Teaching Other People’s Children

No Telling

Ive never been so ready for a Thanksgiving break in all my life, and I’ll bet I’m not alone. I love my students – all of them – it’s just important to have a little time apart. Right here at the end of the semester, Thanksgiving break is the chance to inhale before the final jumping in of final exams. It’s timely and necessary.

I’m fully aware that I’ve become a spoiled university instructor. Unlike most of the folks in the hall, I have memories of public school teaching. Years of thirty-minute lunches snarfed while standing duty in 100 degrees or in freezing temperatures. Years of forgotten homework and whining teenagers. Years of preaching poetry from a rickety pulpit. I loved every single, gut-wrenching minute of it.

It’s a whole different country teaching those who choose (and pay) to learn. John Rohweder, a wise man I miss much and often, used to remind me that we university folk have the best game in town: we teach the willing on a flexible schedule, and we even get paid to do it. John marveled at the gift of teaching every single day and never failed to make me feel like the luckiest woman alive.

We who teach participate in the miracle of learning, and we learn. We have it lucky and easy. For those who teach in the public schools, that’s not always true.

I know this is a time of educational confusion. Standardized testing and helicopter parents and school violence and the ugliness of the whole sordid world reflected on our young – it makes us cynical. Those who choose to stand at the front of the classroom take a vow of responsibility for other peoples children. There’s nothing weightier than that.

So while we’re being appreciative ’round the turkey table this year, say a little attagirl or attaboy to those folks who’ve dedicated their lives to nurturing other people’s children. They may be teaching your children. Maybe some of them even taught you.

Now spit out that gum and go say ‘thank you.’

It’s all about the side dishes, y’all


As I write there are scads of folks out there working the turkey. There are a few ways to do it right, and a thousand ways to do it wrong. Some of those cooking techniques are downright dangerous, and I’m sure we’ll all read about them in tomorrow’s paper. I’m not giving cooking tips at this late stage except to say that if you haven’t yet started cooking the bird by now, everyone’s having chicken fingers for dinner.

The turkey’s not really the point anyway. I know Paula’s probably whiteknuckled over such a thing, but deep down we all know the side dishes are the real star. Unless you’re serving one of those turducken monstrosities, but I can’t even wrap my mind around what it takes to put one of those on the table.

The staples – at least down here in Arkansas – are pre-FoodTV Network. That means canned green beans oozing in cream of mushroom soup, with a generous topping of canned, fried onion rings. It means sweet potatoes with brown sugar and tiny marshmallows. It means cornbread dressing with bits of boiled egg and whatever came in that white bag inside the turkey’s butt. It means butter beans and lumpy creamed potatoes. It means butter, butter, and more butter.

Now, you can bring something in addition to these staples, and should. A guest, whether invited or univited, should have some sort of covered dish in their hands when they show up. I know people in other places bring a bottle of wine, but that’s inadvisable around here. In a dry county full of Baptists it pays to know your crowd ahead of time.

You don’t want to be discussed.

And then there’s the jello salad. I think it defines the holiday and southerners in general. You only see a jello salad at covered-dish church socials, after funerals, and at Thanksgiving. No one looks forward to eating these things, yet everyone does. Every Woman of a Certain Age should have at least one good recipe for a festive jello salad, and if she’s a maiden aunt, two.

Dessert is a topic for another day. Besides, you’ve got cooking to do. So do I.