At McFast, a new fast-food joint with a fresh name, employees are training in all things fast food before being put on the line. Before opening their doors, each employee goes through training in various areas of the restaurant. In week one, employees are trained on French fries: how to drop them into the hot oil, when to remove them, how to drain them, and how much seasoning to add. The manager has slotted exactly one week of learning for their employees. Several employees had the system down pat on day one, so they spent the subsequent four days still practicing at the fry station. Week one at McFast was all about French fries. Week two would be all about burgers, week three would be shakes, and so on and so forth.
Lyndsey, an eighteen-year-old new hire at McFast, was ill for the entire week of French fry training. When they arrived at work at the start of week two, they were met by the manager who handed them some catch up materials: a personal frying station to practice on at home and a series of assignments that were missed over the last five days to complete and turn in to the manager as soon as possible. During their current shift, the start of Burger week, Lyndsey was instructed in all things burgers: how to cook them, flip them, and when to know they were cooked through. Lyndsey felt confident about their ability to cook burgers at the end of day one and looked forward to day two when they could practice the skills again and maybe get tutored on the French fry station.
Exhausted at the end of the long training shift, Lyndsey went home, ate some dinner, and took a bath. As they got into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, they suddenly realized that they had homework to do: French fries. They barely could keep their eyes open and just wanted to binge some retro comedy sitcoms and go to bed. But the dark grey bag with the lime green McFast logo emblazoned on the side with the personal frying station inside reminded them that their day was not over yet. And so, they grabbed a caffeinated beverage and reluctantly got down to work.
Within minutes, Lyndsey was confused as to how to turn the station on and within an hour had burned themselves on hot oil…twice. Disgruntled by their performance, glazy eyed from a full day of training on the burger station, and now concerned that if they stopped and went to bed, they would not be able to sleep because the caffeine from the coffee they drank would kick in, Lyndsey trudged onward and continued to practice. At 1:30 AM, they finally stopped and went to bed. Lyndsey sighed at the thought of their alarm clock going off in just five hours.
In the morning, Lyndsey sluggishly arrived at work. Their manager asked them how the fry station learning went. Lyndsey admitted that they struggled and explained why. The manager informed them that they were confident they would get the hang of it by the following evening and suggested they collaborate with the manager at lunch. Lyndsey had promised their friend, Danny, they would meet them for lunch that day, so had not packed a lunch. When they explained the situation to the manager, the manager informed Lyndsey that if they did not understand fries and complete all the necessary assignments, they would not be on the line. “Employees must,” he said in a commanding voice, “show they understand all areas in the restaurant before they receive their first shift.” Lyndsey needed this job so badly. They had plans to go to university in two years and needed to save every penny to apply. Lyndsey’s mom passed away just three years ago and their dad, a meat packer at LargeCo, made just enough to pay the rent, utilities, and put food on the table. Any dreams of post-secondary education was the sole responsibility of Lyndsey. Lyndsey’s plan was to take two gap years after high school and work. McFast was only five blocks from their apartment, so they did not need a vehicle, and on miserable days, their dad could drop them off on his way to work, only having to hang out under the store awning for thirty minutes until the manager arrived at 9:00 AM. It was the perfect place to work and stock up the coffers. For Lyndsey, every shift, even the training ones, meant they were that much closer to a degree in History and then entry into the education program at their local university. They wanted to be a high school Social Studies teacher. So, after a brief hesitation, Lyndsey pulled out their cell phone, cancelled their lunch date, and rummaged in their backpack for something they could fuel themselves with for lunch. There was only a pack of gum and small bag of pretzels from the flight to Vancouver the month before. It would have to do.
At the end of the lunch collaboration, Lyndsey had so many ideas going on in their head: French fry station details as well as burger station details, how much income they would lose if they did not get a shift at the end of the training and the annoying sound of their stomach gurgling and rumbling. To boot, they felt no further ahead after the lunch collaboration because their manager was trying to train, eat their lunch, and feed important organizational phone calls from head office. Why did I have to get sick last week? Dam Covid. It is ruining everything.
The following day, Lyndsey made sure they packed a lunch so they could wolf it down before another lunch of training. They had not done any review on the personal fry station at home because the power went out for two hours due to a windstorm. That morning, the manager announced they had an all-manager meeting at lunch and would not be able to help Lyndsey. Frustrated, they hoped they could figure out the station that evening at home. They had no other choice.
