Jefferson High teachers learn a lesson about griping

Published Feb. 20, 2013

If teachers at Tampa's Jefferson High School got a report card for the "Wall of Shame" upon which they displayed dumb things students say — "Who is our king?" for example — it would go like this:

For a blowing off of steam by colleagues doing a critical, challenging, sometimes grinding job for not enough pay: A-.

For some grim real-life commentary on the state of public education: B.

For compiling the list on a communal dry-erase board visitors might see and kids might find out about, even if it was inside a teachers' lounge: C.

And for word choice, "Wall of Shame," in particular? Sorry, but we're going to have to go with an F on that one.

Since time immemorial, or at least since I used to pick up my parents' Readers' Digests, or my grandmother talked about that funny Art Linkletter on the TV, teachers and other adults have collected irrepressible things kids say, verbal gems born both of innocence and ignorance.

So what's wrong with some high school teachers gathering a list of non-bon mots from their students — such as, "Hawaii is a state?" — and writing them on a board to share with similarly amused/exasperated colleagues?

Who could blame them from repeating questions like, "Where are the Irish from, Ireland?"

(For the record, we are talking teenagers, not toddlers.)

But there's that name, "Wall of Shame," hinting at a frustration way beyond oh-those-irrepressible-kids. "Shame" might imply you should be ashamed to ask, and shaming students is not what we expect from teachers.

You could argue that by the time students hit high school, they should know whether or not, say, Japan invaded New York. Maybe part of that shame is the state of education — in which case, don't teachers and parents share some responsibility?

It should be noted for the record that these kids were not identified by name. The board was in what's supposed to be teacher territory.

And clearly, no deliberate shaming of individual students, no attempt to squelch honest curiosity, was intended.

And for a reality check: When you are in the trenches and on the clock — whether you're a middle manager, a cook or a cop — it helps to commiserate with colleagues uniquely qualified to understand the worst of the job. Often, these are things you would not want the general public to hear.

I have overheard dark humor between police officers at a crime scene that seemed less like insensitivity and more about steeling one's self against the daily onslaught of the worst things people do to each other.

Maybe lawyers gripe internally about bossy clients. Reporters? Not telling.

But there's a time, place and audience.

Whatever happened to teachers indulging in that time-honored tradition of lamenting the state of their work, their bosses and the world in general over a couple of beers outside the workplace — known in some circles as "Professional Development"?

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter

We’ll break down the local and state education developments you need to know every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

It did not help that the St. Petersburg College professor who saw the wall and busted the authors was there teaching a night class about the dangers of teachers stereotyping students.

Would that be "irony"? Anyone?

From Jefferson High, lesson learned.