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Eating During Class: A Yuck or a Yum?

By: Vicky Liu’ 20, School News and Features Writer

     Everybody enjoys a delicious meal or well-cooked dish, but not everybody is in favor of enjoying these foods during class. Eating during class is a sticky issue that is frequently encountered yet rarely confronted at Friends’ Central. After all, if students are distracted in class because they are so hungry, why shouldn’t teachers allow them to eat? At the same time, though, doesn’t eating during class pose a distraction from the learning environment? For some teachers, the answer to these questions is “yes,” while for others, it’s “no.”

Madame Clémence Attard, an upper school French teacher, shares her attitude on eating and drinking in the classroom: “Most of the time, [having food during class] is positive. I use it as a teaching tool.” In her class, food is integrated into the learning process. According to Madame Attard, the presence of food in the classroom effectively replaces and exceeds the effectiveness of just using vocabulary cards, as she uses food to introduce new French words. Nevertheless, she says eating in class isn’t always so appetizing: “Sometimes, I refuse [the snacking] because we need to concentrate more in the classroom. [Eating] affects class participation.” Madame Attard continues by explaining that when students have food in their mouths when trying to practice pronouncing French words, it’s difficult for her to hear what they are saying.

     Mrs. Linda Quinlan, an upper school math teacher, believes there should be different restrictions around eating during class depending on the type of food being consumed: “If someone is finishing a sandwich, it’s not a big deal. Having soup while taking notes would be a little bit harder. If someone is sitting with a whole pizza, that’s a little too much. If [a student were to eat] a whole big meal of smelly chicken wings, it would be a problem. Drinking is 100 percent understandable. I always have a cup of tea or water [during class].” Mrs. Quinlan also emphasizes that eating in class is reasonable under some circumstances. If a student misses lunch to meet with a teacher, for example, Mrs. Quinlan would allow him or her to eat during class, so as to be properly nourished. However, she feels that rules should be adjusted if the student who is eating hinders the learning of his or her classmates. She later notes the rules about eating during class at the school at which she taught prior to coming to Friends’ Central: “Food was not allowed because there was a rotten issue. We had a big giant old building. Eating [in that building] was forbidden because there would be mice if there was any trash.” Mrs. Quinlan observes that eating during class becomes more acceptable as time goes on and trends change. For instance, twenty years ago, almost nobody was drinking water out of bottles that they carry everywhere, and now, it’s very common.

     Almost every teacher mentions that if a student leaves a mess after eating or drinking in the classroom, it will affect every student’s ability to eat during class. In other words, eating during class is a privilege, not a right. If that privilege is abused by students--by leaving trash in the classrooms, for example--the privilege could be rescinded. Christopher Guides, upper school science department chair and teacher, expounds about what happens when he brings his students food: “Sometimes when I bring in food, [students] leave wrappers afterwards. It seems like what they are saying to me is ‘you gave me something, and I’m going to give you a mess.’” He adds that he has made his students aware of his frustration with trash being left in the classroom, and as a result, students have become more attentive of being cleaner. Some students, claim Mr. Guides, have even begun to clean up their classmates’ messes. Mr. Guides continues, “There are times that I feel people just happen to forget and they leave trash behind. Forgetting is understandable. [Yet,] when it becomes a consistent behavior, [it] bothers me.” Mr. Guides does not mind if students eat or drink in class, and he hasn’t found it to be distracting. He recalls, “When I was a senior in high school, I used to eat lunch in class. I would make peanut butter and jelly everyday.”

While teachers maintain their own opinions about eating during class, students have thoughts on the topic, as well. Marielle Buxbaum ‘20 supposes, “If a teacher allows it, it’s great for students to be able to eat in class. Mr. Darling allows me to eat popcorn in his class and not have my tummy growling so that I won’t be distracted by hunger. The biggest thing is to not leave a mess in the classroom.”

     In the discussions I’ve had with my classmates and teachers about eating during class, I’ve discovered that norms around the issue not only differ by teacher, but also by country. Madame Attard discloses, “In France, no food or drink [is permitted] in the classroom. No food or snacks are ‘legitimate.’” As a student coming from China, I attest that my previous experience in a Chinese public school was similar to the experience Madame Attard had in her French school. Food and drink in the classroom were prohibited. This difference in rules shows the cultural differences around food and education all over the world. 📷

At right, two students munch during class. (Photo by Lydia Vacoe-Wolfson ‘19)

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