A Kind of Sad Story

I was at the check out counter at Trader Joe’s watching the world’s fastest checker outer scan my items and bag my groceries.  She was amazing.

Me:  “How did you get so good at this?”

World’s Fastest Checker Outer (WFCO):  “I’ve been doing it for a long time, four years.  I started as a senior in high school, now I’m a senior in college.”

Me:  “You’re going to graduate.  What’s next?”

WFCO:  “Well, I want to be a teacher.  My degree will be in teaching, but I’ll probably just stay here.  The pay is better.”


WFCO:  “Kind of sad that a grocery bagger is paid more than teacher, isn’t it?”


The good news is, Trader Joe’s gets it.  The bad news is, the rest of society doesn’t.

The Atlantic reports:

“QuikTrip, Trader Joe’s, and Costco operate on a different model, Ton says. ‘They start with the mentality of seeing employees as assets to be maximized,’ she says. As a result, their stores boast better operational efficiency and customer service, and those result in better sales. QuikTrip sales per labor hour are two-thirds higher than the average convenience-store chain, Ton found, and sales per square foot are over 50 percent higher. ..

The approach seems like common sense. Keeping shelves stocked and helping customers find merchandise are key to maximizing sales, and it takes human judgment and people skills to execute those tasks effectively. To see what happens when workers are devalued, look no further than Borders or Circuit City. Both big-box retailers saw sales plummet after staff cutbacks, and both ultimately went bankrupt.”  (Emphasis added)

So these retailers understand that it takes human judgement to stock shelves and help customers, and therefore the people performing these tasks are to be valued for their ability to make such judgement.

In other words, in a context that assumes that judgement and people skills matter, an investment is made in people who are put in position to utilize their skills and make such judgments.

Meanwhile teachers continue to battle pay and pension cuts.

“Kind of sad that a grocery bagger is paid more than teacher, isn’t it?”


One response to “A Kind of Sad Story

  1. Great piece, Bill. Here’s my (corresponding) story:
    I’m in Arizona, doing a workshop for National Bd Certified Teachers. After a day of hard work, several of us retreat to the bar for a glass of wine. The conversation turns to salaries and benefits–and how teachers in elementary districts (which is how urban schools are divided there) have crummy health benefits, because the assumption is they will get better insurance through their husbands. The person telling this story is a man who teaches in an elementary district and can’t get insurance for his family. When he mentions his salary (after a dozen years, and NBPTS certification), I am shocked at how little he makes.

    The cocktail waitress, delivering a new round, chimes in. Oh yeah, she says–I was a teacher for seven years. She puts down her tray, and says “I went to Arizona State, and couldn’t wait to be a teacher. I loved it. But as a single person, I didn’t make enough to live on. So I started waitressing on weekends. Now I do it full-time–and make about twice what I made as a teacher.”

    You don’t have to read blogs or comments on newspaper articles to understand the contempt for teaching in the United States. What we pay teachers, and how we treat them, is blatant evidence of that.

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