When the announcement is made, we acknowledge that we have not officially allowed food in the classrooms for years, yet every year we have food in the classrooms, the hallways, in the library, in staff offices. Administrators stock large urns with candy to lure students into their gingerbread houses. We’ve seen our principal walk down the hallway with the urn in his arms, a smile on his face. But, no more. This year it will be different. This year we mean it.
A grimy sticker with a big red “no” circle x-ing out food and drink adorns our doorway. It’s official: no food allowed. It’s ugly and mean! I hate it! When I started here five years ago a lot of things weren’t allowed. Scary signs declaring “No cell phones allowed,” and “Play computer games and get Saturday detention” decorated the library. I took them down because it was easy: I am the new librarian! I want the library to be relevant and welcoming to students! I do not want to shush and say no to students all day long! I decided that drinks were allowed, and hoped that not too much eating would happen in the library.
However, I couldn’t take down the no food and drink decals because:
- They are sticky and ancient and I didn’t want to spend 20 minutes with Goo Gone cleaning it up.
- I am sufficiently freaked out about death by allergy that I don’t want to make an official statement about it. A student had an allergic reaction a few weeks ago to food they were eating in the cafeteria. This is not an abstract concept.
We have an interminable day which starts at 7:30 and ends at 2:50. Most of our students play sports after school until 5:30. Students assigned first lunch eat at 10:17. If I don’t eat at regular intervals during the day I can turn nasty. When I was doing my practicum at a well-known high school library, I saw a boy sit down in the library right after school, unwrap a big delicious sub sandwich, and take a blissful bite. I decided then and there that I would never walk over to a hungry kid eating something and demand they stop. This was a formative moment in library food policy for me.
We have an official policy of “No Food Allowed” in the library, but in practice, it’s “don’t see, don’t stop, unless it’s over the top and you can’t ignore it without turning the library into the cafeteria.” Over the top means full-on hot, fragrant meals like Domino’s pizzas and chicken wings. In this situation I offer students a seat at our staff table. Picking up food trash like bacon slices, chewed gum, spilled orange drink, candy wrappers and empty bottles is no fun. Once I found a piece of freshly chewed gum in a brand new book. Our custodian complains about food left overnight shut up in desk drawers.
I’ve learned that enforcing strict rules on our teenagers in the library results in sneakily strong, lingering pushback. When a student gets the brilliant idea to make bleating animal sounds and we hunt them down to stop it, we merely inspire them to make more noise. Ignore them and the fun goes out of it. The more freedom we give them, the more respectful they become. Our wishy-washy food policy is one way that we can say to our students “You work hard and we support you.”
We clean up wrappers and containers after every block. The students are comfortable, they use the library often, we don’t step in rodent droppings, I get my exercise, and no one’s had an allergic reaction -- yet.
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