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Credit: Celeste Noche
The Way We Eat

How Michele Hoang, a Middle School Math Teacher, Is Planning Lunch, Lesson Plans, and (Gestures Broadly) All of This

updated Aug 17, 2020
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Name: Michele Hoang
Location: Portland, OR
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 4: Michele; her husband, George; Eleanor (4); and Winston (6 months).
Avoidances: Michele is allergic to soy, oat, tuna, shrimp, pork, spinach, radish, pineapple, mustard, and zucchini. 

For the past few months, the official back-to-school plan for schools around the country has been … that there is no plan. Parents and teachers have been on edge waiting for final decisions regarding whether students would be attending classes in-person, remotely, or a combination of the two. As announcements have rolled out, anxieties have only heightened as there’s no clear “right” choice to make.

While parents decide what option is best for their children, teachers have to plan for every possible scenario. For a closer look into what that uncertainty is really like, we spoke with Michele Hoang, a middle school math teacher in Portland, Oregon, who has been navigating these uncharted waters for months and is taking each day in stride.

Michele and her husband, George (a graphic designer), have both been home, uninterrupted with their 4-year-old daughter and six-month-old son who was born in January. We spoke with the couple about Michele’s remote back-to-school game plan, the three ingredients her family can’t live without, and the importance of teaching their kids to be proud of the food they eat.

Credit: Celeste Noche

What’s your school’s plan for the fall?
For a while, there were no definitive plans — the decision changed every week since cases in Oregon have been going up. Talking with the teachers at my school, I gathered that not many were 100 percent excited about going back, being exposed to that many people, and coming home. Most recently, though, per our governor’s order, my school will be doing remote learning when school starts August 31.

My kids’ Montessori school, however, is planning to be back in person. Eleanor is starting pre-school and Winston is starting the baby program the same day (9/31), so it’s going to be tricky. It’ll be the first time he’s with a stranger. And for Eleanor, we’ve been practicing packing her lunch so she’s used to it — we’re putting lots of rainbow things in a bento box to make it exciting. Right now, we’re just trying to curb our anxiety about sending the kids back to school.

Credit: Celeste Noche

What were the first few months of remote teaching like for you when the pandemic started?
My situation is a little different than most teachers because I gave birth in January. I went on maternity leave just in time for quarantine. I didn’t have to deal with remote learning in the spring like my colleagues did, but I was home with a new baby and toddler trying to figure out how to balance everything at home.

To get ready for this year, though, I’ve reached out to a lot of other math teachers to start remote lesson plans. I’m getting lots of tips and feedback from teachers who tried things last semester that either did or didn’t work. Most of the tips are about different online platforms that make it easier for kids to submit their work and for teachers to give them feedback.

Credit: Celeste Noche

How do you find time to lesson plan right now? Run me through your day.
I wake up, do breakfast, and go on a walk while Winston naps. Then we picnic outside, read, sing, and snack until it’s lunchtime. The kids nap from 2 to 3. That’s when George is done with work — he works East Coast hours — and he takes the kids. I start making dinner and we eat between 4:30 and 5. Winston goes to sleep by 6 and we have an extra hour with Eleanor, who is down by 8. That’s when I can work. I have this hour and a half that I can either use to relax or plan my lessons for school.

What’s been the hardest part of all of this?
We’re really missing that human connection. Eleanor likes to socialize. Our families are not in Portland. George’s family is in Rochester, NY, and mine is in Anaheim, CA. We don’t have any relatives around. It adds to the fear, because if we got sick, we wouldn’t know what to do with the kids.
George: We only have plan A.

Credit: Celeste Noche

What’s it like living in Portland right now — especially with all that is going on politically?
Michele: It’s interesting. The news outlets are reporting on what’s happening in a four-block radius downtown where protests are going on, but once you leave that radius (we live in the northeast), it’s really normal. Although we hear helicopters all day and night. We live in an area that’s very diverse, but we haven’t met an Asian neighbor. Sometimes when I’ve taken Eleanor on bike rides, people have yelled racial slurs and things at us. So it’s safest to stay in our neighborhood where people know and recognize us.

I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with that.
It gets a little scary, but ever since Eleanor was born, it’s been important for us to sit down to dinner together so we can talk. One of the things I really want to instill in our kids is the love of the food from our culture. As a kid growing up in an immigrant family of refugees, there was always this push to assimilate to American culture. There was this shame and embarrassment associated with the food that we ate. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that Vietnamese food became “hip.” It was weird in college to see American restaurants selling spring rolls or banh mi or the fact that other people knew what pho is. I want my kids to grow up eating well, but also loving our food and seeing that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about — that’s not necessarily the way I grew up eating.

Credit: Celeste Noche

What kinds of meals have you been eating at home lately?
Michele: I’m Vietnamese and George is Chinese (but his mom grew up in Vietnam, so we both grew up eating the same food). But right now, we’ve been having a lot of quesadillas and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because they’re quick. We used to never buy bread or tortillas, but now that’s on every single grocery list we order now. And cheese. We’re eating way more cheese than we used to. Cheese and carbs.
George: We can’t go to the Asian market as much as we used to, so we don’t have a lot of the ingredients we’d usually have on hand. One of the changes has been that we’re eating a lot more American.
Michele: Fish sauce, rice noodles, and hoisin sauce are the three things I have to have. I would risk my life and drive 20 to 30 minutes to the Asian market to get them if we ran out. I make a lot of spring rolls with peanut sauce, stir-fried rice, pasta, soup, a lot of bao. (We put anything in a bao.)

Credit: Celeste Noche

What do you do these days when you don’t feel like cooking?
Michele: There’s a local restaurant that has take-and-bake pizzas, which feels pretty safe since you’re baking it yourself and no one’s handling it. For another easy meal, we usually boil some veggies, and have it with rice and a fried egg. That’s our super-easy, less-than-30-minute meal. Eleanor loves carbs so if I give her a bowl of rice and boiled veggies she’s happy.

What else does Eleanor like to eat?
Michele: She’s so funny. We sometimes have hand roll night, but Eleanor won’t eat everything together. She eats the rice by itself, then the meat, then the cucumbers. She also does that with pho. She likes to have the broth in a bowl, then noodles, veggies, and meat on her plate separately. Then she’ll dip it in hoisin sauce. She’s got her own system down.

Credit: Celeste Noche

What’s the biggest thing you’re looking forward to after all of this?
Michele: Being able to fly somewhere to visit family. George’s mom and my dad haven’t met Winston yet. The first time they can hold him he’s going to be talking. I think when it’s safe, that will be our very first thing. Before that happens, though, we’re looking forward to Eleanor’s skunk-themed birthday party in our yard. We’ve never met a skunk but she wants a skunk cake. We’re making cupcakes, and she’s going to have three friends coming over for a socially distanced party.

Thanks so much, Michele!

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.