Friday, March 9, 2012

Lunch Lesson

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle."

- Plato- Plato


While walking around the cafeteria during my Wednesday lunch duty, I saw a fifth grade boy with pale skin, shaggy, neat brown hair and an earnest face sitting alone without lunch. Most students were either on line buying or eating food from home.


I asked, “Are you buying lunch today?”

His eyes filled with tears, as he shook his head no.

“You know, they have free lunches for kids who forget to pack. Would you like to get one?”

I could see he was fighting not to cry. Waiting for him to compose himself, I kneeled next to his seat.

Eventually he said, “I can’t. I have allergies.”

He pulled out a folded, wrinkled, laminated paper. I scanned the extensive typed list of banned foods. No peanuts (free PBJ out). He couldn’t even have the hummus alternative.

“I can see that.” Can you have fruit?” He nodded. “Follow me. We’ll get you fruit.”

We cut the line. I handed him an orange. Then I tried to give him an apple. “I’m allergic to apples,” he said.

I put the apple into the basket.

We returned to his table where he began peeling the orange.

“I’ll be right back.”


I found the assistant principal a few rows over. I explained the boy’s situation. She said she’d take him to the nurse to figure out an alternative. Then she spoke with him for a few minutes and they both left the cafeteria.

A while later, the boy returned with a plastic container of romaine lettuce. No croutons, no carrots, no salad dressing. Safe for him. He ate that and the orange, and then joined his friends for recess.


I learned an important lesson.

Pay attention to EVERYONE. Don’t just notice the ones who make noise. You never know when someone might need you.

I knew this already. It’s what drives me as a teacher. I want to connect with everyone—the pains in the butt, the ones who always do the right thing, and the ones you really need to pay attention to or you’ll forget they’re there.

But in a cafeteria with hundreds of students, this is harder.


Later, in the hallway, when I passed his class in a line, the boy went out of his way to say hi to me.


I hope he learned a lesson too.

Don’t stay silent. There are people who care all around you. Reach out and someone will help you.

...And don’t forget your lunch.


131 comments:

  1. This warmed my heart this morning. It is awesome that you were paying attention. Sometimes in our fast paced world...we don't see what is going on with others. Great story and lesson for the day! Have a wonderful weekend!

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  2. Tracy Jo, thanks. It made me wonder how many things I miss.

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  3. This made me cry, Theresa, seriously. You are one amazing teacher.

    hugs
    bru

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  4. That was a wonderful thing you did for that boy!

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    1. Alex, thank you. I'm just glad he got some food!

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  5. What a sweet and heart warming story. You are a very caring and observant woman.

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    1. Miranda, I can tell you I'm going out of my way to be extra observant the last couple of days.

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  6. Poor kid! Thank goodness you noticed him.

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    1. Meredith, they have an hour of math after lunch. Can you imagine doing that after skipping food?

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  7. Awww Theresa! So glad you were there for him! Why didn't he have his lunch with him? I'm also sorry whoever is looking after him (parents?) didn't contact the school - they must have known he forgot his lunch? Oh dear!

    Hope next time he speaks up! Someone with such a precise diet is more in need of good nutrition than most! Take care
    x

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    1. Old Kitty, he forgot it. I'm sure both of his parents work, and he just got frozen about what to do. Maybe he didn't realize it until lunchtime. I bet his family is hypervigilant, but once in a while...

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  8. Thank you for writing this, Theresa. You are a good soul.

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  9. This post brought tears to my eyes. What a hard life that must be for him. Food is such a pleasure, and most of us take it for granted. I'm so glad you were there for him. :)

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    1. Shannon, it must be hard for him. His food must be so controlled because of how extensive his allergies are.

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  10. Allergies are hard. Allergic to apples? Yikes. Eating must be a minefield for him.

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    1. Liz, I've never heard of someone being allergic to apples until now.

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  11. Wow, poor kid. That's a lot of allergies. This reminds me of my mom, the way you handled it. She was a librarian/teacher, and she always noticed people. She still does.

    It's because her brother had Downs. It's a probable thing that most people in my family would have reacted the same way you did. It's been taught into us from a young age.


    - Eric

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    1. Eric, I think that's good part of inclusion--all kinds of kids in the same class. I think other students respect difference more and I think it gives them more empathy in the long run. I hope.

