"The language, Lisa! You, the words matter girl, would have been appalled."
My lovely teacher friend was lamenting the recent trend toward whining and complaining in her school's teachers' lounge. She was probably right. I would have been appalled. Additionally, she was right to be concerned. The thing about whining and complaining is, they are habits. Once we head down that path, it is really hard to stop. It gets in our heads and our hearts.
There is an old saying that goes something like this - A few bad apples will spoil the barrel.
I talk a lot about how our words matter with our students. It's also true that our words matter with our colleagues. It's great to share, seek advice and blow off a little steam once in awhile. We need that. However, when talk in the teacher lunchroom turns to whining, complaining or denigrating students or parents, it's gone too far. It can spoil the whole climate of a school or team. Speaking with respect for each individual regardless of our frustration should always be our norm.
So what do you do when a colleague crosses the line on a regular basis?
- Politely bow out of the conversation as quickly as you can.
- Have an exit line ready. "Oh, I just remembered I need to get something ready before the kids come back in." or "Susan, remember we were going to brainstorm some ideas for a math chat. Let's do that now."
- Jump in quick and change the subject. "Ok. Well, is anyone planning a fabulous vacation I can drool over?"
- Offer constructive advice. "It sounds like you are quite upset. Have you spoken with the principal about this situation? Perhaps he/she could help you find a workable solution so you can be at peace."
- Find a private time to say what's bothering you. "Jim, I appreciate your need to blow off steam, but it upsets me when teachers speak badly of students. Perhaps we could find other topics of conversation at lunch."
- If the problem persists, speak with your principal or another colleague for advice on how to handle the situation.Everyone deserves a truly restful atmosphere in the teacher lunch room. It's not ok for one or two to make it uncomfortable for the others.
- Exit stage left. If nothing is working to bring about positive change, find a few colleagues that feel the same and organize regular lunches together in your classrooms. Have fun with it. Set ground rules for conversation or set a topic each day- no school talk, only talk about imaginary vacations, my best lesson ever, or whatever you want. If others ask to join they are welcome but have to abide by the rules.
As you get your classroom ready for the new school year, get your strategy ready for maintaining a loving heart and mind in your speech. You can make a difference in your school by your example. Lead on!