In college, all of my education professors warned of the dangers of “the teachers’ lounge"—a bastion of gossip and backbiting in schools, they said. I always thought that it must be an over-exaggeration. During my student-teaching assignment, my cooperating teacher was such an incredible mentor that I came to believe the dangers of the teachers’ lounge could only be a myth. She never talked poorly about anyone and always had a positive attitude. Her outlooks on teaching, collaboration, and positive teacher-student interactions were infectious. If the way she conducted herself was any indication, teachers weren’t gossip hounds anymore.
As I moved forward in my own career in teaching, I continued to see the nefarious version of the teachers’ lounge as a kind of misrepresentation. Even so, professors’ words echoed in the back of my mind: “Watch out for the teachers’ lounge.” In my first few years in teaching, I was shy, quiet, and mostly kept to myself unless I was talking with my close friend at work.
What I failed to realize is that the teachers’ lounge has its way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. You don’t even realize it has begun taking hold of you until it has completely sucked you into its vortex of gossip and negativity. To my own detriment, my professors failed to share with me that the teachers’ lounge does not remain only in the teachers’ lounge proper. The teachers’ lounge can be anywhere: a teacher’s classroom, the hallway, or during the time waiting for a faculty meeting. As a matter of fact, the teachers’ lounge is not a place at all. It is an attitude or atmosphere fostered by disenchanted teachers intent on bringing everyone down a level.
It starts out inconspicuously, as any normal conversation might. A coworker comes over to you with a smile on her face and asks a seemingly innocent question, “How did your PLC go today?” That was how it happened for me. My initial reaction was, “Oh, she seems nice.” But behind that friendly smile was someone with the intent of intertwining my words into their vine of stories, and sadly, my naiveté—along with her apparent congeniality—made me easy prey. We were soon chatting about colleagues.
“One little piece of gossip won’t hurt me. And I’m mostly just listening, so I am an innocent bystander.”
That’s what I told myself. But then I got in deeper, by imperceptible degrees.
Since I am a naturally quiet person who listens more than I speak, colleagues soon began coming and telling me all of the “little” things they had seen or heard that day. I had become like Varys on “Game of Thrones,” with little birds gathering whispers from all over the school for me. With such an abundance of gossip running through my mind, I couldn’t contain it all and had to share with someone. Still being completely naïve of the path I had taken, I ran off to the person who asked me that first seemingly innocent question. The words poured out of my mouth with ease: “Did you hear how Smith strolled into Foster’s room today and started bashing Thomas right in front of her kids?!”
Weeks and months passed before I finally realized the path I had taken myself down. I had entered the “teachers’ lounge” without knowing it. I had become a part of the place all my college professors warned me about.
Once you enter the teachers’ lounge, it’s not easy to escape. Everyone expects to be able to share their juicy gossip with you and get information in return. The problem with being a part of the teachers’ lounge is that it breeds negativity. As that negativity festers, it spreads like the plague, polluting the minds of an entire team of teachers. The tragedy of this is that the teachers’ sickness then spreads to the students.
How many times have you had to intervene in he-said, she-said drama with students? We give advice to our students on how to keep these situations from occurring or how to end the dramatics, but how often do we follow our own advice? As teachers, we should be role models.
When faced with the opportunity to join in on the teachers’ lounge, we need to find a reason to walk away or a way to change the topic. We need to rise above the teachers’ lounge mentality and bring positivity back into our schools. The task may not be easy, but if we can place these expectations on our students, then we should take on those same expectations.
Together, as constructive educators, we can defuse the teachers’ lounge of its power.