A Side of Home Fries

To share this post well, I need to describe the setting a bit. In almost every large college town, there is some diner or restaurant that’s an institution on campus. It’s the place where folks gather on weekend mornings to get a cup of coffee to clear the cloudiness from the night before. If you’re new to town, look for the line of people outside who are waiting to be seated. There’s always one, but don’t fear. The line usually moves pretty quickly. Once inside, you’ll be hastily ushered to a table inches away from a neighboring one. If you’re looking for a restaurant to have a private, quiet, leisurely breakfast, you’re in the wrong place. Coming here for breakfast means two things. One, you’re prepared to order quickly and, two, you’re willing to give up some of your personal space. Institutions like this survive on volume and diners are crammed together “butts to elbows,” as my mom used to say. At places like this, the food is always hot, always delicious, and always the perfect remedy for whatever ails you.

I visited one of these institutions recently. I was traveling with my family, and we stopped for breakfast in a university town hours away from where we live. We waited about 30 minutes before being seated at a table next to a group of college students. We place our orders and, minutes later, were greeted with plates of piping hot food. As my family and I sat and ate our pancakes and omelets, I could hear the buzz of conversation from the next table. I tried not to be an eavesdropper, but my “teacher hearing” kicked in when one of them used the terms “digital literacy” and “discourse community.” I stealthily listened as the student described a project she was completing for one of her education classes. Despite this being early on a Friday morning, the students were clearly excited about the assignment and the data they were collecting. One even talked at length about how it was going to impact her future as a teacher. Even though I felt uncomfortable listening in on their conversation, I was impressed by the students’ discussion. They were engaged in a thoughtful, intelligent conversation that drew on a clear understanding of their course content. All while eating scrambled eggs and toast.

A little while later, my family finished our meals and I stood in line to pay our check. As I waited, the students gathered behind me to pay for their meals, too. I wanted to turn around and praise them for demonstrating their expertise so gracefully, but I decided that would be pretty creepy. As I left, I also wondered whether I could do some internet searching to figure out who their professor was. I thought maybe they’d want to know that the project they had assigned had inspired their students so much that it became their sole conversation at breakfast. I decided that was a little creepy, too.

But I also wondered whether at some breakfast table somewhere in place and time, my students were engaging in a conversation about a project I had assigned. That’s my hope, at least. I also hope the folks at the neighboring table were as entertained and impressed as I was.

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