Skip to content

Your Professor Serves at Applebee’s (Or: Why Profs Hate Texting In Class)

2010 April 23

College students everywhere, heed this metaphor:

Imagine you’re a server in some sort of fern-filled bar/restaurant – let’s say Applebee’s.  You’re serving 20 people in a single group, all by yourself.  You in fact know that all 20 of these people are regulars to Applebee’s – they come in all the time.  In fact, this Spring, they’ve even been requesting you to be their server every time they come in!

Today, all 20 order fajitas.  Now, fajitas are a fairly difficult order because they have to be timed carefully – they must still be sizzling when they get to the table.  So you carefully watch which orders come up, and the moment the orders are filled, you make several quick trips across the restaurant to deliver all 60 pieces of the meal (meat skillet, sides/toppings plate, and tortilla container for each of the 20).

Mission accomplished – or so you think.  As the meal progresses, you notice 10 of the people aren’t eating their food!  When you ask them one of them why, they just shrug and go back to chatting with their friends.  At the end of the meal, after everyone leaves, you notice that those 10 didn’t even touch their fajitas.

You’re annoyed.  But do you have the right to be?  They still paid for their food, and thus the service you provided – they simply didn’t eat anything.  Why would they do that, you wonder?  Why order food you don’t want to eat?  Why did I even bother bringing the plates out if they weren’t going to eat it?  Couldn’t I have just left the food in the kitchen and taken their money?

This is the struggle that all professors go through.  When you text or read Facebook in class, you’re ignore the fresh, sizzling, heaping portion of knowledge that we are trying to serve you.  We know the knowledge is delicious, because we’ve spent our whole lives gathering that knowledge – we love it!  So why don’t you?  We go to a great deal of effort to craft the perfect knowledge fajita for you to enjoy, and then you just ignore it!

And from a practical standpoint, why would you pay to take classes when you don’t intend to learn anything?  And if you did pay for classes where you didn’t want to learn, why show up in class at all?  If you don’t want to get any value out for your money, why not just send your university a check and stay home?  If you’re not paying attention in class, you’re not learning anything in class – just stay home and come on exam days.

And why did I create this metaphor? I’m teaching undergraduates this summer for the first time in about a year, which has made me reflect on what new course policies I’ll be setting.  Should I have a rule about no texting?  Should I have a rule about no laptops?  Should I cram the fajita down their throats?

I cringe at the thought.

And you might wonder why I hesitate to institute policies forbidding the use of wireless devices that apparently lots of faculty have no problem implementing.  The reason is simple: because it’s a knee-jerk reaction.  “Students aren’t paying attention, and doggone-it, I won’t have that in my classroom!”  Personally, I don’t really care that students are texting and using their laptops in my classroom; they have free will, after all.  If they don’t want to partake of my delicious knowledge fajita, they don’t need to.  I’m more interested in convincing them that they should want to get value for their money – that they should want to learn, and to be a better person.

I’m just sad they won’t eat the fajita on their own.

Previous Post:
Next Post:
3 Responses leave one →
  1. April 25, 2010

    Richard: When I was training teachers in classroom management, one useful tool is called TWWA or teaching while walking around. I’ve trained professionals and no matter how large or small the group, I try to always move around the room. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible depending on the topics being taught or spacing issue. The other thing might be that doing so actually distracts the audience (if it’s done too much). To balance between capturing the audience’s attention while achieving my aiming of delivering the lesson or training, I use a combination of TWWA and asking open-ended questions to random students. I’ve even tried to use humor (one time I came right next to someone who was nodding off). It made everyone laugh and lightened the mood.

    More often than not, I do find that TWWA works. Sometimes, I’ll lecture or talk from the back of the room. It keeps the students or participants on their toes. I’ll be curious to hear what techniques or strategies you’ll try next. I was laughing at the “Should I cram the fajita down their throats?” comment. Good luck.


  2. April 25, 2010

    I actually use that technique to some degree already – I hate podiums. I don’t walk to the back of the classroom, but I use the old-school debate technique of staying generally in one place while making a point, walking to another place in the room while transitioning from point to point, and then staying generally in the new location until the next transition. It keeps visual interest and also ties your movements to what you’re talking about.

    The odd thing is, even in the last few undergrad classrooms I taught in (last academic year and summer), I don’t generally have people texting excessively. Maybe the occasional message, but nothing to nearly the degree I often read about online – stories of entire rooms of students looking under their desks clicking away. What I’m struggling with now is figuring out if that’s happened because my style discourages such distractions, or because more people text compulsively now than they did a year ago.

  3. April 25, 2010

    The use of technology has permeated our people’s lives so much that students now blur the line between how they use technology (tweeting, texting, surfing the web, etc.) away from school and at school. Even adults seem to struggle as excessive use of technology (e.g., constantly checking emails, web surfing, online games & shopping, etc.) in the workplace has increased. I believe the simplicity and availability of web phones has made it easier to distract ourselves. That’s the double-edged sword of technology.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS