Let's Take Back Our Staff Lounge!

by multilingualmania on March 18, 2010

in Uncategorized

When many teachers first enter teacher preparation programs, one warning that they are typically given is that they should try to stay away from the staff lounge. In some schools, the staff lounge can be a toxic environment, poisoning many teachers who initially begin teaching with good intentions for their students.

When I first became a teacher, I initially attempted to stay away from the staff lounge. But eventually I began to get lonely working with students all day long and not having contact with other adults, so I began to sometimes eat in the dreaded staff lounge.

Over the years, the outrageous and inappropriate comments that I was forced to listen to never ceased to amaze me. In fact, they often outraged me and made my blood boil.

But I never said anything.

I never said anything when one day a teacher shouted to me across the room that I needed to “Speak English!” when asking another colleague in Spanish if they had change for the soda machine. I never said anything when a group of white teachers constantly griped about affirmative action, claiming that they were given a raw deal while African American and Latino students were handed everything on a silver platter.

I never said anything on all of those occasions when some teachers complained about all of the supposed “illegal immigrants” in our school. I didn’t say a word when teachers would openly blame our bilingual program for low test scores, although most of the English learners in the school were in English programs. Nor did I say anything when one of the teachers frankly told me, “If this was a pond, these kids and families would be the scum suckers at the bottom”.  I most definitely didn’t speak up when even some of my own colleagues in the bilingual program spoke negatively of bilingual education and admitted that they didn’t really want to be bilingual teachers.

I just sat and silently had a mini-meltdown. And the whole time I was ashamed of myself because I didn’t have the guts to speak up to these toxic people.

For years, I experienced similar insults every time I entered that damn staff lounge. And then one day I just snapped and decided that enough was enough.

I can remember the day clearly when all of the usual suspects were sitting in the staff lounge whining, complaining and griping about one thing or the other. Suddenly, one of the teachers began to insult undocumented immigrant students. Using his “legal” girlfriend as the example of an upstanding immigrant to the United States, he began to speak incessantly about how “these people” broke the law and they shouldn’t be here. Not to mention that “these people” are so lazy and disrespectful (according to him), because they refused to learn English.

I snapped. I decided that I could no longer allow negative teachers to suck those of us who love our jobs into their misery. Negativity and low morale spreads like wildfire, and I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore because the negativity was starting to seep into my thoughts at times.

“These are children that we are talking about,” I said. A few people looked up and took notice that I was saying something. “You can’t blame children for something that they had nothing to do with”.

“Well, the parents are to blame. They shouldn’t have broken the law. If they want to be here, they should go through the proper channels,” he said.

At first I thought that reasoning with him might help him to have a little empathy. “I’m sure that if you were starving to death, or you wanted to give your children a better life, then you would probably do whatever it took to have a better life for your children”, I reasoned.

To the best of my recollection, I can’t recall exactly what he said, but I do know that he continued on for another ranting session about the students and their parents.

Suddenly, I raised my voice and said, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you get the hell out of here? Go try to find a school where you can just teach white kids. If you speak so negatively of these kids, I can’t imagine that you are putting much heart and soul into teaching them”.

Everyone in the room looked absolutely shocked. Honestly, I was perfectly shocked at myself and a little bit intimidated.

“Why do you work here, if you hate these kids and the families? I know, I know, you work here because you can get away with it. You can get away with abusing these kids, yelling at these kids, being mean to the kids, and talking bad about these kids. If you don’t want to love these kids, then get the hell out”, I practically screamed. I admit that my response was a little bit excessive.

“I am getting the hell out,” he explained. “I put in a transfer”.

“Good, but I can assure you that if you go to a higher income school that the parents won’t allow you to act like this. You only do it here because you think that these kids are just throw away kids,” I said as I stormed out the door.

Later that day, I was called into the principal’s office and was more or less chastised because I had raised my voice at him. By that time, I had already had enough and I told her, “Fine, if I am going to get written up then I will be happy to sign it because I am not okay with the horrible things that far too many teachers are being allowed to say in the staff lounge”. She of course never wrote me up.

Funny, isn’t it? It’s sad that many of these bullies are allowed to terrorize us for years, but when some of us speak up we are perceived as being aggressive or inappropriate.

After that day, another one of the negative teachers came up to me and said, “We are all afraid of saying something in front of you because we think that you will chew us out”.

“You should be worried about it, because I WILL!” I exclaimed.

