Tilapia in the Lunchroom: My Year in Hell

For all we know, there is a disgruntled, shell-shocked first-year teacher somewhere on the Upper East Side, so overburdened with parent-teacher conferences, with field trips to Tuscany, with students begging for extra homework that he or she is already working on “Tilapia in the Lunchroom: My Year in Hell.”

Charles McGrath, “From the Foxhole” New York Times, April 22, 2007

I have wanted to be a teacher all my life. And at last I’m getting my chance —-I’m going to be teaching third grade at the best private school on the Upper East Side of New York City. It is a dream come true!

Sure wish I’d known Tony Hawk had been a visiting scholar last year before I tried the skateboard during recess. Fortunately, one of the parents is a plastic surgeon and took care of me pro bono. He said the scar would fade with time.

The school chef is French. Hot too!

Tilapia for lunch. Told Chef Amelie that it is my favorite fish.

Parent teacher conferences. Kids are begging for more homework. Guess I’ll take the principal’s advice and try Trollope.

Tilapia for lunch four times this month. Chef Amelie has really pretty eyes.

They are almost done with the Barchester books and again pleading for more homework. What to do? What to do?

Did some SAT prep tutoring in Vail over the break. Some of the kids were kind of young, but I think their parents are right — with college admissions being what they are seven isn’t too early these days. Made enough for the down payment on that condo I’d had my eye on. (Amelie came too and cooked lots of tilapia. Yum!)

Parents are telling me that the kids are finding Tolstoy too easy. I’m thinking maybe Dante in preparation for the spring Tuscany field trip.

More parent teacher conferences. Evidently the kids are complaining about the school food — too much fish the parents said. I wonder if it is because they are reading Moby Dick now?

Spring Break. Amelie and I went to Cancun. Didn’t go well.

No tilapia in Tuscany. No Amelie either.

Chipped beef twenty times for lunch this month. Kids want to know what happened to the tilapia. Jeez, can I help it if we’ve got a new chef who is a retired Army mess officer?

I don’t blame them. Really I don’t. But it ended quickly once I pointed out that college admissions might not consider a food fight in the lunchroom, no matter how well planned, a form of community service.

Anyway, doesn’t matter to me — I’m out of here; one of the parents runs a hedge fund and I’m starting there next week.



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5 responses to “Tilapia in the Lunchroom: My Year in Hell

  1. Yeah, exactly how I remember my first year of teaching. Only it was inner-city kids in East Oakland. And instead of tilapia it was a balanced lunch of chili cheese fries and an orange soda (one protein, one dairy, one fruit and 2 vegetables). Oh, and the parents were telling me that it was my fault their child was failing because their child didn’t come to school four days out of five. Otherwise identical.

    I’m so glad that No Child Left Behind has fixed these disparities.


  2. I lasted nine years in a midwestern version of your “school from hell.” (Well, not quite the same. No tilapia, for one thing.) I’ve spent the last twelve years “on the wrong side of the river” as it were, and I’ve been much, much happier. Our lunch ladies make a mean egg salad.


  3. Very, very funny post, Monica.

    I’ll top your tilapia with some cheese sticks (hot lunch) served at my kids’ school! Hot cheese sticks. Mmmmm…Can’t beat that.

    David and Jone–beautiful :)


  4. Oops! Make that “David and Mary Lee”!!! (I had Jone on the mind at the moment.)


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