Should Venting About Students be Banned?

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by Jason Deehan

Recently I received a response to a blog post about shared teacher workspace. The comment, from a teacher at a private school, casually mentioned that they have a no-venting policy at their institution – that venting about a student is considered the same as talking about them behind their back.

I was flabbergasted.

No venting?

But, getting together with peers and talking about students is a teacher staple! It’s up there with drinking too much coffee and saying “Face the front!”

In all seriousness, this policy was a shocker. But, when I gave it more thought, and did some research, the idea wasn’t as bizarre as it first seemed.

First, I found an article on Psychology Today. The article acknowledged that venting had healthy properties. For instance, venting is helpful in releasing pent-up negative emotions. However, the positives are counterbalanced by a number of significant concerns:

  • Venting gives the venter the false sense of achieving something – it feels like problem-solving, but really isn’t
  • When you vent often, you get better and better at it and that will only lead to more anger in the future when encountering similar situations

Fortune.com has this to say about venting in the workplace:

“The average employee either vents or hears someone else vent about four times a day, according to Kristin Behfar, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.”

“The worst thing a listener can do, the researchers found, is agree with an angry co-worker. ‘When you feed the flame, it burns longer,’ says Brad Bushman, an anger expert at Ohio State University’s School of Communication. ‘Listeners who agree are just keeping angry feelings alive when the key is to let them die.’”

Venting in a school environment is a sacred cow that deserves more scrutiny. The teacher who initially introduced me to the no-venting philosophy, later clarified their school’s position by saying there was no actual ban on venting. But, venting was strongly linked to the concept of student respect.

“We have a strong culture of respect at my school in the way we talk about students, even when they’re not around, and check each other on it often. Processing emotions/talking things out is one thing, but a positive culture in your school should keep it in check so the students are respected even when they’re not in the room.”

And this is certainly an important point – genuinely voicing frustrations is one thing, but when it drifts into bully-like behavior, then a line has to be drawn. Having said that, I have been teaching for a long time and I have yet to encounter a teacher who crossed from venting into abject disrespect.

What is far too common is the frustration I have felt when particular students come up again and again in conversation and then nothing changes – there is never a discussion of fixes or solutions. Venting needs to be coupled with problem-solving strategies to ensure that whatever situation is generating the vexation is successfully addressed. We need to move forward and get off the ceaseless treadmill of merely complaining.

This was originally posted to Edutopia and is reprinted here with permission. 

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19 Comments

  1. This is what happens when incompetent deans and dept chairs have the open door policy so faculty are fired for no reason and even fictional made up events!

  2. I think it’s not only fine but can be helpful, for both the venting person and his or her audience – as long as it’s not done in the presence of students. But we all need someone to talk to when things bother us, especially if that person also understands what we’re talking about. They might even have solutions to what upsets us. As for social media, I think that it’s okay if good judgement is used. I personally don’t allow students on my social media sites; I have a separate account for them, as do many of my faculty friends. That way, we can share student stories (no names, of course) without worrying that the students will see. Although they might learn something if they did hear what we said among ourselves 🙂

  3. Talking amongst colleagues at a private gathering is one thing and is acceptable, but complaining about students on any public forum is not professional and not the place for it.

    • Devil’s advocate here, so just for argument’s sake even without names students can be identified by faculty, friends, other students, yes?

      • AdjunctNation in a small enough school with a well known student, yeah. At a university? Stick to the specific situation without personal details. If it relates to cheating, it’s sharing information other profs can keep an eye out for.

  4. Well if I had vented before the little poopheads went to the dean I might still be adjuncting instead of getting fired from my adjunct job and then getting a real and fulfilling job that pays close to $100k. So don’t vent. Get a real job. And thank the little poopheads that might help you get kicked out. The best thing about getting fired is that I know I won’t adjunct again, even on the side. Life is good.

  5. There are several situations where teachers discussong difficult situations together can lead to problem solving and teacher learning from each other. Also, teaching is stressful. We need to vent, just with few details.

  6. Although I will say that back when RateMyProfessor allowed profs to do answer videos to their student comments, I found that to be counter-productive.

    • David Kociemba yeah, I had to stop reading those. They were never helpful criticism. And true, a lot of my students today are older students, but they are never the problem students; they are always the awesome ones in my experience.

  7. Students get to “vent” on multiple teacher review sites about us. At least our discussions could be opportunities to help each other solve problems or improve our teaching

    • Summer Smith yes students get to vent, but they also don’t have the maturity level that we do. We know how to handle situations more appropriately than they do (ideally).

    • Uh… several of my students were older than me when I started in the profession, as they were nontraditional students. Also, I am very immature.

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