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Blogging My Memory: Off the Bench and Back to Writing

I'm also a robot sent from the future, and will someday govern California.

Heyooooooooo awesome blog perusers!!

I know I’ve been on the proverbial bench for over three months now, but to be perfectly honest, I went through a stretch where I lost the will to blog. I know this fact has been extremely disappointing the majority of the world, but fear not earth, my rambling, semi-edited chronicling a of teenager-teaching life has returned.

Since I last posted my School Lunch Experiment, so much has happened at school. I can remember a few times where I sped home around 5 PM, passed out for my half hour nap routine, and then forced my dazed self to write a post. Each of these two or three times, I managed less than three meager paragraphs. I can vaguely recall the culprits of my blogging inefficiency. Each time I sat down to type, I was sucked into the many entrances of the black hole of distraction; either magnetized out of my apartment to play basketball at the Y (which I’m literally addicted to), or compelled to hit click on another webpage on the internet. The latter always resulting in the opposite of productivity – my brain turned off, and my eyes transfixed on most important articles on fantasy baseball mock drafts, videos of puppies wresting cubs, or even the newest pictures of Blue Ivy! So hopefully everyone can relate to this common predicament.

Looking back in during the last few days of a much-needed ‘SPRING BREAK 0-12’ (which should always be shouted like a frat boy), there is absolutely zero excuse for me not to write a little blog post. The toughest part is that so much has happened since my last post “The School Lunch Experiment” in mid January.

No need for blogging. When this little guy becomes a teacher, he'll never forget his weeks yelling at hallways of loud adolescent elephants.

I’ve been thinking about memory recently, and my fear is that if you don’t give yourself time to sit back and reflect on your day, week, or, as it has crept up on me, your month (s), than all of the things you could have appreciated or learned from could be lost.

So off to my handy iCal, which will hopefully jog my fading memory and allow me to summarize some of the more gripping events of the past few months at school.

The end of January, through my 8th grade teacher eyes, could be defined by my attempts at preparing my students for their midterms. Our school’s second marking period ended at around this time, and most of the students grades were even more jaw-droppingly low headed into these cumulative tests.

To give you a depressing and way-too-dramatic visual, try to follow me here: Imagine yourself of showing up in the morning to wherever you work, and putting your briefcase or work satchel in where-ever you store your personal belongings. You walk into a room with a giant, clear wheel propped up on a platform made for a human being to enter and walk on. You step into the wheel and begin running full speed (anywhere from 6.0-10.0 depending on your level of treadmill fitness). You continue doing this for seven hours straight, and then you stop, get out of the giant clear wheel, and head home to pass out face down in your bed.

Look at him making so much (figurative) progress!Tiring right? Seems pretty frustrating? Trying everything you possiblycan to help your students pass classes that they haven't done homework in for months is essentially this, a near impossibility with many an hour spinning your wheels like a jeep stuck in the mud.

This overly extended metaphor wasn’t meant to explain my entire livelihood at school for the past few months. It’s just me trying to represent the few weeks reviewing year-long concepts in preparation for a midterm.

Into February, my trusty iCal tells me that I was helping lead our 8th graders into a ‘promising’ 3rd marking period. One in which, if I remember my attempt at inspiring words correctly, was an “exciting chance to improve and show everyone that you are ready to enter high school!” These couple of weeks, I made a concerted effort to, and of course struggled at, getting students to come after school for help. (Now I just remembered it was then when I was about to write about this before getting distracted by the Jeremy Lin phenomenon). The school month of February went by quickly because we had Winter Recess and an entire week off to relax and recharge our injured motivations.

After break, March happened. This was the time last year, if you want to search through my old blog posts, where I almost broke down completely as a teacher. For all teachers on this public school schedule, March is the most dreaded and painful month. To new teachers, they say, “Just get through March, into Spring Break, and your home free”. This could not be more true.

What has stuck with me so much this year after the 7 week grind without a break from teaching is how emotionally unscathed and “used-to-it” I’ve become. I definitely want to separate this feeling in my mind from the neighboring feelings of complacency or even ‘not-giving-a-crap’, but I’ve definitely learned so much after a few years. I tend to look at things as being in my control or not, and I leave it at that.

Imagine these on middle school girls as a rewards celebration. It's weird I know - but they loved it. E-mail me if you want the real pics.

More of my thoughts on this to come in future posts, but these last weeks at school, our team of teachers have worked insanely hard. Our eighth grade team has made over 900 calls to parents this year. In addition, all of the teachers plead to students to come for help after school when they are confused. Basically, we’re doing our jobs with following up with students.

This whole year, I’ve had very honest and direct conversations about school and home lives with my students every day while pushing them to do their best. I’ve taught after school English Test prep on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and coached soccer on Wednesdays.

What I’ve learned after yet another 3rd marking period of failing students is that the majority of the reoccurring problems preventing student achievement are more strongly influenced by obstacles outside of some of the amazing work we do inside school.

Either way, we have to stay positive and keep our heads up as state tests begin this upcoming week! We can even celebrate some of the smaller successes with fun mustache rewards parties.

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Student Size Me: The School Lunch Experiment

Woke up in the late afternoon…

In late November, I had one of those lazy Sundays that sets you up to be very distressed at the beginning of your work week. Not only did I barely plan a lesson for Monday, but I left a laundry list of errands undone in favor of college-esque napping, football, TV, and goofing around.

Aside from leaving my laundry undone and my parking tickets unpaid, I totally forgot to do any grocery shopping. I neglected to pick up the essentials for my morning sandwich creation routine, including deli meats, bread, cheese, and of course, snacky-poos.

As I hungrily realized my mistake during third period, I knew that I didn’t want to spend 11 dollars on the one decent sushi place at the corner. I also knew that our school sits in the middle a neighborhood that is far from any worthwhile food.

All of a sudden, an idea swept over me. Why not go downstairs to the basement cafeteria, (where the children eat ) and order me some school grub? Few teachers have ever thought about this as an option (maybe because they cherish their few minutes away from screaming students, or that they are adults and can buy their own food). But in my heart, I knew I had always wanted to go through with the school lunch experiment.

Because I love getting excited about eating, I thought that consuming five straight school lunch meals and writing down my notes on them would be worthwhile. Maybe they would affirm or dispel some of  people’s assumptions about the free and reduced school lunch program in our city. Let’s see what you think.

Day 1 – Monday – 11/28/11

Breaded chicken patty, whole-wheat bun, pineapple chunks, fried potato wedges, chocolate milk. Other option – slice of pizza.

The breaded chicken patty was very processed, slightly warm, and a little too solid. It was your standard “That’s definitely not really chicken” patty, that you know was frozen in bulk for months before getting heated up. No condiments were offered, and even with added ketchup from the teacher’s room, it was super dry.

The whole-wheat bun was a nice surprise and was the best part of the sandwich. Healthy options were always a positive during this week.

The pineapple chunks were your standard canned sugary serving of vegetable in water.

The big serving of fried potato wedges was very heavy and filling. They were delicious because of their dense, greasy potato insides, yet by far the most unhealthy and tasty part of the meal.

The chocolate milk was wonderful, and the pizza (which most students ate) looked very re-heated and unappetizing. Other students ate school option peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, food from home, or candy and soda substitutes.

Day 2 – Tuesday – 11/29/11

Beef burger with whole wheat bun, pickles, peaches in water, herb sprinkled potato fried and baked, milk.

The burger looked like one of the poorest pieces of meat I’ve ever seen. The lunch lady said that she, “Usually has what the kids like, but today’s menu was not the best”. It was clear the kids were staying away from this mystery meat patty, but I decided I had to experience it.

I placed it on the whole wheat bun, threw some of the many pickles they served with it, and dipped it in the giant dollop of ketchup they added to my styrofoam plate. I was much easier to chew than the over-microwaved chicken patty from Monday, and actually didn’t taste terrible. The pickles and ketchup helped out, but this for sure did not taste, or feel like a healthy burger during and after consumption.

The potato’s today were different, and somewhat of an oddity. After one small burger, I assumed I would be hungry after the meal. I was wrong. After these potatoes, which each had the weight of the entire burger, I was satisfied and full. They were seasoned, which was nice, but what stuck out as odd was their super heaviness They didn’t feel or taste baked. I assumed that they were deep-fried, and then thrown in the oven for a little.

