Depending on the state, most teachers are entitled to a 30-minute lunch break, although most tend to be longer. But with all the demands of a modern school day, how much of that free time is actually duty-free? No shocker here: For most teachers, it’s not much.
Through a brief survey of teachers across the nation, I collected anonymous testimonials to gather insight into this topic. Here’s is a snapshot of the amount of duty-free time respondents have at lunch after completing all work obligations:
- 48% reported less than 30 minutes.
- 45% reported between 30 minutes and 1 hour.
- 7% reported 1 hour or more.
What Teachers Have to Say
“I’m obligated to cover my grade’s recess duty twice a week. That cuts my hour-long lunch in half, and those days always seem to be the busiest too.”
—Anonymous teacher in Bellevue, Nebraska
“Teachers at my school have 30 minutes for lunch, which turns into 20 after taking our kids wherever they need to be. Then I work through that remaining 20 … so, zero free time for me.”
—Anonymous teacher in West Tisbury, Massachusetts
“I could definitely fit a ‘duty-free’ break into my lunch period, but I would rather work through lunch and leave school right after dismissal.”
—Anonymous teacher in Evansville, Indiana
“My lunch and prep periods line up back-to-back, so it feels like I have a two-hour break in the middle of the day. I feel really lucky. This way, I usually have at least 25 to 40 minutes of me-time depending on the day.”
—Anonymous teacher in Emeryville, California
“Many high schools here will allow teachers to cover a class during their lunch if they’re short on subs. At my old school, one could work an extra hour daily and earn quite a bit of extra cash.”
—Anonymous teacher in Wasco, California
So, there you have it. While duty-free time varies a bit, the slight majority of these respondents are lucky if they have enough time to eat, let alone enjoy a moment to recharge. On the other end of the spectrum, only 7% of respondents have more than an hour of free time between their lunch and prep periods. I myself tend to fall within the 30-minutes to 1-hour range, but honestly, it just depends on the day.
How I Maximize My Time
On a “good” day—meaning no surprise obligations or imminent prep work—I stick to two methods for integrating actual, uninterrupted duty-free time during my lunch period. (Take a look at what other teachers have to say about time management and settings boundaries too!)
- I stick to a firm “no lunch meeting” rule. This took quite some time (and loads of self-talk) to set and stick to, but this boundary is totally worth it.
- Weather permitting, I try to prioritize a much-needed 10-to-15-minute walk around the block. I pop in my AirPods and get some sun on my skin. I swear the fresh air makes all the difference in my patience and clarity and really tees me up for a strong afternoon with my students.
Take the Break—You Deserve It!
We are teachers, aka the busiest, most exhausted group of professionals out there. Yet we still switch hats on a dime, adjust to changes like champs, and manage to meet our students’ needs to the best of our ability. So, barring recess duty obligations, impromptu meetings, prep-work overflow, and all other never-ending teacher demands, take the break. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes. You deserve it, teacher.