Teacher Talk: 5 Ways to Deal with Dissent and Discontent at School

from Education Week Teacher

When bad things happen, sometimes the good go a little crazy! This is the trap set for teachers, normally level headed and wise, when administration makes a mandatory change that does not seem in the best interest of students or teacher. Especially when the mandate is unfunded, as is often the case in education.

The budget shortfall and its impending job cuts and reassignments threw the usually loyal and dedicated faculty into a free fall. The uncertainty of what the new school year would bring festered just under the skin of their resolve. Rumors swirled around the school district in opposition to the superintendent’s assurances that all would work out in the end. The problem comes when we listen to rumors and turn deaf to the truth.

Teachers’ lounge murmurs leaked out into the hallways, the parking lot, and even into our after-hours gatherings. I met with some of my teacher friends right after school during this topsy-turvey time and listened as they vented their disbelief, their anger and even their fears. I sat quiet, composed, with my chin in my hands until my three friends finally looked my way.

“Doesn’t it infuriate you? How can you be so calm?” one asked.

“The union’s not going to let them get away with this,” another voiced. “Did you read the emails that were flying around today?”

“I’m sorry, I just don’t think I can take much more of this,” one friend revealed while looking for hope at the bottom of her diet cola.

I smiled. That really threw them.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “It doesn’t affect what I do at all.”

Now I had their attention. It’s so easy to get caught up in the negative. Panic is contagious. A crowd of teachers relying on rumors is no different than a crowd running for the exit when someone yells “Fire!” It’s dangerous. We know we should calmly exit the building; that’s what we’re taught. But all it takes is one person to panic, and the rest of us get trampled.

“It doesn’t matter how much money we’re short. It doesn’t matter if they expect too much for too little,” I finally explained my composure. “I can close my classroom door and then do what I’ve been called to do – teach the students entrusted to me. That’s all that matters. Let the powers that be fight it out. I refuse to be distracted by their politics.”

Silence. And then. . .

“I’m so glad you said that. Thank you!” one teacher said. “I needed to hear that. I needed to be reminded why I’m here.”

We then gave laughter a chance to infest us instead.

Here are 5 ways to deal with dissent and discontent while at school. In other words, here’s how to immunize yourself against this infection.

  1. If a conversation at school is becoming a rumor fest or complaint session, turn it to student-related issues as quickly as possible.
  2. Treat email as broadcasted words that can be read and printed. Rumors and complaints are easy to spread through email.
  3. Sometimes a close friendship with another teacher can make it difficult to express problems you may have with their conversations. If your friendship interferes with your objectivity, you may need to create some distance.
  4. If another teacher says something that just flames and already hot topic, try to respond and not react. Plan your response.


5. Don’t talk behind someone’s back (even if it’s the superintendent). It only makes the situation worse. Avoid the temptation to take your words on social media. If you have a problem with what someone is doing or saying, find a quiet place away from school to talk directly to that person.

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