Hello, I am your teacher. How can I help you today?

Customer service is one of the most underrated qualities in a person, business, or organization. This is odd considering there are few things more intrinsically gratifying than both giving and receiving it.

It is no secret that this education biz is a challenging one, fraught with multiple practical and theoretical pot holes which constantly make you re-evaluate your interest in staying in the game (or ‘the dip’, as Seth Godin might call it). It’s not surprising then that the drop-out rate of teachers in their first five years is mind-chillingly high. I think one of the main reasons for this frightening retention rate is the way we have the tendency to over-complicate the profession. We exaggerate theory and implicitly or explicitly prescribe practice. We make teachers feel like they suck. I worry that we often drive away the best ones.

What if we simplified things and just reminded our new teachers to look for and assess student need, and do everything they can to support the student in fulfilling it?

Now I don’t mean customer service in the pandering, incentive-driven, commercially-interested sense. Don’t be a used car salesperson selling a lemon. Don’t super-size your class. There’s a difference between selling and serving.

Nor do I think we should confuse student want with student need. I’ve made this mistake about a million times.

On the contrary, we should realize that, although you are just pretending to understand that grade 6 geometry unit, and even though you don’t give a rat’s ass what the difference between a orthopod and an arthropod is, you might still be good at assessing student need, and opening up doors that allow them to explore it. From my experience, if you approach the classroom in service of the students, rather than expecting them to serve your interests, your work becomes exponentially easier. Moreover, the following ‘big’ things just seem to fall into place:

  • Student voice
  • Differentiated instruction
  • Assessment for and as learning
  • Technology and arts integration
  • Literacy
  • Self-efficacy
  • Character
  • Higher-order thinking

I think it’s a lot easier if you just look at your teaching gig as matter of customer service. Your students are the customers; you’re there to serve them. Sometimes the customers behave badly and are rude. But your response to this shouldn’t be to go all domestic-auto-industry on them.



  1. I do this with my students. I ask them what they think they need to learn and how they think they should learn it. It’s actually pretty amazing what they’ll come up with. I usually lead in with a TED talk (check out ted.com for these – awesome!), and then we talk about them. It’s a shock for some of them to be allowed to voice their thoughts without being shot down (or without a teacher having a preconceived “desired” answer). Students do amazing things when you ask them what they want. Sure, you have to be okay with flying by the seat of your pants sometimes… but it’s SO worth it! They actually are enjoying learning (And I have to MAKE them leave for their next class). 🙂 Good stuff!

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