Sunday, January 17, 2010

Control Your Cafeteria

Ask any administrator which part of their job they dislike the most, and chances are they will say "Lunch Duty". Almost all administrators are expected to do lunch duty, and it usually is a daily hassle for a variety of reasons. Students regularly make messes in the cafeteria and don't clean up after themselves, they also "forget" to take their trays to the garbage can, dump their leftover food in the containers, and place the tray in the dishwasher's area to be cleaned. Then there's the noise issue...which starts out as a murmur as students are eating their food, but builds into a roar when students have nothing else to do with their mouths except talk louder than the people around them. Students who finish eating early think it's O.K. to wander around the cafeteria from table to table bothering each other, or chasing their friend around the room in a worst-case scenario.

As an administrator, your disciplinary options are limited. You could yell at the students to stay quiet during lunch, or try to catch students individually who leave their table messy. I have even seen the "Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light" method of lunchroom discipline. These methods are O.K., but the method I am about to share with you results in a quiet, clean cafeteria 99% of the time. It is a system that I like to call "Alphabet Lunch".

About a week or so into the semester, make lists of all the students in each lunch. At my school, we have three lunches, so my lists are labeled "A Lunch", "B Lunch", and "C Lunch". This part of the plan is the most labor-intensive, as I have to look on our school's computerized scheduling program to identify which student has which lunch. Once I have made my three lists, I then put the kids in alphabetical order. Our lunch tables seat 12 students each, so I then divide my alphabetical lists into sections of 12. Next to each rectangle of student names, I put a number...1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. until I get to 34 (our cafeteria has 34 tables). These lists of students are posted on the cafeteria wall. I make little signs (2 inches x 2 inches) with the numbers of each table, and tape the numbers on both ends of each table using book tape, which is thick, durable, and sticky.

If "B" Lunch leaves a table messy, or is excessively noisy despite my warnings, they are put in "Alphabet Lunch". Their fate is announced on the morning announcements, and arrangements are made by the administrators to be ready to assist students in finding their table after they exit the lunch line with their food. Students are to look on the wall to see at which table they are to sit, or find an administrator who also has a list.

You will notice a few things when one of your lunches is put in "Alphabetical Lunch":
- Students from different "cliques" are forced to sit together, and do not interact with each other...resulting in a quieter cafeteria.
- Students become very conscious of how clean their table is, because they are held accountable by having a seating chart with their name and table number on it.
- Students who try to circumvent the system by sitting at the wrong table are quickly corrected by the other students, who do not want you to find out and have their Alphabet Lunch days extended.
- Students in other lunches will clean up their act, because they don't want to end up like "B" Lunch.
-The Alphabet Lunch technique puts the administrator back in control of what happens during lunch, not the students.

There are a few things to remember when implementing your Alphabet Lunch program:
- Do not put a lunch in Alphabet Lunch for one day...the minimum for a first offense should be a week (to feel the full effects of being in alphabetical order).
- Don't get mad at your students one day and sentence them to "the rest of the year" of Alphabetical Lunch. After a couple of weeks, the students at each table (even those from different cliques) will become friends! At that point, your punishment is no longer effective and you have to move to "Randomly Assigned Seats", which is discussed later in this article.
- Don't put all of your lunches in alphabetical order at the same time. Pick your loudest and messiest lunch to punish first. I can assure you that your other lunches will shape up.
- Once students are all seated, move from table to table to check if students are sitting at the correct table. If you see Zachary Zween sitting at Table 2, you know something is amiss. Warn the first offender, then add a day of Alphabetical Lunch for each person you find sitting at the wrong table. Believe me, students will police themselves, thereby cutting way down on your workload.
- You need to prepare yourself for a few phone calls from parents questioning the "fairness" of punishing everyone at lunch because of the actions of a few. Your reply should tell the parent that you agree wholeheartedly with them, and that putting students in assigned seats will pinpoint who commits the next offense because you know exactly where everyone is sitting. Another excellent feature of Alphabet Lunch is the way that a specific student can be found within seconds by administrators, teachers, or parents in the event of an emergency.

Randomly Assigned Seats (RAS): Sometimes, a lunch spends so much time in Alphabet Lunch that the students at each table become friends. That will do wonders for your clique problem or bullying problem, but not so much for your loud, messy lunch problem. The next step is to put students in randomly assigned seats. Each table keeps its number, but students receive a new table number each day through the use of numbers written on lunch trays in permanent marker. Make sure to put the numbers on the BOTTOM of the trays, or the lunch ladies will not like your idea! What you could also do is write a random number next to each student's name on each of your lunch lists. Just make sure to distribute the random numbers evenly so that one table doesn't have 15 students, and another table has 10.

Once you put one of your lunches in Alphabetical Order, you will see an incredible difference in the weight your words carry with students. Most students' lives are littered with people who make empty promises or empty threats. Your students will see you as someone who "follows through" on what you say. I love it when students leave their lunch tray now, because all I have to say is "Oh, no! Someone left their lunch tray at their table...I guess I am going to have to put this lunch in Alphabetical Order...that's too bad." By the time I get the sentence out of my mouth, three students will be running towards me yelling "No! No! No! Mr. Holden, I'm taking it! Just so you know, it's not mine, but I am taking it!" I reply to the student, "Joey, the other students should be indebted to you for saving them from Alphabet are a Good Samaritan." Students within earshot will hear what's going on and say "Thanks, Joey!"

Put one of your lunches in Alphabet Lunch, and watch the magic happen for your school as well!

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