Sunday, May 21, 2023

Lessons from Lunch Duty: Grunt Work and a Servant Mentality

Every job has its own version of "grunt work"—the task you don't want to do, but you must. I dare you to find a job without it. While some teachers enjoy grading, for me, I think of it as "grunt work." When I played school as a child, I loved this task. Today, I have to repeat to myself my aforementioned motto: "The only way is through" to get the job done. That being said, there's another job I dread even more: lunch duty.  And, at St. Ignatius it is a responsibility assigned to every person in the building—from the president and principal to counselors and teachers. I mean it when I say I'm so happy I finished my two point five week assignment this week. Hooray!

Truth be told, I think about lunch duty a lot. It is a necessary good and a necessary evil. The good is I learn a whole lot about my students for they are in their natural domain. This is where their true personalities emerge. It is interesting to see who they hold as friends and how they interact with others. This is also where I see that many students are inconsiderate and lazy, sometimes even downright rude. They put their feet on top of tables and ignore the trash they leave on the floor. Some leave entire plates of uneaten food for someone else to throw away. That one crushes my soul. It could be different. It should be different. 

I have had lunch duty for 20 years now and my gripes today are the same as they were five, ten and twenty years ago. I wonder, Have we, the educators, failed? Why have we let young people get away with this? Or, What does it say that students are okay with leaving their trash on tables and on the floor? What type of person leaves a mess behind? Again, could it be different? Shouldn't it be different? 

I have all kinds of ideas and potential solutions. Most involve consequences. Other require doubling down on the discipline to get it right. But the one that appeals to me most—the urging, promoting and celebrating a servant mentality.

The entire football program heard about the servant mentality from 49er All Pro Safety, Talanoa Hufanga. He shared where it came from and what it looks like. I think he was as proud of this mentality as all the success he's had on the field.

As I wrote in "Inside an All-Pro Mindset: Thank you Talanoa Hufanga," he said, "I did yard work and I was a janitor. I was raised to have a servant mentality. That means you always keep a humble heart. You show up on time, and always show respect for your family." 

Upon reading that post, my colleague shared a social media post of another football player who has embraced a similar mentality. As tweeted by Dov Kleiman,

After a recent NFL rookie event, #Colts 20-year old QB Anthony Richardson, decided to stay behind after everyone else exited and clean up a big mess left by the players so the staff wouldn't have to.

Richardson explained that it was unfair to expect the staff to clean up the mess left by the draftees. He insisted on staying to help until the room was completely tidy, even though he was given the option to leave after NFL Executive Troy Vincent told him: "You don’t need to do this." 

Richardson told Vincent: ‘We left this room in an unacceptable condition, and it’s not right for us to expect the staff to clean it all up.”

I read this post and any uncertainty about what a servant mentality might mean was gone. Words that come to mind are responsible, humble, and honest. How Ignatian.

I have heard of athletes doing their part before. Back in 2015, I shared the story of the Mt. Vernon High school football team: Every athlete can be great because every athlete can serve: a new way to do so. In one respect, it is unfortunate that their servant mentality became the subject of a feature story...but in others, I'm grateful to read of the example they have set for others, and for me. A good reminder is never in vain.

My sense is that a servant mentality starts at home, but I think it can be cultivated at school as well. If both faculty and students model what this means and how it's done, on the most practical level our school be a lot cleaner. On another level, I believe we would have a stronger sense of pride and a deeper appreciation for what we have been given. We might even take better care of what we own and what belongs to others. 

Would we still need to do lunch duty? Sure. It's important to supervise young people but rather than engaging in frustration or disappointment, we might find more time to talk to them about what really matters. I'll leave that up for you to decide, but I have a feeling they may say their grade in your class. I guess we don't call it work for nothing.

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