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Most teachers just wanna have lunch

  • Updated
Most teachers just wanna have lunch

Mitchell Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Kenny Harper keeps an eye on his class during their lunch Monday afternoon. The Charleston Teacher Alliance is trying to find a way for teachers to have time away from their students during lunch. Mitchell El

Sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference.

For many Charleston County teachers, one of those 'little things' would be a lunch break.

Seventy-nine percent of more than 1,800 teachers surveyed by the Charleston Teacher Alliance, a teacher advocacy group, eat lunch while supervising students at least once each week, while 58 percent have lunch duty every day.

And here's the kicker: 88 percent of teachers said having a duty-free lunch would be beneficial to their morale, personal well-being and job performance. Teachers repeatedly emphasized the downside of not having a lunch break in the open-ended comment section of the survey.

'If there is only ONE thing I could have related to my job, it is a duty-free lunch!' wrote one teacher.

'The #1 detriment to teacher morale is the fact that we spend 7.5-8 hours a day ‘on stage,' non-stop,' wrote another. 'We eat lunch with our students, we are unable to use the restroom, and we often have meetings during our planning time.'

It's up to principals to decide whether teachers will get a lunch break. Kent Riddle, chairman of the alliance and a teacher at Angel Oak Elementary School, said it's unrealistic to ask teachers to work for eight hours non-stop, but that happens in some schools. If the district's leaders wanted teachers to have a break, they would make that happen, he said.

'Our superintendent is a smart person and could solve this problem if she wanted to,' Riddle said.

School Superintendent Nancy McGinley said she's a big fan of teachers having a break during lunch. The teachers' union where she grew up in Philadelphia bargained with the district to protect teachers' time and prevent them from arbitrary duties that were unrelated to instruction, she said.

Charleston needs to move in that direction, and she's talked to principals about ensuring its 3,500 teachers have a break, she said. In response to the alliance's survey, she said she was committed to directing principals to come up with a plan to give teachers a duty-free lunch at least once each week.

'I think they deserve a break,' McGinley said. 'I think they have too much to do during the day.'

Some districts with duty-free lunches have had to hire part-time supervisors for lunchrooms, but volunteers can help with that responsibility, she said. Lunchrooms need adult supervision, she said.

Kenny Harper, a fifth-grade teacher at downtown Mitchell Math and Science Elementary School, said he has lunch duty almost every day, and the exception is when volunteers watch his class every couple of weeks. He typically only has a break when students go to art or music, and he's with students on most days from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Being with students for such a long period of time can be tiring, he said. He said the superintendent's pledge was 'excellent.'

'It gives you a minute to collect your thoughts and get back on base,' he said. 'I would like to have that off. That would be great.'

Riddle saw this issue as one example of why many teachers — 54 percent in this survey — say they don't feel valued by the district. He cited the work-hours policy, saying the district has clearer rules about temperature settings for classrooms than for how many hours teachers are expected to work. District leaders need to show teachers they aren't expendable, he said.

McGinley agreed this is a morale issue and said the district is trying to make employees feel valued. It launched a new wellness initiative aimed at creating opportunities for employees to be healthier, and it's looking into opening a fee-based daycare facility for employees' children.

Riddle said the wellness initiative was a good idea, but he hasn't heard teachers talk about it as an area needing improvement.

Reach Diette Courrégéat 937-5546.