What Students Are Saying About Challenging School Work, Great Cooks and Everyday Pleasures

Please note: This is the last installment of Current Events Conversation for the 2021-22 school year.

For this school year’s final weekly roundup of our favorite student comments from our writing prompts, we asked teenagers to tell us how they deal with challenging school work. We also asked them to tell us about the best cook they know and to share the “little things” they cherish in life.

Thank you to everyone who joined the conversation this week, including teenagers from Seoul; Washington, D.C.; and Kentucky.

And thank you, again, to everyone around the world who participated in our Current Events Conversation at any point this school year. We hope to see you next year, and, in the meantime, we invite you to participate in our 13th Annual Summer Reading Contest, which begins June 10.

Please note: Student comments have been lightly edited for length, but otherwise appear as they were originally submitted.

How Good Are You at Handling Challenging School Work?

Credit…Eleanor Davis

Education experts suggest that when it comes to learning, a little bit of struggle can actually be productive. In “Learning the Right Way to Struggle,” Jenny Anderson writes about this research and shares some strategies.

We wanted to know how students cope with such challenges in their own academic lives, and many offered their own strategies. Others shared their experiences with embracing difficult material — or with being frustrated by it. A few questioned whether productive failure is an approach that can work for everyone.

Embracing Failure Pays Off.

As an AP environmental science student, I believe that growth and learning can be thought of similarly to the concept of disturbances. A disturbance is a large disruption to an ecosystem, but once it’s passed leads to an onslaught of new growth. This phenomenon I find is very similar to the concept of how I struggle with my learning. I’m a student that’s afraid to be called out for asking questions, I struggle in silence, but I believe that it’s this silence that persuades me to be a more diligent, hardworking person, and in the end, the struggle could be considered the reward …

But recently, I find myself embracing the idea of a struggle or the idea of a failure. You can’t experience happiness without sadness, and the same thing goes for struggling with learning, and then finally grasping the concept. Because of this, I believe that struggling is, rudimentarily, scary. Nobody wants to fail, and everybody wants to be the best. I push myself, and that struggle is just a part of the reward. Struggling is vital, because, at the end of the day, that’s how we learn. If we didn’t struggle, or even fail, at all, would we really learn anything?

— Anna, N.C.

As a student at a very large and competitive school that encourages independence and the virtues of self accountability, I am very comfortable when it comes to handle a large or difficult work load. I simply sit down, and take the first step into diving into whatever may stand in front of me. For many, the first step to begin a hard, or long assignment is the hardest. Throughout high school I learned that each day, each week, and each semester have up and downs, which you must ride and continue to move forward through. There is always a solution.

— Michael, New Rochelle, New York

I would always feel comfortable with the feeling of being uncomfortable … Even though we don’t like to be struggling with our work, it is always nice to have some challenge to see if you can do it without the need to know if you are on the correct path to a certain mastery of a subject in school or if you need more practice. But I find it helpful to have some sort of mental struggle because I can ask for help when I need it …

— Nnamdi, Valley Stream North

But Sometimes Challenge Can Be Discouraging.

I wouldn’t say I handle challenges very well, rather I often run from them. Whether it be speaking in front of the class or raising my hand or taking an AP class, I shy away from putting in time and effort as well as miss opportunities that offer to help. What’s more I often fail, as a result of comparing myself to others instead of working on improving myself. While challenges motivate many they tend to discourage me.

— Khadija, Glenbard West High School

As a student half way through high school I have noticed that the work given isn’t necessarily difficult, but the amount of work tends to be the limiting factor in success in the student body. Although some people adapt to that factor, the ones who couldn’t find the motivation to do the easy work will most likely not attempt to work through the difficult…i feel i am one of those students that have adapted to doing a large quantity of easy work rather than small amount of difficult…many like me will wait to do it at home and then end up stuck and frustrated, or even attempt to do it in class and find that they don’t even know the right questions to ask to help themselves.

— Leah, Connecticut

Here’s How to Handle Difficult Work.

I don’t usually struggle with school work, more so the workload instead of the actual work. However on the occasion that I do struggle with the assignments given I usually ask my classmates if they understand the problem or said question, and if for some reason they don’t I ask our teacher. I find anything that has to do with science difficult, and when facing that difficulty I reread my notes and or check the textbook and if that gets me nowhere I check online.

— Ella, Polytechnic Magnet

Whenever I have challenging schoolwork, I usually wait a day on it if possible. Sometimes my mind still needs time to process what I had learned and coming back to it later has helped me understand it more. If that still doesn’t help, I’ll ask another friend if they understand and if they can teach it to me. If they don’t understand it either, I will find a YouTube video and see if it helps. If nothing else works, I will just ask the teacher the next day to help me understand it better.

