I wonder what my teachers were saying about me and my friends when we were in middle school. I wonder this because I am a teacher. Because of this, I am privy to conversations that take place in staffrooms amongst educators. Boy, do they be talking talking. It isn’t an everyday thing, but every now and then, when I hear it, it makes me wonder what my teachers were saying about me.
“Mashon is gonna’ end up in jail. Kid just doesn’t know how to get out of his own way.” So, as educators, are we just going to sit around until time rings our predictions true or false? “Sharrita is going to end up pregnant by 16, watch.” Damn, would you talk about your own daughter, sister, or niece like that? And if you thought so, would you sit by? Part of my reflection process occurs in the confinements that only teachers are allowed access to––the lunchrooms, staffrooms, places inside schools before the morning bell rings or long after home time. In these spaces, I hear some things that make me question the character of those who chose the profession of public service through educating youth.
Maybe it is because I walk the hallways I once strolled some twenty years ago that I feel a closer connection to the students. Perhaps it is because I know all the apartment building addresses and stores around the neighbourhood that my conversations with students are a little more personable than the next teacher. I don’t know the reason for internalizing the heat I feel when I hear other teachers speak despairingly about current students they teach on a daily basis.
But I know I am gonna’ pop off at the mouth one day, and it won’t be nice. It’ll probably go a little something like this.
How can you talk empathy, kindness, service, love and anti-whatever out one side of your mouth in front of your students and utter negativity out the other side when speaking with colleagues? Do you not realize the salt you are throwing into the atmosphere––an atmosphere that must be adversarial to just that? This dialogue, even in a joking manner, harms not only the teachers around you who are listening to you but the students who can innately pick up on your insensitivity to their futures. Keep that energy to yourself, because many of us are trying to unburden these children with your status quo, unsanctioned condemnation.
I contend that most teachers want the best for the students they teach. I sometimes have trouble with the methods in which they go about attaining this goal. Especially when it comes in the form of vocalizing their disdain for particular students in the staffroom. I know we all have tough days and, at certain times, particular students grind our gears. But there is a level of professionalism that all teachers must strive towards, no matter tenure nor circumstance. We have all slipped in this regard. But many slip into making this occasional venting practice a venerable habit. And then they wonder why the kids don’t like them. And they get mad at that. And it snowballs. And who loses when this happens?
Well not everyone. These teachers are still paid the same and still come to work doing their job in whatever manner they please. But, the students––they experience internal scars that often last well longer than a school year or even a scholastic career. So please, don’t talk that noise around me, keep that energy to yourself.