Wednesday, September 18, 2013

dear teacher, you're too sweet for me

Dear Teacher,

Please stop with the candy already! 

My daughter, Olivia, came home from school last week and announced that her math teacher has a huge jar filled with candy in her classroom.

That tells me this year won't differ from those past where my kids' teachers have doled out Jolly Ranchers, Starburst, Laffy Taffy and other food-dye, preservative and refined sugar-laden little bombs of distraction on a regular basis.


Four years ago, we experimented with nutrition to help Olivia focus in school.  As part of that experiment, we removed refined sugar from her diet. Two months later, we had a different child on our hands.  She was focused, happy, and energetic in a shockingly balanced way.  Most importantly, she was present.  Present like I'd never seen her before.

She actually told me, "Mom, I don't have that foggy feeling anymore."

Granted, we made other changes to her diet besides eliminating sugar.  We went gluten and dairy free, beefed up the amount of whole grains and vegetables she already ate, and added a few supplements like Omega-3 fish oil.  However, after seeing the benefits of these changes, it was the addition of sugar back into Olivia's diet that appeared to have the greatest negative impact on her behavior. 

On any given day after school, Olivia's ability to sit and do her homework independently told us whether or not she'd eaten candy during school that day.

Can you guess, dear teacher, who gave my daughter the brain-killing candy she ate during those school days when we noticed her changed behavior?


I understand that we live in a world full of people who make different choices than us.  We have the neighbor-kid whose cupboards are packed with soda, fruit roll-ups, and oatmeal pies.   We have the generous boy in the lunch room who brought marshmallows and pudding for lunch--and the sweet girl next to him who brought cupcakes to share for her birthday.  We have the nice ladies at the bank, the hairdresser, and even our favorite Vietnamese restaurant who all want to hand out lollipops like it's Halloween. 

And speaking of that, we have Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter--all holidays for which the candy companies are happy to manufacture some kind of sweet must-have.  I'm telling you, if they invent a candy for Thanksgiving, I think my head will explode.

I understand and accept that we have to negotiate all of these hurdles on our road to a healthy lifestyle.  But YOU dear teacher.  YOU were supposed to be on my side.  The lady at the hairdresser hasn't made a career out of building the esteem and intellect of my child. 

You have. 

The lady at the bank doesn't hold a position of authority and influence over my child.

You do.

Why then, would you undermine all of our efforts (that's yours and mine), by drugging my child during the part of the day when she needs to be the most on, the most focused, the most well-behaved--for you?

If you think I'm being melodramatic then check out this infographic comparing sugar to cocaine. 

You may know that sugar is linked to big bad things like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  You must also know from your own experience that sugar causes hyperactivity.  But did you know that too much sugar has recently been connected to learning, memory, dementia and Alzheimer's?

I saw the effects myself in my chemically sensitive child, but perhaps my story about Olivia's sugar-free transformation doesn't impress you.  That's fair.  You can google "sugar and the brain" and find a plethora of articles such as this one: Psychodiabetes: Sugar on the Brain, this one: This is Your Brain on Sugar, and this one: Harmful Effects of Excess Sugar.  Oh, and this one: What Eating Too Much Sugar Does to Your Brain.

Dear teacher, you cannot give my daughter candy then ask her to sit still and focus.  You cannot give her candy then ask her to raise her hand before talking.  You cannot give her candy then ask her to learn

This one really burns me up: Dear teacher, you cannot give my daughter candy then punish her for acting as if she's eaten candy.  

Dear teacher, I know your job is hard.  That's not just lip service.  I tutor learning disabled students and can tell you that one-on-one instruction is hard enough.  I have the utmost respect for you and the work you do in a classroom overstuffed with children.  But I implore you to figure out a way to do that work without candy-bribes because, in the long run, candy just makes your job harder. 

If you think you can't teach without sugar, check out Dr. Yvonne Sanders-Butler talking about how she implemented a sugar-free policy at her elementary school in Lithonia, GA over a decade ago.  I find her whole story fascinating, but if you're pressed for time (I know there's a stack of papers waiting to be graded), then skip to minute 16:45.  That's when she discusses the changes she saw after they removed sugar from their cafeteria.

Do you still think that one Tootsie Roll or that one Jolly Rancher never hurt anyone? 

Even if you are right, you have to consider that you're not the only source of sweet. It's everywhere. Your classroom could be the one place besides home where a child isn't presented with the temptations of that fine white powder. 

You also have to consider that you're a role-model.  You're the teacher! You're not just feeding your students candy, you're teaching  them to eat it.

Dear Teacher, we are in this together.  I will try to do my part: help with homework, send my kids off with a balanced breakfast in their bellies, and pack them healthy lunches for their school day. 

I just ask that you please, please stop with the candy already.


  1. Can you be more positive toward the teacher rather than so blaming and negative? Man, is this ever combative. By burying the comment about how much you understand how hard her job is deep in your lecture, how much you actually understand is lost to me - you tutor one on one, she has how many kids at once?

    1. I was surprised by your comment at first, but in reading the post over, you are right that it is combative. I usually try to be more conciliatory as the former often distracts from the point (here we are talking about my tone rather than the problem of sugar in schools). For better or worse, I suppose my tone is just my frustration showing through. Even though they're buried, my comments about how hard it is to be a teacher are sincere. I just think sugar makes the situation worse for everybody, the teacher included.

  2. I think you were right on. Sugar in the classroom is absurd and can only make matters worse, not better, for someone who is trying to manage an overcrowded classroom. I've dealt with the same issues with my youngest daughter and I am dismayed by the candy wrappers I find stuck to the inside of our washing machine!! She's honest with me..."my teacher gave it to me!" I can't believe that candy is the only way to motivate a child. My kids (all 4 of them) have had some awesome teachers and candy was not a staple in their cupboard. A special treat every once in awhile, ok, but as an every day "teaching method" - come on, give me a break.