Monday, November 12, 2012

School Lunch

I love lunch at school, but not for the same reasons I enjoyed it as a child. As a kid, who loved to eat, I could not wait until lunch because it meant a break from the monotony, something warm to fill my belly, and time to read my book.  However, now that I am a teacher I enjoy lunch because it gives me an opportunity to reach out to my kids, and to have conversations outside of the normal classroom environment.

Some teachers do not want their lunch time interrupted, and this is completely understandable.  Honestly, there are days when I could really use some down time to "stew" in my office, void of any noise. Days when I would enjoy being able to block out the world for 30 minutes and read a book to relax. However, there never seems to be enough time to connect to my kids or their families, and lunch is a perfect opportunity to squeeze in those few extra relational minutes.

Having time to meet with my students during lunch is not something I just decided to do one day.  In fact, it was actually a learned response based on a negative experience I had during my undergrad training. My task for one of my courses was to shadow a third grade teacher for a week. I was to reflect and learn from her practices. Then I was to write a positive paper about all the wonderful things I viewed and would potentially use in my future classroom.

After the first day of this practicum, I found myself in tears. The teacher was mean to students who were noticeably not "affluent" enough for hugs, or too "stupid" to understand the assignment. In fact, as all the students lined up for a morning hug and to turn in their homework, she literally put her hand out and told one little girl, "Stop, you can just go sit down." The look on this little girl's face was one I will never forget. She was in mismatched clothing, Sunday pants (holy), and her hair was unkempt. She looked disheveled, but the bright smile she had been wearing was enough to bring sunshine into any dreary situation. However, after she was refused positive interaction with her teacher, that smile fell away from her face and left her sullen.

I made it a point to give her a big hug and talk to her as soon as she came into class every day after this. She stopped going to the teacher to get the customary morning shunning, and immediately came to me to tell me all about what she had done the night before.  Sadly, I was only there to offer a small light for one week, and I still wonder whatever happened to this sweet little angel, after there was no longer a hug waiting for her in the morning. It has been almost ten years and I am still welling up with the sadness in that thought.  I am appalled at the lack of sincerity and sensitivity in this supposed educator's personality. When I questioned the teacher about this little girl the teacher informed me she was a "lost cause with terrible parents." How horrendous is it to write off a child, especially in the third grade?! However, this was only one small glimpse into this teacher's philosophy of education; the other alarm went off at the bell for lunch.

During lunch on that first day, the host teacher and I sat in the teacher's lounge with our food. I had a notebook full of questions about the field of education lying between us. I hoped to "pick her brain" about the need to incorporate activities for English language learners, and transient students into the classroom instruction. I wanted some tips on how to be a better educator once I had my own classroom. Instead I was given answers to my questions about her teaching practices, as I watched dark clouds form around this woman.

I fought back the anger and tears surging in my brain as this woman and a fellow colleague bashed their students. They literally made fun of them, and called them horrible names. Eating lunch was pointless because my stomach was in knots, and my heart ached. These women were supposed to be role models to their students, but also to the student teacher, who sat visibly shaken between their barrage of hatred. I refused to eat lunch with her the rest of the week; stating I had to work on my notes each day thereafter. The "positive" paper I wrote was difficult because I did not even know where to begin.  I decided the positive things I could pull from this experience were the egregious behaviors exhibited that I hope my students will never witness in me.

One of those behaviors cemented in my brain was to never make a child feel unwelcome. I make a point to show every single student that I care about him or her as soon as they come to class. I shake their hands and say hello. I ask how their day is going and comment on their cute shoes, or nice hair cuts. I let them know that as soon as they are in my room, they are welcome no matter where they come from or how much money their parents have. I do not care if they have moved 30 times or have been a lifelong attendee; they are a part of the "family."  Each student deserves a clean slate, a hand shake and the knowledge that someone cares about them as an individual. "My kids" are not just a warm body filling a seat. They are each unique, bring a perspective to the discussion that is valuable, and are worth every minute of my time.

Therefore, the time I am granted at lunch each day brings me to my second lesson learned. My lunch policy is to avoid the teacher's lounge. This is a place where teachers can go to unload, recharge, and share their day. I do not condemn teachers who need this brain break; however, I do not want any part of the negative side of these conversations. The need to vent and unload is human nature; yet, I feel really awkward and nauseated when I hear colleagues trashing a student. This is not a common practice, but it happens.  So, I just choose to spend my time with more uplifting activities during my "duty- free" lunch. Like, listening to woes of teenage breakup and hilarious anecdotes about the weekend dance. I enjoy walking with those who need to pace, or to help ease a frustrated mind. Granted this does not always happen daily, but spending my lunch warming hearts, not just my own belly, seems much more productive.

Here is a thought though, what if we all put a little extra time in being the sun shining through a cloudy day? What if every single person who reads this blog would go out and eat lunch with someone new tomorrow? Or would give another person a compliment instead of tear them down? I  challenge you to eat lunch in a new place this week, and post your experience on this site. After all you would only be losing one lunch, but to someone else it could mean a ray of sunshine. Imagine if you could shed a little bit of  light and warmth on a heart that has been shown only bitter cold darkness.  Remember, once it is all stripped away "these three remain; faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love." Corinthians 13:13. So, challenge extended: go eat and be merry.  How many of you will be that light today?

* Be looking for my next entry covering some lunch time conversations; "Discourse Over the Main Course."