Finally, I had my healthy fruit portion – the pears in water. I was full due to the brick potatoes, and I fought myself in front of my laughing colleagues in order to finish the slimy pears off.

Day 3 – Wednesday – 11/30/11

Pasta with meat sauce, whole wheat bun, fresh salad, pineapple in water, chocolate milk.

The surprise of the week so far, this meal was tasty and healthy all around.

The pasta was delicious and light. It was the first main course of the week that tasted fresh and healthy. The only problem was that I wanted more.

The salad was fresh and the lunch ladies told me that they had just made it minutes before I came down.

The whole-wheat bun, pineapples, and chocolate milk were  all becoming good friends to me by Wednesday.

Day 4 – Thursday – 12/1/11

Oven roasted chicken with duck sauce, crepe with spinach, pepper, feta cheese, fresh salad, chocolate milk.

This was by far the best meal of the week. Wednesday surprised with a nice salad, and Thursday continued the salad and added some really tasty chicken and crepe combo.

Not only was the chicken REAL, hearty, and hot, but it tasted delicious. I’m sure it was in frozen packages hours earlier, but what I ate could have passed as freshly cooked chicken anywhere. It had a sweet duck glaze sauce on it, and by this time in the week, the lunch-ladies were throwing double portions on my Styrofoam plate (score).

I asked where they make crepes, and they told me that they were also frozen. Nevertheless, with the salad option again on the table, I was very much impressed with the cafeteria staff and the lunch in general. Even when I showed some teachers back upstairs, a few of them commented, “That’s from downstairs?!”

Day 5 – Friday 12/2/2011

Fish sticks, on flat bread tortilla, fruit punch, and chocolate milk.

Coming off some stellar meals on Wednesday and Thursday, it seems the students and teachers aren’t the only ones that may run out of gas a little by the end of the week. I mean no offense at all by this, but this meal was pretty weak by any standard. The fish sticks were almost inedible, and I just regretted not ordering the pizza at least once during the week.

I’m was actually a bit scared to post this one because I could see parents or others getting upset. The lunch staff was so kind to me, and it is obvious that the group of five or six of them work extremely hard within the boundaries of their control to offer quality meals (sound similar at all?). I want to give a big Kudos to them all, but this particular Friday the kitchen had run out of fruit options entirely. They apologized and gave me an extra fruit punch to compensate. Nevertheless, this should not be happening in our schools.

To be perfectly honest, now is a good time to say that most students did not eat this fish stick platter. The majority of the students, on most of the days, seemed to order the standard slice of pizza.

The real childhood obesity problem.

Although a few days had lackluster meals (cough-cough gross burger and fish sticks), I was surprised by the ‘better-than-expected’ quality and variety of lunch options throughout the week. I thought that eating the school lunch would be a one time thing for me, but I find myself going down for lunch once a week since my experiment.

You could make the case that most of the meals did in fact have all food groups accounted for, though nutritional experts might be terrified at the sodium and sugar percentages of some of the frozen, processed meats and canned fruits.  In addition, I would strongly suggest that salads be offered as an option every day.

I think that increasing the funding for federal and state school food programs could only benefit the healthiness and variety of options for our students. Imagine if more of those canned fruits or frozen portions could be exchanged for fresh ones?

I came in with an unfounded ‘Supersize Me’-like notion that the cafeteria only offered fried food, and that none of the food was edible at all. I came out thinking that while a few things could most definitely be changed (like not having the pizza option every single day), students who eat the school lunch have much less to complain about than they voice daily. In a follow up to come, I may look at nutritional content and what other urban school districts are doing to combat childhood obesity.

On a final note, students come into school first period every day with handfuls of potato chips, sour-gummy candies, and highly sugary soft drinks in their artificially flavor-stained hands before we make them dump them away. After school, and even at lunch, students pig out on meals entirely consisting of junk food. I know the dangers of making blanket statements about anything, so I won’t. But I can say that during my personal experience with adolescents at my individual school, many of the health issues stem from eating habits learned at home.

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