Let’s Do Lunch

Many schools have duty-free lunch for teachers, i.e. the teacher has a break while lunchroom monitors supervise the students.eater It’s a wonderful benefit that provides a much-needed respite.  Even though it might seem like a minor thing, kicking off a new school year with a few simple strategies can make duty-free lunch a “win-win” for you and the monitors that serve you. 

Students have a tendency to act differently when the teacher is not around.  To counteract that, you’ll need to create an expectation for your kids to do the right thing all the time. How do you set that tone?

  • Training appropriate behavior requires consistency and vigilance. Consider having lunch with your students in the cafeteria the first week of school. You’ll gain an opportunity to reinforce good manners, address outbursts and conflict, and encourage healthy eating habits.    
  • Do a surprise “pop in” and make yourself visible a few times in the first month or so. This will sit in the back of their minds, and serve as a subtle, lasting cue to behave.
  • I also like to invite them to have lunch with me in the classroom on occasion. By taking the time to do this you are showing them that you are interested in their lives.  When students sense that you truly care, they want to please you and behave correctly.

Take Care of Yourself

At our core, teachers are caring professionals who dream of making a difference in the lives of students. We take on the challenge of shaping the future, lighting the spark of curiosity and preparing students for productive lives. The world often sees us in a different light:  teachers are those who can’t do anything else, or teach so they can have a long summer break.

The fact is that most teachers are committed, sacrificial, and hard-working professionals, who defy that stereotype routinely.  Some of us defy the stereotype to our own detriment, running ourselves into the ground while working unpaid overtime on lesson plans and grading papers, taking graduate school courses, serving on committees, volunteering for social causes, coaching teams, or sponsoring extracurricular clubs. Help_Help_small (This doesn’t even factor in family commitments.)  The mental and physical health of most educators is often at risk, and the normal stresses of the job are compounded by the scrutiny of parents, administrators, state & federal mandates.

In his article from Education WeekChristopher Doyle spotlights the decline of teacher health and well-being.  He proposes a shift away from the excellence “rat race” that emphasizes perfection and increasing demands. He espouses that real change will only come from the top down.  Sadly, changes like these may not come in our lifetime.

In the meantime, we as teachers have to be vigilant in protecting ourselves from mental burnout and physical erosion.  Creating a balanced, healthy and restful lifestyle not only helps us, but it sets a great example for our students.

I know that you’re seeing that stack of papers or the unwritten lessons and thinking, no way.  My challenge to you would be to adopt a few personal practices that can bring refreshment and add margin.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Put it on the calendar.  Whether it’s a workout, a fun activity, a day trip, or even a nap, the best way to prioritize it is to put it in writing — when it’s on the calendar and the time is allocated, it’s harder to dismiss it.
  • Get quiet.  I’ve recently begun a daily meditation practice using a smartphone app called Headspace that makes it easy to begin a mindfulness habit. For me, the ten minutes it takes can be hard to carve out, but the benefits are worthwhile.  This simple practice really enhances my ability to focus and relaxes my mind for the tasks ahead.  If you aren’t ready for meditation, spend three or four minutes listening to your favorite song, and give your mind a short escape from the burdens of work.
  • Take a break.  Partner with another teacher and swap responsibilities to create space for a date night or personal break.  (If you have your own young children, offer to babysit for them in exchange for some time off when you need it.)
  • Exercise.  The billionaire industrialist Richard Branson gives credit to fitness as the source of his boundless energy and enviable string of accomplishments.  Working out on a regular basis can pay huge dividends in terms of energy, mental focus, and overall health.  Some experts suggest that the time you spend working out can be subtracted from the amount of time you need to sleep, due to the benefits of a healthy heart rate.
  • Pursue other activities.  If your focus is devoted strictly to school and teaching, your perspectives can narrow.  A well-rounded life that includes other interests and hobbies brings unique perspectives to your lesson plans and presentations.

I know it’s difficult, and I’ll admit I’m no master in this area.  Take a baby step toward treating yourself a little better.  You’ve earned it.  You’re a teacher.

(For more ideas on this topic, see this article Greater Good.)