Monday, January 4, 2010

The Teachers' Lounge - Proceed At Your Own Risk

Yesterday I wrote about the good, the bad and the ugly associated with the last Sunday night of a glorious break spent reading, sleeping, cocktailing, and making progress on one's personal To Do List (or is that just blissful for me?)

Chances are you had a pretty good first day back (if this is indeed your first day back). In my experience, the kids are too tired to act up, and everyone is on their best behavior ( I mean the adults...it's hard to dig up real drama on the first day back...and if you can dig up real drama after two weeks of rest, then where is YOUR blog?). Minus the whole alarm clock going off thing, it was usually a pretty good day for me. Besides seeing my friends, one of the things I looked forward to the most was catching up with my Super Colleagues. These are the people you share your everyday with, who probably know you better than most people or at least can tell when you need to go grocery shopping (hence the PB&J for lunch hastily wrapped in aluminum foil) and can sense just by looking at you that the day is not going well (although tears are usually a dead giveaway.) It's great to see all those faces after a nice long break. The long chatty lunches, the lingering in each other's doorways, the friendly smiles in the hallway...

However, chances also are that after today is over, you will be EXHAUSTED. Drop dead, lay down on a kid's desk, shuffle around your classroom in bare feet, just rest your eyes a little and wake up face down on your planner tired. (I have actually woken up with smudged math plans and pencil on my forehead, totally disoriented.)

On TV and in the movies, this is the part of the day where teachers clad entirely in dry-clean only outfits that make you feel bad about what you wear to work every day, head to the teachers' lounge for a restorative cup of coffee and some shameless flirting with the gorgeous male staff that seems to be in abundance. I may be dating myself, but do you people remember Boston Public? Maybe I'm hallucinating, but I seem to remember their teachers' lounge was filled with stainless steel appliances, dark wood tables, gorgeous counter tops and beautiful accent chairs. Oh, and women with far too much cleavage who can't seem to stop dating the people they work with. (Cut to me watching TV with my mouth slightly agape and a general "WTF?" expression on my face.) No, I wasn't teaching when Boston Public graced the airwaves with it's fairly unrealistic presence, however I was very familiar with the reality of the teachers' lounge. After all, I had spent many hours in the teachers' lounge at my mother's school (Big Momma Mimi) and at the time, it was filled with bizarre orange vinyl furniture, mismatched wooden chairs, a scary old stove and a refrigerator in desperate need of a deep clean or someone to just put it out of it's misery and light it on fire. (Are refrigerators even flammable? Whatever, it was gross and needed to GO.) It's better now, but still a far cry from the gorgeous show of interior design and comfort exhibited on Boston Public.

At least Glee is a little better. I mean, they don't make the teachers' lounge look like a luxury condo, however I still find that teachers are able to spend WAY TOO MUCH time there. Where is the running to the photo copier? The 100-yard dash to the bathroom? The falling asleep at your planner after school? Maybe that's all just too glamorous to be believable...

My school didn't even have a teachers' lounge. I think they might think they did, but they didn't. We ate in each other's classrooms, which honestly was fine by me since we usually worked through most of our lunch rather than linger over gourmet meals and flirt with the male stuff. You know, we had stuff to do. Like teaching or whatever. And while the post holiday chatter was wonderful and missed over the break, some of this chatter can quickly turn to a feeling of "Holy shit, is it (enter time) already? I have a million things to do!!!"

The other danger of the teachers' lounge/classroom eatery/incessant chatter that is rarely explored on the silver screen is that this lovely chatter can often quickly turn toxic. Don't get me wrong, EVERYONE needs to vent every once in awhile - I mean, I think I might be the queen of venting, the president of complaining, the high chief of bitching, but I digress. These venting sessions are cathartic and necessary to our ability to keep a smile plastered on our face in front of small children. After these venting lunch sessions, I always felt better, understood, listened to, validated and ready for the afternoon. That feeling is the key determining factor you see. Because when venting becomes toxic, you can easily walk out with a black cloud following you, a knot in your stomach, a sense of dread about the rest of the day/week/month, a desire to slit your wrists or stuff your face with chocolate scored from the office secretary's desk in the rush to pick your students up from recess. (Mini Kit Kat bars, I'm looking at YOU!) Whatever the feeling is, you know it and it's bad.

