Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why I Encourage Kids To Eat Lunch In My Room

Me after lunch in the teachers' lounge

I went to a professional development event several years back. I don't remember how long ago, where it was, or the name of the presenter. All I remember of her personally is that she was a woman. There's no significance to her being female; that's just the extent of my memory of her as a person. What I do remember was one piece of advice she gave and it turned out to be all wrong.

I was a newish teacher, so it had to be several years back--I'm well into my 18th year at my school--and hadn't fully formed all of my attitudes and philosophies, so when she said that we shouldn't be eating lunch with our students, I took her to heart. I started eating in the teachers' lounge, like she said, so I could spend part of my day with people my age. I did that for most of that year and discovered a couple things.

First, people my age are old. They spend a large part of their time talking about what creaks, what sticks, what doesn't work, what won't stop working, and the medications they're taking for all of the above maladies. It made me feel old too.

Second, there are some teachers who really don't like kids. Not all of them, and not even most of them, but it seems like the most talkative ones. When they weren't complaining about their heating pad not being big enough to hit all the achy spots, they were waxing rhapsodic about how they'd love to boot this kid out or tell that kid off. I often came into lunch happy and went out of lunch cranky and ready to take on the next kid who looked at me cross-eyed.

So I decided to do what my hero, Dan Daniel, did--eat in my room surrounded by a bunch of students. We played music, we talked, we laughed, we shared food, and mostly we enjoyed ourselves. Magically, I found myself energized for the second half of the day and feeling positive about my students. From this, I discovered two things.

First, young people are young. I didn't say the discoveries were ground-breaking. But by surrounding myself with young people during a time when we didn't have to be teacher and students but could let our hair down a little and just get to know each other, I felt younger too. I didn't find myself fixating on my achy knee or my sore back.

Second, young people, or at least the young people who tend to gravitate toward me, are too busy being their own somewhat geeky selves to worry much about being angry with anyone else. We talk about books and movies and music and TV shows and spend almost no time complaining about teachers, students, administrators, or pretty much anything or anyone.

And, as a bonus, I've gotten some interesting characters for my writing. Maybe someday, when they come across one of my books in the bargain bin at Wal Mart (or a 99-cent special on Amazon) and pick it up, they'll recognize themselves with a smile.

Kids from my lunch bunch a couple years ago. We brought covered dishes and had Thanksgiving dinner together. It's one of my favorite memories as a teacher. These folks are scattered all over, but they're still in my heart. They're more friends than former students, and that wouldn't be true if I ate lunch in the lounge.

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