Friday, October 21, 2016

Stay out of the lunch room! by Mike Siekkinen

When I first became a teacher, I was lucky enough to have several great mentors who helped me along the way and made a huge positive impact on me. Although most people are willing to give advice, you do not always receive “good” advice.

I thought I might pass on one of the best things that was told to me my first year teaching: “stay out of the lunch room.”

One of my mentors was a wonderful teacher named Bonnie London. Bonnie passed away a few years ago and I know would appreciate being remembered this way. Bonnie was one of my college professors who had previously been a classroom teacher and an administrator. Having her for several classes as a student, she pulled me aside one day for a little one-on-one chat, as hers was my last class and I had just been hired to be a teacher during the next school year. She told me to make her one promise for my first year of teaching: to not eat lunch in the lunch room with the other teachers. 

When I asked her why as this sounded like an odd promise to ask of me, she explained that there are teachers who complain a lot. When I said I understand that there are always “complainers” and I thought I could handle that, she said, “It’s more than just complaining.”

She explained that there is a lot of negativity and general bad talk that occurs between teachers and it is easy to fall into that mindset. She said stay away from it all, especially your first year, as it’s hard enough surviving your first year without falling onto the gossip, trash talk and bad attitudes from a few teachers. I promised her I would do this and kept that promise my first year teaching. When I saw her next she asked me if I was, in fact, keeping my promise. I have done this now every year, having just completed my 14th year teaching. I open my classroom as a safe haven for students during lunch instead of going to the lunch room and sitting with the other teachers. For the students who need to get away from the noise or who are just having a bad day, they know they can come to Dr. Siekkinen’s room and that that is OK. I typically have a dozen students each day eating in my room.  I know this has made a difference in who I have become as a teacher and I pass this same advice on to other new teachers.

Negativity breeds negativity. How do you manage to keep a positive attitude?

Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.