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Sunday, February 1, 2015

All You Need Is Toast

Supertrooper for

Toast?  Toast.  Toast is all you need. 

I came to this realization when a friend told me about traveling overseas with his young son.  

The boy, who was around seven at the time, was finding it very stressful.  People didn’t speak his language, and they kept expecting him to eat funny-looking food he’d never seen before.

Then he discovered that anywhere he went, oh miracles of miracles, he could ask for toast.  Toast!  That crunchy and tasty, familiar and filling king of the comfort foods.  Well, if people ate toast here, maybe this place wasn’t so scary, after all. 

He was able to relax enough that he ended up having a great time on their adventure.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:  I was volunteering at an ESOL program whose  students were working as maids and custodians, the sorts of physically-demanding, generally-unappreciated jobs that keep our world running smoothly.

The program had serious attendance problems.  The students weren’t paying for the classes and weren’t graded, so we couldn't figure out how to motivate them.  

(After teaching in Japan, I could empathize.  It’s not easy to learn a new language as an adult, especially when you’re exhausted after working all day in your native language.)

Here’s what finally clicked:  One of the teachers made a big chart with all the students’ names on it. For each class they attended, they got to pick out a sticker and put it on the chart.  And they got a small prize (like a pen or more stickers) if they had perfect attendance for a month.

We joked with each other, “Isn’t it amazing what adults will do in exchange for a sticker?” 

But it wasn’t really about stickers, of course. It was the fact that someone was acknowledging their efforts.  And also the spirit of camaraderie as classmates cheered each other on.  “No way, José!  You’ve had perfect attendance three months in a row?”

A piece of bread, a “Job well done!” and thou.  Sometimes it really is that simple.

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