During the first week of school, there is no crazier place than the lunchroom. And once the novelty and strangeness of school wears off, there is no wilder group than kindergartners.
Today was the third full day of school for my son and his kindergarten classmates. The group is getting to know one another -- I've already been showered with stories about new friends or students who 'push the envelope', so to speak. On the first day, our teacher mentioned that parents should plan on helping out in the lunchroom. Yesterday, I was one of four or five parents who showed up. Today, it was just me.
Wrangling my son's lively class into an unfamiliar cafeteria 'assembly line' was like putting chickens into a pen. As soon as I would get a few doing what they needed to do, others would get distracted or stray. Getting them to sit down and start eating was equally challenging.
A few of them tasted the food and held me responsible. "I don't like this," I was told with a look that meant an alternative should be produced at once. I apologized and told the students that they should just try to eat enough to get them through the afternoon without being hungry. As a result, several children ate lime jello and chocolate milk and called it a day.
One child who brought a meal from home ate fruit snacks and juice for lunch. I suggested that his parents had sent him with a sandwich and that he should consider eating it instead of candy. I was told, "This isn't candy; they're fruit snacks." Yeah. Right. That's a clever bit of marketing if I ever heard it.
But, dietary choices aside, lunchroom behavior was moderately suppressed chaos. It was loud and crazy, with kids constantly moving to and from tables.
At one point, I praised a kindergartner who was doing a great job eating and behaving. He proceeded to cover his eyes and start yelling gibberish at the top of his lungs. "What are you doing?" I demanded. He responded that he was done with his lunch, so he was having some fun. "You should see my brother. He's four. He yells and runs around naked sometimes," he continued. "That's not appropriate behavior for school," I told him in measured tones. "Okay," he shrugged and turned to talk to the boy next to him as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
I joked with a teacher-friend as I finished my volunteer time that I could never do this for a living. "You guys don't get paid enough!" I said. She responded by saying I should run for a seat on the school board. We both laughed.
But, now that I think about it, that's not a bad idea. Maybe we should require that the people who will make decisions about teacher pay spend a few hours volunteering in the lunchroom during the first week of school. I can think of no better place to gain an appreciation for the people who make our schools really work. The teachers I saw today were patient and kind and professional in spite of the chaos.
After one hour, I felt like I needed a nap.