The Faculty Lounge

As a former student of a private Montgomery, Alabama high school, and an instructor currently working at my second private school in eight years of teaching, I have had some unique experiences that have shaped my view and understanding of faculty socialization. I still contend that schools are archaic and in need of structural change. Many continue to follow an outdated industrial Taylor model that promulgates what social scientist call the scientific management model. One aspect about the politics of schools that have served as a formative shaper of both students and teachers are faculty lounges.

Here is an interesting faculty lounge below:

My idealistic view of the faculty lounge clashes with that of popular culture; I see a room in which colleagues gather together to discuss their most recent class discussion or lecture. Furthermore, the lounge offers teachers a place to discuss local and national politics, as well as a forum for academic and social reform on campus. It is a gathering place to chat about recent faculty travels, conference attendance, and presentations. The lounge, however, has been shaped by faculty members who define conventional constructs and customary images. Such customary depictions have been played in movies and on television. I recall watching an episode of the Simpson’s in which Bart and the rest of his class fantasized about the secretive nature of the faculty lounge; they assumed that it was a place of luxury and wealth, a place where teachers gossiped about students and colleagues, and epitomized the notion of anti-intellectualism. More than that, the image popularized by cancelled TV shows, such as Boston Public,  portrayed teachers more as social workers than holders of knowledge.

We do not have a faculty lounge at Houston Christian. Our campus ran into space problems four years ago, thus the lounge was out and an additional classroom emerged. We just completed the construction of a new $9 – 10 million Drake Performing Arts Center and a second gym….I suspect the future addition of a new campus student center might change this. I am curious to observe in an ethnographic fashion the behavior of HCHS faculty and staff; I suspect that with the brainpower and academic diversity on our campus, the faculty lounge will defy the sociological norms that exist.

                     Houston Christian’s Campus

HCHS is not the only campus to lack a faculty lounge. While visiting the Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York after spending a little time attending the American Historians Association meeting in Washington D.C., I was introduced to the concept of faculty coffee and tea time. At 10:30, faculty members can either spend a little time in their office working or head to the commons area for beverages. This of course was very interesting; I spent the morning with a classicist discussing the school and Chopin. Other teachers sat at a commons table used for faculty and student lunches. Here is what the Allendale School has to say about their commons:

At our family style lunch, the warm meal is delivered right to the tables. If you’re looking for something extra, you can usually find it at the salad, soup or cereal bars. Students and faculty eat lunch together in a civilized, enjoyable environment where conversation is more than just academics.

While visiting the St. John’s School of Houston last year, I was thoroughly impressed with their lounge; however, their lounge is broken up departmentally.  At St. John’s, the history lounge consists of a departmental library with books and journals, as well as couches, faculty offices, and a seminar table. I did a search on dissertation abstracts to see if any sociology students have written on the sociological significance of the faculty lounge, but I found nothing. I suspect there is something out there or will be in the future on this topic.



15 thoughts on “The Faculty Lounge

  1. I know that educators work hard. I understand that, but every time I hear you whine about tenure and not having a faculty lounge, I lose a little bit of respect for you. I know it’s hard job to educate people, but lots of other people have hard jobs too, and there’s no tenure or lounge. Those people just have to get up, go to work, and do their dead level best every day to not get fired. They also don’t get summers off, two weeks at Christmas, Thanksgiving, a spring break and so on and so forth.

  2. Carson –I think we have finally managed to reach the position you are addressing here. When I first started, the sociological themes you mentioned were a problem. I must say, I like the socological approach to addressing this matter. It is an issue in a number of places. My partner often tells me that the breakroom has become a forum of office gossip. Interesting post and a very important one for those of us who look at the cultural impact of schools and discuss as you noted “faculty socolization.”

    Kristi — I am sorry to disagree, but I read this post differently from your conclusion.

  3. Oh Kristi, I am yelling at you right now. I see this as a pretty accurate critique. On my campus, the faculty lounge is not the problem as much as our department meetings in the lounge. It is interesting how much professors act like their students.

