Parked just outside my school on 56th street is one of New York City’s best food trucks. Inside that food truck, you will find a women I affectionately call the Queen Mother. Sometime between 11:15-11:30, Queen Mother pulls up and begins setting up for her lunchtime crowd. The good news is that my lunch begins at 11:30 and I’m often the first to get in line. The bad news is that Mama doesn’t start serving until she has every napkin and plate in place, and nobody under the sun is going to rush her.I wouldn’t go as far to compare her to Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, but there is certainly an understanding that you don’t speak until she opens her window and speaks to you first. I’ve watched her enough times to learn her routine. She slowly unpacks her napkins, then stirs her pots. She sets up her money tray, and stirs her pots some more. Sometimes she even checks her phone (because she can). And the best part is no one bats and eye. We wait. The line might be 15 deep and there isn’t one complaint, because you know that what you’re about to eat is worth every minute. Mama knows it too. But she also knows something else: You don’t dare begin a day without feeling ready. You control the pace.
Tip 2: Get your ducks in a row before opening your door.
Every morning around 8:37 (Our day starts at 8:40.), my heart starts running a little faster than the second hand. I hear the voices of my favorite 8 year olds clomping up the stairs, and almost every morning, I’m not ready. My coffee and breakfast are sitting out on the table with their work, my morning letter isn’t projected, and soft music is not playing in the background. My choices: 1) Let kids come in and start to unpack while I get music playing and project their morning letter. Harmless enough. Or 2) Take the extra minute beyond 8:40 to clean my junk off the kids’ table, turn on a little Bach, and project the directions for the day.
When I have taken choice 1 out of fear of being “on time” I turn my class into choppy waters. Have you ever tried skiing on choppy waters? It’s nearly impossible and exhausts you, even when you succeed.
A missing morning letter will most definitely yield a chorus of “What do we do? Do we read? Do you want us to turn in homework today? ” comments. By this time, I’m already cranky (because I’m not a morning person and, hello, you ALWAYS turn in homework. But they’re 8 — if it’s not spelled out, it never happened.) No morning music is a blank slate for their chatter, while Bach somehow demands reverence without saying a word.
When I choose the 2nd option, the waters are much calmer. I open the door at 8:41and act as smoothly as the Queen Mother. I take my time and greet students with a smile and a whispered welcome, and Bach takes it from there. Any questions are met with “Read the board..” and silence resumes. These two extra minutes might be the most valuable ones you spend because they preserve sanity and set your students up to enter a calm and structured space for learning.
The effective teacher is like the Queen Mother. She sets the pace, and the people follow.