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  12. What a poignant lesson, Theresa. My heart bleeds for that little boy and all his allergies.

    I totally agree with you. In a crowded cafeteria with noise all around it's hard to pay attention to those who don't ask for it. Not everyone makes that effort.

    Jai

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    1. Jai, I feel bad for him too. It can't be an easy way to go through life. Thank you.

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  13. You are such a good teacher, Theresa. That school is lucky to have you. My heart goes out for that poor boy.

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    1. Rose, thank you. I always think about what a challenge it is to the entire family to keep the kid fed and safe at the same time.

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  14. Ah, poor kid. You broke my heart with his story. Hate seeing a kid all alone and feeling left out. Thanks for taking the time to talk to him and let him know he didn't have to be alone.

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    1. L.G.Smith, it must be such a challenge for him to not feel left out. At least he doesn't have an airborne allergy, so he can sit at a regular table.

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  15. Oh Theresa, my heart goes out to him! So glad you were there for him. You're right, what a great lesson. Thanks so much for sharing it.

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    1. Karen, I'm happy I could help in the moment. Thanks for reading the post.

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  16. Theresa, you have the most wonderful posts. This completely made me happy. Being a teacher is such a special job and you seem to do it justice :)

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    1. Juliana, thank you for the very nice compliment about my posts. I hope I do the teaching job justice. I try.

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  17. When things like that happen in my life I'm high for days. It's the simple, human connections that mean the most - on both sides, giving and receiving. I'm feeling a contact high right now.

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    1. Judy, I did feel good for the rest of the day especially. Even though I'm not a "real" teacher, these moments keep me going.

      I was going to post about it on Facebook the other afternoon, but then I realized it was too long to explain. Great way to figure out if should be a post. Glad to give you a contact high.

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  18. Ohh that poor child. Lucky for him you were there. Well done Theresa for being in tune and noticing.

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    1. Ann, thanks. I think I miss so many things in everyday life, so I really make an effort to pay attention to the kids I work with.

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  19. Awesome that you noticed. Kids at that age have a hard time asking for help. My 14 year old is just learning how to ask for help in school and it's hard. We need more teachers like you who pay attention.

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    1. Natalie, I was surprised he'd sit there and not say anything, but I don't know why I would be. He probably felt powerless because of his allergies.

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  20. A very nice thing you did. I've done my share of lunch duty this year, and sometimes it's hard to spot that one quiet child who needs you among all the mayhem. Good job, Theresa!

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    1. Dianne, thanks. Lunch duty gets loud, doesn't it? Luckily I noticed him before sensory overload took over me!

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  21. Poor little guy. It is wonderful you helped him. Yes, we should be alert for quiet people who need our help.

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    1. Belle, thank you. With bullying and children contemplating suicide, teachers are responsible for more than just test scores.

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  22. Thank you for sharing this! What an important lesson, and I'm glad that boy did get a lunch. :)

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    1. Krispy, I still felt bad it was only lettuce and an orange, but at least it was something.

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  23. You've got such a good soul, Theresa. The quiet ones often need our help the most. A couple of my quiet students lately have needed that TLC because their home lives aren't always easy. They really need us to remember to pay attention and reach out.

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    1. Jemi, it's good your students have you. I was more aware of the sad stories when I worked in Cambridge. Now that I'm in a more affluent suburb, the suffering students are harder for me to spot.

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  24. Theresa - I've enjoyed your great information, inspiration, and even humor - now I've seen your heart. You are the kind of teacher that changes the world - one student at a time. The kind that after a child is grown, and has the understanding to realize what that day in the cafeteria did for him, will never forget your name. Thanks, girlfriend.

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    1. Victoria, that's nice for you to say. I hope I positively impact every student I work with. They certainly impact me.

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  25. That's a great lesson... something I will try to do more of... It goes to show that someone may always need a bit of help.

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    1. tfwalsh, thank you for the thoughtful comment.

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  26. This really made me humble. It's easy to forget, in our world of problems that there are still, small voices who have it worse.

    You're good stuff Theresa, you know that?

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    1. Sarah, I wonder what goes through many of their young minds. What we see on the surface may be so different--we often don't know how many worries they wrestle with. Thank you.

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  27. It's those moments that keep you going isn't it? Good for you for noticing that young man. How hard to have so many food allergies.

