Teach & Serve
No. 37 * April 27, 2016
Related Content from And There Came A Day:
. Even in the privacy of our own homes, if we’re out there on the computer or on our phones, we are On.We are On continuously. Perpetually. All the time.
Do you hang out in the faculty lounge at your school? Do you spend time in your department office when you know you should be elsewhere? Does your school have a water cooler and do you stand around it even after you’ve filled up your trusty Nalgene or Camelback?
There is something that happens, often something good, when people are standing around the Faculty Lounge, are sitting in groups in their departments and are hanging out at the water cooler. There is a kind of kinship that takes place at the cooler, a synergy in the department, community building in the Lounge.
There are a great many things that we are not told in “teacher school.” There are a great many things never shared in interviews. There are a great many things we have to learn on our on in this work. One of those pearls of wisdom that we are rarely told before we sign a contract, especially our first, is how perpetually On we are when we are educators.
I used to say that teachers were On from the moment they stepped out of their cars in the parking lot in the morning. Then I had a teacher regale me with a story about how he followed the school’s bus through his neighborhood and the kids in the back of the bus were shooting “the universal sign of hello” at drivers, including him. They didn’t realize, of course, who he was. But that teacher felt compelled to deal with the students’ behaviors when he arrived at school. Clearly, the guy was On even before his loafers hit the macadam of the school’s lot.
So I modified this and said that teachers were On whenever they were in public. I mean, which of you hasn’t run into a student or, potentially worse, a parent at the mall or the movies and found yourself slipping readily into Teacher Mode? When we are in Teacher Mode, our voices change, our behaviors change, our psyches change. We are not just who we are; we are educator. Let’s make a good show.
When social media hit hard (I love sounding like a troglodytic dinosaur as I write!) and we dealt with our first teacher confirming a student Facebook friend and when I read the first inappropriate Tweet by a staff member, I revised this being “on” theory again. Even in the privacy of our own homes, if we’re out there on the computer or on our phones, we are On.
We are On continuously. Perpetually. All the time.
Because of that, the moments we steal together at the water cooler, the metaphorical one or the literal one, are so very important. Educational professionals need downtime with one another. They need a place to be with one another, to download among those who get it. They need a haven. From time immemorial, the water cooler has provided this refuge.
Are all the words shared at the water cooler constructive? Is every moment in the Faculty Lounge positive? Does some kind of egalitarian philosophy of thought and language dominate the discourse in the department office?
Am I an idiot?
Without question, there are moments at the water cooler that can tend towards the destructive rather than the constructive. There are “sessions” (we know what kind) that occur in the Faculty Lounge which are not necessarily concerned with school or personal improvement. There are conversations in the department office which do not showcase us as our best selves.
But even these, even they have their place. Sometimes we go to the water cooler to blow off steam. If we do not take that outlet, away from the students, among our peers, the steam will explode in some other context at some other time.
If we don’t go to the water cooler to praise one another, to laugh at each other, to take ourselves less, not more, seriously, we are surely missing out on the experience of sharing the work with our colleagues.
In my new role, I have a home office. My commute is 20 feet down the hallway from where I sleep. If one discounts the pets (and they are not terrific co-workers), I work alone, almost in isolation. So, when Skype for Business lights up, when an IM message tone rings, when I reach out to contact someone in our Chicago or Washington, DC office, I am immediately energized and in a better place.
I want some water cooler time, to react, to recharge, to revive, to renew. I want that water cooler time. I need it.
We all do.