Should lunchtimes just be another hour of work?

So how do you spend your lunchtime….are you rushing about or do you have a more relaxed approach?

Lunchtimes are “meant to be” the break session between the mornings teaching and the afternoons activities. Yet for many colleagues it has just become an extension to the constant rush of the day….so why have some of us reached this situation and is it really what we should be doing?

Everybody needs a break – if you look at any business and profession then you will see that breaks are scheduled into the days programme. In fact is is a legal requirement that workers are given a set amount of break according to how many hours they work.

Yet there are professions where the “break time” can come under pressure either through workload, under-staffing or in the case of teaching …the very nature and demands of the job and our responses to those. Examples can be seen, let’s say in hospitals, the police to name just a couple.

But let’s focus on our own profession of teaching and take a more in-depth look at lunchtimes and see what is actually happening.

So what sort of things are meant to happen and what do we too often end up doing?

  • We have a given time of approximately 1 hour
  • There is a staff room with facilities that we can use
  • There are comfy chairs (or should be!)¬† and a table area and also socialising areas
  • We can relax and chat with colleagues and get away from the classroom and teaching environment during this time.

Ok so that illustrates the “potential” that this time offers…but is it really ever fulfilled?

Of course the simple answer is NO….and that is of course to be expected. It is unrealistic to expect in such a complex community that is a school, that we are going to get a full hour away from everything whilst the school and children function wonderfully!

But having said that – and here’s the BIG QUESTION

Just how much collateral damage can we sustain to the lunchtime break before it begins to have a negative effect?

In other words what is actually happening in this break time, what are we doing in lunchtimes and how much of an actual break do we give ourselves?

Here are some scenario’s that you may find yourself in….

  1. Keeping some children in to finish work or discuss behaviour….shouldn’t really be more than 15 mins max!
  2. Preparing for the afternoon lessons.
  3. Marking books from the mornings sessions.
  4. Assessment “extra work” that occurs at set intervals in the year.
  5. School club or activity.
  6. Meetings – either curriculum groups or SLT meetings – these should not be every day but may occur perhaps 1 lunchtime each week.
  7. HT and possibly DH (non teaching) – usually do not have lunchtime at this time of the day and will (should) take a definite break when the afternoon lessons resume.

In my experience the numbers 1 and 2 are pretty regular. There may be some children that need to complete work or need to be spoken to following the morning sessions. So there is usually time lost from the lunch break for that…generally happens but hey ho – not a big deal. Preparing for the afternoon activities also features on most days and depending on what needs to be done can take more or less time. However you shouldn’t really be spending more than 15 minutes…20 minutes maximum on this.

So that leaves a good 1/2 hr …30 minutes to theoretically not do anything!

To be absolutely honest – this is what you should be doing…..NOTHING! Just chatting and socialising with colleagues and getting away from it all. Except of course when the injuries bench outside the staff room becomes a little like A and E !

There is a danger¬†in overdoing things and it’s a great danger in schools and our profession. The “potential” for overload is always present and it really does need us to take a reality check at times to prevent this happening.

It is quite possible and feasible to arrive at school very early – work all through your break times – leave school late and then work most of the evening in preparation for the next day. It can be done…but believe me when I say ” you wont be doing it for long!”….there is a price to pay and it will be on your health, family and social life.

Apologies if this paints a bleak picture but it is necessary to outline the dangers here.

I have worked with a colleague who fell into this way of working. She was extremely conscientious, arriving early, staying in her classroom all lunchtime marking and preparing and then leaving late – only to spend most of the evening preparing for the next day. Despite concerns raised by colleagues it was not until she was TOLD by the doctor that for the sake of her health she HAD TO be in the staffroom to eat her lunch with NO books and to socialise and relax. To her credit she followed advice and the change in her was gradual but progressively better and better. (one of the hardest things she had to get over was the feeling of guilt at NOT working all the time!)

It really is a question of gaining control of what is happening; in your classroom, in your role in school and to be honest controlling just how much this impacts on you and your home life.

Lunchtimes are an important time in every day. They should really not be used as just additional time to work, catch up and prepare. We have an almost impossible set of demands and requirements to meet as teachers, but if we do not take the time to briefly step away from things when we have the opportunity then by the law of diminishing returns we do a disservice to ourselves, the children in our care and also and most importantly our families.

So how did my lunchtimes look?….well of course I had numbers 1 and 2 on the list but for that middle 30 minutes I enjoyed laughing and joking with colleagues and everyday I read my newspaper!




4 thoughts on “Should lunchtimes just be another hour of work?

    1. Charles Watson Post author

      Hi Helen…it is a very difficult one to answer and yes I understand the sort of workload that you are under. Many of your HT jobs will commence at the end of your teaching day!
      Having said that it is a situation that you do need to carefully monitor and control as it has the potential to spiral out of all proportion. Depending on the size of your school you may or may not have a full time secretary. If you have then I would discuss with him/her how they can perhaps take decisions on mail and emails that are relevant or just not worth reading. Possible listings of phone calls and prioritising and then holding these for the time you do not teach. What I am trying to say is potentially not dealing with things after every days teaching but grouping and prioritising things until the times that you are not in class. So you might spend a morning making calls and answering emails.
      Depending on your staff numbers and their responsibilities then look at your scheduling and timings of meetings and aim to keep them as effective and to the point as possible…again looking at efficiency.

      Try to streamline everything as far as you can in order to reduce your time spent at school.
      The other thing to look at is the amount of work you are taking home…I realise that you will need teaching preparation and marking time but I never took any HT work home with me except at major points in the year…if you can avoid this then that would help!

      All this is to aim to free up some you time…in your situation it is not easy but it is important that you do try to do this.



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