The kids weren’t noticeably noisy or ill-behaved, and just seemed like ordinary kids. The lunchroom attendant walked back and forth among the tables, intervening to stop kids from breaking lunchroom rules (for example, by sharing their food), sometimes “writing people up” in her notebook. (At one point, a kindergartner who I know was sitting at the table behind me and turned around to talk with me. As we were talking, the lunch attendant came up and physically turned her around to face her own table. So much for that conversation.) Throughout the first lunch period that I attended, the principal also walked the room, monitoring the kids, at one point scolding a student for talking back to the lunchroom attendant in a way that was disrespectful, but which didn’t sound like talking back or disrespect to me. I have no way to tell whether my presence there affected the routines.
To the extent the experience was reassuring at all, it was only because the kids seemed to ignore the school’s more unreasonable rules. No silence was achieved during the two-minute “voice level zero” periods, though the room quieted down a little. I suppose the school’s administration would consider that a bug, not a feature.
I timed two of the lunches. In one, the last kid through the line had thirteen minutes to eat before the supposedly silent two-minute dismissal period began. In the other, it was ten minutes. There were lots of unoccupied tables, indicating that longer lunches would at least be possible, in terms of capacity.
There are some signs that the school is trying to make some changes. Recently the classrooms teachers distributed a survey to the kids about the lunchroom environment, which I think is a great thing to do. Word has it that the teachers brought the issue up in a staff meeting. The kids report that the lunch attendant is a little more restrained lately – less likely, for instance, to take food away from a child for misbehaving – though she still sometimes yells at the kids loudly enough to be heard in the nearby classrooms. This week’s school newsletter included the following:
The Hoover Family invites you to have lunch with your child during the month of May. We are working on listening to students concerns and ideas to make their lunchtime more comfortable and welcoming. We are, also, working to establish the lunchroom expectations of Entering, Eating, and Exiting. These expectations are:I wish I knew what the problem is that they are working so hard to solve. I think they should work less hard, and just let the kids eat their lunches.
ENTER: Line basics, Use a Level 0 or 1 voice, Take only two side items
EAT: Body basics, Use a Level 1 or 2 voice, raise your hand if you need something
EXIT: Lights off, zero voice, Leave no trace
Your support in teaching and modeling these expectations during lunch will greatly benefit the students and lunchroom environment. We want to ensure respect, responsibility, care, honesty, and courage are practiced at Hoover. Thank you to those parents who have taken the opportunity to visit Hoover’s lunchroom.
Or, if that’s too outlandish, how about getting the kids together and saying this:
We want to ask for your help in keeping the lunchroom from being too noisy or too messy. We’ve been imposing a lot of rules on you this year, and we’ve realized that many of them are unnecessary. We want to treat you the way we’d like to be treated ourselves, and everyone needs at least a little social down time in their day, when they’re not being overly monitored and scrutinized. But there are some problems that can arise, so we’d like to ask you to be conscious of a few things. First, please don’t be so loud that people in the classrooms will be disturbed. Second, please don’t make a mess, and if you do, please clean it up. Third, sometimes we need to make an announcement. When we do, we’ll signal it by flicking the lights on and off; please stop and listen when we do. But we won’t ask you to be silent just so we can dismiss tables; the lunchroom attendant will just let your table know when you can leave. Finally, of course, please be kind to each other.Wouldn’t that approach be more comfortable and welcoming than the current, more authoritarian and intrusive approach? Wouldn’t it model better ways of interacting with people? Wouldn’t it be at least as likely to achieve its goals?
As long as we’re achieving those basic goals, there’s no reason for us to interfere with what you’re doing. Where you sit, which way you’re facing, whether you move around, and what you do with your food is your business. If you do become too loud, the lunchroom attendant will ask you to be quieter. And of course, if you do cause a real problem, you’ll get in trouble. But we won’t punish an entire group just because a few people are causing a problem. Most importantly, we know we need your help to achieve these goals, and we think the best way to get people’s help is not by threats or prizes, but by appealing to their good will. We think these few rules are good for the entire Hoover community, so we hope you’ll help us with them, but if you think any of them are unnecessary or unfair, please let us know and we can talk it out as a group.