Emerson teacher is on the job while out to lunch
Keith Liddell, a teacher and lunchroom supervisor at Emerson Middle School in Niles, stands before a row of pizzas in the cafeteria on Aug. 27. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
NAME: Keith Liddell
BEST KNOWN AS: Emerson Middle School lunch supervisor and teacher
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:07AM
NILES — Emerson Middle School lunchroom supervisor Keith Liddell admits that he gets a good laugh out of Adam Sandler’s parody of lunchroom workers, “Lunch Lady Land.”
“When I think ‘lunch lady’ I think of that lunch-lady song. That cracks me up,” he said of the “Saturday Nite Live” tune paying homage to female lunchroom workers, albeit in stereotypical, comedic fashion — hair nets, orthopedic shoes, sloppy joes and all.
Liddell, who teaches industrial technology at Emerson in Niles, says the school’s cafeteria-line workers barely resemble the lunch-lady caricature and he doubts the eighth-graders he supervises each day even perceive them in the way Adam Sandler does.
“The ladies are very nice in there,” Liddell remarked. “I don’t think the kids know that stereotypical lunch lady like we know it. There’s also a couple of guys that serve in there, too.”
Liddell has been a lunchroom supervisor for about 10 years and is one of four teachers who keep an eye on the Emerson cafeteria during eighth-grade lunch. Each week the teachers rotate between lunch-line supervision, table observation and keeping track of students who sign out from the lunchroom. After lunch, while three of the teachers head outside with the class, one stays behind to monitor the week’s lunch-table captains, students who are in charge of cleaning up their tables for the next class.
“The kids are really good, luckily,” Liddell noted. “For having over 250 kids in a lunchroom, they’re pretty well-behaved.”
Though a paid position, lunchroom supervision is a voluntary opportunity for any Emerson teacher. Liddell says he does it for the chance to further interact with students, many of whom he has in class or sees during boys volleyball practice, a sport he coaches.
Seeing a familiar face, he added, shows the students there is someone they can go to for help if, for instance, they are the victims of bullying.
“The kids get to know who you are, I think,” Liddell said of his lunchroom role. “You can have more of a rapport when they know who you are and what you do.”
Physical fights, another lunchroom cliche, are rare and average less than one per year, Liddell said. Last year there weren’t any, he added.
Bullying can be harder to identify, Liddell acknowledges, but it is something the supervisors are always on the look for. Their eyes are also peeled for cell phones and music players, which are prohibited outside lockers during the school day.
Most challenging: getting 250 students to reenter the building after recess in an orderly fashion, Liddell said.
As for the food itself, Emerson’s students are big fans of Bosco Sticks, stuffed bread sticks that come with dipping sauce, and warm cookies that come straight from the oven. Taco Tuesdays are also days the children anticipate.
“There’s always a big line for tacos,” Liddell said.
When not teaching, supervising or coaching, Liddell is involved with Emerson’s Remote Control Car Club, in which students race toy cars over ramps and through marked courses. He also supervises the morning bus drop-off at the school.
Liddell describes teaching and the other roles he takes on at the school as “a fun job.”
“I love being with the kids,” he said. “It’s a job that I could see myself doing for awhile, easily, because it is so much fun to interact with the kids. It gives me pleasure to see them as a shop teacher, too, working with their hands and building, creating new things.”