It seems that I have not changed that much since my middle school days: lunch is still my favorite period. In Osato, all the students participate in the lunch program (because they are forbidden to bring outside food or drink to school) and therefore the quality of the meals is exceptional. As a teacher I only have to pay 200 yen a meal which is about $1.90 so the price is right. Also, I have found that in addition to tasting great and being cheap, school lunch is great because it provides another opportunity to interact with the students.
As mentioned, the students stay in the same classroom all day and there is no difference for lunch except the arrangement of the desks. Each homeroom has “lunch groups” that are typically divided into three boys and three girls. Everyday at lunch the students will organize into their groups and the students responsible for serving that day will retrieve the food and set up a “chow line” by the blackboard. In cafeteria garb, the respective students serve their classmates and finally themselves. After an “itadakimasu,” which basically means “let’s eat” and is similar to saying grace, the students begin to eat. Some, however, immediately jump up and head back to the chow line. Hands begin to fly as the students “jan-ken-pon” (Japanese rock, paper, scissors) for the remaining food.
Now is when the fun begins: eating with the students. First, I must choose not only a classroom but also a lunch group IN the class. With five meals a week, I try to rotate to a new class each day; if I repeat a class I try and sit with a new lunch group. On one particular day, I choose the JTEs homeroom of 8th graders. She is a great woman and knows how to get the most out of the students. Making them eat a balanced meal, however, was quite of a challenge. On this fateful day, the lunch group I sat with had two girls that wanted nothing to do with the veggitable medley looming on the side of their plates. The JTE would not allow them to dispose of or even trade the food; they had to eat–at least some–of the veggies. Although I wish I had taken the spork–yes, we get sporks–and done the “here comes the airplane” trick I decided to help bear their burden. I tried to coax them by saying it was delicious but they didn’t beleive me. I picked up my spork, stabbed/scooped a cucumber and encouraged them to as well. At this point, the entire class was watching and getting involved. After a countdown we opened wide and ate our respective vegetable. The class erupted with cheers and claps.
And so, with school lunch being oishii (delicious), cheap, and full of fun laughs and stories it is undoubtedly my favorite time of the day.