways it is the time between that provides me with incredible perspective that makes me a better educator.