Ahhh, the luxury of an actual lunch break. Something that we, as teachers, have become far too accustomed to giving up. I know all schools are different, but I think it's safe to assume that many teachers go without a true "break" at lunch time due to student obligations, meetings, standing in line at the copy machine, calling that parent back, and the list goes on. In fact, up until January of last year my school had a policy where teachers had to monitor their class at lunch and eat lunch with their students. That's right, there was *literally* no lunch break for teachers. Thankfully, we were able to hire some lunch monitors and finally got that 20 minutes to ourselves. However, I still find that I am usually occupied by other tasks during this time and rarely get to enjoy my lunch break.
The truth is, many days I actually do want to get that little extra bit of prep work done during my lunch break, or have a group of students stay up with me for a social skills group, but my commitment to myself this year has been to make at least 1 day per week a work-free, student-free, stress-free BREAK. Here's how I do it:
I know when to say "no".
Of course, there will always be lunch meetings from time to time. There will always be a student who needs help with homework. There will always be last minute copies to be made. However, I try my best to prioritize and allow myself to say no to some commitments in order to truly enjoy the lunch break that I am provided. My general rule of thumb is that unless a meeting or student commitment was arranged in advance, I allow myself to pass. "Yes" to the IEP meeting that has been on the calendar for weeks and can't be rescheduled. "No" to the spontaneous consult meeting that the clinician is hoping to fit in. It's totally acceptable to say "So sorry, I actually have some things I need to get done during my lunch break. I will email you and we can set up another time!" Remember: you are entitled to a break and you deserve a break. I am happy to spend an occasional lunch period helping a student catch up on missed work or working on social skills with a lunch bunch group, but to do this every day (or even several times a week) would completely deplete my energy. I know that taking a real break, even for 10 minutes, makes be a more positive, more energetic, and more effective teacher, so I know that it is OKAY to say "no".
I prep satisfying lunches ahead of time.
One of the best habits I have adopted in the last year is meal prepping. Sacrificing a few hours of my weekend to plan meals, buy groceries, and prep large batches of food has been totally worthwhile. I suffer from major decision fatigue during the school week and can't be trusted to do any cooking or meal prep on weeknights. So, on the weekend I make a basic plan for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week and cook large batches to store in tupperware containters in the fridge. Having a meal that is ready to go and appealing to my taste buds makes lunch time something I truly look forward to! Now, I love to cook, so spending this time prepping on the weekend is something I enjoy. If you do not enjoy the process of cooking, don't cook! Some of my favorite lunches have been from the frozen section of Trader Joe's or, my personal favorite, "teacher tapas" (aka crackers, cheese, salami, some fruit or veggies, a piece of chocolate, etc)! Keep in mind your school's microwave/refridgerator situation when planning lunches. My school has 1 microwave and by the time I reach the front of the line I have 5 minutes left of lunch, so I usually opt for meals that don't need to be heated. Click here for endless lunch inspiration!
I find the right environment for me.
This is a big one for me. I used to think I was an extrovert who loved spending time with people and would just drive myself crazy with my own thoughts if left to my own devices. That is, until I became a teacher. Talking to students and other teachers all day really zaps my energy, and this profession has taught me a lot about myself. I am (surprise!) truly an introvert. While I enjoy getting to know others, I recharge my batteries by spending time alone. For this reason, I try to spend my lunch break by myself. Since I share a classroom, I usually chat for a few minutes with my coteacher before popping in headphones to get some time to myself. When it's warm enough outside (meaning at the very beginning and end of the year for me in Chicago), sometimes I sneak out to take a quick walk around the block with my lunch or sit on the front steps in the sunshine. Now, if you are more extroverted, this probably sounds miserable. In that case, use this time to catch up with your teammates or chat with your co-teacher. Lunch can be a great time to collaborate or bounce ideas off one another without the pressure to get planning done. Get to know yourself and find the best environment for you to recharge your batteries.
I get my mind away from school for a bit.
Some of my favorite ways to mentally escape, even for just a few minutes, include:
...Or I don't!
Honestly, some days it brings me great peace of mind to spend my lunch break getting some copies made or plans written if that means more of my afternoon/evening hours will be less stressful. If I know I want more time after school to enjoy dinner or just shut off, then I'd rather sacrifice my lunch to power through work. It all depends on the day and my energy level. Listen to yourself and go with what you feel is best for you on that particular day. Relaxation and joy are different for every individual, so don't pressure yourself to do what I do every single day. If you can work during lunch for a few days and get away from work for a few days, that's great! Whatever brings you relief and helps you get through the day is what you should commit to. Remember, you are doing this for yourself!
Moral of the story...use the time you have (however short it may be) to bring joy, positive energy, and calm to your ever-so-chaotic teaching day. How do you spend your lunch break? What do you do to disconnect? What challenges stand in the way of you enjoying your lunch break? Tell me in the comments!