Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, March 24, 2006

More First

"I am a longtime fan of travel services superstar Hal Rosenbluth's idea-philosophy, captured in a book he coauthored: The Customer Comes Second. That is, if you really want to "put the customer first," put the people who serve the customer "more first."

--Tom Peters

Lately, Ive come to realize that teaching is a demanding job! I should say GOOD teaching is a demanding job. Great teaching demands energy, enthusiasm, persistence, emotion, dedication, constant reflection, constant experimentation, constant improvement.

Teachers continually encounter challenges. Every class has "difficult" students. Every class and every student is different. A great teacher must know these students intimately, and must address both their linguistic and emotional needs.

Perhaps more than any other organization, schools rely on their teachers. For the most part, students evaluate a school based on the quality of the teaching. Teachers are on the front line... it is they who ultimately determine the success of a program.

Given the primary importance of teachers to a school, and the very demanding (intellectually, emotionally, even physically) nature of teaching.... youd think most schools would go out of their way to support teachers in every way possible.

Youd think theyd take Tom Peters advice, and make teachers "More First"! But, alas, most schools dont. Rather, they pile on the annoyances, bullshit, tedium, rules, and complaints. Rather than encourage, they nit-pick. The average manager is perpetually looking to accent whats wrong while ignoring whats good.

This system reaches its worst depths in public schools. How do people teach in public schools? Id rather be tortured in Abu Ghraib than endure the American public school system. {Perhaps this is why My public school teachers were so mediocre.. the passionate ones are quickly driven out}.

Right down in the dregs with American public schools are the various "language schools" in Asia (especially Korea and Japan). The average one hires inexperienced, enthusiastic but clueless graduates from North America (sometimes the UK). These poor bastards are then subjected to brutal teaching hours, micromanagement, and bizarre teaching approaches-- at best! At worst they are cheated, intimidated, and otherwise made miserable. Im sure there are exceptions.. but Ive never encountered them.

I suppose all this is fine if your aim is to a) deliberately create a mediocre system (ie. American public schools) or b) make quick cash through smoke and mirrors marketing (the Asian language school approach).

But there may be another way. For example, the "its just business" argument doesnt hold. Some businesses, as Tom Peters points out, thrive by offering superior services. Some aim for long term success and maximum profits by positioning themselves as the highest quality, most innovative choice in their market.

And some recognize that, in the end, it always comes down to the front line employees. If they are happy, passionate, engaged, gung ho..... they will make the business thrive. They are the ones who will "create passionate users". They are the ones who will form connections and relationships. They are the ones who inspire word of mouth.

Im fond of saying "students must come first". But maybe Tom Peters is right. Maybe, to serve students well... to be great... we must make teachers come "more first".

San Francisco, CA