By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.
Before the Thanksgiving holiday, I was on my way to one of our schools in East Greenwich and stopped by to grab a cup of coffee on the way. It was around 10:30 or so, well past what I would consider the “morning rush.” As such, I was a little surprised to see a line of people waiting. In addition, I got stuck in my office and didn’t leave as early as I wanted to.
I like to leave a little bit of wiggle room when traveling. It’s occasionally a conversation in our home. For example, when heading to the airport for a flight, I like to be at the airport at least two hours early. Honestly, it’s not just because I don’t want to miss my flight; it’s because I’m an aviation geek. I have earned a private solo pilot’s license, which means that I can fly by myself in a single-engine Cessna. My Wife would like to be the last person on the plane and have the flight attendants close the door behind her! Alas, we compromise…
Beyond that, I do not like to be late in general, so I do tend to overestimate how long it takes to get somewhere. A high school teacher often remarked, “Punctuality is the politeness of kings and queens.” That has stayed with me into adulthood.
Standing in line, I wondered if I needed an additional cup of coffee after all. While ruminating on that, I looked toward the cashier and saw that the reason for the line was that a new employee was in training. I can’t imagine what the digital cash registers are like on the other side of the counter. I loved the old-school cash registers, where there was no math done for you. I’d compete with my siblings to see who could figure out the change due while standing in line at the grocery store.
Back to my line. If I stayed, I would more than likely be late. I started to get out of the line but then thought about it again. I have been in education professionally since 1996. I want to support this individual in learning how to do their job. We have to practice what we preach, right?
As I moved along the line, I could feel the tension rising in the people both in front of me and behind me. To be fair, like me, I’m confident they showed up expecting to be in and out, given the time of day. They were also doing some mental math to determine if staying in line would make them late and, based on their need for caffeine, whether staying was worth it or not. I finally got up to the front of the line and heard the familiar “Welcome to…, my name is…,” but what I didn’t expect was, “I’m in training. Please be patient with me.”
I placed my order, which, by the amount of support the new cashier needed, might have been a moderate level of difficulty. There were a couple of new screens my order introduced to the cashier. I tried my best to maintain eye contact and smiled throughout the order. Ultimately, after I paid (using my phone, so no actual exchange of money), I couldn’t help myself and said, “I think you did a great job. I’m in education, and we all have to learn at some point.”
We are about to enter one of the cruelest times of the year for teaching and learning. The “in-between” of Thanksgiving and the December Holiday Recess. It is a time when it’s not wise to introduce a substantial amount of new material and when all of us, from the young to the seasoned, feel the pressure of the holiday season. We will need patience, grace, and kindness to manage these four weeks in a way that ensures our own sanity and preserves others’ humanity. Please give those gifts as generously as you can.
I was late that day. I arrived at the school more than five minutes later than I wanted. As I scrambled from my car to the building, I saw other adults walking in quickly like me. When we reached the event, it had not even started.
I was late, and since the event hadn’t even started, it could not have mattered less. Let’s leave some time for new cashiers, rookie drivers, and the other frazzled humans we encounter in December.
We’ll all be better people for it.
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.