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    1. Jaye, yes, those moments keep me going more than you can imagine. And yes, the surface can only tell us so much.

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  28. Theresa, I agree when someone said in the comments that you have a good soul, so true. It is such an important job you do, your students are lucky to have you:)

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    1. Brigid, thank you. When I see teachers who don't show much compassion, I don't know why they went into teaching in the first place.

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  29. wow, what a wonderful blessing you were to the boy. Thank you for this heart-warming post.

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  30. Oh wow, what a touching story.
    Thank you for the lessons.
    How gorgeous of you to notice
    Xxx

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  31. Gosh poor lad! Glad you were able to get him something to eat.

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    1. Patsy, I'm glad too. His lunchbox foods the next couple of days looked a lot more appetizing than an orange and lettuce.

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  32. Oh the poor dear child! I'm so glad you took care of him.

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  33. Well done on the timely rescue! ::applauds::

    It sounds like his allergies are quite restrictive... It must be an interesting challenge cooking for him. So what does he eat? Have you noticed?

    Whilst the existential humanist lessons of "reaching out to help others" and reach out for help if you need it" are indeed invaluable, nothing beats "Don't forget your lunch."
    There is no reasoning with an empty belly. : D

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    1. Alesa, I saw that he had some sort of cookie. And everything looked pretty standard. I'm sure it all had a bunch of alternative ingredients to make it work.

      Yes, I agree, lettuce and an orange, while paltry, beats nothing.

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  34. This post really touched my heart. I have a boy with autism in my class and sometimes he won't eat unless someone helps him pick out his lunch. There are so many quiet kids who need us.

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    1. Leslie Rose, I help an autistic girl get her lunch in the cafeteria. She always makes sure she's on back of the line and, once it's her turn, she often has a hard time deciding. But she's improved since the beginning of the year. Now I mostly check in on her, but she's quicker with deciding and ordering.

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  35. There's your strength again Theresa - writing vignettes that make people cry, saying so much in so little. What a wonderful talent you've been blessed with.

    And yes, I do love noticing the little things and when people notice mine.

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    1. Sophia, what a nice thing to say. Thank you.

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  36. You did a wonderful thing, Theresa. The quiet, well-behaved ones really do get overlooked sometimes.

    Last year, one of the most angelic kids I knew was having a hard time, but he was doing his best not to show it. Something told me he needed to talk, though. I'm glad I listened to my gut feeling, because this kid was getting picked on and needed to tell somebody.

    It's so important to keep our eyes open for those who might need us.

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  37. Shelley, I'm so glad you reached out to that kid. There are so many problems with bullying, and often we don't know unless someone tells us. That student is lucky to have you.

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  38. OMG! I ahd goosebumps reading this. It's so true, we do tend to overlook the quiet ones.

    Thanks for being so caring, Theresa!

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    1. Romance Book Haven, thank you for your sweet comment.

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  39. Theresa,
    What a touching and heartfelt story. It reminds me of why I became a teacher year ago. What a wonderful gesture from both of you. Thank you so much for sharing this story. We should have more of them in the world.

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  40. Susan, thanks for the lovely comment. The situation brought home how responsible we are for the well being of the students we work with.

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  41. Wow... What a touching story! Nearly moved me to tears here. Have you thought about possibly writing a book? You are very talented.

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  42. Seen on TV, thanks. I've written several. Now it's the getting published part.

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  43. So true. My challenge is always finding the time to pull back the myopic focus on what I'm doing to assess everyone else. Usually the loudest noise gets my attention, but you are so correct in pointing out that not only do "the quiet ones" need attention too, they might even need it more.

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  44. Kim, you're right the quiet one probably do need it more. The loud ones get reinforcement, even if it's negative. The quiet ones often don't get anything.

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  45. Replies
    1. Lora, thanks. This post reminds me of the types you often write.

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  46. This is a wonderful post, Theresa. When you're teaching it's so easy to forget about the ones who aren't clamouring for your attention.

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    1. Talli, it's true. Teachers and aide have so many different types of students to think about: the ones who always raise their hands, the talking ones, the acting out ones, the ones who aren't doing well. That small group who isn't doing any of these things are easy to forget.

