You’re an Anointed Teacher: Part 5: Reimagining the Faculty Lounge
Teacher friends, we need to be like coals of fire! Together we glow, but separate, we grow cold. Nobody understands what we’re going through in the building better than another teacher. Iron sharpens iron! One conversation with the teacher down the hall is both spiritual and professional development, right?
Here we are, at the final installment of “You’re an anointed teacher.” I hope you felt both inspired and challenged by some of my thoughts about planning your school year by leaving room for the Spirit of God, by becoming a divine failure, by edifying your students with the power of your words, and by adopting a relational mindset when engaging parents. I talked about you, our God, your students, your parents, and now I would like to talk about us, the teachers.
The hit show Abbot Elementary does such a good job of highlighting the faculty lounge culture. The faculty lounge is the locus of manifestation for all of our teacher world problems. We have a refrigerator filled with after school program snacks, cold pizza and garlic knots from yesterday’s teacher appreciation lunch, a cabinet filled with all the forks and no spoons, a graveyard of discarded re-gifted Christmas mugs, a microwave that groans and complains, with buttons that don’t always work. We have a dystopian view of dreary buildings across the street, folks outside are yelling at their cell phones, a Martin Luther King Jr. poster is sitting on the prodigious hilltops of printer paper, and a random substitute teacher dressed like a Batman villain is sitting in your favorite chair reading The 48 Laws of Power.
There is so much potential for what we can do with a faculty lounge. It doesn’t have to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy. It doesn’t have to be a place where we close the door and complain about everybody and their mothers. We can clear out the visual noise, hang up Dr. King’s poster properly, remove tattered old book sets of Esperanza Rising, get rid of the industrial lighting, add more soft lighting, wood textured furniture, rugs, tissue-pink walls, and plants straight outta Jurassic Park, make it look less like a bomb shelter and make it warm and inviting. Get rid of that filing cabinet from the 1970’s while we’re at it. If you don’t have this kind of budget for an extreme makeover, then the trick to reimagining the faculty lounge is to be the kind of teacher you want in a faculty lounge (without being too annoying). After all, everyone’s on break, and everyone’s hiding from children. And it’s the people who make the building, so huddle for warmth, bring a bluetooth speaker with you, play some Motown, set the mood, and invite the following teacher archetypes to your faculty lounge:
The Grizzled Old Veteran: this teacher uses war language to describe teaching. We’re on the front line. She served two tours in the Bronx and East New York. Absolutely hurts to smile, and frowns on all the new teachers who don’t wear ties or long dresses to work. She’s taught some of her student’s mothers and fathers. She strikes fear into the hearts of her students. Parents shy away from her at dismissal like Moses parting the Red Sea. She’s about to retire next year and she feels sad about that. Sometimes, when you catch her alone, she says nice things about her students, and tells horror stories about all the nuns who used to run the school.
The Kindergarten Teacher who forgot how to talk to Adults: This teacher is doe-eyed, full of contagious vivacious energy, smiling all the way to her ears, dressed like she’s about to take her kids on a magic school bus, and has a copy of If you Give a Mouse a Cookie ready to read aloud at any moment’s notice. Talking to her in the faculty lounge is a breath of fresh air. She reminds you of a time when kids were joyful, loving, innocent, with nostrils packed full of lime green boogers. She has a stash of all the good medical supplies and pills. Her voice is the sound of a grandmother putting her grandchildren to sleep.
The Music Teacher who is also a Church Minister: Praise Jesus, praise his holy name! This teacher is singing God’s praises down the halls, humming Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. He comes into the faculty lounge humming At the Cross, At the Cross, where I first saw the light, and the burdens of my heart rolled away. Ask him how he’s doing and he’s either blessed or too blessed to be stressed. The Music Teacher is praying for you and your family. Dude is a living, breathing, walking, talking, laughing, dancing sermon on the mount. If you spend another minute with him, he will preach to you about a friend who sticks closer than a brother, and YES LORD, his name is Jesus the Christ. Yes, Lord! Praise him.