— Jorge, PSH

School work is definitely challenging when it is freshly taught. Learning new materials requires us to take in the information and process everything thoroughly until we come to a full understanding. I find that the school load I received in my junior year of high school was the most challenging. It was a year of juggling between 3 APs… What helped me the most…was time management and calming music. Every time I do homework I play some Lofi music in the background to help me feel relaxed and less stressed about the work. This definitely helped a lot and I recommend it to anyone that needs concentration on work.

— Tiffany, Los Angeles, California

Is “Struggle Learning” Right for Everyone?

[A]s a student, I have found that “struggle learning” in theory and practice has produced promising results. However, In my experience with “productive failure” within the classroom, I’m completely isolated. Failure, it turns out, can also manifest negative outcomes and results; however, neglected these results are. Where’s the line between “productive failure” and abandonment? How will an educator properly gauge each individual’s struggle to determine if they’ve done enough independently? Should this teaching style be optional for students who need intimate instruction? I’m skeptical about how much potential this teaching style has for exploitation and abuse of the learning environment. However, I’m optimistic about additional research on this topic.

— Zachariah, Pittsburgh

I struggle with schoolwork often. I either have trouble managing the amount of work I have or figuring out how to do the work in general. I struggle the most with math, I was never really good at math and usually have a bit of trouble understanding it. When I am having trouble, I try to ask people around me for help (friends, family, teachers). I get nervous to ask for help a lot in fear that it would make me seem not on the same level of comprehension compared to others. I think that pushing yourself too much isn’t always the best answer, you should try and look to others for help and give yourself a break every once and a while.

— Amelia, Valley Stream North High School

Who Is the Best Cook You Know?

Chicken roasted with oranges and onions is adapted from a dish Florence Fabricant’s mother once made with racks of veal.Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist; Simon Andrews.

In “What My Mother’s Cooking Taught Me,” Florence Fabricant, a New York Times food and wine writer and cookbook author, writes that it was her mother’s “care in the kitchen” that “shaped my approach as a food writer and home cook.”

This inspired us to ask teenagers about their own interest in food: What is their favorite dish? Who makes it best? If they cook, who taught or encouraged them? The responses took us on a mouthwatering journey through elaborate holiday traditions and simple home-cooked meals prepared by people they love and admire.

The Best Cooks We Know

My grandma is by far the best cook I know. Every New Year’s day, my family is graced with the succulent smell of traditional Korean food pervading the house. From her mandu (dumplings) to her tteokguk (Korean rice cake soup), every year I look forward to her generational masterpieces. Because my grandmother and I are on opposite sides of a language barrier, not much of our love can be verbalized. No conversation has surpassed the depth of “How are you?” “All A’s?” and “Always listen to uma(mom).” But when her love is communicated through cooking, I am always capable of expressing my appreciation by finishing the whole bowl and asking for seconds. Now that I am older, I am starting to learn these sacred recipes myself, and although I have not yet developed the special halmoni (grandma) touch, I try my best each year to study from and replicate the best cook I know.

— Emma, Washington DC

There is no doubt in my mind that my mom is the best cook I know in my life because she is very passionate about cooking for family members and her friends and feels happy when someone eats a lot of her delicious food. She can cook many different cuisines such as Chinese, Thai, Burmese, and Indian. She always cooks healthy, tasty, fresh, and low-calorie foods to control the ingredients to be more natural, and creates new recipes to satisfy the whole family. She has been cooking for many years and is very skillful at cooking for ceremonies inviting many guests to honor the people, so she can prepare food quickly and knows how many meals will be enough for guests. The reason why her food is so special is that she uses a different cooking approach to various dishes and creates her distinct taste. After cooking new recipes, she writes down all the ingredients in her book to pass down from generation to generation without changing the food’s taste.

— Nyein-SW, YC-CLIP

The greatest cook in my family is definitely my mother. She grew up surrounded in cooking and food like how she raised me and learned all kinds of generational recipes her mother taught to her and her sisters which brings that homemade style that no else has in their cooking. In family gathering events or during the festival season, like Ramadan, it’s a time where everyone comes together and food is our family’s way to bring us all together and connect each and one of us.

This brings me not just closer to my family but my culture within self, by getting to experience the traditional foods from Bangladesh. For example, all the types of curry you can imagine like the homemade traditional chicken and beef curry which have this distinct taste my family makes that can’t compare to any other families. Also the Bangladeshi snacks and desserts that anyone in the family can make together, like jhalmuri, kalojam, jilapi, and my personal fav is pua pitha. So many of our family friends from Bangladesh that are living in the U.S. or across the state have come down to my house to experience my family’s cooking first hand.

