Don’t Tip your “Serving” Tray

I was watching a TIVO’d American Idol yesterday with my wife. A young hopeful was brutally rebuffed and sulked away, rejected, hurt and emotional. He turned to the camera (of course) and, tearing the clouds apart, cried “My spirit is broken!” (Somewhere in the distance a wolf howled.)


Sheesh…somethings just don’t change. You have to admire those editing masters that never get any credit for the behind-the-scenes vignette work that is poured over every 2-hour “road to Hollywood” Idol episode. Those vignettes are always emotional, abrasive…and very cheesy. They know their stuff. What does America like: drama, in-your-face realism and cheese.

I bring up the topic of ones SPIRIT today because I had a similar situation happen to me yesterday. While I did not appear on American Idol, I did at one point feel like my spirit was broken. (Even candidly that statement sounds over-the-top.) Let’s just say that my heart sank for what I loved. That’s what your spirit is after all…right? What you’re passionate about, what you love and your predominate feeling or mood about it…it all boils down to your essential essence or spirit.

I read a letter to the editor in the newspaper today, written by a public high school teacher in Clark County about how concerned he was about the state of public education system in Nevada. If you don’t know, our school board passed out 6% pay cuts at Christmas parties, inflated classrooms in the upwards of 28 students per class (an all-time, national high) and offered limited reams of copy paper and office supplies in order to encourage use of technology. (Think about that, Faith Lutheran teachers, next time you complain about your new MacBooks!)

But seriously, there is a gray cloud over anyone who loves to teach in Nevada. There are revolving doors on all of our schools and then there are the teachers that DO stick around. Most of the time, they aren’t the ones you WANT to have around. (Just like students, really! Aren’t the ones that bug you the most…the ones that find your classroom quite cozy?) Our giant school district (which should be divided into three districts, in my opinion) is a not a very happy place. They’ve had a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” attitude about test scores and offered very little as far as incentives are concerned for prospective newbie teachers. There is no silver-lining to this Silver State dilemma.

I was sitting in a restaurant yesterday with a group of colleagues having a lunch meeting. For the sake of my colleagues, and the students they teach and the parents that may read this…I’ll keep the agenda and particulars confidential out of respect. But I left that meeting quite deflated. I teach six classes (two sections of high school drama, high school advanced drama, middle school drama, middle school clowning & puppetry, and I team-teach a middle school dance class and during one of my prep periods I also facilitate over an Independent Study Costume Design class) and I have a very full plate. Drama is amazingly prop heavy and while we’re known as the nomads of all performance classes (meaning most flexible, after all we don’t carry tubas or music stands full of choral music) we still have a fair share of preparatory work before every project. I love my job and look forward to it. I work in one of the top private schools in the country and the expectations are very high. But, above any hidden complaint, or off-handed comment, I work with amazing students, an amazing administration and wonderful colleagues. The buildings are big…the carpets are steamed cleaned 4 times a year, the landscaping is beautiful, and everyone has a hand in building up the ginormous (real word) pillars that hold Faith Lutheran up so high. Everyone wants their particular subject area to succeed. Talk about a high caliber, feverish, energetic and positive environment, right? Well…we fall short.

Everyone wants to be proud of a something big that happens. It’s human nature. Just as the Holy Spirit works through us, we want our emotional spirits and passions to be worked over everyday as well. We want to flex our creative muscles. (And those that don’t are the ones that are “stuck.” See above.) We want to anticipate something. We want to revolutionize something. We want to bring something new to the table. We want to win. We want to be in charge. We want control.

I had this game as a kid called “Don’t Tip the Waiter.” Silly game. There was a two-foot tall cut-out of a snobby waiter that teetered on to spokes that protruded from each hip. Above his head he hoisted up a flat cardboard serving tray. You’d spin a wheel and depending upon your luck you’d be challenged to position a cardboard steak, or broccoli, or pizza slice, on top of the serving tray. If you weren’t careful, if you didn’t use good judgment, and if you weren’t careless, the waiter would become unbalanced and tip over,  dumping the food on the ground. Good times. (I also liked the dude on Sesame Street that would come out with eight cream pies, announce the number of the day, and proceed to trip down the stairs and splat the pies all over!)


I’m extremely fortunate to not fall into like categories as public school teachers do, so I won’t be dealing with the 6% pay cut or reams of paper. But, the high level of expectation, mixed with the superior caliber of faculty members with strong personalities working there (that’s meant to be a compliment) with a dash of pride that so easily consumes us…you find yourself with a volatile cocktail sometimes. Let’s just forget that this week is exam week!

