So here’s the general consensus: Times are tough for teachers. Anyone in the profession can whip out a laundry list of complaints a mile long. We’re feeling overworked, over-evaluated, overwhelmed, underpaid, understaffed, undervalued and micromanaged! It’s no wonder that many of us are feeling stressed out and exhausted.
Let’s be honest, in any workplace, there will always be some amount of drama. That’s a basic function of the complexity of human nature. But in education in particular, not only are you responsible for managing your own affairs, you’re responsible for managing the affairs of many young, developing human beings. Throw in the demands from teammates, administration and your students’ parents and it’s easy to see how teachers can be swept into a spiraling vortex of negativity.
So what do you do when your workplace community becomes a toxic environment? We all know joining in on the ranting and raving only provides temporary relief. You only have so much time and energy in the day. Spending it on negative rumination isn’t going to make you a better, or happier, teacher. Here are three guidelines that will help you rise above the drama and keep your focus on what’s important- your students, your work and your own wellbeing.
1. Set boundaries.
Boundaries serve a multitude of functions. They help to protect us, to clarify what is our responsibility and what is another’s, to safeguard our physical and emotional energy, to identify our personal limits, and allow us to live life according to our own personal values and standards.
It’s important to find that sweet spot between being a team player and doing what is right for you personally. Pay attention to your feelings. What is most important to you? Do you really have the time and energy to let the little things get you down? What are your triggers in the workplace that start you down that long dark path?
Define the three most important requirements for your job happiness and use them as your guiding principles. For example, “For me to be happy in this job, I need to feel balanced, organized and connected with my students.” Make these guiding principles your mantra, and when situations occur that interfere with them, walk away.
2. Excuse yourself from the conversation.
There’s a difference between healthy venting with supportive colleagues and getting sucked into the above-mentioned spiraling vortex of negativity. Just say no to your inner adolescent mean girl. It can feel like a sweet release at the time, but in the end, you’ll find too much gossip is exhausting.
Whenever the conversation feels excessive, simply excuse yourself and walk away. Don’t engage. If you do this often enough, people will recognize that you are not interested in wasting your time or energy on gossip and drama.
Stay away from the key players. There are always one or two people in every workplace who are known for being the source of drama. Make it your mission to steer clear of these people outside of very strict working conditions. If you are sitting next to them in a committee meeting or professional development, stick to the work at hand and redirect the conversation when it starts turning south.
The bottom line is that office gossip and complaining is a factor in every workplace. However, you can avoid the traps and minimize your involvement. Just remember: If people gossip to you, they more than likely also gossip about you.
3. Rise above.
It’s really hard to avoid feeling emotional about issues that seem unfair or out of our control. After all, teaching is a heart job. We pour our hearts out for our kids, and when we feel like we are not being treated in kind, it hurts.
While we may not have a choice about some of the hard issues facing teachers these days, we always have a choice about our own attitude and behavior. Challenge yourself daily to make your school the best workplace possible for yourself and for your teammates. Look for opportunities for cooperation rather than commiseration. Or, to put it another way, focus on being a problem solver, not a pot-stirrer. People will notice, and maybe you’ll start a new trend.
Do your best to maintain a positive attitude—not in a fake Pollyanna sort of way, but in a realistic, take-deep-breaths and notice-the-tiny-moments-of-success way. Act like the professional you are. And if you happen to fall off the positive wagon and have a bad day or feel unmotivated from time to time, it’s not the end of the world. Finish the day and be done with it. Come back tomorrow refocused and ready to rock.