— Emily, Hoggard High School In Wilmington NC

Now this was a hard question to answer because fortunately my family can cook very well but I must say the trophy goes to my grandma; her name is Sylvia Haven, born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in New York City. She is the best cook I’ve ever met. I love all of her dishes from a classic pound cake to her sautéed shrimp and fettuccine Alfredo meal (my favorite).

In “What My Mother’s Cooking Taught Me” The writer says, “There was nothing special in her arsenal: Her kitchen, which was not kosher, was equipped with everyday cast-iron and Farberware cookware, a well-worn wooden chopping bowl and mezzaluna, a glass double boiler, an enameled oval blue-and-white-speckled roaster, and a pressure cooker.” It surprised me how much I can relate to the statement because my grandma didn’t go to culinary school nor neither does she have fancy techniques. But whatever she made always turned out to be the best. My theory is that since she lived in Chicago, Georgia and New York, three of the most influential food places in America, her cooking is different from others. Plus, in every meal she makes, she adds love, making the food taste 100% better. So I say this now out of my almost 17 years of living I’ve never tasted anything better than my grandma‘s food.

— Samiya, Chicago

Our Favorite Recipes

Nothing beats my grandmother’s kale shrimp wontons. They slip teasingly around the plate on their slinky, tender bellies, escaping with a flourish if you’re not absolutely precise with your chopsticks, yielding only to the most delicate pounce (or in Dad’s case, an impertinent fork stab). The first bite unleashes a rush of hot, sour juice, like a promise fulfilled; the second crowds your mouth with sesame oil and oyster sauce, salt and pepper, some interloping pork, all jostling like fans in a mosh pit, though the ocean-fresh shrimp and still slightly sharp kale steal the show. You can’t get them in a restaurant, because her wontons tell the story of her journey; from Nanjing to San Francisco, centuries of tradition sharing the scene with upstart California produce. I’m not sure cooking is in her DNA, but her DNA is in her cooking.

— Aria, The Athenian School

The cooking DNA runs deep in my family, but I’d have to say my favorite cook is my dad … Growing up, he cooked so many things and tried new recipes constantly. However, the one thing he always fell back on was Cambodian and Chinese cooking. Passed down from his mother, he always tried his best to replicate her recipes …

One thing he made quite often was simple yet delicious, Bahn Chao.Think of like a yellow crepe filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. Anytime I saw him making it, I could feel my mouth begin to water. I’d also like to note, I was a picky eater when I was a little kid. Yet, his food always made my eyes light up.

— L, block 4 Hoggard High School

Who is the best cook or baker that I know? I think that I have to go with our school chef, Peetie. All of the work that goes into his food makes it amazing. Ask him to make anything, he can make it just the way you like it if not better. He makes food from all around the world, and that is one of the things that makes it so special.

I think my favorite thing that he makes is grilled cheese. It is so delicious! Yes, I am a man for my bread and cheese, but his grilled cheese is just over the top. Not undercooked, not overcooked, not burning hot, not freezing cold. It is just right. I am so grateful that we have him here at our school. He brings joy to the thought of food! 🙂

— Oliver, Bend International School

My grandma is an immigrant from Sierra Leone, and along with my dad she brought some of the most delicious recipes with her. My grandma’s cooking isn’t just filled with love, it’s also filled with my family’s culture and heritage. With each spoonful of her cooking you feel as if you’re in a hot day in Sierra Leone. Just watching her cook fills me and my family with awe as her graceful movements put on a show in the kitchen. Just the mouth watering aroma of her food brings me to tears, gosh it’s too good.

Salmon stew, beef stew, jollof rice, potato leaves, fried akara, the list goes on, these recipes have been passed down within generations of my family. Yet, it’s nearly impossible to get any of them from her. For years my mom and aunties have been dying to get anything from ingredients to oven temperature from her and they all end up recipe-less.

— brie, Hoggard High School in Wilmington NC

The Secret Ingredient to the Best Food: Love

The best cook I know is my mom. Yes, she makes amazing food but I also think there is more to being a cook than just making a tasty meal. A cook has to have passion behind what they do, they cook with a purpose. My mom doesn’t just cook to try to make a delicious meal, she cooks because she cares for her family. My mother dedicates hours of her nights to cooking a meal so our family can sit around the dinner table at night and talk about our day and enjoy the presence of one another. She is the glue that holds our family together, and she selflessly cooks a meal for 7 people. The food always tastes good but what adds the extra taste is knowing that the food was prepared with love, care, and passion, those are the secret ingredients in my mom’s dinner.

