10 Ways for Living Large in Lunch Duty Land

I admit that I dread lunch duty. But as I stood there talking to a student during my week to serve, it struck me just how important this monthly occurrence is to my personal effectiveness as a teacher and the overall well being of our school.

Photo Credit: Big Stock

You may think it is silly to have thoughts and guidelines for doing a good job at lunch duty but I think you can tell a lot about the greatness of a teacher by how seriously you take this time to interact, supervise, and connect with the students. But I want to start with a word to administrators.

1 – Lunchtime is time for Administrators to show up
Eating together has been a time of fellowship and friendship since caveman ate mammoth over an open fire. The best administrators I've worked for let themselves be seen and interact with the students during this time. I'll see them laughing, talking, and asking questions of students about their lives or sometimes talking about a question that students have.

You may have an open door policy but when you go out during the times where students interact, you open the line of communication. Your presence is a physical deterrent and shows you care at the same time. You may or may not back up that teacher but if you're involved from the first moment, you'll always back up your own eyeballs. They know that.

2 – Find a place where you can see it all.
Where you stand is important. If there is a place you cannot see, that is where the problems will happen. Unfortunately, at our school, this place is at a pole on the corner of the building where the wind whips around like a tiny twister. I grab my jacket, leave a hairbrush in the bathroom and stand there. Otherwise, someone is unsupervised.

3 – Meet and Greet
I don't “butt in” to student groups that are doing just fine, but I do say hello by name to those student who walk past me, particularly those in ones and two's.

To understand the mind of a child who has been bullied, you have to have been one like me. When you're alone and feel like you have no friends, when someone calls your name in a kind way, it is like a drop of water on the tongue of a person dying of thirst.

You are not ominpotent and you don't know who the person is who is having a bad day. Teenagers have a secret world and there is the world they let us see in the classroom and the real world. Don't think for a second you have a finger on the pulse of their real world because you see what they want you to see. Be kind to everyone. Say “hi.”

4 – Look at body language and speak with your location
You don't have to hear conversations to know what is happening. Good teachers are masterful readers of body language. If you see a kid with a head down leaning against a wall with arms crossed and several other kids gathered around him talking at him, it is time to move closer to see what is going on.

Big Stock

5- Look for the daredevil doubletake
Kids always give a cutaway glance before they cut loose. I call it the daredevil doubletake.  Watch for it next time!

Just before a child is about to do something he knows he shouldn't, he'll lift his head up and look both ways – usually his head will turn to the right and left and his eyes will scan the full periphery like he's about to cross a street. He's looking for you.

If you make sure this person knows you're watching, you can physically see him shrug his shoulders and change course and abandon the plan he just concocted. Moving closer into his line of sight and making eye contact will usually deter anything from happening and even if it does, you're closer to the action when it starts. They are assessing the damage that will happen to them and if it is worth it to go ahead. (This is why if an administrator is seen during the daredevil doubletake, it is usually enough to abandon the plan.)

6 – Move in before you butt in
Sometimes your read on body language is wrong so quietly move near where they are and start listening in before you butt in. Let them see you. Bullies are empowered by a crowd and a perceived lack of supervision.

7 – It is ok to butt in
You are a teacher. It is your business. It is your job to butt in and put your nose in business that is not yours. Get over it. You're not here to be popular, you are here to do the right thing.

The right thing is to defend the defenseless and to keep these kids safe. If that child were yours, what would you want an adult to do? Butt in and take care of business. Love the kids and defend those who have it rough. That is your job.

8- Never let “just kidding” negate what you just saw
Just kidding is the get out of jail free card for bullies and it works… most of the time.

Trust me, even if one is being bullied, that child will echo that they were both “just kidding” in the vain hope it will ingratiate him/her to the bully because the bully was just saved a trip to the principal's office.

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Last time I had this happen, I just said:

“I don't care that you say you were just kidding. What I just saw wasn't something you kid about. It was over the top and we're headed to Coach Ross' office so he can know that you two are completely out of line. Cut it out. You don't act that way at lunch.”

I was bullied. If you believe for one second that a child was just kidding then you don't know kids or you were one of those who never was a target. If they really are just kidding, if that really happened, wouldn't you rather be wrong about that side of thing 1 out of 100 times or would you rather be wrong 99 out of 100? Just kidding doesn't cut it. Students do what they mean to do. Hold them accountable for what you see and for what they say.

9 – Take time to connect but stay vigilant
If that student stops and talks to you. Make eye contact as you continue to scan the area. You want to connect with students but you also want to know that students who really want to do something understand the subtle art of “distracting the guard.”  In Hogan's Heroes, when the prisoners wanted to escape, the first thing they did was distract the guard.

Some of you will not like the link to a prison guard and that is fine, but the point is that you have a supervisory duty here. If you can connect while you do that, then that is great. I've learned so much about the inner workings of kids who really needed it during these lunch conversations. During class I build knowledge but during lunch, I build relationships.

Usually, I'll only have one on one conversations and not be in large groups of students because it is too hard to watch everyone and have a group of 15 kids around me.

10 – Bring your whole self to lunch duty
I know you  have a thousand things to do and if there is any big flaw with being a teacher, it is that we are never left alone. Ever. Well, hopefully when we go to the bathroom, but that is pretty much it. I've literally gone to the ladies room before just to take a breath, brush my teeth, and look in the mirror to see if my eyeballs were still in my head.

Why I will do my best at lunch duty even though no one notices
But as much as you have to do, lunch duty is important. It is one of those things that no one likes but you've got to adjust your attitude and do it. No one will give you a plaque at the end of the year for “best lunch duty teacher” and no one will even notice.

But the students will. I want the students to know that when I am there that they are safe. I want those who want to act up to know that they will be held accountable and they'd better not do it. I want build relationships with my students, make eye contact, and let them know I care.

My present to them will be my presence and I will be there.

Doing a good job at thankless tasks is what teachers do. We are noble and we care about the things that are important, not about the things that are flashy or showy or get us in the newspaper.

OK, gotta run go pack my coat. I have lunch duty today and I'm going to have a good attitude and see what blessings are in store.

Have a great day! Remember your noble calling, teacher.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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