Dan Henderson

Monday, January 25, 2016

Lunch Duty Food Fight

One warrior, Dan, was left alone in the cafeteria, an outlandish rebellion was stirring. An uprising of epic odds. Could one warrior tame the angry mob of 100 frustrated citizens? The citizens began to organize on the battlefield. Except this battlefield was a cafeteria and their weapons were mac and cheese, bananas, and mystery meat. 
The citizens, tired of the oppression by their evil lords and the ever expanding homework demands, organized a coup. In a rebellion there are two groups: Loyalist or colonists, the rebels or the empire, but there are always at least two groups . William Golding wrote the classic novel Lord of the Flies. The premise is a group of boys that are shipwrecked on a island. With the pilot dying and no adult supervision they separate into two factions. Ralph makes all the responsible choices to try and get the boys off the island. Jack forms a hunting party of warriors and a power struggle ensures on the island, leading to some intense battles. I was hoping there would be a Ralph or two that day, but Ralph must of been at the dentist.
Our school policy was there should be about five or six adults in a room of 100 students. Teachers, disgruntled by the problems in our school, often skipped lunch duty.
That day, it was just me, a small microphone and 100 students waiting to call my bluff on my threats. The ages ranged from7-10 year olds. 
Principal Laney was usually present during lunch to help tame the mob. Laney is feared among the student population. Over the PA, I heard him being summoned to a notoriously bad 5th grade classroom. 
With decreased parental supervision in the room, villainous behavior was bound to emerge. We will call our emerging culprit in this story, Jack. Aware that the principal was gone, he rallied his rebels.
Jack crawled on the lunchroom table, knocking over hot dogs and milk. With two feet firmly planted, Jack held his hands by his hips. He didn’t speak, he just smiled mischievously. Eight year old girls swoon over this rebel’s courage and proud stance.
“Jack sit down.” I commanded, speaking in to the microphone from across the room. 
Jack reluctantly jumped off, inadvertently kicking one student’s hot dog on a nearby girl shirt. 
The girls frowned at the evil laughter coming from this rambunctious tribe of boys, Jack's friends were egging him on to more mischief. Jack turned his back on me to avoid my eyes.When facing his crowd they spurred him onto more trouble.
Jack bends over to find an abandoned banana and throws it at the chubby kid. For copyright infringement purposes, we will call the chubby kid Wiggly. Wiggly teared up and threw the remains of his banana back at Jack in an attempt to hurt this bully.  
Jack mocks wiggly by saying, “Your slow and fat. The reason your probably don’t have any brothers or sister is because you ate them.” 
I run from the other corner of the cafeteria. The banana incident probably only lasted about ten seconds.
I yell, “ Get off the table Jack, go sit at the other corner of the cafeteria.” I am loosing control of the students and must issue a consequence! They reluctantly came over to the time out table, a table students are sent to when misbehaving.They sit at this isolated table to cool down.
One hundred pupils talk louder and louder as I am the sole person trying to subdue the excitement. We use levels 0-4 to monitor the volume in our classrooms. Zero means absolutely no audible voices. You could hear your friend’s heart beat from across the room kind of quiet. Level four is an outdoor voice, the occasional yell is tolerated. Since the yell is outside, the sounds dissipates. When you are in the cafeteria, it reverberates. Five more minutes went by without Principal Laney and the volume coming from the students was comparable to a playoff hockey game.
I put down squabbles as my voice became less terrifying as the noise overpowers. My table of isolation was growing. Four more bananas were thrown. Six students were at the isolation table which left it not so isolated. They would need to learn how to share resources to survive. I saw Harry, one of Jacks closest friends share his hot dog at the isolation table. I scratch my head in slight panic. Six of biggest trouble makers are ready to form a union. 
A fight broke out on the opposite side of the cafeteria from the isolation table. I leapt off a bench I was standing on towards Doug a third grader, he was punching Jon in the face for calling him stupid. 
I managed to stop the fight in that corner of the room, but my back was completely turned to my worst culprits. Children are fast, like new puppies, it only takes 30 seconds of my back being turned for them to start pulling enough food out of the trash cans to have enough ammo for the coming war.
Solidarity was a term used during the Occupy Wall street movement. It is when many stand in unison for a common set of ideals. Jack and his bandits have lost patience to continue to deal with our schools rules and consequences. They devise a plan: A food fight in solidarity. 
The attack was going to be against the 2nd graders. The 2nd graders did not adequately prepare for this food fight since their attention was on watching Mr. Henderson run around like a mad man. Jack has his warriors ready to take over Cafeteria Island. What I remember from that day can only be described as civilization lost and William Golding’s reality found.
“Food fight!” Jack yelled at the top of his lungs. 
I was still holding Doug by one arm, about sixty feet away from my worst culprits. Doug and my muscles relaxed as we watched food treys of previously disposed hot dogs and macaroni and cheese fly, not in mouths, but onto peoples’ faces. In disbelief we stood far away to avoid being smothered by mystery meat. It was complete chaos. 
I stood, taking a few deep breaths. Doug looked at me with a nonverbal expression to say, I am the least of your problems. What are you going to do, Mr. Henderson?
I composed myself. I stopped a banana from being stuffed down a girl’s back by grabbing the banana straight out of a culprits hand. I witnessed a gooey pasta dish being smeared all over the American flag. The last image I have in my mind is a banana knocking a picture of a former principal from the wall. Frustrated and tired, with red cheeks, I ran to the front of the cafeteria to grab the microphone.
