Holiday Foods

I don’t know if this is true across all elementary schools, but it certainly is in ours: the day before a long vacation, we wear pjs, watch a movie, and eat a ton of food. The food, for my classes at least, is usually always the same: snacks and desserts. Popcorn, chips, fruit, cookies, brownies. I ask for volunteers, generous parents send them in.

This year, I wanted to do something different. Like most good ideas, it came to me at 3 am apropos of nothing: ‘What if we had a taco bar?’ Or something similar. If instead of the usual, we picked a theme and got creative, had a whole lunch instead of just a post recess gorge.

So I broached the subject with the kids. They loved it! We had just finished up a great discussion about allegory in literature and how it connects to metaphor. I was so impressed with their thinking and eager to reward them by talking about something fun.

I laid out a few parameters: It couldn’t be anything that really needed to be served hot or cold, either for taste or health purposes, and it shouldn’t just be a suggestion of the usual things, like desserts. We’d do desserts, of course, but let’s come up with a theme! We had ten minutes before math class started, so I asked for suggestions. Tons of hands went up.

I called on the first kid. “Soup.” He stated. I paused. “Remember, it can’t be anything that needs to be hot, or cold. Soup at room temp wouldn’t be very good!”

Next kid. “Sushi!” A longer pause. “Well, room temp sushi could possibly make us sick, so that won’t work.”

Third times the charm, right? No. Of course it isn’t. “Cookies.” A long, sigh filled pause. Based on facial expression and body language (and I am really, really good at reading those), they were not trying to be funny. Other kids were nodding enthusiastically.

“Ok guys, listen again- something that maybe we could pick a theme of, like all foods of a certain type. Not just things we’ve already done. So I see a lot of hands, I want all of you to be sure you’re not just naming different types of desserts, right? You’re all sure? Ok.”

Fourth kid. “Cupcakes.” Forget the pause, I straight out yelped. “Gah! No! Are you listening?? That’s a dessert. Ok, Sasha, I’m going to call on you next. Before you talk, I want you to be absolutely sure that you are not just going to say the name of a dessert. Are you sure? Ok…”

“Cake.”

“SASHA! SERIOUSLY! WHAT IS HAPPENING!”

“Wait!” She called out, “Listen… different types of cake.” I put my face in my hands.

“Call on me!” Chris yelled. “Mine isn’t dessert!” I stared at him. “Please let this be a real suggestion.” I begged.

“A hot pot!” He crowed. Several kids oohed in agreement, nodding excitedly.

“A hot pot.” I said. “As in, a pot of near boiling oil for us to cook meat in?”

“And vegetables!” Ruth added.

“A hot pot.” I repeated. “In the classroom.”

“Oh, that might be hard, huh?” Chris mused. “Maybe brownies?”

I laid my head on my desk. “I give up. It’s time for math.”

And that, in a nutshell, is sixth grade: The ability to reason about allegory in literature, but being unable to think about the fact that cookies are dessert and hot pots are, ya know… hot.

Eventually, we came back to the discussion and did get some real suggestions. Someone said Mexican food and I nearly wept with relief.

“Yes! Exactly! And we could all bring in Mexican dishes, including desserts. Perfect! Next suggestion!”

“Italian food!” “Great!”

“Indian food!” “Sure, yeah.

“German food.” “Ok, that one might be tricky. I think most of us have had Mexican food and Italian food in the past month, but how many of you regularly eat German food? That might be too specific.”

“Algerian food.” (It’s worth noting here that none of them are Algerian.) “Ok, maybe no more ‘country or group’ followed the word food suggestion, ok?”

“Norwegian food.”

Head on desk.

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Joy

The week before winter vacation is a difficult one in school. This is largely due to the fact that after Thanksgiving, some switch flips in kid’s brains and makes them think that Christmas is coming immediately, and vacation even sooner! (As I type this, it’s suddenly occurring to me that the fact that all advertising is Christmas themed starting at least as early as Thanksgiving is to blame. There’s a research opportunity in that. Someone get on that.)

Not all my students are Christian, and not all celebrate Christmas. My school has students who are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic, and everything in between! It’s not even about the holiday- it’s the break! The longest in the school year.

Anyway, in the days just before vacation, we aren’t teaching. We aren’t even babysitting. We are fending off a coup from an army of monkeys on methamphetamine.

It’s exhausting. The energy level is so high, that it becomes a struggle just to keep kids in their seats long enough to write their names, let alone get any actual academics done. And in the week before a long break, there is stuff we absolutely have to finish. You can’t really leave something halfway done and then take a two week break. For example, we’re making maps of different regions of the U.S. It took longer than expected. At the beginning, I said things like this to my students: “Make sure when you are making economic symbols for your key, you have at least three specifically about land use for each state.” With 6 hours left of learning time before break, it became “Coloring inside the lines isn’t important! Just color!”

It can be easy to get crabby, and overwhelmed, and frustrated. So I make a conscious effort to see the world through my kid’s eyes. That advice was given to me by a colleague a few years ago, and it is the perfect advice.

See the world like they do. Snow is amazing, and beautiful, and why wouldn’t you walk away from your math book and stare out the window? Why wouldn’t you cut writing short and go outside to catch snowflakes on paper? I have my own pair of snow pants, and there is nothing more fun than sliding down an icy hill, screeching at the top of your lungs, and landing in a way that gets snow into your ear canals, all with your students.

Christmas is coming! Think about trees, and lights, and presents, and seeing your family who live far away. When one of my little ones told me, “I can’t concentrate, I’m thinking about my cousin coming to visit”, I was swamped by a memory of my own Christmases with my cousins, who are now all across the country, but who I will see next week. I let myself be distracted thinking about all the things we’d talk about. Our inside jokes, new updates, old stories.

It’s almost vacation! They tell me they’re going to ski, and sled, and stay up late, and see their friends. I think of all the things I’ll do with my time, and smile about that.

Most of all, I let myself see the joy in my kids. They are so excited they literally jump. My mother, who is the source of most of my teaching inspiration, told me of a time she watched a line of kids leaping like popcorn, spinning and dancing, with sheer excitement. She told me, you can let yourself be frustrated they aren’t in line, or let yourself be grateful that they are so happy with their life that they literally have to dance a little.

So during this crazy week, I give in to the joy. Every shouted answer, every joke that couldn’t be kept in, every high five that has to happen before we can put our chairs down, every belly laugh we share as a class. Joy. I am surrounded by some of the happiest people in the world. What a gift.