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'Teachers' Lounges' Are Hubs of Connectivity and Collaboration

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While lighting into teachers unions Wednesday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he would ban teachers' lounges if he had the chance. 'If I were not president, but if I were King of America, I would abolish all teacher's lounges, where they sit together and worry about 'woe is us' (CNN).  

On a national stage with an audience invested in learning about all the candidates, left and right, Democrat and Republican...with everyone listening, the announcement that schools are filled with teachers who gather in "teachers' lounges" to complain to one another is ludicrous. 

Sure, we aren't naïve; not all the conversations in teachers' lounges are about educational practice and improving it. Sure, sometimes, the worst happens and students are even maligned in those lounges. Shame on us for that. But, but really, is this the informed position John Kasich wants to present? We hope not. 

We prefer to call them "faculty rooms" and they exist for sound reasons. First, it is, in most places, the only place where teachers can sit in professional constructive conversation with each other, sharing ideas, successes, failures, and important and helpful information about students. It is the place where team planning can take place, and sometimes, even the team meetings themselves. Few teachers leave the building during the work day, even for lunch. There are teachers who remain in their classrooms at lunch to be with students who may need extra help or simply someone to listen to them; there are others who use lunchtime to call parents, prepare lessons, and grade papers. In those cases, catching up with colleagues may happen at the beginning or the end of the day and in the faculty room where there may be a refrigerator to hold their lunches, and places to hang coats, have a cup of coffee, and use a printer.   It is the center of the adult school world in which teachers can join their colleagues and share information.

Is this important? We say absolutely. Educators are professionals with advanced degrees preparing them for their work. They hold the responsibility not only of educating the community's children, but of keeping them safe and returning them home each and every day to parents and guardians. We turn to the term "educators" because the insult to teachers does extend to the leaders in the district. To assume that teachers gather in a lounge to spend time whining is to assume the leaders either ignore it, allow it, or are part of it. The insult touches us all.

We have entered a phase in our field marked by limited resources, new learning standards, new assessments for students and teachers, evaluations for teachers based upon student achievement, new curricula, new teaching methods, technology that changes daily and wide diversity among our students. In a system under these pressures, shouldn't the professionals be in constant conversation about new strategies and best practices? Don't parents want the benefit of combined and cross professional thinking to meet the needs of each child, especially their own? We think they deserve that and we think our practice improves when we share problems and creative ideas abound.

We need only look to the other place nearby where professionals serve the community and we'll find similar issues. In the November 5, 2013 issue of The Atlantic, Richard Gunderman wrote about the disappearance of doctors' lounges from hospitals. He observed:

What makes the doctors' lounge so important?  It once provided a base of operations for physicians who came to the hospital to round on their patients or perform procedures. They would show up there at odd times throughout the day, pick up their white coat, grab a cup of coffee, or just rest for a few minutes. Most of all, they talked to one another. Many senior physicians recall the doctors' lounge as the most important hub of medical collegiality in the hospital.

The reasons for the decline of the doctors' lounge are not difficult to fathom. Physician workloads are growing from year to year. They are expected to see more patients in shorter periods of time, electronic paperwork has become more onerous than ever, and the sheer complexity of medical practice is always increasing. As the intensity and length of the workday increases, time for non-urgent interaction inevitably gets crowded out.

This observation is certainly transferable to our world of work. And, now we have a respected politician advocating for eliminating this hub of professional connectivity and collaboration.

We could receive Governor Kasich's remarks as yet another statement of disrespect and hurtful comments. But, we chose instead to hear it as not well informed. Our society expects a lot from their teachers. What do you suppose we would do without them?  Governor, if you were King of America, we hope you would remember the teachers who got you there; they are the ones who encouraged you, taught you, and prepared you for the stage on which you now stand. Some may have had a more positive effect upon you than others. Some may have been more challenging and others more loving. Some may be remembered and others not. But, all were there with you along the way. 

So, as you continue your path, consider how Gunderman concluded his article:

If the doctor's lounge were buzzing, I would take comfort from knowing that the medical staff is probably relatively vibrant, cohesive, and capable of providing better care.

The same can be said of a faculty room and of the educators who work in schools that are vibrant, cohesive and providing better education to children who will be college and career ready when they graduate. Some will even run for president of this amazing country. 

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