As I walked around my students in the computer lab recently, I realized that some things I no longer include on my resume actually have helped set me up to be a better teacher. When I was in high school, like most young people, my parents felt I should get a job to learn about money and work. At that time, I had more energy than any person should have and tended to exude a bubbly personality. So I got a job as a waitress at a pizza buffet.
Previously, I always thought I had gained only two things from this job: the knowledge that smiling a lot helps calm [most] people down and an addiction to over-tipping. Turns out, I learned a lot about managing chaos and picking up on nuances of individuals.
Since I don’t smoke and my parents would not get me a cell phone (“I’ve never had one and somehow I survived…”), while I was at work, I worked. I spent very little time in the back room where the cooks were and relatively little time at the waitress stand. In order to feel efficient and to ward off boredom, I made myself available. I did odd jobs in the seating area and made the rounds quite often-almost to the point of being annoying.
I did not always stop to ask “Can I get you anything?” because sometimes all I needed to do was walk past and gauge and anticipate any potential needs or wants. There are, of course, obvious signs like a bunch of dirty plates or a nearly empty glass. But you also learn to see when someone is thinking of asking for something. Sometimes I just needed to walk by so they could let me know of an issue I could not predict on my own, but that they would not seek me out to address.
When I roam through the room during independent or small group work, I feel almost exactly the same way. Sometimes you can almost see the question forming on a students lips or the puzzled expression revealing itself in their eyes. Perhaps it’s more obvious, like a blank page after 5-10 minutes of work time. Maybe it’s less obvious than that. Either way, after making the effort to learn your students, you can often tell when you just need to walk by or when you need to stop and directly as an individual student how things are going and if they need anything. Some kids might not bother to check for clarification if it involves walking all the way up to the teacher’s desk (for many students, I’m afraid this seems to be intimidating and/or embarrassing), but if you are right by their desk, they might just whisper that question and thereby enhance their understanding somehow.
Just like as a waitress, I couldn’t stay in the back room or the waitress stand (yup, the pizza place I worked at was sexist and chauvenistic and only hired young girls…) and expect to offer high quality service, I cannot sit at my desk all the time and expect to improve student learning. Even when I may seem annoying in my wandering through the room, I need to be accessible and not wait for students to come to me. This is helpful for student learning, engagement, and classroom management. Sure, it’s basic stuff, but I think it’s always a good reminder.
And hey, give a good tip.