Happy 2019 everyone!
After talking with some teacher friends recently, I was reminded of the importance of venting in our profession. We all know this job is hard: We make hundreds of decisions throughout our work day. We deal with a wide range of emotions (from ourselves, our students, and our colleagues). We encounter moments of frustration and failure, and we have a continually growing pile of lessons to plan and problems to grade…
It is perfectly acceptable to feel frustrated and/or sad and/or defeated and/or exhausted…That is why we need to vent! Don’t hold it all in. Get it off your chest and out of your head by talking to a trusted friend or colleague. Vent!
In my early years of teaching, a dear friend taught me specifically how to vent, at least in a way that worked for me, and I have since trained my friends and partner in how to be a good receiver of venting. Here’s my quick summary:
- Find the people you can vent to. A colleague at your school is nice, but I really appreciate venting to those who do not work with me: Wonderful teacher friends I’ve met through the #MTBoS, my spouse, and my best friend.
- Figure out how you want to vent. For me, I realized I just want another human being to listen and empathize. I don’t want solutions. I just want to verbally dump it all out. So I am clear with those I vent to that if I want ideas, I will start my story by asking for input. Otherwise, if I talk about work, I’m just venting. I had to specifically teach this to my husband. He really wanted to help out by offering suggestions. I didn’t want that. I had to tell him that venting = him just listening.
- Teach others how to receive your venting. When I’m venting about a student or administrator or whatever, I want the person I’m venting to to be there with me. I don’t want ideas or input, but I want them to show me that they are listening and I want affirmation. They can show listening through nodding along or short interjections of “that’s so annoying” or “ugh”. The affirmation part is really important. Short phrases like “of course you’re upset” or “you have every right to feel sad” are often helpful.
- Extension: What helps you move forward? Since venting can feel negative, I always want to lighten the mood afterwards. As a receiver of venting, I learned that changing topics wasn’t always appreciated. What I learned from Sam Shah is to exaggerate my commiseration to help lighten the mood. So when someone is complaining about students doing poorly in class, I might lie and say exaggerated things like “your students are horrible” or “I hate your students.” It sounds mean, but with a trusted friend, we both know we love all our students and this is all in fun. This exaggerated extension of the venting often helps to minimize the frustrations and bring some laughter, often allowing us to let go and move on.
As an example, suppose your colleague didn’t do his share of the planning that you needed for tomorrow. Yes, it should be addressed and there may be people on campus you can talk to about it more legitimately. However, the venting I’m talking about is before any of that. You may just need a moment to work through the emotions. Perhaps you call or text a close friend or family member. Here’s an brief example of a text conversation I might have:
You: “Ugh, ugh, UGH! I can’t believe my colleague. He didn’t finish writing the lesson we both need for tomorrow.”
Friend: “That’s horrible. That really sucks.”
You: “Yeah and now I have to stay later at work and get this all written and copied. I’m so stressed. I have so much to do.”
Friend: “OMG I hate that.”
You: “Yeah, it’s really not fair. I have all this extra work now. So annoying. I’m so upset.”
Friend: “Of course you are. Your colleague is an idiot. What a horrible person.”
You: “Yeah, he’s the worst.”
Friend: “Yeah, tell him he’s fired. I never liked him anyway.”
You: “Ha. Yeah…OK. Back to work now.”
You may not feel happy after the conversation, but at least you let off some steam, got some affirmation that your feelings are legitimate, and (hopefully) got a little smile.