Chris Margolin

Teachers: Masters at the Art of the Complaint

“Confessions of an Educator” columnist Chris Margolin addresses the negativity that can be pervasive among educators who choose to vent through social media.

 

It’s a really different world this year. I never expected that I’d actually make the transition out of the classroom. I always talked about how much I wanted to be on the curriculum side of the world and how that was truly my passion—which it absolutely is—but at the same time I miss the little things about being housed in a building. I kind of miss the bitching about students and new school initiatives, or whatever our principal was saying that we may or may not have agreed with. I miss the gatherings in the morning. I miss watching the amazing students who, even if they don’t feel like the smartest, still work their ass off to make something of themselves. I even miss the really shitty kids who just wanted to complain every day about the work they were supposed to be doing in class—the We-actually-have-to-do-reading-today? students. But, I miss none of it enough to want to go back.

What I don’t miss are the truly negative aspects of how some teachers display their frustration in open spaces. I see all these Facebook posts from former colleagues who are consistent in their rhetoric about how schools need to change, and students need more support, and the district isn’t paying enough, or too much time is spent grading papers, or whatever else they feel the need to complain about on a fairly regular basis. What I don’t see are any positive comments about what they or, more importantly, their students are achieving inside the classroom. It’s easy to bitch and complain about the day—trust me, I’m a master at bitching and complaining—but this is becoming more and more the norm, which completely ignores the whole reason for education: the betterment of every student who moves through the threshold of the classroom door.

It’s no wonder that the comments section of every editorial on education is filled with people pointing fingers at educators about how much money they “really” make, or how they aren’t properly doing their job, or how their students have too much or too little homework, or about how Joe Student can’t seem to wrap his head around a new math problem because it wasn’t taught the same way Joe’s parents remembered it. If we, as educators, cannot control the things we say in a public forum, then how do we expect the community to respond? Do we think they are going to empathize with us when it’s their kids, or their friends’ kids, or their grandchildren, or whomever, is seemingly being talked about in a negative light on social media, newspapers, or whatever the outlet might be?

On a regular basis, we tell students to keep their social media accounts free of negative activity or conversation, and yet we can’t seem to control our own habits. Some leave their Facebook feed as public, thus essentially welcoming the negativity they may receive—deserved, or not—for the comments they are posting. Much like our students can’t complain about not doing the work if they haven’t attempted to do the work, educators shouldn’t complain about their students not doing their work if we aren’t doing anything to help them succeed and grow. The teacher who constantly complains about their students will never get to the point where they believe in their students enough to help them become their best selves. And, isn’t that our job? Isn’t it our role to make sure that every student develops an applicable life skill?

I don’t think that the majority of teachers are spending their time complaining, but I do believe the old adage about only needing a few bad apples to spoil the bunch. In this case, it’s a few bad apples that are helping to shape the ideas of the community members who proffer obstinate opinions about what goes on inside the walls of the school building.

I’m far from the most positive person in the world and I will not say that I haven’t been guilty of doing exactly what I’m railing against. Hell, I used to run a website called Student Quote of the Day. We focused mainly on the asinine comments that students would make throughout the day. We were a team of 15+ teachers who took a lot of time to write down a number of things we heard from students. Eventually though, even that site moved toward the positive things that students would say or do. Because, eventually, the negative just gets annoying. If we put out negativity into the digital stratosphere, we can only expect to get negative in return.

We are the straw that stirs the drink and maybe it’s time to change the direction in which we move through the metaphorical liquid. Maybe it’s time to make a positive impact on not only your students, but on the community as well. They are not trying to be your enemy, but you are sure as hell allowing them the right to do so.

 

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Chris Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter. 

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