Remember those middle and high school days when you accidentally caught the “Mean Girls” whispering behind your back while they thought you weren’t present? Or people made fun of you, because you were the “overachiever” in school? Or maybe you were the “most artistic” or “most athletic?” Most adolescents don’t recognize jealousy and lack the wisdom and emotional security to rationalize through these awkward and painful situations. However, as we grow older and mature, adults grasp a better understanding of the reasons behind adolescent malicious gossip, social hierarchy, and “Mean Girl” thinking. One of the main reasons is adolescent insecurity. As adolescents slowly mature into adults, their emotional banks are filled with more positive experiences to fill holes in their insecurities. However, even as adults, we unfortunately haven’t resolved all our insecurities. The “Mean Teacher” exists.
In the educational field, one would hope that adults, especially teachers would foster an environment of peace, collaboration, and cooperation…right??? We all know as teachers that we like to pretend that we are the perfect models of appropriate behavior, but the truth is that we struggle just as much with professional insecurity. At times, we are the “Mean Teacher.” Think about these scenarios for example:
1. In a faculty meeting, the principal singles out one or two teachers who have done a fabulous job on an after-school family event. The principal sings praises of the teacher, and instead of wanting to clap for those teachers, you want to scream “brown-noser!” You and a few teachers may even gossip about those teachers behind their backs calling those teachers names…yep, even teachers.
2. After standardized test scores are posted or the “data wall” goes up, you immediately look at the other teachers’ scores to analyze whether or not you or your grade level has the best scores – admit it. When you or your grade level doesn’t have the highest scores, you start to discredit a teacher or grade level’s scores by discussing their classroom weaknesses.
3. In parent conferences or “unofficial meetings” at the store, parents rant and rave about their child’s previous teacher. You start to find yourself indirectly talking negative about the previous year’s teacher by discussing how the teacher didn’t adequately prepare their child for the current grade level.
Now, some of these scenarios may be exaggerated slightly, but they do happen. WHY?? As educators, we should be the MOST confident and MOST secure in our positions as professionals. We have the BEST job in the world, and our job is the MOST important!! Why are we so mean sometimes????
There are several reasons why our profession can be competitive, vicious, and not collaborative. First, our nation doesn’t pride itself on its teachers. If you even glance at your Facebook or Twitter Newsfeed for the day, there is at least one meme, post, blog, or news article that slams a teacher. Didn’t you know that the reason American kids can’t read, write, and do arithmetic is because of public school teachers? Not to mention those Common Core Standards are the devil in disguise!
Next, our nation’s educational system places too much emphasis on data. Data is a wonderful tool to drive instruction, and I think it should be used in the classroom for reflection and growth. However, when schools display each grade level and each teacher’s data for everyone to see and then encourage discussion on “What is wrong with this data?” it facilitates an environment of competition and insecurity.
Last, schools don’t take the time to build an environment of friendships! Teachers don’t even need to best BFFs, but they need to make connections and create bonds with one another. When teachers actually meet with each other as a whole, it’s for rushed faculty meetings, long professional developments, urgent district announcements, or fired up union meetings.
So, what can we (me and you) do as educators to help STOP being a “mean teacher?” First, place importance and pride on your job. If you BELIEVE that teaching is the MOST important job in the world, then you will start to treat ALL teachers with respect and kindness. You will understand that every teacher’s success leads to the success of all children. When a teacher is praised, earns high scores, or gets a “promotion,” you will be happy and excited for that person. Next, remember why you became an educator, because it wasn’t for high-test scores! I know this is hard with pay for performance, school grades, and teacher evaluations based on scores, but things won’t change if our own mindsets don’t change first. If administrators started praising improvement, then we might just see EVERY teacher earning a praise. Imagine what that would do for every teacher’s confidence? Last, try to remember that we are all in this together. At the end of the day, the children are going to suffer the most from the “Mean Teacher.”