What Do You Talk About in the Staff Room?

It’s funny how things tie in with each other.

I hadn’t thought much about our staff room since the school finally purchased more chairs. Since I’m not one of those teachers who is in the staff room the moment the bell rings I often could not find a free chair. But that has been taken care of.

Tyson Seburnt’s interesting post “What’s a Staff Room to You?” made me realize that there are other kinds of staff rooms, reflecting a whole different approach to a staff room, one used for collaborating on school issues, for instance. Our HUGE room (there are approx 140 teachers at our school) is mainly used for eating /drinking coffee and talking. Although the room is enormous most teachers sit around specific tables, in sub groups. During the so-called lunch break (25 minutes at 10:40 in the morning!) the noise of conversation is loud. But what are teachers talking about?


If you had asked me that a week ago I would have said: Teachers’ offspring, fashion and television. Maybe some politics.

Right after reading the post, the head of our deaf and hard of hearing staff department implored us not to talk about students during our breaks around the table.

Hmm, that’s right. I didn’t really pay much attention to it but we do talk about student. or rather “vent” our feelings about them.

She’s worried that sensitive information we know might be overheard by people who shouldn’t be privy to that information (not that you can hear much with the noise level during the break…)

The same day I read an article in EL (ASCD) magazine called “Respect – Where Do We Start” by Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin. The author talks about the negative influence of teachers sitting and complaining about their problematic students during lunch breaks. She says that these kind of conversations do not lead to the creation of constructive suggestions on dealing with students. The reverse may be true – hearing other colleagues also complain about a pupil makes the teacher feel more entitled to her negative feelings about that pupil. In addition, the author also claims that when teachers spend their free time talking about what brings them down and not what they feel good about it encourages our brains to think in more negative ways.

From what I understood, Beaudoin calls for a “no-talk-about-students” rule for lunch hour.

I see the author’s point but I’m not sure I agree. In fact, I’m not sure it is a rule we could live by. With all the support systems such as my AWESOME PLN and my patient husband who listens to me in the evenings, there is nothing like the support of your fellow teachers, who actually teach the same pupils, as you exit a lesson ready to tear your hair out.

Do YOU agree?

8 thoughts on “What Do You Talk About in the Staff Room?”

  1. I do! In fact as soon as I read the part about the magazine article I startied shaking my head.
    In our little school the support we give to one another is powerful. I am one of the youngest teachers and for me talking about my doubts, about difficult students, it’s extremely helpful. I have never felt that talking about it enhances negative feelings about the student. Quite the contrary – I usually understand the student better, or get feedback that explains certain circumstances I was not aware of.
    And last but not least – when there’s a difficult student then knowing that other teachers struggle too has a reassuring effect. And once you’re reassured it’s not just about you and your lesson it’s so much easier to try to build the bridge.

  2. I certainly agree with what your saying.
    To give due credit to the author I don’t think she meant these things shouldn’t be discussed but only in a situation where constructive solutions can be discussed, not a short break.
    However, at least in my experience, staff meeting are not scheduled often enough (or ones that deal with the “right” issues, at least) to replace the need for support NOW.

  3. Hey Naomi! You raised a difficult one this time! There have been a few studies regarding the Staff Room or the Teachers’ Lounge. I am familiar with two: Ben Peretz and Schonmann (2000) “Behind Closed Doors – Teachers and the Role of the Teachers Lounge” and Kainan “Teachers’ Lounge: Teachers’ Professional Culture” (1996) (in Hebrew). Both are fascinating and provide rich insight to ourselves and our world.
    Teachers Lounges have dynamics of their own and as different as they may be, they share some trends of their own, like where teachers sit, “venting” and even the coffee cups! On the humorous side, one of the first things I told my trainees before going to schools was to bring their own coffee cup. While your school was short of chairs (outrageous!), many are short of cups and their is nothing a teacher resents more than to find there are no clean cups at the break, especially if they can be found in the hands of student teachers!
    RE: “venting” often referred to as whinging or whining, Ben Peretz and Schonmann describe it as an inherent and positive trait of the profession. It serves as a means of catharsis as well as (yes!) a means of constructing knowledge. As you point out, it should focus on the teacher’s feelings and difficulties and ways of dealing with them rather than student “gossip”. And that brings me to another point. Whether in the lounge or at a pedagogical meeting, the question is how much of the students’ personal lives should be shared with teachers? I would go with “need to know basis”, but sadly oftentimes it’s the “juicy bits” that get attention.

  4. Judy!
    So much to learn from you! It does seem to be a very complex topic!
    I wonder it there are schools where students are not mentioned over lunch at all – somehow I feel that it can’t be done.
    B.T.W – Of course our school has a cup issue too (what place of work doesn’t?) but I never made an issue about that one as always have my own. Couldn’t bring my own chair, though! Glad THAT is history!

  5. It’s completely natural to complain. Humans need to and often times it actually bonds them together: complaining about their boss, their working conditions, and yes, their students. I disagree about it only leading to negativity though. Venting about shared students can help you feel like you’re not crazy, but also learn how another teacher handles them. And what would a beer after work be without some student talk?

  6. As I have commented, venting is part of being a teacher and yes, seburnt, part of being human. I have, however, one caution – our venting should focus on how WE (and other teachers) feel and how WE deal with our students. As much as they may drive us up the wall, their privacy and their issues always need to be respected – especially in the teachers lounge.

    Sadly, teachers lounge can sometimes be a hornets nest. I used to tell newcomers, especially young teachers – when something good happens in class – shout it out! When something bad happens, zip up and find one close friend you can trust and discuss it with him/her OUTSIDE of the teachers lounge.

    And, my apologies if I have already made this comment …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *