American teachers are gifted multi-taskers. We, who conduct stealthy paper-grading sessions in the middle of staff meetings and keep at least two internal conversations going at all times. Many of us have found that this is absolutely the only way to survive. As a bona fide multi-tasker-in-recovery myself, I can testify to the exhilarating feeling of check marks on my task list – but I can also speak to the frustration and guilt of never getting it all done. As an instructional coach, in only my second year of this role, I have to concentrate on many dimensions of classroom life that make learning possible – or hinder it. Of course, I am looking at things such as the use of data to guide instruction, the physical setup of spaces and teaching moves made in the moment.
Recently my attention has been drawn to those micro aggressions in our school environments that tax the emotional and mental well-being of teachers—particularly in environments with the double tax of high poverty. However, I want to propose to you a move that can be a game-changer for each of us in our daily work experience. Indeed, I believe it can change the course of our lifelong trajectory. Are you ready for it? Work-free lunches.
I know, I know, stop laughing out loud. How could you possibly take a “real lunch” every day without fail? Why would you want to take an already jam-packed day and crunch it even more by cutting productivity? I admit that I propose this shift even as I struggle to implement it. But I am convinced that it is one path to more balanced living. Teachers are every bit as worthy of joy and rest and restoration as anyone else! Here is what I propose:
1. Figure out what makes you feel well and whole. Do you love a breath of fresh air outside? Is talking to your friend out of town a luxury you never seem to get but would bring a big rush of endorphins to the middle of your day? Is there a favorite co-worker with whom you’d enjoy walking around your campus? Do you like to paint, or want to learn guitar?
2. Once you figure out what brings you the most joy, do it, regularly (at least 3 days per week). You will look totally out of place pursuing this hobby or passion if everyone else around you is tethered to their desk or feels committed to the teacher’s lounge routine. But so what? Imagine how different the energy in our buildings would feel if teachers truly took a break during lunch! Even doing nothing more than sitting restfully at lunch and eating alone, how much more patient would we be with one another? How much more fulfilled? How much better would our digestion and physical health be? How much more time would we have to make genuine connections with one another if we chose to, or to engage in restorative silence with ourselves?
I believe our lives would be even more attractive to our students as a model, too, if we took some time to “take a chill pill” every day. We tell them that education is key, hoping they will pursue it with the kind of passion that we demonstrate. Yet they need us to demonstrate that giving oneself to learning does not mean becoming a harried robot.
So, you see, several others beyond ourselves stand to gain from this self-loving act of focused restoration. If you believe it can work for you, and you are willing to try it at least one day per week, starting tomorrow, won’t you join me in the work free lunch movement? The more of us who do it, the more it will be just that—a movement. I have established the hashtag #workfreelunch in the hopes that you will begin to share the message that teachers are worth everything we pour out to everyone else. We are worth rest, enjoyment, refueling and refreshing. Work-free lunch, anyone?