Molly and Emily have been Food Educators with Midwest Food Connection for three and four years, respectively. The end of this school year marks the end of Molly and Emily’s time as Midwest Food Connection educators. Before we move on to our next pursuits, we took a moment to reflect on the learning we’ve done as food educators.
- So much of teaching is about redirecting attention. How do you capture the attention of 25 minds? How do you gauge the mood in a room and adjust your plans accordingly? How do you introduce new elements to keep everyone’s attention?
- Adults learn the same way that children do. We’re just better at hiding it when we’re bored. If most students are checked-out, it’s more likely a reflection of your teaching than their distractedness.
- Good questions elicit good responses. Are you asking an open-ended response or are you looking for one correct answer? How can you get everyone to share the correct answer instead of hearing from the same voices over and over?
- Modeling matters. The classrooms I have taught in where the teacher has joined the students in the circle to listen to my lesson and to participate in the activity consistently show more enthusiasm for learning, ask better questions, and create better student work. The care I take when modeling a drawing activity directly correlates to the care my students take with their work. When I taste a new food with the students, they are much more likely to try it than when I just watch.
- Kids’ intuitions about how to treat our planet are always on. They remind me that seemingly complex issues often come down to simple moral rights and wrongs. For example, when learning about fertilizer run-off from conventional farms and the dead zone it has created in the Gulf of Mexico, they exclaim, “Why don’t we just ban pesticides?” When learning about ⅓ of our food that goes to waste and contributes to climate change, they embrace eating “ugly” foods. And when they hear about the pipeline that is proposed to cross over 92 bodies of water, threatening native foods like wild rice, the room goes quiet and they ask me how we can stop it.
- Kids are hungry for food education and it is largely absent from the curriculum. They want to know how to cook, where our food comes from, and how to grow it. As one partner teacher told me of our program, “These are the best four hours of the year.” I’m convinced that food literacy must start early, alongside math, reading, and writing.
Come August, Molly will be moving back home to Ohio where she’ll be living on her family’s farm and doing a year of AmeriCorps service with the environmental justice organization, Rural Action. She looks forward to bringing everything that she’s learned as a Midwest Food Connection educator to her work with small farmers, farm to school initiatives, and children.
- Teaching is 75% preparation, 25% inspiration: Things always go better when you put more time than you think you need to into preparing for them.
- The power of storytelling: Looking out at kids’ faces while I’m telling a story and hearing them quiet down and listen when they had been antsy taught me that storytelling can be the most effective way to communicate even complicated concepts. Even teachers will stop and listen, and often it’s the stories that stick with them. Storytelling has the power to captivate kids and adults alike, engaging them and creating investment in the subject matter.
- The necessity and impact of food education: Students’ excitement around learning about food, cooking, and healthy eating was inspiring, and seeing them try new foods (and often like them) was rewarding. But perhaps the most illuminating moments were when students remarked that “I never knew food came from plants!” or “I didn’t know there were seeds that you can eat.” This points to the necessity of food education, for all students. Healthy kids grow up to be healthy adults. I envision a future where food education is part of the elementary curriculum, and there is a food educator in every school.
Emily is pursuing her Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Her interests include food systems planning, sustainability planning, public health, and transportation. This summer, she is an intern in the Office of Transit and Active Transportation at MnDOT, where she is working with the Safe Routes to School team to assist schools and school districts with plans to help kids bike and walk to school safely.
We have thoroughly enjoyed teaching with Midwest Food Connection in schools across the Twin Cities metro area. And we are grateful for all that we have learned!
Molly and Emily