One of the more toxic places in school happens to be the teachers’ lounge. The teachers’ lounge is supposedly a safe haven for teachers to go to without fear of being pestered by students or administrators. But that safe haven often becomes a den of venting teachers. Venting can be therapeutic, however, a therapy session can go south very quickly.
While you’ll never walk into a lounge with every teacher present, multiple teachers congregate there – in the mornings before the 1st bell, during random preps, common lunchtimes and at the end of the day. The more teachers that are in a there, the greater likelihood you’ll hear some negative talk about what’s happening in the building. The negative talk could be about administration, students, parents and even your teacher colleagues. Too much negative talk creates a toxic environment. For a new teacher, toxicity can demoralize their efforts to attempt their best work for their students. For veteran teachers, toxicity heard and felt in the teachers’ lounge can make you ready to run to the hills and get out of dodge.
Now I must be honest, there are times when going into the teachers’ lounge means working with teachers and actually creating solutions to problems in the classroom and in the building. Not to mention, the copy machine is usually there along with the staff refrigerator and microwave. However, opportunities for problem-solving also happen in classrooms. Also, you can eat elsewhere after retrieving and warming your food from the teachers’ lounge. So, is the teachers’ lounge a great place or is it a dungeon of negativity? It all depends on how you treat it. Just like any classroom, you can set the tone for the type of teachers’ lounge you want for your building. However, you may not feel strong enough to assert yourself in a way that confronts toxicity of any kind. Navigating and negotiating the teachers’ lounge is very complex; there is no one specific answer and what to do when confronted with teachers’ lounge toxicity. However, there are some strategies that you can use to help make the teachers’ lounge experience better for you and your colleagues:
- Refrain from gossiping and toxic venting when in the teachers’ lounge. You shouldn’t gossip at all and your venting should be for select ears at appropriate moments. But the teacher’s lounge shouldn’t be your “go-to” to do vent or gossip. Here’s why. All teachers are struggling with students, parents, district regulations and administrative nonsense – every teacher has a story to tell. But all those stories can weigh you down and all storytellers do not have a filter. You can’t control anyone but yourself. So you must resolve to hold your piece… unless speaking yields a productive result.
- Speak positivity and encouragement every time you meet negativity and discouragement. Life happens… work happens. Sometimes folk will be discouraged and ready to give in to negativity. When the spirit leads you, offer a positive word of encouragement. Your words may be just the thing to change the course of one’s day.
- Turn venting sessions into problem-solving sessions. When discussing frustrations, pose it as an opportunity for problem-solving. There will be times when you’ll be frustrated and you’ll speak to your colleagues. However, when you do, don’t just vent. Make it an opportunity for you and your colleague(s) to problem solve on your behalf. Do the same for them.
- Start a group with other teachers to brighten up the teachers’ lounge. Work with your colleagues to provide treats for all faculty and make the teachers’ lounge aesthetically pleasing. You could do this by yourself but working with others splits the labor, cost and builds community. Beautifying the teachers’ lounge and offering treats and/or tokens of appreciation to teachers can change the atmosphere of the room – a change most faculty will feel. That can begin to change how faculty carries themselves when in the teachers’ lounge.
- Only use the lounge to accomplish a task. If you need to make copies, make copies and leave. If you need to get your lunch and warm it up, do that and leave. If you need to do anything in the teachers’ lounge, do it and leave. Visiting the lounge with a purpose will keep you with a focus in the face of conversations that walk the line between venting and complaining – about an administrator, a student or another teacher. Get in and get out.
The teachers’ lounge isn’t the worst place in a school. However, it can be one of the more toxic spaces in a school. Be sure to choose your actions and words wisely when visiting so that you leave an inspirational word while not falling prey to the negativity; of any kind. Schools are places of hope. There is no room for a space of horror.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!