Sunday, December 11, 2011

If you haven’t got something nice to say, then say it in the faculty room.

I have more interest in Andrew Carnegie the steel industry baron turned philanthropist than Dale Carnegie, the self help author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” But even though making steel interests me more than winning friends, it’s Dale  who I have been thinking about lately. The basic tenet of his philosophy was that it is possible to change other people’s behavior by changing your own and how you interact with them counts toward accomplishing that. Now when you think of this, it isn’t exactly rocket science but as teachers I wonder if we think about it enough. 

When my first principal gave me a tour of  the building before school started we walked past the long and narrow burrow that was then the faculty room and he advised me to stay out of it. I should eat my lunch elsewhere he suggested. I wasn’t  sure why, but he hinted that being in there wasn’t helpful for a beginning teacher. I immediately found that for lunch I wanted to be away from the kids and in the company of adults, so I ignored his advice. But I came to understand his sentiment. 

I have worked a wide variety of jobs before becoming a teacher and I have my eaten my lunch in all manner of places, in a shack behind a saw mill, perched on a workbench in a boatyard, standing on the slime covered deck of a fishing boat, and sitting at linen covered tables in a restaurant after the customers left. And while the language in many of those places would make the average school teacher blanch, I remember lunch time as being a generally positive moment to relax and take a break. Of course there would be complaints about the weather, the boss, the lack of fish...  but overall there was a sense of common purpose and camaraderie.

On the other hand, the  lunch room my first principal advised me to avoid, and our fancier lunchroom now is never profane, maybe it would have helped if it were, but it is generally filled with a more soul destroying  sort of conversation. It is filled with the language of frustration, negativity, complaining, and criticizing, language my father called “bellyaching” This language is aimed at the administration, advisory, the block schedule, the heat, the list is long, but most insidiously a majority of the language is aimed at our students. And it goes on day after day. I am as guilty of it as anyone, teaching is a stressful job and everyone needs to vent, but too much of this kills the very attitude that is required to be able to handle this stressful job. 

Once I heard the late Andy Mackie answer a question about what life is all about, he quickly replied “Life is 99% attitude,” then he paused and thought for a moment and finished “and I forget what the other part is.” If we want our students to have positive attitudes we need to model positive attitudes. And that is hard to do after hearing for most of our duty free lunch  how bad certain students are and then having to face the same students five minutes later.

My father disliked Dale Carnegie, and being a voracious and open minded reader, I am sure he read Carnegie’s famous book. He was a small business man himself and thought the glad handing of the salespeople Carnegie trained artificial, manipulative and obsequious. He wasn’t a very positive person himself, but on the other hand he also didn’t cotton to whining and in his honor I want to stop.

So I am going to start small, I am inviting anyone who wants to have a bellyaching free lunch to join me in the wood shop on Wednesdays. Just like Math Monday and Physics Friday (in my class anyway) how about whineless Wednesday?

Why the wood shop? Well, first of all, it is away from the kids, just because I am sick of complaining about them, doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them either. 

Second, it has a thermostat and a clock and they both work. I can also set up a table if you don’t want to sit on a workbench. 

And third, why not ? In the six or seven years I have taught woodworking there are teachers who, as far as I know, have never set foot in there, and it’s a pleasant space that smells nicely of wood and honest work.

Everyone is welcome, teachers, administrators, EAs, secretaries, just leave your troubles at the door. I may end up eating alone, and that is fine, I don’t mind my own company. We won’t have a secret  handshake to get in, How about you just knock three times in the hallway, not the ceiling, like in that sappy song from the seventies?

In case you have forgotten the words you can find them here.


  1. Great idea to offer an alternative. I find your claim about having a thermostat AND clock that both work hard to believe, but it is a welcome invitation!

  2. Awesome idea, Todd! Thanks for starting the bellyaching-free lunch space! :)

    Too bad our lunches are not at the same time (and not a sminch longer) so more of us could join you.

  3. Yeah, Al too bad we can't all get together. Feel free to adapt it for your building if you have the same problem.