“STOP! STOP IT! Anyone caught throwing another piece of food will stay in after school detention for the rest of the week!” I have never yelled louder in all my life. 
This causes 94% of the students to put down their projectiles except my boys from Lord of the Flies. They decided, since most of the food was gone, to jump in the trash cans. Why? Well to ride around the cafeteria of course. 
The trash cans are four feet high, with easy gliding wheels. 
Where the hell were the janitors and the other teachers? I could only find the damn lunch ladies, watching from behind the counters. They observed from a distance, fearful to leave the kitchen. I can't blame them, a minimum wage salary doesn’t pay enough to discipline these kids, does it?
Ninety out of the one hundred kids were laughing at the Circa De Soleil movements of my culprits in the trash cans. I grabbed two trash cans with kids in them and gave these children the teacher look of death. Thankfully, I scared them enough that they took their macaroni and cheese covered bodies back to the table of isolation.
Jack still in a trash can yelled,“Push me faster!” Jack had no intention of calming down as another classmate zig zagged around the cafeteria tables. Wiggly was close to the stage and was not participating in these shenanigans. I found any ally, who was also not a fan of Jack.
“Wiggly, go to the main office and have the receptionist call the principal to the cafeteria.” He jiggled gleefully, as he knew the principal would give Jack the sweet justice he deserved for throwing a banana earlier at his face.
Two minutes went by, no principal. I was slightly nervous that the calamity would start again. I wrangled the trash can from Jack’s friend.
“Jack get out of the trash can!” Jack enthusiastically stilled played in the remains of cafeteria trash can, openly defying my authority.
“Fine stay in there, see what happens.” My hope was that the principal would catch him in the act, so I let the little jerk play in the questionable, but USDA approved meat.
I was quite proud of myself that my clothes remained clean. Yes, maybe I could have done something differently, but the odds were not in my favor. Who was I suppose to be? Freakin Spartacus? Wait he lost…
“JACK!” My savior arrived. 
The Principal grabbed the trash can, bringing it to a violent halt. Laney took one look around the room. Seeing the broken principal’s portrait and oodles of noodles all over the floor, Laney became enraged. The principal picked Jack up by his shirt collar, lifting him straight out of the trash can. She held Jack there for five seconds with his feet dangling in the air. Looking him dead in the eye he proclaims.
“You’re mine.” With that statement, the cafeteria became dead silent as he put Jack down. I have seen that look on my principal’s face. We were no longer talking to Principal Laney, but to Samuel L. Jackson.
Giving everyone the death stare, he paced in the cafeteria before grabbing the mic from my hands. Then he put fear and order back into the school.
“Let me get this straight. You have the audacity- the audacity!- to start a food fight in my school?! Do I look like I am playing with you? Do you think I am going to get into trouble for your clothes being ruined? Oh, no, no, no. I will personally talk with each of your parents and let them know that you decided to throw food at your friends. That you, Jack!” Laney stops to point and shame Jack by raising his voice. “Where rolling around all over the cafeteria in a trash can. Guess what? It’s a sunny day. Too bad you won’t be seeing it.” This speech concluded with after school detention being given to everyone , along with a good dose of guilt for all. 
The teachers came back from their lunch break in shock, to see once formally clean white shirts stained with yellow processed cheese. The teachers added another layer of shame and cancelled recess. Which is now illegal. The students marched up the stairs with heads held low and frowns of fear on their faces. They were clearly worried about the phone call home from Principal Laney. 
Our six culprits were still seated at our isolation table, held in the cafeteria for Laney to give another verbal bashing.
Once all but six students are out of the cafeteria, I confront Principal Laney. 
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” I began pleading with him. “ I was the only one in here and sent as many of the kids over to a table to be by themselves. I just had to break up a fight and my back was turned and…..”
“You mean you were here all alone the whole time?” Laney asked this rhetorical question as he scanned the room to confirm the other teachers were not present. 
“Yes, sir.” I say humbly.
“You did the best you can, Dan. I will have to have a word with those teachers.”
The next few weeks, the cafeteria was tame because of the increased supervision the principal put in place. Teachers were reprimanded for not showing up for duty. Children were given consequences and our culprits clean up the cafeteria for two weeks. Jack and his rebels were suspended for three days. 
When teachers are left with too many kids, and not enough help, all hell breaks loose. It is in some children’s nature to cause chaos, and schools should hire more people, or schedule better, so that teachers are never stuck in charge of an entire cafeteria.
This is NOT a story about WHY kids do things, but on poor administration management. 

Please post your thoughts?

Do teachers not report to mandatory duties in your school? How can we fix this problem?

What steps has your school used to increase PTA or volunteer support at your school for lunch duty, field trips, and extra curricular activities. 

You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co.

Email me at [ Dan ] [Henderson ] danhendersonthatsspecial@gmail.com

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If you were considering a career in teaching special education students and read Dan’s stories, you might think twice. After reading about his tools, however, you should see how it can be a rewarding option thanks to his tools and your own hard work and caring.

-Dr. Doug Green

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