This is an updated version of one of the first articles written on this blog about treating education as a part of the customer service industry. The article was originally posted on February 24, 2007. It was edited and updated on June 15, 2016 to reflect a maturation in my approach to teaching as well as writing. You can read the original along with a handful of comments here.
In the beginning
When I was in college, I was assigned for one of my classes to write out own philosophy of education. It was somewhat noble (“I teach children to be better people through music” or something like that). It was substantially trite. Most importantly, it lacked any passion and it lacked depth. After all, I had not really thought much about why I liked teaching, it just felt right.
Then came my very first teaching job interview. I was interviewing at the school where I had my student teaching placement, so it was relatively comfortable. The principal interviewing me asked me what my educational philosophy was and I hadn’t pondered it much since turning in that assignment years earlier. I gave some sort of flimsy answer because I wasn’t prepared at all for my interview. He gave me a chance later on to ask me if I had any questions. I took that opportunity to turn the table around and asked him what his educational philosophy was. What he said has stuck with me ever since.
He said that he views education as a customer service industry. That caught me off guard. I had never heard of anyone thinking about things that way. He went on to say that we as teachers provide services. We provide the community with educated children, we provide the students with a safe learning environment, and we provide the students with useful and relevant education. One of the reasons his views resonated so deeply with me then was that I had recently read Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, which is very much a sales-focused book. The concept still comes up on a surprisingly regular basis even 14 years later.
This philosophy did not mesh with my paper I had written in college at all. In fact, it took a while for me to wrap my mind around the concept. I mean, customer service? Isn’t that the people who answer phones and punch buttons on the cash register at stores? I even worked in the customer service department of Best Buy very briefly. But I didn’t serve customers. I just worked there, I served myself. I wanted my $5.50 an hour, so I showed up to work, answered some phones, punched some buttons, scanned some SKUs, and checked credit card signature panels.
As I have begun to incorporate that philosophy into my own, I have come to understand much more what it means. Not too long ago, I realized that my current classroom model is more comfortable when it is more like a small business than of a university or high school classroom from twenty years ago.
Then and now: Parent contact
As a first year teacher, I only made contact with parents if they contacted me first.
As a the years have passed, I’ve picked up some proactive communication habits:
- Regularly send emails to parents and students
- Post updates on a blog or website
- Have misbehaving students call home to inform their parents of the problems as soon as possible
- Give parents opportunities to come help out at school
Then and now: Student motivation
As a first year teacher, I tried to make students learn what I felt they needed to learn.
As a fifth year, I tried to motivate students to learn what I know they needed to learn.
As the years have passed, I have come to realize that extrinsic motivation is useless for long-term growth. Instead, I encourage the heck out of students and acknowledge progress.
Then and now: Answering questions
As a first year teacher, I had most of the answers, but the kids just wouldn’t listen to me.
As a fifth year teacher, I seemed to have less answers than I did before, and I listened to and learned from more experienced teachers. I also shared ideas with less experienced teachers or anyone else who is willing to listen to me.
As the years have passed, I have gotten more of the answers again, and I continue seeking out opportunities to learn from other more experienced teachers. My classroom management has matured to the point that the overwhelming majority of students listen to me, even if they don’t like to do so. I have mentored two students teachers directly and helped countless other young teachers along the way.
The bottom line
I realize that if I am going to have kids who absolutely love coming to my class, I must give them a reason to want to come back. The same is true for anyone who runs a successful business.