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A teaching moment: Anti-lunch detention

Jonathan Holt

TFA teacher Jonathan Holt

It’s OK for a teacher to have a favorite student. Better to cultivate productive relationships than to stifle them for the sake of equity, right?

When I began teaching in New Orleans, a few boys would regularly sit with me in my science lab during lunch, presumably to escape the madness of the cafeteria. Damian, a tall, slender freshman, spent this time using me as his personal encyclopedia:

What’s the name of the bomb? The one we dropped in World War II?

How many days are there in a phone calendar? Does it go on forever?

What would happen if two hurricanes smashed into each other? Would they join together to make one huge hurricane? I bet it would make a tsunami, right?

What’s in a Snickers? It’s says, here, on the wrapper, there’s “nougat” inside. What goes in nougat?

And so on.

I quickly recognized the potential disciplinary value of these voluntary lunch detentions. Or rather, anti-lunch detentions.

One Tuesday afternoon, a woman from our teaching certification program came to observe my classroom. She leaned against the back wall with a clipboard in hand, jotting down notes with a red pen. Naturally, it was not my day.

“Oh, Mr. Holt, that’s your girlfriend!” said Damian, behind a huge smile.

“Shh. Do your work.”

“She’s a brunette, Mr. Holt.” His smile widened.

I blushed. I tried hard to contain my laughter, but a short chuckle escaped.

“She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my boss. So I need you to be on your A-game,” I anxiously whispered to him.

“Ohhhh sorry, Mr. Holt!” he whispered back. He cleared his throat and turned to the back of the room. “Mr. Holt is SUCH a good teacher. He should DEFINITELY get a raise.”

“Uh,” I desperately intervened, “Who can tell me what the difference is between a homogenous and heterogeneous mixture?”

“Mr. Holt, does homogeneous have anything to do with homosexual?” Damian inquired.

Incredible. This dialogue could not get any worse.

“Damian! That’s a warning,” I yelled.

“Oh! Sorry Mr. Holt.”

A few minutes later, he was out of his seat, trying to pull the chair out from under a classmate.

“Damian! That’s…” I tried to think of a good consequence. I used to give him lunch detention, but he had been coming to lunch in my science lab voluntarily for the past two weeks.

“Damian! I’m giving you anti-lunch detention.”


“That’s right. You cannot come to lunch detention tomorrow. You have to go to real lunch.”

“No!! Mr. Holt, please! Give me another chance!”

“I already did, Damian.”

“No! Is there anything I can do to make you change your mind, Mr. Holt?”


After class, Damian tossed out one last retort on his way out the door.

“Mr. Holt, what did you really want to do after college? Couldn’t you get a better job?”

A better job? Clearly, Damian did not understand the reward that comes with dishing out anti-lunch detentions.

“I just wanted to hang out with people like you, Damian. That’s all.”

Jonathan Holt moved to New Orleans to Teach For America, which he writes about for NolaVie. Yes, you can take him out to dinner. E-mail him at


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