It was my first in-class lesson. Ever. I was standing in front of the class, sweating, in my bright green FoodCorps t-shirt. I had been planning this lesson for days. I had my script in one hand while the other hand gestured emphatically as I “yummed” at each of the 26 students’ favorite vegetables. The students had heard from last year’s 3rd graders about FoodCorps and were excited they got to have lessons this year. Well…almost everyone was excited.
There he was, head down on his desk, a fake snore coming from his nose. “That’s Ryan*,” the others told me, “he always does that.” I tried to keep my cool, but my mind immediately went to our FoodCorps Connecticut Orientation when a second year service member told us newbies some of her tricks for dealing with “disruptive” children. All I could think was, “For real? On the first day?” But, she had told us that every disruptive child has a reason. So, as the snores got louder I decided that I would move on with the lesson, add him to a group, cross my fingers, and hope for the best. We were doing a “5 Sense Detective” lesson, where we explored and described the mystery veggie I had put in a paper bag. Spoiler: it was a green bean. By the end of that class I noticed that Ryan was more involved, and, despite the fact that he was one of the students who said, “I don’t like green beans,” I caught him sneaking a third helping.
That day, I didn’t know that Ryan wasn’t being rude, but, that he has a sleep disorder. If I had judged him based on first impression I would have never gotten to know him as one of the most enthusiastic students that I have had this year.
A few weeks ago, and about twenty lessons later, Ryan came up to me in the middle of my lesson on photosynthesis. While he was giving me a hug he looked up and announced matter-of-factly, “I don’t like vegetables.” I laughed and responded, “you liked the green beans I brought in… and the squash… and the spinach and beet salad we tasted in the cafeteria… and you ate all of your six plant part salad we made.” He just said, “hmm…” thoughtfully, then shrugged and walked away. I consider that a FoodCorps win!
Just like I did not know Ryan, or the impact I might have on him at the beginning of the year, I didn’t feel like I would ever find a place in a school community that was so different than the one I came from. But now, nine months later, I don’t have to psych myself up in my car before classes. I now choose to use the students’ bathroom because I run into kids who give me taste test ideas, not because I’m too afraid to ask for a key for the staff bathroom. Now, almost every single person (staff, teacher, student, etc.) in the school knows my name, or at least knows that I am the “garden lady.” Kids hug me in the halls, beg me to sit with them at lunch, and actually stop running when I tell them to walk.
They flock around the garden fence while I work at recess, tentatively sniffing the oregano leaves crushed between my fingers, curiously feeling zucchini seeds, guarding the bean sprouts from careless feet, and, most importantly, asking me when they will get to help! Finally, what I really didn’t know at the beginning of the year, is how hard it would be to say goodbye to this amazing community: I hope they know that they have taught me so much more than I could ever teach them.
*Names of students have been changed to protect their identities.