After that day, not one single teacher ever made any inappropriate comments in my presence again. Years later when I became an administrator myself, I learned that such behavior should not be tolerated in a school and that educational leaders must put an end to it as soon as it is brought to their attention, because such behavior is a form of harassment and discrimination.

As educators, we’ve got to take back our staff lounges and schools that have been hijacked by toxic people.

It’s imperative that we no longer just sit and take it when people are tearing down the students, the parents and the community. We have to speak out against such unprofessional behavior, by either confronting bullies directly or demanding that our administrators put an end to whatever is occurring. We have a moral obligation to stick up for the children who we are being paid to serve, and we have a right to work in a positive environment that allows us to flourish as professionals.

When we do nothing to stop the negative behavior of some of our colleagues, then we are also part of the problem.

Don’t be part of the problem.

You Might Also Like:

Daily Dose of Anti-Bilingual Passive Agression

Secret Diary of a Bilingual Educator: Linguistic Discrimination in the Schoolhouse

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison March 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Wow. Clearly our teachers need more education and diversity training. It’s pretty shocking that people like that are teaching our kids. Standards need to be higher. Diversity training, psychological evaluations, and perhaps a master’s degree?

multilingualmania March 18, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Diversity training is a must!

beri March 18, 2010 at 10:34 pm

wow….good show…good show….

multilingualmania March 18, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Do you know who that was beri? you know who (with the long blond ponytail). Do you remember him?

wenjonggal March 19, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Wow! That was great! Like watching one of those movies like The Color Purple or Norma Jean (I am sure I am seriously dating myself)…. I wanted to stand up in the theater and cheer reading this and how you stood up for those kids! And I totally agree with this statement:

“We have a moral obligation to stick up for the children who we are being paid to serve, and we have a right to work in a positive environment that allows us to flourish as professionals.”

I find it boggling… what, it is going to help the US (any country) to NOT give education and healthcare to kids within the country because you have some issues of some sort with the parents (immigrants, illegal or not, their politics, their race etc)… Isn’t your country going to be better for your own kids and yourself by giving these kids the respect, language, education, healthcare etc that they need to be productive members? Perhaps they would prefer that the kids were like kids in India, begging on the streets with untreated wounds and diseases, rather than in schools? Anyways, thanks for an inspiring read and thank you on behalf of the kids, and everyone else who has to work there.

Rebecca March 20, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I think we should speak up before we get so angry that it has to be a confrontation. At first, when you speak up even in a kind way, people will be careful about what they say around you.

But I think that this is the first step for some people toward thinking about their ideas. Over time, they can move from thinking, “Oh, I better not say that in front of her” to “Oh, I better not say that. It might offend someone” to “Oh, I better not say that. People might get the wrong idea about me.”

Perhaps eventually those thoughts leave their minds entirely.

Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot March 21, 2010 at 2:28 am

Melanie, you’re a brave woman and I am in awe of you. Well done for standing up for what you believe in and for all those kids. You do have to feel sorry for people who are basically ignorant and narrow-minded. But as they are teachers it’s not ok that they continue like that, they do need to be educated and it’s great that you started a process and shook up the thinking in that school.

Felicitaciones amiga:)

multilingualmania March 22, 2010 at 12:39 am

Oh, what a nice comment that you wanted to stand up and cheer! That’s nice. I love, love, love The Color Purple!

I don’t get it either-the reason why people don’t want to make this country a better place. I sometimes think that we live in a pseudo-apartheid state and many people are totally okay with that and start losing it when they privilege is threatened in some way.

multilingualmania March 22, 2010 at 12:42 am

Very true, Rebecca. I wish that I would have spoken up much sooner before it got to the point where I had to blow up!

I really hope that your thoughts abut the steps people take really happens!

multilingualmania March 22, 2010 at 12:43 am

Thanks for your kind words! Sometimes it is hard to stand up for what we believe in, but sometimes we just have to do it-especially when children are involved!

C... March 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Bravo! Toxicity exists everywhere but it grows and festers when you don’t speak up! You did the right thing. People that have never had to starve and fight for their lives don’t understand what it’s like to be desperate to feed their family. The lazy people he’s encountered are a damn shame in any race but that does not qualify the rest of us who work our asses off!! I am child of immigrant parents, I was born in Mexico, Spanish is my native language and I speak it whenever and wherever I damn well please, I have an MBA and I work daily and support myself (FYI I divorced a white guy because he was a lazy momma’s boy – so don’t tell me Mexicans are the only lazy people) Damn straight!

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