Sunday, August 24, 2014

Traveling - and All the Joys It Brings


For the past week and a half, I have been away from home in various forms.

I've been away from home to go home.
Wherein, I spent a week back with my family in SoDak and really enjoyed the time. I was able to see good friends, eat good food (the best, of course, being Mom's cooking), and completely forget about the responsibilities that come with living in Montana.

I love going back to SD.  It allows me to remember and appreciate how incredible my family and upbringing was, while simultaneously allowing me to treasure where I live currently.  There are things that I don't miss about South Dakota - the main one of which is the humidity.  But I do miss seeing such familiar faces all the time.  However, that is changing in my new home and all the time I'm seeing more and more people I recognize daily.

I've been away from home after a trip home heading back home but stuck because of truck troubles.
This scenario allowed me to recognize the worth of my friendship with a good friend of mine who was traveling with me.  There are very (very!) few other people with whom I could be stuck along the side of the road and not get annoyed with.  I attribute it to our history as friends, and also to our understanding of each other.

And to his Mom, who wisely gave us a bag of food to eat.  If I'm hungry, I'm crabby.  This prevented that.

I've been away from my new home to go and witness a friend in his new home with his new beautiful bride.
I loved this trip. I got to spend quality time with good friends that I haven't seen in a while.  I also got to know previous acquaintances to a greater extent, which I think is always good. We ate, we drank, we danced, we talked, we laughed laying in the grass under a tree, we sat quietly in the car because we were hungry, we yelled in the car because it was funny.
We appreciated life, and I feel like that's such a special gift.

My brother said that I only post when something isn't right or when I'm upset about something.  Well, Derek, this post is not that!  I am so thankful for the past week and a half. I feel ready to start the school year with all the challenges that will come.

But right now, mostly, I'm ready to stop staring at grey speckled walls and get out of this airport.
There's snow in the mountains in Montana. I'm ready to XC ski.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Teaching Year #2 - In the Books (almost)!

It's May.

You know, the time of year that, when you were between 5 - 22 years old meant summer break.

And, because I chose to be an educator, it has continued to mean that.  Sure, summer break has morphed in meaning over time.

When I was in elementary school, it meant summer care, camps, and softball/soccer.

In middle school, it meant staying home or using my bike to get from place to place during the day and softball at night.

In high school, it meant a summer job (or two, or three), hanging out with friends, going on "adventures" around the area, and expanding my wings.  It also meant scoring some extra class credits towards graduation.  Short explanation: because I was so involved in the arts in HS, the only way I could fit in all the required credits to graduate was through taking some courses during the summer.  My school was not one where summer school was meant only for the kids that were falling behind.  It also applied to kids that just wanted to learn more.

In college, summer break was surprisingly similar to HS summer break.  Summer job, hanging out with friends, maybe a few classes, and adventures.  Only, at this point in time, the adventures were, well, adventurous.  

Now, I'm a teacher.  I still get summer breaks.  The breaks are still similar to my summer breaks from HS and College...with a few minor differences.  I'm actually living somewhere that, everyday, an adventure is only 30 minutes away on a hike.  I am still working a part time summer job, but it's with more autonomy than I've ever been given for a part time job.  I still ride my bike to meet up with friends.  I am still taking classes (towards that ever looming goal of the Masters).

But I've also got one more thing on my docket during the summers now.  Reflection.

Sure, when I was in HS and College I reflected on the previous year...but not in the same way.

Now, during the summers, I think about all of the students that I taught over the past year. Who I reached and positively affected, and who slipped between the cracks and how I'm going to catch them next year.  I also think, and worry, about the students who have less than awesome home lives.  Summer isn't a relaxing time for them, and that's not fair.

I think about all of the lesson plans that went well, and the ones that need some serious loving if I'm going to get them to be effective next school year.

I think about the programs and concerts I need to plan.  I think about the funds that need to be raised if I'm going to get the supplies my students need to successfully learn about music.

A lot of people say "Oh, you're a teacher, well, you get paid less because you get all summer off."

But that's not really true. Not at all.

If you think about all the time I spend reflecting on the past year and planning for the next year, I easily work 60 hour weeks during the school year, and 40 hour weeks during the summer.  This doesn't mean I'm always tied to a desk and "working".  Some of my best lesson ideas have hit me while I was out on a hike with Koda.  It's the idea that my job, just like all other educators, doesn't ever leave me.  It's a job where you "take it home".  Every day, whether or not you saw your students, it follows you.  This can be great and not so great.

