Loo or lunch?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This week I put out a Twitter poll asking if teachers had had breakfast.

The results were initially surprising to me, a diehard breakfaster.

I’m aware enough to know that some people just don’t do breakfast, but I was surprised at the amount who weren’t. Before you point it out, I am very much alive to the facts about Twitter polls are about as reliable a data collection method as asking a stranger you just met in a pub to tell you what their mate thinks about it, and I do not make any claims whatsoever as to the reliability of the data. That’s not why I use Twitter polls. I use them because they are the best way if getting what it astonishes me to refer to as “my audience”* to “engage”. They start conversations. I had plenty of replies, ranging from (I may paraphrase a little here) “breakfast is for wimps” to “I can’t function without a full English”.

Anyway, I thought it would be diverting to compare this shonky pseudodata against some proper stuff and see what was what. Turns out to be surprisingly difficult to find any “norm” to compare it to. One market research study, whose entire raison d’etre is to sell said study to breakfast product manufacturers, found that a staggering 95% of UK adults eat breakfast. Another study, for which, such was my interest in seeking out the truth dear reader, I actually read the Daily Express, found that around half of UK adults regularly don’t. So it turns out I can’t even compare my unreliable data against anybody else’s. (Although one report puts it at 31%, which is so close to my 32% “finding” that I maybe am a better researcher than I think**)

It was at this point I realised that I’d been asking the wrong question. What I really wanted to find out wasn’t whether people had or hadn’t had breakfast, but whether circumstances somehow prevented them from eating breakfast when they would have liked to.

Knowing that the fickle nature of social media algorithms means that asking another question about breakfast would just be shouting into the void, I hit upon the idea of asking about another meal: lunch. This time at least I had some decent data to look at; @TeacherTapp found that around 13% of teachers don’t eat lunch. My interest wasn’t whether people hadn’t eaten it, I can think of plenty of scenarios where you might plan not to eat lunch, and compensate for it elsewhere, but in people who had planned to eat lunch and hadn’t, at least once during the previous week.

Here are my “findings”.

The actual “data” we can clearly take with a generous pinch of salt, but some of the replies made me want to weep. Stories of having to choose between going to the loo and eating, 30 minute lunch times making it impossible to prepare for the afternoon AND eat, lunchtime supervision and management duties leaving no time for food.

I specifically asked about whether people had eaten, but naturally the discussion also turned to whether any kind of break from work could be feasibly be taken. There was lots of “I did, while I was marking/running a club/doing an intervention”. This is a whole other argument really, but many people chose this working pattern, for example marking through lunch so that they can leave work earlier, which makes perfect sense. At least they’re eating.

One thing that shone through from those who were having a lunch break daily (yes they replied too, it’s not all doom and gloom) was that prioritising lunch  was the key factor in making sure you get it. There was a lot of love for instant noodles/cup a soup/cereal as a reliable emergency meal. Those whose schools have a family dining policy were fulsome in their praise of it. Eating as a department or a staff was recommended as a strategy.

The entire exercise made me wonder how we are now at a state where eating lunch can be seen as some kind of luxury (or worse, a sign of weakness or lack of commitment). Some tweets suggested it was a ridiculous expectation to get a lunch break. Teacher’s rights to a break are enshrined in the burgundy book (and if you are not covered by that, employment law guarantees you an uninterrupted 20 minute break).

School Teachers Pay and Conditions 2018

I looked up the science behind missing meals, by the way, and for every piece that says it’s a terrible idea, there seems to be another one which says it’s quite, quite brilliant. I just know that I am hopeless in the afternoon if I don’t eat at lunchtime. Many other people expressed a similar view.

If you’re regularly not eating lunch and you wish you were, do yourself a favour and prioritise it this week. Please.

*echo chamber

** I’m not

Sam is a primary school teacher and founder of schoolwell.co.uk. You can find her on twitter or send her an email.