Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Nourishment Business

Last night I participated in Flapjacks and Finals. During Finals Week, my school holds this event to serve pancakes, fruit, juice, coffee, and other assorted nourishment to students who are studying. As often as I can, I like to be part of the event.

Sometimes, when I have a spare moment to reflect, I think about how much I like to serve food to students (and to homeless people and to my loved ones . . .). What does this fact say about me and my profession?

Teaching is a kind of service, but I don't teach as much as I used to. If I was still a full-time teacher, I'd be blogging about the kind of nourishment teachers give and get. But now that I'm more of a full-time administrator . . .

I'm still in the nourishment business, but more on the support side (so to continue this metaphor, I'm not cooking the food, but I'm driving the truck that delivers the raw ingredients). I schedule the classes and do everything I can to make sure that faculty have what they need to do a good job. I meet with students who are having trouble or who need some information. I can register students, but I tend not to because I'm too busy keeping an eye on numbers so that our classes don't get too overpacked.

I also think of my own undergraduate experience. I went to Newberry College, a small, liberal arts school. We had a dining hall that opened 3 times a day, unlike the modern approach, which gives students a meal card and a smorgasbord of options that are available 24 hours a day. But during Finals Week, the dining hall opened at 10:00 p.m. I can't remember what they served us. Probably some hearty carbs.

As I served the hearty carbs last night, I smiled and asked how many pancakes each student wanted. I tried to be festive and happy-spirited, even though I know that most of the students are feeling stressed, tired, and many of them are suffering even deeper problems than final exams. I silently blessed them as they held out their styrofoam plates for pancakes.

I thought back to the food service people at my college, especially the one woman who always served breakfast. She was younger and always greeted us in a friendly way, calling us "Sweetie" or "Hon." And she made it sound genuine. Who knows, maybe she really felt some fondness for us. I went to school in the brutal economic climate of the 80's, and just before I started college, the second-to-last factory in Newberry, South Carolina closed, and most of the county was out of work. In fact, the school was one of the primary places hiring while I was there.

I want to think that we, as students, were polite and friendly to the staff at my school, but some of us probably weren't. Last night, some of the students came back to the table to thank me for the pancakes, but many of them mumbled what they wanted and didn't look me in the eye. Some of them were downright sullen or angry: "You mean I can only have two? Just two?" I told them that they could come back after they finished the first two, but some of them refused to be mollified. I continued to smile, and I silently offered them an extra benediction as they shuffled away.

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