Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Teacher Code of Silence:Yeah, We Have One Too!

You know you saw it. You saw her go up one side of him and down the other. You felt so bad for him. But what did you do? You walked past, eyes averted, hoping to save him from further embarrassment. She looked at you, eyes locking, and shared a smug, "Yeah, I got him", enveloping you in her meanness. And you didn't say a word, you continued to walk down the hall, carrying your guilt like a stone.

You know you heard it. You walked in the teachers lounge, and the comments were so toxic, you felt yourself choke on their words. The only person they weren't talking about is you, and that's because you were in the room. This one's mama, daddy(or lack of), level of intelligence, (or stupidity).You know what you wanted to say, you know what you should have said, but you didn't. You finished your lunch, groaned inwardly at every word, and walked out.

Shoulda, woulda, didn't.

You know they're not teaching. Every time you walked past his/her door, they were on the computer, completely immersed in what's on the screen, students fending for themselves. You couldn't help but notice, everyone did! Or, you picked up your students, and they have done nothing, again! You know that the students are not being engaged. What do you do? What are your options?

When I started teaching, back in 1984, we had a teacher who came in drunk She taught Special Ed. A drunk teacher in a Special Ed classroom. They finally got rid of her by the middle of the school year. I would smile and chat with her every day, pretending that her words weren't slurred, her eyes bloodshot. I felt awful. Here I was, early 20's, thinking, what could I do? How could I change this situation?

Why do we feel as if we can't say anything? Why is it okay to let things slide, to pretend that it's okay? We don't want to create waves, but we sink anyway. We drown in our knowledge of wrong, knowing we should be doing what's right. And I don't mean something as serious as child abuse or corporal punishment. (I hope no one is remaining silent about any of those issues!)

We sit silent as our calling is stripped from us. Our voices are muted, replaced with scripted curriculum and standardized tests. We cringe every time we read from the Teacher's Edition or hand our students another test. We apologize, and yet we continue. Our silence making us accomplices to this tragedy called "reform".

It's taken me a long time to reach the point where I will not remain silent. I no longer pretend I don't know. I refuse to remain silent if I don't agree. I will speak my peace. It is difficult. We want to be liked. But if I have to choose between what's best for our kids and being liked, I am choosing my kids.

I know there are those of you who have always spoken your mind. Kudos to you! I wish I had always been like that, but I can't go back. But I can move forward, I can speak up for that student, that parent, or that colleague. I can break the code.

photo credit: Daniela Vladimirova via photopin cc


  1. I know what you are trying to say. Unfortunately you come off smug and judgmental. Yeah, sometimes teachers make mistakes and vent too much. Did you ever think of going to this "mean" teacher and offering some support, or a shoulder to cry on. Maybe if you reached out to this person with the approach of support, rather than disdain, it would help the situation.

    Alcoholism is a disease and its root is usually immense suffering. I hope you would continue to offer support and kindness if in that situation again. Someone losing their livelihood is very sad.

    Educators need to find their voice, but turning on each other won't solve the problems of all those who wish to tear our profession apart. Stay positive and be a role model.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. I agree that we need to support each other, but we can't underestimate the amount of responsibility teachers have when they come to class. A Special Ed teacher cannot be buzzed in the classroom, period. Many of those students have emotional and medical needs that need the attention of the teacher. If you wouldn't trust a drunk teacher to drive your kids to school, you can't trust them in the classroom to supervise your students. I do agree that lots of support should be given to the teacher. She shouldn't just be fired, but structure would have to be enforced.

  2. I am sorry you interpreted my post that way. I include myself in everything I said in that post.I am not above anyone else. My whole point is that we DON'T say anything, and that's OUR problem. At no point did I state that you should "turn" on someone.I stated that we should not remain silent. Talking about it doesn't mean going to administration, it could mean talking to that person.As far as the alcoholic, I was in my 20's in 1984,and that was my reaction.Maybe that's why we're silent, worrying about the reaction of others.

  3. You are so right. This goes on way more than it should. In almost every state, there is a code of ethics that would require us to address some of the situations you mentioned. Hopefully, the administrators are doing their job (walk-throughs, evaluations, etc.). They are the only ones that are in the position to change the behavior.

    However, a little coaching could go a long way. I think it's always best to discuss a problem with a co-worker prior to going to management. If that doesn't help, perhaps suggest to administration to increase their unexpected visits and let them find the problem.

    My pet peeve is those that self-righteously appoint themselves as the school tattle tale. They feel they are above everyone else and just watch and wait for someone to make a mistake. All it takes is for administration to listen to them once, and they are empowered. It is so unprofessional and it is never good-intentioned.

    That's my 2 cents!

    1. Thanks for your 2 cents!:) I think there are one or two of those in every building!

  4. Another reason for silence could be lack of time. I've heard several teachers in the past that wound up having a consistent bad attitude. Knowing the teachers as I did, I knew if I ever said anything, I would wind up getting roped into heated debates, discussions, etc, and I honestly didn't have the energy to devote time to her (what I considered) negativity, and teach my students. The teachers wound up being dismissed, so apparently someone said/noticed something. I figure as long as the kids are not being abused, I don't say anything. I want to say something--even offer an ear of encouragment to the nay-sayers without getting roped into their negativity, but the very idea leaves me exhuasted.

    1. I know what you mean Lisa. Sometimes, they don't even hear you when you talk to them. They keep doing their thing, esp. if there are no consequences from administration.

  5. Lisa, I understood your post to mean that we don't say something when we should. I know I am definitely guilty. I came across some doozies when I was a SpEd Assistant. I quit rather than face the wrath of that teacher, who was tenured and "in" with the Principal. I speak up for myself, but need to speak up when things of this nature happen. Great post!

  6. The administrators know what's going on.
    1. might be related to ...
    2. easy way out
    3. etc.
    The point if you speak up/point out things you are negative,not a team player,........ Schools want "yes" employees not someone with an opinion!

  7. I've read over half of your blogs and VERY satisfied with this one... I have heard many things teachers in my school have said about students and other teachers, and it almost offends me to be in the room with them...