Gentle giants.

Trying to be the big person isn’t easy.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”–Eleanor Roosevelt

Confession: sometimes my mind, and actions, hits all three sides. Perhaps, though, there is form and function in all points: we need the ideas, we need to analyze events, and we strive to understand one another. Gossip and venting for its own sake are counterproductive, but is it a necessary evil?

Jason Deehan recently posted in Edutopia, “Should Venting About Students be Banned?” and his conclusion is yes. He dug further to consider consequences, and found this:

First, I found an article on Psychology Today. The article acknowledged that venting had healthy properties. For instance, venting is helpful in releasing pent-up negative emotions. However, the positives are counterbalanced by a number of significant concerns:

  • Venting gives the venter the false sense of achieving something – it feels like problem-solving, but really isn’t

  • When you vent often, you get better and better at it and that will only lead to more anger in the future when encountering similar situations

The “false sense of achieving something” struck a nerve. I’m writing about this for intentionality: to keep that sense in my mind so I can grow and improve: is my conversation/exchange going to produce a positive change?  Thinking before one speaks — not a novel idea, but an important one. If I can say, at the end of a reflection or introspection, I am trying to stand on top of things that drag down and don’t lift up, then I can live with my conscience. My teaching philosophy is and has been, our students are someone’s baby. We have the greatest responsibility in the world to those children. If our venting doesn’t shift to action and support, then it’s a waste of everyone’s time. And that is bordering on unforgivable.

What is far too common is the frustration I have felt when particular students come up again and again in conversation and then nothing changes – there is never a discussion of fixes or solutions. Venting needs to be coupled with problem-solving strategies to ensure that whatever situation is generating the vexation is successfully addressed. We need to move forward and get off the ceaseless treadmill of merely complaining.

This may be the singular reason why I haven’t eaten in the staff lounge for years. It only takes a few colleagues to vent not only about students, but policies, instruction and educational culture  to chase me out. When I walk in the staff lounge it’s a scene from Mean Girls. One of my colleagues started a “no venting” jar like a swear jar in the staff lounge a few years ago, but alas, it didn’t change behaviors. But that’s only 20 minutes out of the day: no one can adjudicate adult behaviors. The good news is most adults act like adults, so helping model manners and belonging isn’t difficult.

Back to the focus on students: this is when teams and PLCs should perhaps consider a genuine and difficult conversation around this topic of venting about students. Often the PLCs I’ve participated in allow a 3-minute vent session, and then it’s stopped. We get onto more productive work. Perhaps a small shift would bring big changes: identify issues and work to problem solve together. I’m thinking of the student who mocked the other one before the presentations: I would greatly value hearing from trusted colleagues on how they pre-teach audience behaviors, etc. These sorts of issues are real, and with supportive exchanges can be beneficial. A cure, as it were, to the venting disease.

The challenge is to promote constructive dialogue about students in order to advocate for them. I reviewed this post with my husband, and he thought the article held truth, too. This isn’t meant to shame anyone except myself, and take myself to task, these are only my own thoughts and reflection on this issue. Perhaps this is how good teachers don’t burn out: I wonder if venting without solutions makes one cranky.

And last confession: I like that time during lunch. A few students who enjoy the quiet, removed from the chaos of the lunchroom sometimes join me, and it’s quite pleasant indeed. Everyone needs a place to vent safely, and finding those compadres and spaces are important to our mental health, too.