The Where in the World activity was pretty great today, but this year heralded the passing of a long-standing tradition at our school: the sixth grade feast. My recollection is that this pot-luck event had its beginning my first year of teaching, but I could be mistaken; there was a lot of stuff that was new to me going on that year. In any case, for at least seventeen years in a row, our team invited students and their families to contribute favorite dishes to a communal luncheon that we organized for the day before Thanksgiving Break.
In some ways it was a glorious occasion-- imagine folding tables swathed in child-decorated coverings and laden with the favorite foods of students from every continent and corner of our globe. Nice, right? But in other ways it was super stressful-- Will there be enough food? Will it be pathogen-free? What will we do with the left-overs? Despite those annual qualms, though, the event went off beautifully every year.
I can't put my finger on what it was last year that made me decide to propose the elimination of this annual tradition. The activity was perfectly successful-- we cooked and shared and ate and cleaned; the kids had a good time; the parents who were able to attend enjoyed themselves; the staff loved the leftovers-- but something told me that the outcome was not worth the trouble we went to. Maybe it was trying to figure out for the seventeenth time a fair, but compassionate, way to address the students who did not contribute. Maybe it was all the food that went into the trash at the end. Maybe it was the fifteen understandably excited 11 year olds that I spent most of the day with. Or maybe it was simply that completely drained feeling I went home with at the end of the day.
Whatever it was, a couple of months ago I asked my team if they were willing to plan something else in place of our lunch and they jumped at the chance. The fatigue, misgivings, whatever, were not mine alone.
To be honest, I think the students had just as good a time today as any have had in the past. A couple of teachers expressed their relief as well, but none quite so colorfully as one who is no longer on our team. "Thanks a lot!" she said to me when I ran into her in the hall. I must have looked bemused. "You cancel the luncheon after I leave?! I'm still scarred by that Ethiopian chicken!"
It took me a minute to recall what she meant. Over the years, we had a lot of undeniably exotic foods, most of them delicious. At this particular luncheon, a family from Ethiopia brought a spicy chicken dish with its traditional garnish-- an embryonic chicken cooked in the shell. It was with great pride that they cracked that egg and eased the curried fetal chick onto the platter. I thought it was cool, but I can't say I put any on my plate.