Pancakes taste like home. Growing up, my dad took a hands-off approach to parenting. He was a hard-working, hard-talking, hard-living truck driver who was on the road from Sunday evenings until Friday nights, so my mom was left to raise us kids. She was a wonderful mother but a terrible cook! I saw a soup mug at a gift shop many moons ago that summed up my mom’s culinary skills: “Mmm! Mmm! Just like Mom used to warm up in the microwave!”

Monday through Saturday meant burnt ground beef patties with watery mashed potatoes or Oscar Mayer wieners, split in half and stuffed with sliced American cheese, but Sunday mornings were for pancakes. My dad would make his way into the kitchen and whip up the thinnest pancake batter imaginable. Then, he would pour it into a skillet coated in Crisco and flip pancakes—impossibly large, inconceivably light, unbelievably mouth-watering pancakes. He smothered them in Blue Bonnet margarine and artificial maple syrup and served them up on chipped Corelle dinner plates. Ahhh . . . home.

I wrote a sample essay about pancakes for my students several years ago. In it, I revealed a rather humorous anecdote about the first time I tried my dad’s pancake recipe for my husband; it happened on our honeymoon. (That’s a story for another day.)

But on that particular day, I was struck by the bravery and honesty of a student’s candid revelation. His mother had been in jail as long as he could remember, and his dad had never cooked him pancakes. The kid had never had a pancake! You can see where this is going. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he walked into the classroom the next morning and saw the griddle plugged in and heating up on my desk. “You’re making pancakes for me?” Best teaching memory, like, ever!

I’ve been serving pancakes to my students twice a year, the last day before winter break and the last day of school, ever since. My recipe is a little healthier— half stone-ground whole wheat flour, egg whites, coconut oil, skim milk—and I serve them with real salted butter instead of margarine. But I still prefer artificial maple syrup. Some habits die hard.

I let the kids choose add-ins like blueberries, mini chocolate chips, and cinnamon. And we talk and laugh and eat until we almost pop! Some of the kids, especially the boys, want me to teach them to flip their own. I show them how to check for popped air bubbles all across the top and to look at the edges to see if they’re still shiny wet or nice and dry. They are so proud when they turn out perfectly! And it feels like home.

Food has a way of bringing people together like that.

It may not be pancakes for you, but the key ingredients in your recipe for success are the personal connections that you can cook up with your students. Fostering an environment in which students feel safe to communicate openly their joys and sorrows will allow a caring teacher to create a taste for learning. Season your classroom with love and understanding. You may be surprised at the tantalizing flavors that develop.