It’s Graduation season around here! I see grad-themed Tweets and Facebook posts and Instagrams every day. My own daughter will soon be a “Grade 5 Graduate” from her junior French Immersion school.
All of this Grad “activity” makes me think about one of my favourite grade eight graduating classes. We had a morning ceremony for a change, followed by a Swiss Chalet sit-down lunch in the cafeteria. Then, a dance in the gym. Decorations dressed up the school and everyone donned new trends, accessorizing with beautiful corsages and boutonnieres. It was a big event!
Knowing ahead of time about the sit-down lunch, I thought the students and I should polish up our table manners for the big day. First, I needed to know where we’d be starting from. I asked my class, “How many of you eat dinner at home with your family every night?” No hands went up in my class of over thirty students.
“Okay, so, do you ever eat meals with other family members?” No hands. “Alright. How many of you eat your meals at a kitchen table?” A few hands.
Clearly the responses reflected the community in which I taught – many single parents working evenings and shift-work – and other kids with both parents working at night. Further discussion revealed that most kids ate alone for most of their meals, outside of special occasions. Eating in front of the TV. Alone. Almost all the time.
This is today’s reality I guess, but it is saddening nonetheless. I thought of the regular meals that I shared with my family as a child, and about the Sunday night dinners in our dining room – with the good china and silver – with my Nana present. I learned about tons of things during these multi-generational meals, and proper table manners were an expectation.
These Grade Eights needed lessons in good manners ASAP — they had a special sit-down lunch coming up!
So, I picked up some Royal Chinet, plastic utensils and cups, and paper napkins. I planned ahead for an informative series of lessons.
On the blackboard I drew a table setting and talked about it. I discussed what to do with a bun and butter before taking a bite. The napkin’s role? When to start eating, which utensils to use, and what to do with your knife and fork when you’re not using them. Where do they go when you’re done? When do you leave the table? What is an appropriate amount of space to use up (practice by putting a book between your elbows and your sides as you eat)….and the chat continued….we practiced using the paper plates and utensils and imaginary food. It was really fun.
During these lessons, I had more focus from the kids than in any other lesson I’d taught all year. My students were totally engaged and motivated to learn about manners. I could tell that they wanted to fit in, to act appropriately in the situation. They wanted to feel as though they were doing the right thing. They wanted to be part of “the club”.
At the Graduation ceremony, everyone looked fabulous. I watched my students as they entered the cafeteria. Wide-eyed, they looked around at each other to make sure they were doing the right thing. The boys waited for the girls before sitting down, and they all placed napkins across their laps. They broke their bread before buttering and biting, and they placed their cutlery across the Swiss Chalet containers when they paused eating. A calm and maturity came over the adolescents during their special meal, and I knew they had learned some new and very powerful tools to use for the rest of their lives.
They were so proud of themselves – and I was proud of them too. I knew that they learned something they would take forward into their next phase, and beyond, for sure.