Helping Students, Guzzling Coffee: Teachers Tell Us What They Do on Their Lunch Breaks

By Alix Mammina — August 17, 2017 4 min read
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We asked, and you answered: What are teachers up to during the lunch period of the school day? From the replies that poured in, it’s clear there’s no average teacher lunch break—but here are some common ways teachers take their lunch.
Catching up on work. Some state laws or contracts guarantee teachers a duty-free lunch period. But many teachers still use that 30-minute-or-so break to make copies, grade homework, and check emails. For New York City teacher Jeanne Raleigh, the lunch period is spent “working in [her] classroom. Walking from desk to desk, truly correcting homework.”

In some schools, teachers take on lunchroom duties like supervising students. North Carolina teacher Tiffany Carter tweeted that she spends the first half of her break monitoring the lunch line, then eats a meal in the cafeteria while supervising students.

Helping students. For some teachers, lunch periods are yet another block of time devoted to their students—whether to answer their homework questions or get to know them better.

Pre-K special education teacher B. Hall spends more of his lunch break helping out students than eating: “I need less needy students...or a way to do with less lunch! I’d have to satisfy with less lunch because I tend to favor the neediest of students where the biggest difference can be made.”

Professor Karen Stout once wrote for Education Week that lunch could be a powerful learning opportunity: “We should use this time to instill in schoolchildren some of our most cherished values. Sharing a meal has the potential to help students learn how to be more responsible for themselves and to care for and relate to others.”

Connecting with colleagues. Once the school year kicks off, it’s hard to find the time to meet with coworkers outside of trainings, assemblies, and conferences. Bonding with other teachers over lunch can give educators the chance to trade ideas, share common struggles, and build a strong support system.

Even if teachers feel an urge to get some work done during the lunch period, it’s important to set aside time for short breaks. Letting “lunch be lunch” helps promote a healthy work-life balance and provides some munch-needed mental downtime. Working out, going for a walk, or even just stepping away from your computer for a few minutes can give you the energy necessary to survive the school day.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for making the most out of your lunch period:

Bring simple, healthy meals and snacks. Eating nutritious meals and healthy snacks—like fruit, yogurt, and cheese—can improve cognitive performance and give you the brain power needed to stave off the afternoon slump. You can find easy meal prep ideas on Pinterest, or check out these make-ahead freezer cooking tips. Turn the chore into collaboration by starting potluck lunches and meal swaps with your colleagues.

Have a conversation—about something other than work. Whether you’re chatting with coworkers or students, giving your mind a break from the pressures of the workday can help you recharge. Non-work related conversations at lunch can “boost your energy level and improve your mood,” according to career coach Anita Attridge. Take the time to connect with a new colleague, meet up with an old friend, or invite students to eat with you.

Get up and out. Make time during the lunch period to escape your phone and computer screens and get outside. Research shows that going for walks can increase your creativity, and even just experiencing nature can boost both your mood and cognition. Emails and social media can wait—that fresh air will improve your productivity and gear you up for the last few hours of the day.

Teachers, what are your lunch periods like? Share your tips in the comments or on Twitter with #TeacherLunchbox.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.