“Thank” “You Jason.” Three simple words on a cake … an analogy for one of my greatest inner conflicts as an educator.
One morning in March I stopped at Sam’s Club on my way to school to pick up a cake. A celebration honoring a colleague was taking place that day. I quickly found a lovely one with cheery red flowers and asked the baker to add the sentiment “Thank you, Jason.” A few minutes later she handed me the cake, flippantly mentioning, “I’m not that great at cake writing …” then adding the zinger “but, whatever, it’s going to taste the same.” I inspected her handiwork and was taken aback. “Thank” appeared on the first line. “You Jason” was scrawled across the next line. My initial reaction was a quizzical look. Was she kidding? I realized she didn’t know I was a teacher and I wasn’t trying to be rude or difficult, but seriously, doesn’t everyone know that “Thank You” on one line makes more sense than “You Jason” on one line? I looked at it again. “Thank” followed by “You Jason”!? I shook my head, as a myriad of thoughts bounced around my head.
What would happen if I told her the writing on this cake was simply not acceptable?
If I made a fuss…
- I might sound like a complainer if I asked to speak to the manager — feeling embarrassed.
- I might be late for school — feeling inconvenienced.
- I might get the baker in trouble for a sub-par performance — feeling guilty.
What would happen if I silently but grudgingly accepted this confectionery mini-crisis?
If I didn’t make a fuss…
- I could arrive at school on time with a sorry looking cake — feeling embarrassed.
- I could try scraping off the messed up message — feeling inconvenienced.
- I could miss an opportunity to help the baker improve her skills and performance — feeling guilty.
I was perplexed but Minnesota Nice won out (temporarily) as I ambivalently put “Thank. You Jason” in my cart. However, by the time I got to the checkout, I had a change of heart and knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t remain silent. When the checkout clerk asked me if I found everything all right I pointed to the cake and said, “Well, almost … I wish I would have found better writing on my cake …” She took a quick look at my boxed dilemma and called the manager over. In less than 10 minutes the cake was returned to the bakery and then came back to me with a nicely aligned sentiment, along with an apology from the baker. I thanked her sincerely, accepted the apology, and complimented her on the new version. The “icing on the cake” was receiving a store gift card from the manager as an additional token of apology for my inconvenience.
As I wheeled my cart across the parking lot, I suddenly experienced an epiphany. This entire incident reminded me of my district’s recent language arts curriculum adoption (aka a new “core” basal reading program). The whole situation was like the unacceptable writing on the cake. The thought of kids losing their voice and choice in their daily reading lives was simply not okay. I could not let my feelings of embarrassment, inconvenience, or guilt stop me from speaking up.
So I continued to raise the questions … Are they (district decision makers) kidding? I realize some people don’t know just how passionate I am about kids and literacy and I’m not trying to be rude or difficult. But seriously, doesn’t everyone know that there is no “magic bullet” reading program that will automatically “fix” test scores simply because it is taught with fidelity? What about the practitioners? How about investing in long-term, high-quality professional development for teachers? What about the students? How about meeting kids’ individual needs based on what we learn about them as we create positive classroom communities? What about the parents? How about getting their input about a company that puts out elementary leveled texts that have been found to be “offensive and inaccurate.”
Chances are no one is going to present me with a gift card for making a fuss this time. Unfortunately, I’m not expecting an “icing on the cake” happy ending.
Stay tuned for part 2 of “Thank. You Jason” in the next installment of Teach it Forward.