Food by VICE

Middle School Teacher Nearly Loses Job After Making Pancakes for Hungry Students

Ninety-five percent of the 500 students at the Pennsylvania school where Kyle Byler teaches are from low-income homes.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Apr 18 2018, 9:56pm

Photo via Flickr user pabo76

Middle school teachers in the state of Pennsylvania have some of the best salaries in the country, banking an average of about $62,600 each year. The state ranks 13th out of all 50 when it comes to compensating their educators. (They’re still probably underpaid—imagine spending 40-ish hours a week with a classroom full of 12-year-old versions of yourself.)

In addition to putting up with the various day-to-day bullshit of America’s youth, teachers also have to face seemingly unending criticism from parents, administrators and people who resent that our educators get to take a few months off for the summer. And when they go above and beyond their call of duty, instead of being thanked, they’re sometimes threatened with unemployment. Just ask Kyle Byler.

Byler teaches eighth grade social studies at Edward Hand Middle School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and last week, he almost lost his job because he cooked pancakes for his students. The man whom the students call the “eighth grade dad” set up a griddle in his classroom and cooked one whole-grain pancake for each kid in his class, because he wanted them to be well-fed before that day’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test.

His concerns about his students’ well-being weren’t totally unfounded; LancasterOnline reports that 95 percent of the 500 students at the school are from low-income homes. “For some, whole-grain pancakes may be the only hot meal they’ve gotten that day,” Jason Molloy, the president of the Lancaster Education Association, told the news outlet.

But when Assistant Principal Marian Grill walked into his classroom, she wasn’t there to applaud him for his impromptu pancake-making session: she just wanted to know what in tarnation he was doing. Within 24 hours, she and other administrators told Byler that he was suspended without pay, and that they’d be letting the school board know that he should be fired. According to them, Byler’s griddle caused a distraction during the PSSA testing.

“I don’t understand what I did wrong, to be honest with you. There was no infraction whatsoever,” Byler told LancasterOnline. “At no point was it any distraction for any of the students. They worked their butts off.” (One of his students agreed, saying that Assistant Principal Grill was the real distraction.)

The Pennsylvania Department of Education said that there was no rule against preparing or serving food during the test, but that manning the grill might prevent Byler from appropriately monitoring his students. Regardless, when the word got out that Byler could lose his job, parents and students both flooded the school with complaints (and it seems like it can’t delete all the one-star Facebook reviews fast enough).

After Tuesday night’s school board meeting—and possibly due to the mountains of terrible publicity for Edward Hand Middle—Byler learned that he would be allowed to return to work on Thursday. "It takes a village to raise children," Crystle Martinez said after the meeting. "He's part of that village." And dude even serves pancakes to that village!

Welcome back, Mr. Byler.