— Josh, Hinsdale Central High School, IL

My mom is the best cook because even though I do like to eat out, nothing will ever compare to her home cooked meals, especially on holidays. The tradition and love that goes into each dish made by my mom will add something to each meal that a restaurant chef will never be able to add. Whenever I start cooking, I’m going to want my mom’s recipe for her lasagna and her no-bake oatmeal cookies because those are probably my top 2 favorite things she makes. In my family, my great-grandma makes this amazing chocolate pie that everyone is wanting the recipe to, and I have a feeling that recipe will carry down for generations to come. Overall, family cooking is way more special than a meal at a restaurant.

— Abby, Kentucky

When I was younger and even now, I see my grandparents and parents cooking meals for dinner and on holidays and family get-togethers. I would, and do, help them as well. I also have grown up making traditional Ukrainian and Italian meals with my parents and grandparents so I have learned a lot about cooking and baking just by being in the kitchen observing while they were cooking and sometimes when I was younger if I got lucky I could stir some ingredients in a bowl. As I got older, especially during quarantine, I started to cook and bake more. I had a lot of free time, my parents trusted me to not burn the house down and I also realized that I love to make things for people.

— Sophia, J.R. Masterman in Philadelphia, PA

What “Little Things” Do You Cherish in Life?

Credit…Moritz Wienert

A recent Times article on the concept of “romanticizing your life,” which became popular during the pandemic, suggests that taking time to focus on and appreciate small details in our daily lives can help us find joy and meaning.

In the Picture Prompt “Everyday Pleasures,” we asked students what they thought of this trend, and what they would place on their own lists of life’s small pleasures.

A List of Life’s Little Pleasures

Someone saying hello as they pass by me on gloomy mornings, the nice stranger that pays for my coffee, or asks me how I’m doing. Those are things I cherish. I value the small talks with my mom on Sunday mornings, and the hugs I share with my sisters after not seeing them. Walking up in the middle of the night and reading a book to fall back asleep. Those are the simple things that will never get old.

— Bea, BLK 1, Hoggard High School, Wilmington NC

Some things that I find joy in are laughing with my teammates during practice or complaining about schoolwork with friends. Or even when I’m walking home after a good day at school and I reminisce about my day.

— Olivia, San Jose, CA

I believe that there are many joyous yet simple things in my life. Like the sunlight coming in through my window at a perfect angle and lighting up my entire room or waking up to my cat waiting for me to arise. There’s also locking arms with my mother as we walk and catching a perfectly empty bus.

— Emeli, Augustus Hawkins HS

The little thing I cherish in life is when I see my dog each day after school when he runs to see me at the door.

— Brooke, WA

The Joy of Everyday Routines

I always end my day, right before I snuggle up in bed (with my phone of course), with a shower. To me, a shower a day is a reward for me for living yet another day–refreshing and jubilating. Fruit-permeating shampoo odor to pleasantly lukewarm streams of steaming water. A rejuvenation a bit too long. Yet to the world, a shower a day is a great privilege—it really is an unnecessary and frivolous pursuit—which I recognize. So showering, I try to realize how wrongly lucky I am to enjoy this “little thing” while there are millions of others to whom a shower a day is anything but a “little thing.” That self deprecation does, eventually, give some joy.

— Jaden, Seoul, KR

I enjoy walking to school with my younger brother, talking about the day before or mocking each other. I also find joy when I see my friends in the hallway and we wave or smile at each other behind our masks, even if we don’t say anything. Many minor events have meaning for me; I always enjoy the simple things, even though I don’t romanticize my life.

— Samantha, Augustus F. Hawkins HS

I cherish waking up in the morning and eating cereal.

— Kenny, Washington

The People That We Cherish Most

The little things I cherish in life are the things that I value the most. The love that I get from my parents, the respect I get from my friends and teachers, and more. I also cherish the opportunity to be able to experience something new every day of my life. Even though we are in a tough situation right now, I’m glad to see how things change.

— Rishi, Heatherwood Middle School

I cherish many little things in life. I cherish quality conversations, I cherish spending time with my family, I cherish spending time with my friends, and I cherish the sounds of nature. But most of all, I cherish seeing people help each other.

— Colby, Washington

I like the moments where it’s tiny kindness acts: somebody giving you gum without you asking, someone asking if you’re okay, asking someone to sit with them. It’s tiny but sometimes it helps when you have a bad day.

— Kaimi, Washington

Learn more about Current Events Conversation here and find all of our posts in this column.