Among our many varied duties is that of recess coach. Yes, most elementary school teachers have about an hour or two of outdoor play duty each day. You can look at that part of the job in many ways. Over the years I've interpreted this job in multiple manners.
A Bothersome Add-On
Often I've seen this job as a bothersome add-on since my real desire lies in using those minutes between classes or after lunch to clean up and reflect on the learning that just happened and get ready for the new learning, but when you have recess duty, you have to go right outside with the children and right back inside with little time for prep, hence the view of "bothersome add-on."
Young children have to be supervised so it's a necessary evil to do recess duty. Why evil? It's "evil" because it's a lot of work in a small space of time, a space of time when you would like to be prepping for the learning or attending to personal matters, yet's it's necessary.
Opportunity to Coach, Guide, and Build Relationships
At it's best perspective, recess is an opportunity to coach, guide, and build relationships with students. After many years of teaching, I realize that when you use recess well it benefits everyone. Teachers benefit for many reasons. First we get a chance to observe our students in a most natural setting and activity which is play. Next we get to help them resolve and discuss conflicts. Third it gives us time to build relationships with children by talking to them, noticing their interests, and joining in if we want, and finally, it's an opportunity to get outside, move around, and have some fun.
To view recess with this perspective and activity does help to make all that goes on in the classroom more successful and beneficial because the conflict resolution, conversations, and relationship building all contribute to a strong learning/teaching community.
To make the most of recess means that you and the students are well prepared for the learning. If children learn good routines for getting out to recess and coming back in, there will be time for needed set up and clean up on either end of the recess schedule. Further if you prepare well for your lessons you'll have a better chance to easily move from one activity to another. Having recess with other teachers means you can spell each other to get a personal break if you need one.
Preparedness means having the right clothes for the weather and recess field conditions. In winter the salt on the blacktop eats up your shoes. The mud on the fields similarly wrecks footwear too. Dusty conditions further make your clothes dirty. Sunlight means sunglasses, hats, and other protective wear. Basically to be a good recess coach means you need to have play clothes on hand that match the conditions outside only then are you able to move all over the fields without worry to monitor, coach, and guide the children.
Rules and Expectations
We have a large number of rules and expectations for the playground. Some are easier to follow and enforce than others. The most important including no body contact, polite language, everyone is included, and if you can't solve a problem on your own, get a teacher's help are critical and typically enforced day in and day out. The more difficult rules to enforce include wearing snow gear when the field is covered with snow, following the many rules for specific games (often students come to school with many variations of rules), and unwinding complicated conflicts that take more time than is available, conflicts that spill over into the learning time.
As we consider what it takes to foster strong schools, recess is an important consideration. Honestly I wish I made this reflection and wrote this post years ago as it would have moved me in a more positive and productive direction with regard to recess. It's never to late to learn, so I'll get my recess gear in better order and look for ways to enhance the transitions to and from recess too. This will help to master this time of day--most students most beloved time at school.