First week is winding down. Lunch on Friday and sitting in the teachers lounge and we are all fitting into our little stereotypes and roles already. Two new people at the table and they are finding their place.
Teaching is unique in that (in schools where I've taught at least) there is one, or two, people in charge, but then a large band of equals. Yes, you might have a department head in a big high school, and of course seniority and experience changes interactions, but for the most part, it's all chickens in the henhouse doing their own jobs and not interacting on a professional basis. I meet with my partner and I'm trying to mentor her as best I can, but I am not beholden to the science teacher or the art teacher or the 3rd grade aide. There is little collaboration and our rooms are our tiny kingdoms to be ruled pretty much as we wish.
The teachers lounge can be a toxic place. It can be a place to air grievances about parents or students. It is not a safe place, either--complain about a colleague and watch how fast that smacks you in the face. It is a place to talk about lawncare and vacations and your own childrens' schools and how great or terrible they are. "How are you?" should be met with "I'm fine." Your coworkers are not your friends. Not in the lounge they aren't. You sit after school in a bar with one or two of them as time goes on, maybe. But in the lounge you are an gazelle on the Serengeti. Don't get comfortable or the hyenas will circle.
Last year, I picked a word to guide my thinking and actions. My word was fishing. I was casting my nets into deep water. I was getting out of the boat. I was looking and searching and trying.
Sitting in the lounge today, I knew what my word was going to be.
I have spent three years smiling and nodding at my colleagues. Even when I thought they were ridiculous and pedagogically simple-minded. I can forgive a lot, as long as you're nice to kids and try your best. I spent three years figuring these people out, this building out. And this year is the year I find my voice. I have to be brave when I think something is wrong. I can't value harmony over justice and I need to have an opinion.
But Sally, you say, you always have an opinion! Yes, yes I do. I rail against the administration whenever it rubs me the wrong way. I ask questions at faculty meetings. I propose ideas. Solutions. I hate "that's the way we've always done it." If my boss asks me what I think I always tell her. I am unafraid of speaking truth to power, because inherently I have no power in the situation and therefore little to lose. I am not going to be fired for saying "I don't like the computer review program I'm being forced to use, can we evaluate its effectiveness?" or "I think you should hire her because she understood what I was talking about when I brought up interactive notebooks." I don't bitch about unimportant things and I make sure that any given hill is the one I'm willing to die on before I advance. But I always advance when it's me representing myself, other teachers, or students, and the hill has my boss standing at the top.
But I'm not speaking truth to power when I'm talking to colleagues. I'm speaking as an equal. Yes, I can tell my new partner how I do things and I can try to be a good mentor--but in the end she has to make her own way. But I have never felt it to be my place to tell any other colleague that what was happening in her classroom bothered me. That students came to me worried about his class. That something got back to me in a conference with a parent. I take that information from students and parents and combine it with my own observations and decide what I think about my colleagues. For sure I do that. And I learn who to trust and who to keep it light with and who to avoid because she's a dragon.
I don't, however, give advice, bring up uncomfortable subjects, or confront an equal about something that's going on that needs to change or even that simply needs to be known.
Trust me, they do it to me.
They do it to me all the time.
"I think the way you set up the math groups is going to come around to bite you in the ass."
"I can't believe you thought she was algebra material."
"You know he acts up all over the school. The fact that you didn't give him a U for behavior undermines the rest of us."
"If you let students pick their own seats, they'll complain about my class where they can't."
"Don't let students back in to get materials, it teaches them they don't have to care."
"Your room gets loud sometimes and I don't want to have to close my own door so you need to."
"Stop talking to my students, this isn't a social time. They need to get to homeroom."
But I would never, ever, ever in a zillion years (I'm a math teacher so I know that's a long time), say anything like that to any of them.
Until today. Today in the lounge I brought something up. Not a bad thing. Not an important thing. A detail. And I framed it in as neutral a way as I could. As one of the sixth grade homeroom teachers, I've noticed that...
And the claws came out.
I was trying to send a semaphore message across the table to this new teacher (not my partner) that she had picked a detail to obsess over that might come back to hurt her. Not something that affects me at all. Not something that even matters to 90% of the students she teaches. But it matters to the small minority.
AND THE SMALL MINORITY IS THE POPULATION WE SHOULD BE MOST ATTUNED TO.
She did not agree. If they want accommodations, they need to approach her individually.
Right, because 6th and 7th grade students have that kind of chutzpah.
"And if parents attack me at open house, so be it. I don't care about that stuff."
Maybe she doesn't. If so she's made of sturdier stuff than I am.
The conversation turned to how resource handles check out procedures. And then to gossip about families and students that I do not participate in when I'm in the lounge because I'm a freaking gazelle on the Serengeti.
I finished my yogurt.
I threw my trash away.
I went back to my room and clicked on youtube.
But it won't be the last time. Because I've picked my word for the year.
My word is Brave.