These periods of toxic talk would come in waves (and I would often find myself to be an instigator...i know, you're shocked) which I was eventually able to sense or predict. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. During my never-ending quest to Be More Positive In (Enter the Year Here), I have tried many tactics, some of which you may find successful and I will share them with you here in an attempt to support you who have always been so supportive of me.

* When you feel a wave of toxic talk on the horizon, claim that you are swamped with things to do (which is probably also always true as well) and you NEED to eat alone. In your room. With the door closed. And Pandora on. Spend a few minutes eating and many minutes crossing things off your list. As you know, I find the sound of a Sharpie slicing through a completed To Do as satisfying as a good venting session.

* Pick a day of the week where you aren't allowed to talk about school related things at all during lunch. This is harder than it sounds as teachers love nothing more than rivaling one another for the Worst Story Ever, but it is totally worth it.

* Talk to your lunch buddies and decide that the first X number of minutes (no more than 10) will be dedicated to complaining/venting/b*tching, but that the remaining fleeting minutes will be Positive Talk Only.

* Wrap yourself in caution tape when you're feeling totally negative and in no way want to talk about it in any sort of manner that will be productive. Do everyone else a favor.

I think I might have actually just given some advice. Huh. Take it or leave it, but know it's my attempt to help you have an even better 2010. (Because contrary to popular Mrs. Mimi-hater belief, I do not live on a high horse thinking I have all the answers...if I had all the answers...oh, if I had all the answers I'd like to think I'd use the power for good, not evil.)

Hold out hand. Insert Sharpie. Blog post number four? Check.

9 comments:

ChiTown Girl said...

This was exactly what I needed to read today. Right now, it's rest time, and I'm actually enjoying a few minutes of peace and quiet. Actually, it's more like snoring, but whatever! (Gotta love how sleepy they are when they come back from break!)

halpey1 said...

Um, trying being the only MAN in a room full of women during lunch. It can be DANGEROUS as well as toxic. :) I'm not complaining... just saying.

Stu said...

I miss the back to school talks in the doorways with my colleagues :(

I broke my foot over vacation and, while some may think I did it on purpose to extend the winter recess for another two weeks, I am truly distressed at not being back today. I tried to do as much as I could over email, but, of course, most everyone was too busy (read: Exhausted) to respond.

Now...to positive thinking, venting in the teachers lounge and working lunches with tuna salad or pb&j on the spelling books...

It takes a monumental strength of will to keep from venting in the teachers lounge...and that's why so many of us don't go in there. Instead, we vent to our closest colleagues in the doorway. The stress level involved with teaching day in and day out necessitates that expression. It's the way we keep our sanity, think of ideas to solve problems, get sympathy, bounce solutions off an objective third party (who is secretly sitting there thinking, "omg, I am glad that is not in my class"). That expression is necessary...and I don't think that venting is always negative. Sometimes what sounds negative can be very therapeutic and lead to very positive results in personal achievement, or changes in instruction or class management. So don't always feel like you need to "be positive." A little friction is valuable. This is not to say that constant whining is good, but constructive "venting" is different.

Mimi said...

STU!!! I'm so sorry you broke your foot! Hope you are feeling better soon!

John Spencer said...

I think it depends upon the staff climate. I personally enjoy the staff lounge and both the academic and non-academic conversation we have.

Susan said...

I totally understand about the teacher's lounge! Our lounge used to be a locker room. We have to step into the shower to use the microwave, refrigerators, and pop machine. Classy, let me tell you!

Kimberly said...

Today my room was 56 degrees for the first 6 hours of the day. I teach in the northeast and the wind flinging the trees from side to side didn't make us feel any warmer, either! Believe me, today was a day for the teachers' lounge!!!! Let's compare the temperatures so we can feel worse! (Yes, the heat was fixed by day's end. In defense of our principal it was working correctly yesterday, a Sunday, when he came in to turn it back up.)

Rebecca said...

I am laughing because I had a JELLY sandwich today. That's right, I didn't make it to the grocery store and we were out of peanut butter. And as you know, the only store within a 5 mile radius of my school is a liquor store so Jelly Sandwich is was.

Our Teacher's Lounge is a giant science experiment of leftovers. Eesh.

Dragonrider said...

We have this week off still but it's filled with appointments, cleaning up the classroom, etc. I sure needed to read this! I must try to go to bed early instead of staying up reading or on the computer.
I just bought your book! I can't wait for it to arrive!

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