As a student, the teachers’ lounge was a place of mystery and intrigue (and, depending on when you went to school, there may have been a faint smell of cigarette smoke when you walked by). If you ever got to peek inside the lounge before getting hurried away, you saw a strictly grown-up area devoid of colorful motivational sayings that filled nearby classrooms and heard laughter and conversations that made you come to grips with the idea that teachers were (gasp!) friends with one another. It also usually had donuts, cookies, or some other baked good sent by the PTSA, and the center table was littered with a pile of Avon catalogs that were at least ten years old.
When you were working on your teaching degree, the teachers’ lounge may have come up in conversation and it’s very likely your professor told you to avoid spending time there at all costs. Citing it as a place where teachers “let out their frustrations” about students or gossiped about one another, it was a negative space and the longer you stayed away had a direct correlation with the satisfaction you’d feel about your job.
And while that may be true in some schools, the teachers’ lounge is also a place to celebrate successes and find unique ways to help your students succeed. It can be a place to encourage educators and praise students. It’s up to you to set the tone.
Gossip is a guilty pleasure. And while it does add a little drama and excitement to the day and may give you insight into your coworkers’ personalities, more than anything it hurts those involved. If you don’t hear something straight from the source, it’s gossip. The best way to stay away from gossip? Stop it in its track. If someone starts telling you “privileged” information about a student or coworker, politely tell them you don’t want to be involved. Any time gossip enters the workplace, it spreads negativity. If you want to build a positive community in any work environment, you have to let go of the gossip.
Don’t Settle For Bad Advice
If a teacher wants to talk to you about one of your students, make it very clear you don’t want to hear anything negative. Perhaps you teach fourth grade and this student had major personality clashes with her third-grade teacher. The third-grade teacher seeks you out so you are prepared. What if over the summer this student decided to change her outlook on learning and is ready to be a top student? Is it fair to her for you to come in with preconceived notions?
If a teacher tries to give you some “insider information” about a student, steer the topic towards positivity. Ask what works to keep the student on task. What units did he or she like the most? What were the best interactions they had? By focusing on the positive, you’re not only helping to set the student up for success you’re also reminding the teacher that their student wasn’t nearly as bad as they remembered.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be able to air frustrations in the lounge. After all, your fellow teachers understand your situation better than anyone else. Just be constructive about your venting. Complaining doesn’t solve anything. But stating a problem and working for a solution does. For example, if you have a student who never completes homework, ask your coworkers what they do when students aren’t completing homework. If you are struggling with classroom behavior, find out what’s working in other classes. It’s when teachers work together to bring out the best in their students that magic starts to happen in the classroom…The more you do this, the more the tone of the lounge will change…and who knows? It’s that little attitude shift that could mean the difference between oatmeal raisin cookies and double chocolate chip.