Lunch Times

    Today was a significant day for the fifth graders at our school.  Kids normally sit in our cafeteria organized by classroom.  My class has three tables from which to choose.  The same goes for the other three fifth grade classrooms.  I’m sure many other schools do it differently.  Maybe it seems like this doesn’t give kids much freedom of choice.  I know it seems that way to some of our parents.  In recent years,  we’ve decided that somewhere around Thanksgiving, we’d give the fifth graders a chance to sit wherever they want.  We recognized that in middle school they would have that freedom. The risk, we’ve always felt, was that kids would cluster in cliques, and some kids would be left out.  We didn’t want the lunch period to be a time of stress.  

     We had class discussions and some role playing in preparation.  Finally, the day arrived. No upcoming holidays, no shortened days for conferences, no teacher meetings, no full moon.  All of these had been our excuses for delaying the grand opening.  I was glad it hadn’t rained.  The kids had been outdoors and had been able to run around.  Indoor recess might have given us another excuse.

     As the classes filed in, we watched, hopeful but a bit apprehensive.  This was a cohort with some big personalities and some kids who struggled with self control.  The students seemed a bit nervous.  They knew they weren’t supposed to sprint to tables or elbow people to the side. No Black Friday moments permitted. Still, there were some coveted seats.  

One of my students (let’s call him Tommy), a leader, who occasionally leans toward the impulsive side of the hallway, walked in with another of my students.  That other student (we can call him Al), has struggled recently.  He desperately wants friends, but he’s not sure how to make them.  He’s been “off” for the past week or so, finding it hard to keep himself from making inappropriate “shock” comments, from getting in the face of kids he wants to befriend and ones he wants to defriend.  Today these two had spent recess together talking with our school psychologist as she tried to help them mend fences. Now, as  they entered the cafeteria together, they scanned the scene.  They headed for the corner table that was fast filling up.  As they arrived, there was one seat open.  This was one of those moments we’d wondered about.  How would they handle it?  The boys already at the table beckoned Tommy to sit with them.  I knew he had been hoping to sit with this group. He paused.  He sized up the situation. He took a deep breath, and then turned to Al, motioning toward another table.  The two of them headed off to what Tommy probably saw as Siberia, and took their seats.  

I know it’s only one day.  I know it may go very differently when less attention is focused on the process.  I know that we can’t always protect students from isolation or rejection.  But today, at least, I saw some bravery, and selflessness served in the cafeteria.

5 thoughts on “Lunch Times

  1. Now that’s a slice…a moment in the like of a fifth grade teacher. I am going to believe that this moment, for these boys, will ground them in future choices in the mcafetetia.of course, the process won’t always be perfect, but they, and you, have this moment to call on. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Hi there,

    So beautifully written. Love your writing voice.

    At my new school from day one the students just go in and sit anywhere and can continue that everyday. I always felt like you did and we did the same thing with our sixth graders in my old middle school. But, making it the standard from day one and not even addressing it with the kids made the transition nothing. This school has a staff that takes care of the kids and two of them are young strapping guys and I do think that makes a difference. They are the ones that direct the kids for lunch and announcements. I have gone in once or twice to check on the ‘social’ situation of two kids and make sure they weren’t ‘alone’ and I was surprised to see how mellow and mixed up it all was. Those two young people were doing all right, too.

    Hope all is well. Deb >

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