For one thing, Teacher Recognition Day — as the single day dedicated to teachers used to be called – coincided with my first big success at school. I was in the third grade and my teacher was Mrs. Briggs, a large, smiley, cherubic woman who clearly loved her students, their parents – and teaching! She gave us an assignment to write something about Teacher Recognition Day. I whipped up a poem and I could see from Mrs. Briggs’s beaming face that it was a winner. She had me share it with the class, then she shared it with the other teachers – and it was even published in the school newspaper! It’s not at all surprising that my double ambition to be a teacher and a writer began back in the third grade.
Shortly after my poetry success, my father went back to school to become a teacher. He eventually landed a job teaching fourth grade in a school with many disadvantaged children. A number of his students were immigrants and knew very little English. I was fascinated as we sat at the dinner table and he told us how, for example, he had taught Pedro how to say, “I have to go to the bathroom,” in English.
He then proceeded to teach my brother and me how to say it in Spanish. Later as a principal, he was instrumental in bringing a breakfast program into his school because he realized early on that kids couldn’t learn if they were hungry.
My father, as a teacher and as a principal, was my inspiration not only for my own career in education, but for my doctoral dissertation. It studied how caring principals promote a culture that enables children to succeed.
As a lover of current events, politics, and history, I got my Master’s Degree in teaching social studies from Columbia Teachers College. The department faculty there was inspirational and truly excited about teaching. We learned about the inquiry method – where students were given the tools to be social scientists and construct their own knowledge from original sources. Sound familiar? Years later, this same method was dubbed DBQ – Dated Based Questions. I couldn’t wait to try out all the wonderful things my teachers at TC taught me.
I hit the jackpot when I was hired to teach American History and Government at Schreiber High School in Port Washington, NY. My colleagues were on the cutting edge of educational theory and practice; together we brainstormed, discussed, and created our own teaching materials. It was wonderful to teach social studies. But we all knew that we weren’t just teaching a subject; we were teaching young people. To be successful, we needed to know where our students were coming from, and we made it our business to find out. We hung out with students during our free periods, we talked to other teachers and guidance counselors, and we were in touch with parents. The administrators were visible and accessible to students and staff. In other words, we cared about kids.
In my dissertation, I studied principals who promoted an ethos of caring in their schools – principals who consistently went above and beyond to meet the needs of children, and to meet the needs of teachers and parents as well. Not surprisingly, these principals built faculties of caring teachers.
Later, as an administrator, I verified time and again the conclusions of my dissertation. What matters most in schools is a caring environment, which addresses the needs of every child. Those are the schools where students are most successful. All of the current emphasis on standardized testing totally misses the mark. Teachers need to be able to meet the varying needs of their students, and exercise their creativity, judgment, and professional expertise. There is not a magic bullet for education that can be imposed from the outside. Caring teachers, led by caring principals, have been and continue to be the solution.
More than a half-century later, I still remember the poem that I wrote for Teacher Recognition Day, and I am still writing and learning! Thank you to all my teachers and my colleagues!
Teacher Recognition Day
Is for us to recognize,
Our teachers, who in the United States
Are so highly prized.
All the teachers deserve this day
Not just a few
So my dear teachers
May God bless each one of you.
The coincidence of a spate of stories decrying the wide use in school lunches of what critics call “pink slime” (ammonia-treated ground beef) appearing during National Nutrition Month got me to thinking about what school children eat for lunch each day.
While healthier eating has become a passionate cause among parents in many districts, it was shocking to recently learn that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had planned to purchase 7 million pounds of ammonia-treated beef for use in school lunch programs. But after a public outcry, the USDA announced that school districts that participate in the government’s school lunch program would be allowed to reject beef containing the “pink slime” filler and select filler-free meat instead.
Several U.S. school systems, such as New York City, said they would change their cafeteria menus when the move takes effect next fall. Others, including Boston, decided to remove the ammonia-treated meat immediately. Just this week, production was halted at three of four plants that manufacture the by-product.
The irony of the “pink slime” fiasco breaking during National Nutrition Month makes the issue all the more troubling. Despite years of parents’ lobbying for healthier school meal choices, the USDA was prepared to feed kids meat whose safety was questioned by some microbiologists (other experts contend it is necessary to kill bacteria such as E. coli). On the other hand, Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. I wonder how many parents would choose “pink slime.”
So how does a parent make informed school lunch choices?
There are two ways. One is to keep after your school district to serve healthier options. But keep in mind that the bottom line in food service programs is making a profit. If the healthy options don’t sell, the program will be in the red. A number of districts have instituted healthy lunch programs. An exemplary program is the one in the Port Washington, N.Y. school system. The menu is filled with healthy choices including whole grain pastas, bread, brown rice, baked sweet potato puffs, yogurt, fruit and vegetable salads, turkey, home made soups, tuna, and pita and hummus, to name a few. If your district is not this enlightened, there’s another choice – pack your child’s lunch yourself.
I remember my elementary school lunch. My mother invariably packed a sandwich and a piece of fruit – an apple, orange, or pear in the winter, and a peach or plum in the warmer weather. I remember eyeing my classmates’ goodies – Twinkies, Hostess cupcakes, chips and chocolate chip cookies – with envy. I had no idea my mother was so avant-garde!
Nowadays, with insulated lunch bags and more varied offerings, you can make your child’s lunch healthy and appealing. Here are some tips:
- Be aware of food restrictions in your child’s school, e.g. nut allergies, and respect them.
- Fill your child’s lunchbox with colorful foods from all food groups — proteins, fruits & vegetables, and whole grains. Consider items such as hard-boiled eggs, berries, grape tomatoes, sugar snap peas, carrots and hummus.
- Use whole grain breads and crackers.
- Stay away from foods high in sugar and additives.
- Cut things in cubes, such as chicken, cheese, veggies and melon.
- Remember finger foods and dips if you think your child can handle them.