By the end of the week, each night struggling with the at home learning, plus reviewing important information about the burger station, Lyndsey felt like they were all butter fingers. With only four hours of sleep the night before because they were trying to run the personal fry station, they flubbed burger flipping and seasoning on test day, a skill they had nailed every day for the last three days. At lunch, the manager reviewed French fries with Lyndsey, but Lyndsey had not quite mastered the draining of the fries at home. The manager suggested they keep the personal fry station, take home the personal burger station, and work on both skills over the weekend. Lyndsey tried to explain that they had grasped burgers and the manager had seen them grasp burgers every day for the last three days. The manager would not budge. Test day was test day. On Monday, the manager informed Lyndsey, they would test them on both fries and burgers because that was the fast-food philosophy at McFast.
Ugh, not only do I know burgers, they thought to themselves, I could have practiced fries for the last two days at work, with the help of another employee who also knew burgers but was present for the fry training. This whole training set up is so screwy.
At the end of the training shift, Lyndsey tried, once more, to appease to the sentimental side of their manager. The manager insisted that that was the routine they had used at all McFast establishments: follow the book, get results. That was the motto. The manager told Lyndsey that if they made compromises for them, then they would have to make compromises for all the trainees. “That wasn’t the McFast way,” he said. “If an employee missed training, it was their responsibility to get caught up.” Seeing there was no budging the manager, Lyndsey went home, riddled with dissatisfaction.
That evening, instead of using the personal French fry and burger stations, Lyndsey decided to skip practicing. Mentally exhausted and overwhelmed, they called up their friend, Danny, and asked them if they knew of any other businesses hiring. As a matter of fact, Burger Queen, where Danny was employed, was opening a new restaurant south of town the following week and looking for employees. Danny said they would put in a good word for Lyndsey. They were very hopeful.
A week later, following Danny’s good word and a great interview, Lyndsey got the job at Burger Queen. Lyndsey gave McFast their notice, happily turned in the personal fry station and burger station, and eagerly awaited their new training to begin. The McFast manager would not look at Lyndsey throughout the whole transaction.
At Burger Queen, Lyndsey immediate got a different sense of the training process compared to McFast. The manager explained that each employee was challenged to do all the positions, French fries, burgers, chicken fingers, and shakes, but as soon as they minimally grasped one position, they could immediate start working at that position. When the manager felt they were ready, they would start training at other stations, shadowing the expert employees, employees who knew their position well, and then the manager would determine when they were ready for another position. When employees had more than one position under their belt, they could work either of the positions as they wanted to or when required. There were tests for each position, like McFast’s tests, but the manager also said that the test would be used to reinforce the observations they made as trainees worked hands-on in each position. If there were any areas of concern, they or an expert employee would support them to fine tune that area of concern.
Lyndsey was thrilled. After just two days on the French fry line, the manager gave them the green light to work the line with an expert employee as a shadow. At McFast, Lyndsey reflected, everyone had to do a week of learning no matter their confidence or progress. I already have a shift at Burger Queen! This process made so much more sense to them. Within no time, Lyndsey was working on the fry station solo, and the manager had informed them that they could start burger training in two weeks. Lyndsey was happy at the fry station and was excited to learn another skill soon.
At Burger Queen, employees were also encouraged to discuss any areas of concern while on the job or in training. Lyndsey shuddered at the thought of sharing something negative or asking for extra support. At McFast, the manager encouraged employees to do the same. On one occasion, a friend of Lyndsey’s informed her, during fry training, the manager asked who spilled oil on the floor and did not clean it up. The manager told all the employees that the establishment was a safe place to admit fault. “We can learn from the mistake together,” the manager told their crew. So, at the end of the shift, the employee who spilled the oil approached the manager and told them had spilled the oil and apologized. The manager thanked the employee for their honesty, and then promptly fired them. The employee handed over their apron and left in tears. The whole event spread through the crew like wildfire, and employees were shocked and dismayed by the action of the manager, but that did not matter. The next day, the manager stopped the rumours and explained their justification for firing the employee: “While I did say that employees should feel comfortable admitting their errors,” they went on, “never did I say there would be no consequences. Rules are rules. The policy around spillage at McFast is solid. Oil spills will result in immediate dismissal.”
“The problem is,” Lyndsey’s friend shared, “the employee who spilled the oil had been left alone at the fry station to fend for themselves after missing two days. They should never have been left alone.”
“Geez, that could have been me,” Lyndsey replied, grimacing through sips of sparking water. “I missed a week, but I was given a personal fry station to take home. I spilled oil, but no one knew because no one was around to see it.” Lyndsey was not sure if they should feel relieved, they had not come back to work during the fry station training. Nevertheless, the repercussions of the employee getting fired had a lasting effect on the mood of the crew. Everyone walked on eggshells, fearful of making a mistake and losing their job. When Lyndsey was hired, she immediately sensed the tension.
