You’d think that might have prompted me to reflect on how much I ‘talked shop’, but it didn’t. It was my cousin, also a high school teacher, but on the other side of the planet, who made me change my ways.
“When I finish work for the day, I don’t talk about it at home or anywhere else. I don’t see any of my co-workers outside of work. I separate business and pleasure,” she said, now 15 years into the profession.
Impacts of 'talking shop'
Could I do that? What impact would it have on my teaching psyche, indeed my personal psyche? Isn’t ‘talking shop’ part of my reflective practice?
The UK website, The Teacher Toolkit, says “Teaching is all-consuming and some of us just can’t leave it alone. We go to work to ‘work’, not drag it about with us everywhere we go. But we do and it isn’t good for us.”
It argues that talking about work outside school sullies our wellbeing.
Setting the challenge
So, I set myself the ‘no shop talk’ challenge for a week to see if it could become a habit. The first couple of days it took conscious effort.
Often I’d utter a word or a phrase “in the” or “today at” before stopping myself. Ok, I did talk about what we had for morning tea in the staffroom (but didn’t think that counted).
Out of hours, my mind does occasional replays of students being disruptive in my classes and how I’ve responded. What do I do with these thoughts now that I no longer talk about them at home? I have to deal with this internally.
What could I have done differently? Often the answer is ‘say less and use your eyebrows more’ and ‘practice patience longer before giving instructions’. So, I’m still reflecting, but find I’m crystalising my thoughts into one or two key messages – they’re not ‘take home’, but ‘take to work’ messages.
I had a lot of questions.
What was my aim in regaling my family with stories about what a student said or did in my class that annoyed me? Am I stockpiling justification to eventually opt out of teaching? Building up my listeners to say ‘you don’t sound happy teaching; are you sure you should keep teaching?’ Why does my family need to hear about the minutia of my day? Why haven’t I shared the good stuff that happens?
Bark up the right tree
It made me realise my partner and primary-school age son both respond to my question ‘how was your day?’ with a couple of short sharp sentences. They’re conveying information, not whinges. And then, they get onto something else. There’s no lingering, rehashing, overthinking.
They don’t sound stuck, but when I’ve brought home figuratively gut-punching anecdotes from my day and shared them, neither their empathy nor advice move me to a better mind space. I’ve been barking up the wrong tree.
Research shows that schools can be a source of burnout for teachers, but may also “provide a resource for dealing with issues such as workload, students, administrative, and educational tasks”.
After a week of no shoptalk at home, I know where to offload if I need to – at work.