Should teachers eat lunch with their students?
Eating lunch with students can be both an enriching and rewarding experience, but the outcomes depend heavily upon the personality of the teacher, the receptiveness of the students, and the dynamics of the school culture, which may change from year to year.
As an African-American teacher in a predominantly White high school, I decided two years ago to "visit" a table at my high school each day and spend the entire lunch period mingling with different groups of students. To my surprise, I was not only tolerated, but was actually included as an active part of the conversation. I was greeted with the same cordiality time and time again as I circulated around the cafeteria each day. One day I would sit with a small band of young African-Americans, the next day with an integrated group, the next with all females or all males, the next with Japanese or Caucasian students. After a while, the students began to ask me ahead of time if I would "grace" their table at the following day's lunch period.
I learned a lot from sitting with the students and listening to their perspectives. And they appreciated my efforts. Some of them described me as "human," "cool," "down-to-earth," "approachable," and "caring."
I'm not sure what the other faculty members were saying when I saw their mouths moving and their eyes directed toward me, but who cared? I was having the time of my life, revisiting the reasons that I had become a teacher in the first place.
After that first year, I appeared in the yearbook a whopping eight times! The next year, my classroom door was decorated with a big sign that said: "Ms. T for Homecoming Queen."
Could everyone have the same experience eating lunch with their students? Could I have the same experience year after year as new students come and go? I don't know, but I think it's worth a try.
Anglea Townsend teaches English at Greenwood High School in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
My first two years of teaching was spent in a private school. I did not receive a single break throughout the day and was always on lunch duty where I had to monitor noise levels and student behavior rather than actually getting to eat my lunch. Often, I didn't eat lunch until after school. Even bathroom breaks were at a minimum! I look back on my experience and wonder how I managed. Feeling burned out and exhausted, there were many moments I just wanted to pull my hair out.
For the past two years I've been a kindergarten teacher in a public school where I'm given regular breaks and a lunch hour. I find myself so much more relaxed, comfortable, and happy to be with my students. I cherish my breaks and lunch. It's a way for me to recoup and get ready for the rest of the day. I feel like I'm a much better teacher because I can think more clearly after having a break.
I also don't get upset with my students as easily. I love my job, and love my students, but having some down time really helps me to appreciate my students more.
Looking back, I realize how wrong it was for the private school not to provide me with a duty-free lunch or regular breaks. In fact, I've since learned that not providing teachers with a lunch break is against the law in Oregon. I know the school was trying to cut corners to save money, but those cost savings came at the mental expense of the teachers, which sometimes spilled over into the classroom.
I am so thankful to now be in a public school where I'm able to eat my lunch every day without interruptions and to have breaks on a normal schedule. I know that my public school would never cut corners by taking my duty-free lunch away. It is against the law, and my union would never allow it.
Laura L. Eason teaches kindergarten at Lorane Elementary in Lorane, Oregon.