Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, a special education teacher at ASCEND school in Fruitvale, wrote this piece about a recipe writing project her students recently completed. -Katy
My grandmother used to tell me a Jewish proverb that “worries go down better with soup.” It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. I am talking to my student Isaiah’s grandmother. I am worried about a bureaucratic decision that I think is under-serving students. Just as my own grandmother would have done, Isaiah’s grandma starts baking for me.
In my multicultural classroom, our common love of food is often a point of connection. In fact some of my sweetest memories as a teacher are of eating with my students and their families: Christian’s mom’s surprise strawberry chalkboard cake; cooking Thanksgiving lunch with my students in our community kitchen, slurping up melting popsicles on the play yard with 20-plus extended family members at a spring party; sipping creamy chocolate with seven-year-olds on the morning of Day of the Dead; an eclectic gratitude potluck that included spaghetti, fried chicken, banana bread, enchiladas, the best flautas ever, and orange soda.
Just as I bring apples and honey to share with my students each Rosh Hoshana, I also bring to the classroom a passion for the written word. Our most recent writing project, a cookbook, combines these two forms of sustenance.
“Writing is important,” my student Sindy says, “because it comes from our hearts.” Sindy is a nine-year old girl in my special education class. The title of our most recent compilation, Recipes: From the Heart, is taken from her quote.
This is no ordinary cookbook — for one it is authored by elementary children in my special education class, secondly, its recipes aren’t complete enough to replicate in your own kitchen. I considered having the students interview their families so that we could create a more conventional cookbook. However, once I started conferencing with my first, second and third graders it was clear that the recipes were more illustrative just as they were. So instead our cookbook became a kind of oral history told through student memories of food.
As you read it you can see Frankie and his mom eating pancakes at night; Brianna’s family rushing to the grocery store to get whip cream for their already prepared strawberry shortcake; and Eduardo and his mom enjoying one another’s company over a bowl of steak nachos. Twelve first editions of our cookbook were opened in homes across Oakland on Mother’s Day, a thirteenth copy was sent to the First Lady. Second editions were released to OUSD staff and friends at a party on May 20.
In my classroom we write every day. Just as my students are hungry for meat and potatoes, they are hungry to share their stories and ideas. Writing is the engine of my ever-chugging vehicle for literacy instruction. In addition to learning phonics, grammar, standards and literary genres, it is through writing that my students gain voice and humor. For instance, our cookbook project also includes imaginative recipes for fried shark, friendship, a healthy school, nacho pizza meatball sandwich and hot fries as a pizza topping.
The classroom is a community, established by culture, experiences, and common goals. Like many communities, I believe its strength grows by breaking bread together.
Sharing home-made foods is not unlike good teaching. Both are acts of love.