Breaking Bread: Lunch with Students

Shawn Seeley

Editor’s Note: This is a new column the VOICE is featuring, with posts by Shawn Seeley, a teacher in the Tahoma School District. You can find this post and others on his website.

Shawn SeeleyRight now, I’m reading Discipline with Dignity, 4th Edition: How to Build Responsibility, Relationships, and Respect in Your Classroom. A statistic jumped out to me while I was working through the text, and it left me with a question: How can we do better?

In a survey of students in grades 6 through 12, fewer than half believed their teachers cared about them and would feel comfortable approaching their teachers with a problem.

Discipline with Dignity, pg. 63
While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I have a suggestion—break bread with your students.

I have 29 students in my classroom this year (I had the same number last year, too). With this many students, it can feel a bit overwhelming at times to make meaningful and lasting connections with each of them. I want my students to know that they are worth more to me than grades on paper. They should know that they are valued for who they are as individuals, and that each of them is worth getting to know personally. I already play with my students during PE from time to time, and when they earn extra recess, I’ll join in on the fun, but this year, I have made it my personal mission to offer my lunch time to meet with students.

When I asked my students if they wanted to have lunch with me, the response was an immediate and enthusiastic, “YES!” I printed a calendar out, blocked off days that I had trainings or other meetings, and then allowed students to sign up for days they wanted. October filled up fast. So far, I have had lunch with one student each day, and the results have been great.

During our lunch, I don’t bring up anything school related. I ask students about their families, their hobbies, favorite shows, pets, etc. We sit outside on the picnic bench under the eaves in the school courtyard and chat about life. I ask silly questions like, “If you had to eat one thing for every meal for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?” As student lunch ends and they head off to recess, I ask to take a selfie with the student so I can send it to their parents. Students love it, and the parent reports have all been positive.

“I’m sure [student] will enjoy having lunch with you. What a great idea. Thank you for the thoughtful lesson plans and desire to connect with your students.

Hi, I wanted to let you know that [student] could not stop talking about having lunch with you! It meant a lot to him, thank you!

Awesome! Thank you!!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, I love it! This is a great start. Thanks!

He was so excited to tell me about lunch today 🙂 Thanks for the picture!

[Student] told us all about it, the highlight of her day. She sure loves having you as her teacher.”

Parent responses to having lunch with their students after receiving a selfie.

Here’s what I love about breaking bread with my students: I have to eat anyway, and it allows me to build rapport and mutual respect with each one of them. This is one more way I can take time to show my students that they matter to me. I still have another 20 minutes after their lunch ends to do whatever I need to do, chat with other teachers, and unwind. The time I spend investing in relationships with my students will always come back to me with interest in the form of harder-working, and happier students. It allows me to teach better, and it creates a positive culture in the classroom.

While I know giving up your lunch isn’t an easy thing to do, I’m challenging teachers everywhere to consider ways in which they can take time to get to know their students on a personal level. Perhaps giving up every lunch is too much (I understand that!). What if you gave up one lunch per week to meet with a few students at a time? What if you went out to recess or played with them during PE? Investing in personal connections with you students is extra work, but you’ll always have a positive return on that investment.