On the teachers’ lounge

teachersloungeshirtI reblogged a post the other day called Choosing Sad Over Cynical, and I’m glad I did; it’s a magnificent piece that makes a point that I think teachers really need to hear.  Cynicism is a choice, and while I’ll freely admit it’s a choice I’ve made gleefully at more than one point in my career it’s absolutely useful to remind myself that there are better things to do with my mental health.

That said, I’ve been thinking about it over the last couple of days, and I’m going to take issue with one minor aspect of the post:

Way back when I was a newly minted Special Ed teacher, I remember listening to veteran teachers talk in that proverbial den of negativity, the faculty room. Any time I’d say something positive, some veteran teacher would say, “Oh, you’ll get over that soon. Wait a couple of years.” I’d notice how miserable these teachers were, how much they hated their jobs, the mean things they’d say about kids and parents.

It goes on from there, but you get the point.

First things first:  March Hare is absolutely right to describe your average teachers’ lounge as a “den of negativity.”  That description is both fair and accurate.  It also completely misses the point of the teachers’ lounge, and misses it in a way that’s hard to describe to people who aren’t teachers.

Yes, the teachers’ lounge is a den of negativity, and a place where people, usually teachers, are occasionally prone to say terrible, horrible things about the children who are in their charge.  But here’s the thing:  don’t worry about it.  What y’all need to realize– and I’m generalizing now because this post is far from the only post I’ve seen discussing teachers’ lounge “culture”– is that 1) my twenty-five minutes in the teachers’ lounge is literally the only 25 minutes of my day where I get to interact with adults when I’m not on the job.  Even if I have a co-teacher or paraprofessionals in my room, I don’t get to have “off-duty” conversations with those people while they’re in my classroom, and I’ll admit to being rather cold to people I shouldn’t have on the rare occasions where they tried to have a conversation unrelated to what was going on in the classroom.  That’s not the place.

The teachers’ lounge is the place.  During those 25 minutes I need to a) eat lunch, b) find a way to relax a little bit, and– and this is the important part– frequently I, and everyone else, need to c) find a way to blow off steam.  That’s a lot to do in 25 minutes, and I can build up a lot of damn steam in the first four hours of my day.

I’m sorry if it sounds terrible, and it probably does, but if calling Jimmy a stupid brain-dead motherfucker in the teachers’ lounge keeps me from treating Jimmy like a stupid brain-dead motherfucker in the classroom, I’m going to run my mouth about him– to people who know him, and who understand, mind you– in the teachers’ lounge, and I’m not going to feel too bad about it.

Wanna see something interesting, though?  Watch what happens if a sub tries to talk shit about our kids– or anybody else other than us who may happen to be in the teachers’ lounge at that time.  Every adult in the room will jump to the defense of a kid who we might have been perfectly happy to joke about the suspect parentage of five minutes ago.  Why?  He’s ours.  We can talk shit about our own kids.  Nobody else gets to.  Period.  And everybody in that room who hears me call Jimmy a stupid brain-dead motherfucker knows that I’m about to walk back into my classroom and work my ass off to teach the belligerent little shit some math.

Are there teachers who are complete burnouts, like she describes?  Absofuckinlutely.  I’ve come dangerously close to it at any number of points in my career– hell, the last two weeks have not been pretty; I really needed the last couple of days to go well and I’m glad they have, but I got home on Wednesday griping that I needed to find something else to do with my life, and not remotely for the first time.  But you identify a burnout by what they do in the classroom, not what they say in the teachers’ lounge.

We all sound like assholes in there.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

7 thoughts on “On the teachers’ lounge

  1. Sounds very much like the staff lounge on any hospital unit; you need to blow off steam, let the inside voice out around people who get it. If a patient or family member happened upon any staff lounge & eavesdropped, they’d think the nurses & doctors who worked there were horrible human beings. Horrible no, human beings? You betcha. Great post, thanks!!

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  2. Yes but.
    First day of classes? With teachers new to the system, who have no mentor/contact/context for this? And the same people who later turn out to be teachers who routinely publicly disparaged/humiliated kids (high school kids, mind you)? Otherwise I might agree, although I tend to keep my steam-blowing off site and private–even if with colleagues–where I’m less likely to inadvertently hurt someone.

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    1. Just a couple of points here: 1) Let me make it perfectly obvious that I’m not trying to deny March Hare’s experience. I’m not saying “this never happens,” I’m saying “there are reasons for this.” 2) I do try to keep the griping down around new teachers, but sadly… yeah. There ARE plenty of things that new teachers say that they’re gonna stop saying. I assume this is true of most jobs. 3) The first day of school is rarely really the first day of school. I’ve known almost all of this year’s students for three or four years. So their grace period is long gone by now. 🙂

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