I tried to remember what they’d “heard about” and thought about the students we’d just been discussing. It took about five seconds of searching the cobwebs in my brain and examining the context clues to remember and I replied, “Oh yeah, that.”
After the bell rang and our 25 minutes of lunchtime ended, my friend asked, “What was she talking about?”
“Oh, I got into an argument with another student about politics last year and it was pretty unprofessional. We hashed it out privately and I apologized to the class for letting things get so heated. I guess some of the kids got gossipy or something,” I told him. He shrugged and we moved on; after all, it was a conversation about something that had happened last year.
It wasn’t the first, nor will be the last time I have a conversation like that with a fellow teacher, or even a parent. I’m sure we’ve all been there: the comment from a colleague about how many of your students seem to go to the bathroom during a class period, the snotty “Well, I hear that class is out of control” comment from a parent (which usually but not always has the phrase “and I’ve heard from several other people”), or the “What are you doing in your [period #] that has everyone complaining?” It makes you automatically defensive and is probably the quickest way to discourage sharing and collaboration between colleagues (second place being the show-off know-it-all who is always demonstrating what he/she does in his/her classroom at faculty meetings, keeping you there annoyingly late) or meaningful conversation between parents and teachers.
Not to be a complete negative my sister here but in our constant talking and talking and talking and talking to death about collaboration and sharing and students first and what teachers should do (seriously, I swear that one day Peter Sellers is going to get up in the middle of an #edchat and scream, “Mein Führer! I can walk!”), we don’t seem to stop and reflect on how much rumor and gossip affect our teaching. Sure, there are those of us who will claim they can rise above it, but those people aside, how many of us have classroom policies that are designed around us not getting talked about? How many of us avoid teaching certain material because parents have complained in the past? How many of us do whatever we can to avoid being referred to as that teacher?
More importantly, how do we stop this … if it’s even possible? Being a great teacher won’t do it because then you’ll get the reputation as the arrogant know-it-all kiss-ass. I’d say that just blowing off rumor and walking away from conversations like the one I had in the opening of this post is a good tactic as well, but that’s not always easy (especially if you’re like me and tend to internalize just about everything). It is human nature for us to cut one another down to make ourselves feel better (if it wasn’t, E! or TMZ wouldn’t exist), and if we don’t at least acknowledge the reality of that, then we’ll never get anywhere toward solving anything.