The Gym Teacher who knows you don’t have a clue about sports: did you watch the game last night? Sorry, coach. I did not watch the game last night. What did I miss? What’s a homerun? How many points in football is a safety? What’s a tight end? What’s a fast break? In tennis, what is love? What’s a birdie in golf? Who’s the greatest team of all time, and why do you love the 1986 New York Mets so much? This man is such a good friend and the kids love him, even when he sits them out for acting up. He seeks you out and he’s a true friend, even though he’s not going to ask you about comic books, anime, or video games. His dress code is a Knicks Jersey over a hood sweater, gray sweatpants, and a pair of Kyrie Irvings.
The One True Man: Black men are unicorns in a school building, we’re rare and magical, but if there’s another black man in the building, then we have a tacit understanding about who the one true man is. And since I play a lot of video game music in class, and the guy downstairs doesn’t, then he is the one true man. In the faculty lounge, none of that strange man-posturing matters. We talk like old friends and we can connect in ways that nobody else will understand. We share an esoteric language that exudes love and brotherhood.
The Art Teacher who’s actually a real Artist: when she’s not painting inspirational signs on bathroom stalls or looking for that one good functioning laminator, or stomping around in her Doc Martens pushing a cart of art supplies, she’s such a good soundboard for your classroom problems. Conversations in the faculty lounge generate innovative ways to engage your students. She thinks differently, and that is infinitely more valuable than her lesson plan about sticking popcorn to a paper plate with the second graders. Unfortunately, art teachers are like the defense against the dark arts teachers in Harry Potter. They’re only going to be around for one year, so make those conversations count.
Ms. Jackson: She is actually a real person in my life. Ms. Jackson is invaluable to me because she tells it like it is without being mean spirited. There’s no filter, but you know it’s coming from a loving place. She doesn’t reframe language. Nope. No positive reframing in the faculty lounge when Jackson shows up, but her honesty is refreshing. In faculty meetings, she can cut through some of the hogwash. She’s good at sifting the gold from the dross, then calling it out without offending anybody. Truth telling is a powerful gift, and Ms. Jackson is not afraid to use it. In the faculty lounge, she can read your face. She knows. She’s also seen it all and still holds onto hope. She looks out the window with half lidded eyes. She worked in public education, charter schools, and private schools. She took a pay cut to return to Catholic education because she said she missed the familial love that pervades a Catholic school.
YOU: And last, but not least. You. You belong here, you’re valuable to us. You’re about to make an indelible mark on children’s lives. It’s your first year, and we got your back. We know what you’re about to go through. Survive your first year, then thrive, then innovate, and don’t forget to bring your God with you on the journey.
It’s going to be difficult, but we can’t read your mind. My dad used to say, “you get not, because you ask not.” ASK for all the things. You absolutely have to reach out to the other teachers in the building. I was such a typical man my first year. I never asked for directions, and that’s why I was often lost. Don’t be like me. Ask for directions.
You have something valuable to learn from every single teacher archetype! Sometimes the most beat up looking, dilapidated, broken down school is the school with the most love. It’s the people who make a school community, not the building or its lack of resources. Lean on people. There are reasons why they are the way they are. I wish I had people like Professor Jodene Morrell, Francesca, Monica, Liam, Danielle, and all of the wonderful educators associated with CLE at Notre Dame in my building. That’s the dream! We are friends and thought partners. We share resources. We believe in a free exchange of ideas. Because of that, we are never alone. We’re like the knights of the round table, all of us on an incredible quest to breathe life into our school communities. You are standing in the midst of a cosmic faculty lounge filled with the best possible humans. Teacher World is a pretty good game. You never know what’s going to happen on any given day! All you have to do is press start, and go. The faculty lounge is getting bigger.
And you are most welcome.
Please reach out if you have any questions or if you would like to discuss anything written in this series further. Everyone at CLE is personally committed to ushering you along the path of the Educator. Have a wonderful year!