The silly quip by Ohio Gov. John Kasich about abolishing teachers’ lounges certainly doesn’t merit headline status. On the contrary, it distracts from an unprecedented event dedicated solely to education, an important domestic issue that rarely gets airplay in national presidential elections.
This was an event in which all six Republican presidential candidates in attendance spoke with moderator Campbell Brown for 45 minutes each about their vision for education, records, policy positions, personal connections with teachers and most importantly, what they want most for our kids in classrooms.
Gov. Kasich spoke more than once of our obligation to come out of our comfort zones on behalf of kids. He invoked the Lord’s name and reminded us that God too expects us to buck the status quo and rock the boat so that our most vulnerable children may get the education they deserve.
He talked of the injustice in our education system and the crisis we see in our big city districts. He reflected on the improvements they are seeing in Cleveland because of union collaboration and the huge challenges they’ve faced in turning around Youngstown, Ohio, because the union there has fought them every step of the way.
He talked of needing to make school more relevant to kids and how linking their passions to their school experience would pay dividends. He wants higher standards, and said he’d rather his teenage daughters work hard to get a B or C in a demanding class than secure an easy A.
And yes. The guy made a joke. I can understand why some didn’t think it was funny.
But we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t consider that Kasich was getting at something deeper than denying teachers their lunch room.
Randi Weingarten can tweet her outrage and journalists can emblazon his words in bold on their front pages. None of that means that there isn’t wisdom to be found in words, however clumsy it may have been.
It isn’t a secret that teachers’ lounges, lunchrooms and common work spaces have a tendency to breed negativity and a complaining culture. Having taught in high schools in three states, I’ve seen it and even fallen into the easy trap of joining conversations about which I could never be proud.
I think we can all agree that employees of any kind deserve a place to microwave their lunch, visit with colleagues, wash their hands or have a cup of coffee. And truth be told, the staff room is a great place to laugh, debate issues, share weekend and family stories and even find much needed support from colleagues during a bad day or a bad week. I’m confident that Gov. Kasich would agree with all of that.
But based on my own experiences in teachers’ lounges, I’d argue that he is actually on to something.
Looking through a colleague’s class lists and telling them who the “good” and “bad” kids are before they’ve even met them is not a good use of that room. But it happens all the time.
Badmouthing administration, co-teachers, students and students’ parents is not a healthy or productive use of that room. But it happens too often.
Teachers I’ve worked with over the years have frequently said that they avoid spending any extended time in the lounge or staff room because it makes them uncomfortable. Others say that they just can’t stand all the complaining.
Gov. Kasich had a lot to say during the Education Summit. But since the focus seems to have wrongly landed on his teacher lounge comment, let’s at least take the opportunity to reflect on what’s happening in those spaces and how we can make them better.