I exchanged blows with my colleagues across dirtied plates of devoured spaghetti, and found myself pouting, fighting and defending the simplest and most minute things in order to prove my point. Again, it’s hard for me to explain without going into details about the particulars…but think about a time when you’ve been SO SURE that you were 100% right, that when it was brought into question (let’s say, even without conflict) you lost it! It’s not a fun situation. You wind up taking everything personally, all the while drudging up past mistakes (and, in your attempts to defend, not just your own mistakes) to prove your points and…why? Ultimately, you want to get your way. Right?

As teachers, (be it science, P.E., History, English or stinkin’ Underwater Basket Weaving!), it is our responsibility to be loyal to not only our individual disciplines…not only the care and success and spiritual well-being  of our students…but it is our responsibility to make certain that pride doesn’t overcome passion.

We all want to win. We hoist philosophies, quirks, resources, lessons, and emotions on a plate so high above our heads sometimes, that we forget what’s up there. We teeter-todder around our everyday on a whirlwind of rituals and “must-dos” that when we reach up to snatch something off of the plate, we don’t even see how that removed “food” is unbalancing the rest of our plate.

I’m guilty as charged. On top of all that, I’m a bit absent-minded. (Put a blind-fold on my waiter!) So, my journey is no different.

I don’t think anyone walked away from our meeting yesterday feeling good. My lasagna wasn’t even that good. So, why did I sit in my car for 15 minutes staring out of the windshield questioning my calling as a drama teacher? Why did I find my love for performing arts and my love for my students and more so, my love for growing in Christ, and watching those I teach grow in Christ everyday…why did I find those things being “messed with.” That’s the stinkin’ tray! That’s my serving tray. Why would I question that? How can I?

You know, I’m a big guy (6’4″) and I can take a lot of heat and punishment. But when my heart takes a beating…when my pride takes a beating…when I’m forced to spill all of the contents of my serving tray onto the floor and regroup before picking them back up…it’s stinks.

Randy, Paula, Simon and that new girl (Carly??) all have a huge advantage. They can break someones spirit and know that it will be well edited.  The show always goes to commercial break. But, when students, parents, administrators, or colleagues break your spirit…you have to look them in the eye the next day in faculty meetings.

I went numb after our lunch-time conflict. I do that sometimes. I don’t deal well with conflict. I want everyone and everything to be sunshine and lollipops. I never said I wasn’t a bit ignorant. But, as a teacher…not only do you have a responsibility to the school, students, parents and community as a whole…but you have a HUGE responsibility to yourself to make sure that your “waiter” isn’t tipped.

One thing the public school teacher wrote about in his letter to the editor was that he didn’t care what happened to the “system” because he cared too much about his students to allow anything to affect his passion for teaching.  I thought that was pretty cool. I suppose God wouldn’t give you the size “serving tray” you have, if He didn’t think you could handle it.

My waiter was tipped yesterday, and my spirit was broken. But despite my human nature, the drama, the in-your-face realism….and yes, the cheese….spilled all over the floor….I’m ready for another game.


2 Responses to “Don’t Tip your “Serving” Tray”

  1. Great blog, Erik.

    I love the analogy – it’s spot on. I don’t know if you’ve waited tables or not, but many theatre folk have. There are a few things that almost all of those “serving” actors will tell you, that I thought also might apply for your situation:

    1. Everyone drops/spills a tray one day. Everyone.
    2. When it happens, the patrons around like to clap, laugh, point, be glad they aren’t you, etc.
    3. Most of the other servers, however, feel bad. They were there once, too.
    4. Once you’ve spilled or dropped your tray, it rarely happens again. You/we try harder. We learn to be more attentive. We learn to be more careful.

    You’re a fantastic and outstanding teacher. If only every student had the benefit of a teacher like you in their life.


  2. I think everything posted was very logical. However, what about this?
    what if you wrote a catchier post title? I am not suggesting your information isn’t solid,
    however suppose you added a title that makes people desire more?
    I mean Dont Tip your Serving Tray | Lord…What’s My Motivation? is a little plain. You should peek at Yahoo’s front page and see
    how they create news titles to get viewers to click. You might try adding a
    video or a related picture or two to get readers interested about everything’ve written. Just my opinion,
    it could make your website a little livelier.

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