The Goddess Speaks
Popcorn fuels voracious young minds
I'M A HIGH school English teacher and yearbook adviser, and I smell like popcorn. My hair smells like popcorn, my books smell like popcorn and even my classroom computers smell like popcorn.
It takes a lot of cheap popcorn to keep a room full of adolescents operational. We're on our third microwave oven in 10 years, and I lost count of the number of cases of popcorn I have donated to the cause of writing, reading and yearbook construction.
For a while, every yearbook class gobbled 10 bags of popcorn as fuel -- three classes a week. The math is unkind to my wallet on that one.
Still, the outcome is good -- I find the popcorn smell more tolerable than adolescent choices in music, so the compromise is that I get to play oldies on the radio and my students munch away as they construct a 360-page book.
I don't have definitive data to validate my theory, but it seems to me that there is a direct correlation between popcorn eaten and pages produced.
The Department of Education wants teachers to focus on academic standards and ignore nonacademic issues such as attendance, tardiness and late work. For the most part I agree with the separation of academics and behavior, but the yearbook has its own rules. I don't tolerate late, and I provide as much popcorn as a kid can eat. The kids work for me because I feed them, and I feed them because I care about them. In a kernel, they work for me because they know they are loved.
I HAVE BEEN trying to figure out how I can follow DOE directives about separating academics from behavior in this equation, but it doesn't compute. In the lunacy about high-stakes testing that is slowly but inexorably invading our schools, I wish someone had left room for the love equation, for caring about each other and for making promises and then keeping them.
Yearbook is about keeping one's word, and so are other school activities that rely on the ethics and responsibility of adolescents. In yearbook class, students aren't learning machines, but productive individuals with odd tastes in music and food.
I really believe that to teach successfully, we have to account for the human element -- and my way of integrating the human element in a program as demanding and fiscally frightening as yearbook is to focus on popcorn. I figure $100 invested in popping corn is a clever investment on a $70,000 project, and anyway, I hate to see a kid hungry. We make a lot of litter, but the kids also make a lot of beautiful pages.
Do I mind smelling like popcorn? Not on your life -- a munching kid is a productive kid. If their parents -- and the DOE -- only knew how easy it is to get a 16-year-old to work his or her heart out. Discipline is simple when you speak softly and pop a lot of Smart Pop.
Cris Rathyen teaches English at Moanalua High School.
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