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  47. Oh bless! I'm so glad you noticed him and helped him. I can empathise with him too. It's hard being different at school and having your voice heard sometimes. Lovely tale, glad it had a happy ending. Sounds lke he needs to take a lunchbox to school with him.

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    1. Madeleine, how nice to hear from you. I think about when I was young, and my teachers had no clue as to what was going on in my head or in my home. So I try to pay attention.

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  48. Lovely post and so true. The quiet ones need as much attention as the loud ones.

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    1. Christine, thank you. Your comment is appreciated.

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  49. It only takes a moment to reach out to someone, doesn't it. Great reminder to pay attention and lend a hand when you can.

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    1. Cleemckenzie, sometimes I'm so aware of and other things I miss. I'd hate to miss something really important with a child. I'm sure it happens, but hopefully not so much.

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  50. What a beautiful story, Theresa. This really made me think about my own lot in life and how I should try and reach out to people more when I feel that someone may be overlooked. You are so kind and compassionate. Truly one of the gems that I have been fortunate enough to network with. I wish there were more people like you in the world.

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    1. Michael, it's been nice getting to know you via blogs and email. I try not to get jaded. I've worked with people who only notice the behavior--not the child. And they love the quiet ones because they're "good". I hope to never be one of those teachers.

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  51. That's so touching, Theresa. It's something that I'm learning while working with 7th grade boys in my church Youth.

    Each one is different, and I have to get to know them all. And love them all.

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    1. Misha, so true. I can't have favorites. Even the ones who test me have redeeming value. Of all the students I ever worked with, only one student could I not find one nice thing to say about him. I felt sorry for him because of his home life is the best I can say.

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  52. Okay, totally got tears in my eyes. You never know who might need some help. Great advice. Keep our eyes open and focus on others instead of our own little wants and needs.

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    1. Ciara, I like that last line: "Keep our eyes open and focus on others instead of our own little wants and needs." I know I can get so wrapped up.

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  53. What a wonderful story. :) I'm glad you reached out to this boy. I also try to reach out to my quiet students. They might not be making noise like the more demanding children, but they have needs too.

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    1. Medeia, I agree--the quiet ones do have needs too. Thanks for commenting!

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  54. I always worry about the quiet ones, the internalizers, because it's so easy for them to fly (or limp along, or sit quietly in the corner) under the radar. But not with teachers like you on duty! You did a good thing, Theresa, and that little boy will remember how kind you were to him, and that he wasn't invisible to you.

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    1. Sarah, it would have been a long day for that boy if nobody had noticed him. I wonder if it's happened before. I hope not.

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  55. I feel teary-eyed reading this. You are a good teacher...but more importantly--a good person. :-) Kudos to you.

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  56. I loved this so much, I just tweeted the link to it. :-)

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    1. Teresa, thanks for your kind words and for sharing the link. It means a lot.

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  57. More times than not, if I simply ask a student how he or she is doing, the student has been bottling up stress and will burst into tears.

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    1. Missed Periods, then what do you do? Your students are adults, so it's a whole different dynamic. When I was an RA for college a few times, none of the students cried.

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  58. What a story! It made me tear up. It's so true - there's always someone who has it harder, even when you feel like you're having a terrible time. You are wonderful, and how lucky that boy is that at least he has you!

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    1. Susanna, when I worked in a city, I used to appreciate how lucky I was every day. Now that I'm in an affluent area, there's little poverty. I have to remind myself there are other problems and to keep my eyes open.

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  59. That poor kid! Can you imagine if you hadn't taken the time to ask him why he wasn't eating? And what a wonderful lesson you took from that and shared with us! My oldest daughter needs to learn that lesson about speaking up for herself - it's so hard for some kids.

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    1. Susan, it is a hard lesson to teach. I think that's why the suicide rate is too high--they get overwhelmed and don't know how to reach out.

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  60. Oh, that poor child. Life must suck when there are so many things you can't eat. Imagine just having an orange and lettuce for lunch!

    It's really difficult to notice the kids who are keeping quiet when you've got a roomful of noisy ones, but I do try. And then I have to get past all the kids who want to ask a question or talk to me about something, just so I can ask the quiet child if everything is okay! Sometimes it takes me a few days to get around to asking (everything else at school is SO distracting)... Thanks for this reminder.

