Why Complaining About Work is a Lot Like Drinking

martini glass on messy desk with tiny apple instead of an olive

Among the many demands of teaching is a tremendous pressure on educators to “stay positive!” Sometimes, though, after a demoralizing faculty meeting, or shouting directions on three hours of sleep while fifth graders open and close their binders as loudly as they possibly can, a little commiseration can be just what teachers need. Some complaints even lead to productive discussions about how to make things better. On the other hand, complaining can leave you feeling worse. It can also make you look bad if you do it in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or in the wrong company. In other words, complaining about work is a little like drinking. It is best done with certain words of caution in mind.

Do it in moderation.

You may feel like you are letting off steam, but if you complain constantly and never quite get it out of your system, you may be dragging yourself down without realizing it. Avoid this by setting limits on when you have emotionally draining conversations, and how long you let them go on. As with drinking, if you start complaining right after work and keep going until bedtime, or if you think you can’t fall asleep without it, or if it’s the first thing you do when you wake up, it might be time to ask yourself some hard questions.

Don’t assume everyone else likes it as much as you do.

There are plenty of teachers happy to share an after-work gripe session, but don’t forget there are others who don’t complain at all, or who only do it on rare occasions. Even those who do share stories have limits on how much they want to say – and hear – about work problems. If people start to back out of the room when you begin a sentence with, “These kids…” it may be time to lighten up.

The teachers’ lounge is not the place for it.

Sure, teachers are role models who change lives and make a difference and all the other things you read about on teacher mugs. But that doesn’t mean we’re exempt from workplace politics and gossip. It’s safe to assume everyone at your school talks to someone, and someone in the teacher’s lounge talks to everyone. If you’re saying something you wouldn’t want repeated to coworkers or administrators, the teachers’ lounge is not the place to discuss it.

Students shouldn’t know you do it at all.

In addition to their well-known tendency to repeat almost everything they hear, kids have their own problems. Teacher-level issues are none of their concern – and none of their business.

Think twice before you put evidence online.

You have probably been warned – and if not, consider this your warning – that you should not share pictures online that you wouldn’t want bosses or students to see. Likewise, be careful before you complain on a blog or website – even if you think it’s anonymous.

When you really need to do it… do it.

The warnings above don’t mean you have to stay quiet, stay out of the teachers’ lounge, or stay positive at all times. Like occasional Friday happy hours, complaining lets us know we’re not alone.

Sometimes, we need to break the “stay positive!” code in order to stay sane.

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