New teachers are often given the advice, “Avoid the teachers’ lounge.” The rationale behind this advice is that it can be a place filled with complaints and negativity. I followed this advice for many years, eating lunch alone in my classroom. I really didn’t mind this situation because I had other times in the day to connect with adults. However, things changed when I had my baby. There were no longer any spare moments at school to chat with colleagues and my evenings were filled with taking care of the baby and then collapsing out of exhaustion. In an effort to get some conversation with adults during the day, I started to eat lunch in the teachers’ lounge with my colleagues.
At first, things went really well. We swapped quick dinner recipes, talked about the lessons we were excited about, chatted about new TV shows, and discussed exercising and healthy living. The negativity that I had heard so much about was not present. I even missed my lunch crew over summer break and looked forward to reconnecting in the fall.
That next fall some new teachers joined our school. Our lunch crew welcomed them warmly and a few of them decided to join us. If it had been any year other than 2016, things probably would have gone well. Unfortunately, the election vitriol found its way into our teachers’ lounge. It started innocently enough. People would scroll through their phones and glance at the news while their lunch was in the microwave. A comment would be made about what was in the headlines. This is where the downward spiral began; our lunch group had a diverse array of opinions about politics, so no comment was neutral. Once a comment about politics was made, the rest of lunch was spent in vigorous discussion and debate. I really commend my colleagues; every debate was civil and respectful. Over time though, the disagreements built up and the atmosphere became negative. Although our issue was politics, I can easily imagine this happening with school issues as well. –- One teacher has a really rough morning and shares the story with the group. Over time, others piggyback on this, sharing the challenges they are having with students, parents, or administration.— While honest conversation about politics and teaching are absolutely vital, it is also possible to get stuck in the quicksand of negativity. I even started to notice that the daily negativity was having an impact on my afternoon classes.
Eventually, we instituted a “no politics in the teachers’ lounge” rule. One teacher chided others if they veered toward politics or negativity, “Puppies and babies! Those are the only acceptable topics. Puppies and babies!” Although the puppies and babies category is a bit limited, it is a memorable phrase. If you choose to spend time in a teachers’ lounge, make every effort to steer the discussions to positive topics. Great things to talk about are your dog, your kids, travel plans, books you’re reading, TV shows you’re watching, and recipes you’re trying. You’ll find that the teachers’ lounge is a much more pleasant place to be if everyone decides to cooperate.