When you ask a teacher about lunch duty, they give one of two answers… either they think it’s cool or they hate it. Some teachers hate lunch duty for legit reasons. One reason is that their colleagues ditch it and their left with one or two less adults. Another reason is because there is little to no order or process to how “lunch” is done other than lining up and getting their tray. But there are other teachers who hate it because they’d rather not be there. They could be grading papers, making copies, calling parents or just exhaling from the class last period that pushed them to the edge.
Sometimes, the last place you want to be is in a cafeteria with loudly talking students for 40 minutes; making sure they don’t harm you or each other. The safe place in the whole cafeteria maybe behind the lunch counter and the kitchen; once lunch is served, those cafeteria workers can retreat… you can’t. There are even memes about how bad lunch duty is.
I get it.
However, that’s deficit thinking. You must think from a place of surplus.
Lunch duty is really an opportunity to get another kind of work done. It is an opportunity to build or build on relationships with students. It an opportunity to converse and connect with students you don’t teach in your classes. Also, it is an opportunity to gain Intel on students so that you can know how to work with students and what to address with students – and also prevent bullying and possibly physical altercations between students. We don’t often talk about this work as an educator, however it is important work. You cannot stand at your post and assume that you’re doing your duty. You must do more.
You will be assigned lunch duty. Let me repeat: YOU WILL BE ASSIGNED lunch duty. Here are some tips on what you should do when in the cafeteria with students:
- Honor the student’s time to socialize. We tell children to be quiet and pay attention more than we tell them our content material. Lunch time isn’t the time for students to be quiet and pay attention – aside from getting directions and announcements of course. Lunch is their time to talk, laugh and socialize in addition to eat. Honor their time, just as you wish for them to honor your time. Expect students to speak in an appropriate tone, but don’t expect them to be quiet. It may be just lunch duty for you. For the students, it’s prime time. Try not to forget it. If you do, just put yourself in their place.
- Walk around and talk to students. This is the heart of what lunch duty is about. Walk around the cafeteria. Stop at each table and talk to kids. Part of being an educator is talking and spending time with children. Maybe at one table they’re talking sports while at another table they’re talking fashion and maybe at another table they’re talking school work. Speak to them; engage with them and build connections with them. You may learn that you and student share interests and you may come to realize that those kids you didn’t think cared about learning actually do care.
- Create or strengthen rules and procedures. If rules and procedures for lunch need tightening up, work with your colleagues and tighten those rules. Maybe even take the extra step to work with other colleagues who have lunch duty throughout the day to create the same rules and procedures to be implemented every lunch period. Appoint lunchroom helpers from the students in your lunches. This may not be in your job description. But doing so might just make your life easier and lunch duty more palatable.
- Don’t cheat the time. By don’t cheat the time, I mean don’t ditch your responsibility to be there. Don’t simply stand in the corner or against the wall and not engage with students. Don’t check your phone (especially when there are policies prohibiting student cell phone use). Don’t bring your laptop and papers with you and expect to do work when your real work at the moment is to monitor and engage with the students. Make sure that you’re on task and making the best of your time with students.
- Hold colleagues accountable. I don’t think you should run to your principal or assistant principal if a staff member misses lunch duty or if they bring work with them to the cafeteria or if they choose to stand in one spot and not engage. But it is appropriate to encourage your colleagues to activity participate in lunch duty. If you get pushback, don’t argue it any further. Speak to your union rep (or a teacher leader) and ask them to speak to the colleague specifically or to all teachers in general. If that colleague gets upset with you, so be it. But let them know that rather than take it to administration, you chose to address them and keep it in house… and you’d hope they’d extend to you the same grace.
Remember that teaching is more than lecturing, grading and sending a student to the principal’s office. Some students face circumstances beyond our control that impact them in school. It requires that teachers do more than what their job description requires and I understand that teachers aren’t always equipped to meet the demands of their circumstances. However, being a great teacher means going greater lengths to educate… that includes lunch duty. Be intentional and understand that being a teacher is much more than teaching in the classroom. Lunch duty isn’t always fun; its work. However, you are at work… so get to work. Build with your students and most importantly, build up your students. Hopefully, there’ll be more of this:
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!