At lunch, one day, Lyndsey, still feeling good about working at Burger Queen, broached a conversation with a few fellow employees about their manager’s philosophy on expressing concerns, sharing their own concerns as to the validity. To their surprise, everyone at the table shared a story of approaching the manger and the resulting positive action. Sally shared a concern about the cost of oil resistant footwear. At the next manager meeting, the managers all agreed that employees would be reimbursed for the costly accessory. Joe shared a concern about sick days. While no forward action resulted immediately from the concern, the manager expressed his appreciation for the share and promised to keep the idea until the time was right to approach upper management. Gale approached the manager about not cooking the fries all the way through and having to dump two batches in the garbage. The manager suggested they collaborate with Joe, an expert fryer, on the fry station for the next week so Joe could find out what mistake Gale was making during the process and report back to the manager. After discovering that the oil was at the wrong temperature, Gale continued to collaborate with Joe until their confidence was regained.
In all situations, no one was fired for their honesty. Lyndsey was especially happily surprised that Gale was not fired for their flub. Maybe this establishment is different. Maybe they really do care.
That night, Lyndsey enjoyed an evening out with Danny.
“I didn’t want to quit McFast because I needed the money,” Lyndsey told Danny, “but I honestly feel the manager did not care if I was successful or not. They only care about their bottom line, getting through all their training lessons. I needed someone who intervened on a more granular level, not someone who chucked all the learning at me to do on my own because I missed a week. I am only glad I am now at Burger Queen.”
“I completely understand,” Danny replied. “At Burger Queen, I actually feel appreciated. I know it is just a fast-food place, but I actually like working there. I am not an expert at any area, but I know enough that I could move on. The manager made interventions that suited me. What worked for me to help me was not the same for another employee, but it was available and accessible. He also knows I have this job so I can eventually leave it. He does not make me feel like only staying makes me worthy.”
“I heard,” Lyndsey continued, “that several employees just quit McFast for feeling unappreciated and unsupported. They all want to work at Burger Queen. Burger Queen doesn’t have any openings so now they either have to grovel for their job back and suck it up or wait until there’s an opening at one of the two Burger Queen locations.”
“It is sad that all companies, and not just fast-food restaurants, do not have the Burger Queen mindset. Everyone should be able to walk into any position at any job, clothing store, candy shop, or fast-food restaurant and treated as people with potential, so matter what prior skill.”
“Can you imagine what that would be like? Being hired for a job would not be a crapshoot as to whether the employer will treat you like a human being or a robot. Every store owner and manager need a successful company to prosper, and they all need employees to prosper. Employees need to feel like they belong no matter what they need to learn or how they learn.”
“Dream on, Lyndsey. So many employees are so old school. They are not willing to change. All we can do is feel good that we work at Burger Queen with an employer who actually believes in us.” Danny giggled. “Today, burgers and fries! Tomorrow, the moon, and stars!”
The two laughed and chatted through the evening, toasting their current jobs, and sharing their hopes and dreams for the future.
That night, as they lay in bed under their cool, cotton sheets, Lyndsey wondered about what Danny said. Could these old dogs be taught new tricks? Why are they so unwilling to change their mindset? Why is it always about their bottom line and not about their employee’s progress? How can they expect their employees to follow their lead and become leaders themselves, if the leadership is so rigid?
Lyndsey shook their head at the thought of still being an employee at McFast. Burger Queen was just what they needed. Then they rolled over, tucking their hands around their body pillow, closed their eyes, and dreamt of more equitable times.
In this fictional story, I tried to paint a picture of equality and equity, but rather than using an actual classroom scenario, I decided to make a fast food restaurant analogy. My hope is that you will see that fair isn’t always equal and I challenge you to build more equitable learning opportunities for students in your classrooms. The essence of standards-based grading, labour-based grading, and going gradeless, to name but a few progressive assessment practices, is a more equitable approach to teaching and learning: meet students where they are at and move them forward. This means that some students will do more than others and that’s okay. It means that some students will do less than others and that’s okay too. It’s about what students can do, not how much more one student can do versus another. I’m not promoting a less is more shift because the more practice students get and the more feedback the receive, the more growth they will experience. What I’m suggesting is that not every student needs to read the whole novel to work on the same skill and not every students needs to do all 44 practice questions when they need 10 to be successful on a summative assessment. We need to eliminate the phrase, “But that’s not fair to the other students.” This is an empowering shift that is worth embracing and it has to come sooner rather than later because we are losing students at a rapid rate. We are losing their trust in an archaic system that fosters competition, completion, and compliance instead of rebuilding the system and challenging ourselves to develop a system that fosters growth, best evidence, opportunity, and agency. Join me on an equity revolution.