Saturday, April 7, 2012
Real Hunger, No Games
I had a student this quarter, a man in his mid-fifties, who was excited (and quite nervous) to be back in school after so many years. He took scrupulous notes, participated, arrived on time and, despite difficulty with the subject matter, was always enthusiastic.
One day, he wasn't his usual self. He sat quietly in his seat, with a blank expression through the whole four-hour block. He didn't take notes or engage with any of his classmates. After class, I asked him if perhaps he wasn't feeling well. After some hemming and hawing, he admitted that he hadn't eaten anything in two days. He is on food stamps, but something went wrong with his pin number, and he hadn't been able to navigate the bureaucracy yet to get it fixed. I tried to get him to go with me to student services, who maintain a food closet for our large population of needy students to get something to tide him over, but he refused, clearly because he was embarrassed.
I sat in the staff room later, mulling over how pointless it must seem to try and write a topic sentence when you haven't eaten, and how amazing these students are who try their best despite some glaring holes in their Maslow's needs. I also wondered if there was anything I could do to help students without putting them on the spot, besides working occasional treats into lesson plans.
A fellow teacher, who always has too much stuff to carry to her classroom without the aid of a wheeled cart, bustled into the room at that moment. I'd noticed before that she always had a big basket of red apples with her stuff, but didn't think much about it. Now it took on new relevance. I asked her what was up with the apples.
You can probably guess the answer. Hungry students. She keeps the basket by the door so when students go on breaks they can take an apple if they are hungry. It's always there, and no one has to ask. Simple and brilliant. It's one of those small kindnesses that can make a world of difference.