It’s late Monday afternoon, our students have scampered noisily to the exits and the Woodbury Middle School teachers are cuing, zombie-like, or some of us frenetically, to our faculty meeting. The looming meeting, the first Monday of every month, makes these Mondays even harder, if that’s possible. Planning my school week as I take my reflective Sunday walk, the realization of, Oh we have a faculty meeting tomorrow weighs heavily on me as it does most of my colleagues I’m sure. While walking I think about what we did at our last few meetings and think about how long the day will be and I think that we might be learning something interesting in the next meeting, and I get kind of excited. Maybe the meeting will be interesting and make us better teachers.
I am observer and participant at these meetings. I feel like I should hate meetings because they’re boring, too long, often pointless….but the truth is, I kind of like them. I find myself dreading our meetings and looking forward to them.
In teaching, and in the corporate world, we are often insular, working alone, or in our small teams, so that when the whole staff gets together, it’s an exciting change in the routine. At these meetings, we see colleagues we used to work with who are now teaching other grade levels, or working on other teams. Maybe those colleagues transferred to another department? So in that way, each meeting is a reunion. Which is nice.
At a recent meeting I went to sit where I always sit, a very desirable seat for me, back of the room towards the window. As I put my stuff down, one of my colleagues says, “You can’t sit there, Elaine is sitting there.” I glance theatrically at the seat, cheekily I say, “I don’t see Elaine here.” I plop my laptop bag down. “Oh, she asked me to save her a seat.” I cackle, “What are we in high school Lee? Saving seats?” Now Lee and I are friends or I probably would have given up the seat. Lee says, “Okay. But you’re going to have to deal with Elaine.” That doesn’t scare me enough to move my seat, besides, there are a number of open seats right around us.
Waiting for the meeting to start, my exchange with Lee has me thinking…of how we are creatures of habit. Have you noticed your colleagues all tend to sit in the same spots? It’s a lot like a classroom… you have your front of the room teacher-pleasers, middle of the room participants who might fly under the radar and the back of the room slouchers and cut-ups. As you can probably figure, I’m a back of the room guy but I do participate, I’m not a slacker and I don’t work on all manner of other things. At this point, I probably should be moving towards the front of the room as I am becoming “more mature” (and my family would say hard of hearing) but it doesn’t feel right. Old habits die hard, right?
As I’ve said, something in me is observer and participant. We hear our principal kick off the meeting: always organized, with an agenda, following whatever protocols the research says make for good meetings. We’re told what our challenge is for the day, given clear directions, told to reconnect with the whole staff at a fixed time in the future. After a few questions we break up into groups, sometimes by grade level or subject areas, sometimes at random.
Working in groups (that’s all the rage in teaching now so that’s what we seem to do at every meeting) I watch to see who will take a leadership role in our group and in the other groups. Sometimes I will grab the reins, other times I watch and see how everything plays out. For some reason now, I don’t want to appear too pushy and always take the lead; if it’s something I feel strongly about or a subject I don’t really care about or have any expertise in, I will adjust my role. Maybe one of my colleagues would be better suited to lead this particular group? Because teachers are autonomous in their classrooms, most teachers have no problem playing a leadership role. The dynamics of the group are fun to watch. Most people are active participants. Usually the content and the task are fairly benign so we hardly ever get emotional, rarely will we see people getting stubborn and sticking to their point of view. Finally, task completed, we’ve had a pleasant time and head back to meet with the entire staff. We know that eventually we will have to share our work with the whole group, so we hope we have something that is focused, intelligent and I am sure we are kind of looking to impress our peers a bit and please the boss too.
Back in the whole group setting, I think of other things I've noticed about meetings to like:
There’s always the person that asks a question they already know the answer to because they think it makes them look smart when it actually does the opposite. Often, this person will summarize aloud to show that they get it. “So what you’re saying is, we have to get the kids to sign out each and every time they leave the room, as a security measure?” Yes, that’s exactly what I said, why did you feel the need to repeat it?
Then there are the people who become just like the students they were ( I suppose that’s what I’m doing by sitting in the back and casting out the occasional wise crack) some give up easily, some are shy, some become ultra-serious type-A teacher pleasers. To them I feel like saying, take it easy, nobody’s going to grade this, the goal is for us to actually LEARN something here.
There are also the people who are working on all manner of other things, just like our students. These slicksters think the person giving the presentation doesn’t know they are uploading grades to Powerschool or setting up their Fantasy team for the coming week. Not only are these people being disrespectful to the speaker, they are belittling the whole process. They are basically saying, I have better things to do, or I can give this meeting 31% of my brain, while the rest of you pay rapt attention, and that should be enough. At the end of the day, they’re really doing everything half-assed and being disrespectful in the process. I should add a disclaimer: I’m the biggest hypocrite because it’s okay if I’m off task;-) If I’m bored at a meeting, if the discussion turns to a student I don’t have, or pertains to something that does not concern me, I might do exactly the off-task things I just mentioned. I know, I’m an awful person.
Every meeting has to have its class clowns. There’s a percentage of us, as soon as we find a captive audience, become Bill Murray-like. I myself descend, or maybe ascend, to class-clown mode. My real goal for a staff meeting, is to find that one comment that will have them rolling in the aisles. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the goal. I want my other cut-up colleagues, the other class clowns in the room, to look at me with envy, their eyes saying, “Good one Spinner, I wish I had thought of that!”
We have our stay under the radar people. People who come to every meeting and don’t participate at all, biding their time until the meeting is over. Luckily we don’t have many of these. God, meetings must be really interminable for these people! Similarly, we have our day-dreamers, people who are tired and zoning out, but at the end of the day, we all need a little break. In a two hour meeting, we all zone out, we think about all manner of other things. I often see my colleagues looking off into the distance and wonder: What are they thinking about? I have to admit it, I do daydream, it’s hard to pay attention for that long. I have my go-to “games” to entertain myself. The game I play the most is, If I was single, would I date…her? I can’t help myself, I was doing the same thing in church and in school all those years ago. It’s kind of a fun game, you should try it some time. Or maybe you already play it?
Finally, you have the person at the meeting, when there’s two minutes left and everyone is packing up, stowing away pens, shutting down lap tops, wondering if they have time to stop at the supermarket, and this person decides (and it’s always the same person) to ask ONE MORE QUESTION. I’m not a violent guy but I would think tarring and feathering might end this quest for attention. I mean really? Don’t you see your colleagues are shot and ready to head out the door? Can’t you just wait and suck up to the teacher on your own time and not inconvenience the whole group?
Alright, gotta go, looks like this meeting is wrapping up. Can’t wait until the next meeting. Or can I?