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Food: The Great Icebreaker

May 28, 2012

Today I’d like to write about one of the most important parts of the school day: lunchtime.

To start, every day after fourth period I must be in the teacher’s room to wait for student representatives of the class I’ll be eating with that day (I eat with a different class every week) to come and fetch me. My schools prefer this over me just going there on my own, and at first I didn’t really understand until one time I felt like I had waited forever and so I went over to the classroom and it turned out they were in the middle of preparation. That’s what I get for being impatient! Sometimes I have to wait a little while, because classes will end late or sometimes it takes a little while to get everything all set up. The staff in the teacher’s room are always really fun to watch, because after a while you can just see them thinking that I must have been forgotten. Sometimes they’ll actually call the homeroom teacher to double check and make sure they know I’m supposed to eat with the class today. I’m secretly amused and flattered that they get so worked up about that.

Once I’m in the classroom I get directed to an empty desk, which usually belongs to someone who is absent that day. During lunchtime, my fifth and sixth graders tend to be very shy and quiet, except for a rare few. This is a big switch compared to class, when I can’t seem to get them to stay quiet! However, I’ve learned that if I talk to the class as a whole and check if they have any questions for me, they’re a little more apt to raise their hand and ask questions. When I eat with the younger grades, though, there isn’t as much reservation. They tend to be much more talkative for sure.

Speaking of questions my students ask me, I definitely get a wide variety during the Lunchtime Q&A Session, as I’ve dubbed it. I get the usual questions, such as, “How old are you?” (they all freak out when I say I’m 23, and say, “You’re so young!”), “What’s your favorite animal?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” (My answer for that question is always, “Secret!” It really gets them all riled up). However, I do get some good questions. I’ve been asked for my three sizes before, though the 5th grader that asked that immediately was reprimanded and hit over the head by his classmates before they turned to me and told me not to answer the question. One girl asked me, 「英語の先生になろう理由は何ですか。」(eigo no sensei ni narou riyuu wa nan desu ka), meaning something along the lines of, “Why did you become an English teacher?” (literally the question is something like, “What is the reason of your becoming an English teacher?”). I think my favorite question I’ve been asked so far is, “Between bread, rice, and noodles, what do you like best?” This came after the class asking what my favorite food is (peanut butter, if you didn’t know), so I told the boy who asked me that I’d probably go with bread so I can make peanut butter sandwiches!

Speaking of sandwiches, something I do to make things easier on my schools is bring my own lunch. One reason for this is so they don’t have to worry about figuring out which class needs an extra amount of food on which day and whatnot. Another reason is that if you eat the school lunch, you’re expected to eat everything that’s served that day and as many of you know, I’m really not one for seafood! So, I bring my own lunch. It’s just much easier, and a cheaper option for me since I would have to pay for the school lunch.

There are challenges to bringing your own lunch, though. The first is pretty common for those who bring “cold lunch,” (what we in Menomonie, Wisconsin called bringing your own lunch versus eating the school’s food — “hot lunch”) to school: You don’t have any way of reheating your meals, and you don’t have a refrigerator to put your lunch in to keep things cool. So, I have to find foods that won’t taste weird/go bad if they warm up/cool down to room temperature. In addition, part of me feels a sort of pressure to bring something wow-inducing — something that will get the students talk to me. Let me tell you, there are many times where all of the kids around me eat in silence because I’m sitting with them. I try to keep them in suspense, and ask them what they think might be inside my lunchbox before I open it and show them what I brought for lunch (some of my favorite guesses are fried chicken and doughnuts). I love seeing their reactions when they realize it’s “too healthy,” as put by one of my third graders a few weeks ago. One fail-safe meal that always works for me is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My students often haven’t heard of putting peanut butter and jelly together, and tend to be dubious when I tell them it’s really tasty. Another bonus is that it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to make in the mornings before school!

Another challenge I have consider when I make my lunches is bringing food that won’t make students super jealous. As a rule, we aren’t allowed to eat sweets in front of the students, so no awesome desserts for me! Fruit is considered as a type of dessert here in Japan, though, so I tend to bring a small orange and call it good. There was one day where I brought a couple of potato chips (I literally only had seven in my lunchbox) but the students at my table crowded around me and began lamenting the fact they didn’t have potato chips with their lunches. So, no more potato chips for me! I’ve discovered that if I bring super healthy lunches — rice and lots of steamed vegetables, for instance — they tend to be interested, but at the same time don’t want to try stealing my food! So, I load my lunches with all sorts of vegetables, which keeps the locusts away.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my students always seem to be surprised when I bring raw carrots as part of my lunch. Apparently eating raw carrots isn’t common here! The things you learn at lunchtime. Every time I start eating my carrots, they inevitably start calling me a rabbit. Here’s hoping they don’t start calling me Rabbit-sensei!

Remember to leave questions in the comment section if you have any!

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