The fact that I'm thinking about school on a Sunday while sitting in a coffee shop is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

Year #2 was a blast.  That was what this post was originally supposed to be all about.  I love teaching and this year has been so much more affirming of that love than Year #1, I'm positively giddy for next year.

But I am excited for the re-boot time this summer.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Oh hey, I'm a consumer too!

I have been working in the service industry since I was 14 years old.  Even now, as a part-time music teacher (arguably also a service industry), I am still working part-time in a bakery as "the-girl-at-the-counter".  I prefer the phrase "presenter of pastries".

Over the years, I have had a lot of time to watch people interact with each other and with the people behind the counter.  I've watched wealthier older folks and younger folks, mothers and fathers coaching their kids in the art of placing an order, overly affectionate (like, gross PDA) couples and first dates.  I've seen break-ups and marriage proposals.  You can say that I've seen a lot of different scenarios play out.

I've also had momentary interactions with all of those people.  Every. Single. One.

Because, I am the girl that has made your white mocha with extra syrup, soy milk, and extra foam latte.  I've been one of the first people to talk to you in the morning before you've gone in to work and one of the last people to talk to you before you head home at the end of the day to your family.

 I've been the one that has had to say "Sorry, there is a $5.00 minimum on all credit card purchases".  After which I get a happy smile while you search for cash or purchase something else, or I hear a complaint followed by, "Well, you must not want my business then".

I've been the girl that is busy trying to sweep and mop after hours so I can get home to my walk my dog when you come banging on the door asking if you can "please-just-buy-one-thing-quick".  I've also been the one to have been told "you know, new businesses shouldn't treat their customers like this", when I calmly (and kindly) inform you that we will be working on closing up shop in 10 minutes...even though you knew that based on the hours on our doors.

And, after each and every experience, I am left with an impression of who you are as a person. Similarly, you are left with an impression of who I am as a person.

Or are you?

I have this theory that something strange happens when you put a counter and a register between two people.  Some sort of de-humanizing effect where suddenly the customer no longer sees the person on the other side of the counter as a human and more as an extension of the machine. And, since machines were created to make our lives easier and do not have any emotional response, those same characteristics are transferred onto the employee.  So, suddenly, it's okay for you to scoff, or complain, or interrupt, or be quite rude to that strange, humanoid form.

Meanwhile, (most of the time), the person on the other side of the counter is fully aware that you are a sentient human being with emotions and a life of your own.  That is, after all, part of the point of customer service: to help you as an individual gain something that you'd like (whether that's a beverage, a pastry, or a new faux finish for a wall in your house).  And, as I've been that person on the other side of the counter thousands of times, let me tell you that "Please" and "Thank You" aren't just magic words that you need to teach your children.  They're magic words that need to be taught and modeled to your children.  What good does it do to say "Whenever someone does something kind for you, you're need to say "Thank You"" to your child and then get angry and demand to know if there will be any more of (insert item here) today, or should you just go elsewhere.

A trend I've also been noticing is that folks have begun to do the "Hi, how are you, I'd like....." phrase more frequently.  They ask how you are, and don't stop to listen.  I promise, I am not going to tell you about my woes and worries and joys and such when you ask how I am, so please stop to listen to my response or don't ask at all.  However, if you do, and you stop to listen, it won't take long, and it will help form a better connection between you and I.

After all, it is this better connection and getting to know you that makes me want to provide better service.  It can be the difference between me offering to heat up your baked good in the oven a bit while I ring you up, or just giving you a croissant that, while still delicious, has been sitting a while.

I know this post isn't the most organized...but it is something that I've been thinking about a lot as we head towards the summer months when I regularly work at the bakery.  So, let's summarize.

The take-away points:
- On either side of the counter, you will find a human.  Please treat them as such.
- The employee sees a lot of people everyday.  We want your experience to be positive, but please understand that we get tired too.
- Some things (minimum purchase amounts, for example) aren't our rules..but our employer's.  We are enforcers of the rules because there are reasons to them.  This doesn't mean that we deserve your ire.
- "Please" and "Thank You" are magic words.
- Listening when you ask us "How are you" is a magical action that can result in a better experience for everyone involved
- We want you to have a positive experience, please don't forget that.  We aren't here to make your life difficult or hellacious.

Oh, and if I may, one final thing.  Please check the hours of wherever you are going.  It is a common courtesy to not walk in and make a mess 10 minutes before close. Similarly, pounding on the door 2 minutes before open will not get us to like you more.  In fact, we're probably running around trying to get everything ready for you.

Patience is key.