You might even say it was a case in which I did actually learn my lesson.

I have lunch duty with another new teacher (although she did a fair amount of substitute teaching before this year and has had more classroom experience than I, in addition to living in the district and knowing a lot of the students already), and it is an interesting experience. It’s mostly been fun (like watching basketball), but there are pitfalls.

I should say this first: I teach at a combination junior/senior high. It’s not merely that two buildings are combined with two different administrators – our principal handles all of the students from 7-12, and we are in one single building for all of it. (And even then, we have fewer students than many high schools.) As a result of this, we do not really properly have a freshman class (although grade 9 is considered high school and are called freshmen): we have something more like a super-8th grade class.

What I mean by this is that the freshmen still interact quite a bit with the junior high students, and they are also in the same lunch period with the 7th and 8th graders. So whereas freshmen in any conventional school would be at the bottom of the barrel, here they are the kings of the castle, at least in many contexts.

As it turns out, the lunchroom is one such place, and in particular, the freshman boys have pulled their weight to monopolize the basketball court (of which we only have one) from both younger students and from the girls more generally. The other teacher (we’ll call her Mrs. C) and I have noticed this, and we decided last week to take measures by having alternating days: girls get the basketball one day, boys the next, and so forth. This was enacted while I was gone, and the boys adapted somewhat, creating their own sort of basketball-esque game with a volleyball and pipes on our wall. And lo and behold, girls came out of the woodwork to play basketball.

Okay, there’s the background. I came into lunch today feeling pretty good, and Mrs. C came in…well, not in as good a mood. She was understandably irritated with dealing with argumentative freshmen trying to pull their weight, and she managed not to help matters much by lecturing students who were late and telling them that she would count them tardy. We’ve never done this, and some many of the students flipped out and questioned why on earth they should be counted tardy for lunch, which “isn’t even a real class.” And to make matters worse, some of the freshman boys started whining about the new basketball setup and changes we had made to make things more equitable.

Now I can understand being frustrated – I’ve been there – but it looked to me like things were getting more tense rather than calmed down. And I had a Zen moment of sorts: Why not just tell them why we’re doing these things?

And I did: I told the boys that they had been monopolizing the court and that other people deserved to play. They didn’t take it well.

But as I walked by another group of freshmen girls, one asked me, “Who makes these stupid rules, anyway?” She was referring to being on time to lunch and notifying Mrs. C or me about needing to leave (bathroom, get a soda, etc.), and I again, in my cool and collected mood, told them in a roundabout way about in loco parentis – the teacher’s legal obligation that means that we are essentially standing in for our students’ parents while they are in our care – and why we in turn have to keep track of students because of liability concerns. (One response from a student: “Does this mean you can make me eat my food?”)

The best part: They got it! They weren’t exceptionally happy about it, but they understood, and it de-escalated the situation. I was amazed that it worked, and I even gave some gentle advice (claiming no real wisdom in the matter) to Mrs. C about the situation. I think something good came out of it.

So, on this Friday afternoon, here’s to you, James Nehring: Maybe you’ve got something here, after all. I’m sorry I doubted you.

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