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    1. Rachel, I agree. These school days fly. Just for academics, I'll notice that the same kids always ask for help. There are times when I find it hard to make it to the others.

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  61. Aww! Such a wonderful lesson, and I feel for the boy. It must be hard to have so many allergies, especially in a school cafeteria.

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    1. Cherie, I agree. At least he doesn't have an airborne allergy.

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  62. This tugs my heart strings! These children are everywhere. Some of them don't get any meals besides breakfast and lunch at school. It's so sad.
    Good for you for noticing. Even making a small difference matters, and sometimes they matter the most. : )

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    1. Emily, we actually have a program in Cambridge where they give out sandwiches in one park for kids who ask. There are too many hungry kids out there.

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  63. Poor little guy. My son would TOTALLY tell everyone he saw that he needed food. LOL. I'm glad that you took the time to notice him.

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    1. Jenny, ha! My kids know there's always PBJ if they forget lunch--no way they'd starve either. But I guess because this boy is so limited, he got paralyzed.

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  64. Lovely post Theresa. Thanks for sharing this post. I loved reading all the above comments too!

    Riya

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    1. Romance Reader/Riya, thanks for visiting. The comments have all been supportive--made me feel like I did something far bigger!

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  65. A most inspiring post. Its pays to be observant. I hate seeing people with lack and going without.

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    1. Stephen, me too. There's too much deprivation when I live.

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  66. Wow, my little girl only has a mild allergy to the food dye 133 (most commonly found in sweets). It can be tough at times to find a treat for her when we're out if we forget to pack one.
    I recall the looks she would give me when I told her she couldn't have it and can imagine that poor boy had a certain amount of frustration built up in there too. Makes me wish I could reach through the screen and hug you for helping him through a difficult time.

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    1. Aldrea, having an allergy that cuts out a lot of foods has got to be so difficult for kids. And it has to be hard for parents like you to always remember. I'd hug you right back!

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  67. Wow, this post obviously struck a chord - congratulations! Thanks for sharing this story. That poor boy. I remember how upset my son was when he opened his lunch at camp one summer and there was no sandwich (I still don't know how that happened. I had a very specific memory of making that sandwich. I searched for it everywhere I could think of and never found it). Luckily he does not have allergies and was able to have the PB&J the counselors kept on hand for such emergencies. So I can only imagine how much worse a child would feel when he has nothing and can't have anything. Good for you for noticing him and making a point of helping!

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    1. Vicki, that's strange. I wonder if someone took your son's sandwich. Maybe another child's mom really did forget to pack a sandwich!

      I think it's harder for kids now when so many parents work. He probably knew someone couldn't just hurry to the school. I had a child who was sick at the end of the day, but had to tough it out because nobody was home.

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  68. I've been so busy I can't even remember if I already commented on this.

    Very touching story. Reminds me of elementary school and all those poor little kids, trying their best... Sigh.

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  69. LR, you must be busy! No, I don't think you commented before.

    Kids often have a lot of pressure we don't realize.

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  70. This is my first visit to your blog and I know I've found a kindred teaching soul. Really enjoyed this!

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  71. Shelly, thanks for visiting. Nice to meet you!

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  72. .. this is so touching... great to know people who cares!

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  73. Gemma, thank you. Now I keep an eye on this student to make sure he has lunch.

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  74. Theresa many years ago when I was a single Mom with 3 little girls we were really battling and at times I had no money for lunch at school. Perceptive teachers noticed this and helped by giving the girls free lunches privately out of the view of the other children. Unfortunately some girls in my eldest daughter's class saw this and started taunting her and teasing her about being a poor girl and a beggar and all types of things. I never intervened with my daughter's battles as I wanted them to be independent and self sufficient but this one time I desperately wanted to talk to those girls. My daughter would not let me she insisted that she could deal with it herself. I am so glad that there are perceptive teachers like yourself that notice when a child does not have lunch. At the time it hurt terribly but it has helped form my daughter into the strong and compassionate woman that she is.

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  75. Vivian, thanks for sharing your story. I've known people in the same position because of similar circumstances. In the two districts I've worked in, there's always a free lunch option for students (peanut butter and jelly) and the students use meal cards, so nobody knows who pays full, gets reduced, or has free lunch. It cuts down on bullying. I'm sorry your daughter had to go through that. It must've been hard to know about.

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