Breaktime...and the break-duty shirker is busy again

You know her: her name's on the break-duty rota, but she never, ever shows up. Louise Lewis listens to her excuses

Louise Lewis

Woman peering out from behind blinds

It’s Tuesday morning, and you’re sharing break duty with…let’s call her Janet. But you know full well that she’s not going to be there. 

You know the sort. They’re never there: never on the football pitch when the scrap breaks out, or when the ball goes flying into a neighbouring garden. The habitual break-duty shirker.

The break-duty shirker is perpetually fearful of donning that hi-vis jacket. They hate the cold; they hate the warm. The canteen is too noisy; the tennis courts are too quiet. They just need a quick wee

This week's excuse

It’s 10am, and the bell rings. The children are excited about going outside, or staying inside, or whatever delight this breaktime will hold. 

And Janet? What is Janet doing? Anything other than getting ready for her duty, of course.

What excuse will it be this week? Well, first of all, there was that mess that just needed tidying up. We couldn’t possibly go into the next lesson with those scraps of paper on the floor. 

But that only takes two minutes, yes. After that, she just needed to pop to the photocopier to grab her printing.

OK, so now we’re up to three minutes. 

Without incident

Where is she for the other 17 minutes? It was cold outside, so, of course, she had to pop to the staffroom for her coat.

Then the kettle was taking ages to boil, and just as that teabag was making its way out of her cup, in walks someone she really had to catch up with. 

Before you know it, it’s 10.19am, the bell is about to ring, the children are getting ready to line up, and Janet hasn’t set foot outside. In fact, she feels refreshed after her morning break. 

But it’s OK. Breaktime went by without incident, didn’t it? She didn’t hear any screams, so it’s probably all right. Anyway, she was busy.

There was that one time when Janet was asked to swap duties, and buddy up with the headteacher. Conveniently, she couldn’t do it that day – something to do with a guillotine and a particularly tricky card sort that was essential for her next lesson. But she promises she’ll be able to do it next time. Good old Janet. 

Doughnut defiance

One week rolls into the next for Janet, and Tuesday knocks on the door once more. She starts her usual routine of tidying, copying, drink-filling, chatting. And then – whoops – in walks the break-duty leader, just as she is molar-deep in the staffroom doughnuts. Janet’s been caught out. 

With a shifty look in her eye, she downs the remains of the doughnut, combat rolls towards the staffroom door and scurries off to her final five minutes of duty. 

It was lucky that she did, she tells her colleagues at lunch. You see, this break duty for Janet was special, not only because she actually did it, but also because little Jonny got his hand stuck behind the radiator. 

Janet stormed in and saved the day, removing his hand (fully intact), and the pair lived to fight another day. 

She was just happy to be able to help, she says. This is why break duty is so important. 

Same old tricks

Poor Mike in the corner is just about to snap. She ate his doughnut last week, and refused to help him out with his duty the week before. 

Her colleagues, crawling out the door on their hands and knees following an exhausting term filled with every duty imaginable, smile between gritted teeth, knowing full well that Janet is going to be up to the same tricks in January. 

So here’s a message for all you Janets out there: he sees you when you’re skiving, he knows when you are late; he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so do your duty, for goodness’ sake.

Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets @MissLLewis

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