  4. I think kids are facinated with the faculty lounge because it is one plce that is definately off-limits.
    In a recent renovation of our school, they remodled our faculty lounges a bit. They moved some bathrooms around and took out the work spaces. In years past many teachers had to create a “home base” there because they were floaters. Even now, some teacher have to use the conference room during their planning perios because someone else is using their classroom during that time.
    We eat lunch in the conference rooms too. I eat with members of the foreign language and social studies departments who are off at the same time I am. We do use it as a time to share ideas and talk about things of concern. The foriegn language folks start to roll their eyes when the discussion turns to politics. Social Studies teachers just can’t seem to help themselves.
    We try to remain positive when it comes to school and students. We’ve even forced ourselves to change the subject sometimes when its gotten too negative. We do consult with each other about shared students, trying to find out how someone is doing in another class.
    We have two first year teachers that eat with us and I’de like to think that the veterans are giving them good advice and pointers to help them make it through a difficult year. I know I picked up a lot of good advice from my “lunch bunch” my first year here.
    The faculty lounge can be a good or bad place, whatever the faculty decides to make it. A place to hold grip sessions and backstab the administration or a place where ideas and advice are shared. Sometimes it takes a conscious effort to make it a productive part of the campus.

    BTW Carson – I could live without the conference room but not without a faculty bathroom!! Please tell me you (and Staci) you have those!!

  5. Teacherwoman- Don’t be sorry to disagree so long as you have a good case. Disagreement is where new discoveries come from. Disagreement is what makes you think about things. There’s no need to apologize for it.

    Jaylon- You’re missing my point. Unless of course I misread what you wrote which is possible. I’ve been up working on my thesis for several days so things are starting to not make sense. However, all I’m saying is that I know teaching is hard. I also know that other jobs are equally if not more difficult and these people don’t have tenure or lounges so I don’t really understand why educators feel entitled to them when other people don’t have them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have them, I’m just saying that teaching has an awful lot of perks that industry doesn’t. The rest of the world has to prove themselves every day. They’re under review every day, and they don’t even have anywhere to relax on the job. I’m bewildered why they deserve it any less and why educators deserve it any more than the rest of the world.

  6. Oh, and I do agree about faculty bathrooms, especially in high schools. Kids are gross. However, it doesn’t get much better in college and I don’t know of faculty bathrooms in any of the universities I’ve attended.

  7. My own experiences have shown me that, for the most part, teachers aren’t WILLING to share ideas or to help each other overly much. The public schools I’ve been in have been blanketed in an atmosphere of jealousy and closely-guarded secrets – a girlfriend of mine was once told by another teacher that she wouldn’t share her lessons with her; “I paid 60,000 dollars for my education – I’m not going to give it to you for nothing!”

    I really wish that we could get over this attitude. Educational environments shouldn’t be competitive and vicious. We make everyone better when we work together – teachers and students alike.

  8. Jim Brown — kinda bad news — there are faculty restrooms but they are not in a workroom or lounge area. They are positioned in the frot of each academic hall. What is it like for you down south?

    Kristi — I see the nature of faculty lounges as a place to engage in faculty/ teaching matters, not so much as a place to relax or rest. With that stated, much like what teacherwoman stated, most work places have a breakroom. I had hoped to define the nature of a faculty lounge differently than a breakroom. Again, my idealism about the nature of faculty lounges is what I see. As for matters of tenure and the nature of what I do, which on a grand scale is very easy in terms of labor but challenging in other ways, serves the protection of my voice; if I cannot tell students how I really feel or what I think about a particular isuue, then I am not doing what I would like to do.

    mrschili — I know how you feel about this. We have had this conversation. Still, I have found faculty life in an independent school to be very different from what you have described. What is this like on your college campus? The teacher with the $60,000 bill needs to become a nun; how can you do this without exchanging ideas? Why attend a conference?

  9. Kristi:

    Academic freedom and the ability to reach people over controversial topics require a degree of protection. Lawyers become partners and are proteced. Doctors operate at a different level but are better rewarded for their risks.

    My campus embraces these ideals. We do not approach the rest of the world from an ivory tower, but most people do not face political nature that I as a member of the professoriate face. This is the reality of many educators. Good luck with the thesis. I hope you finish it faster than I did mine.

  10. And the rest of the world? Engineers, who protects them? And what about people who haven’t had the luxury of college, who work hard all the time? Who protects them? Who protects industry chemists and biologists and business people who aren’t CEOs or CFOs or high ranking VPs? There’s no planning period when you have one of those jobs. There’s no long breaks built into your yearly schedule. There’s just not. I don’t think that you deserve any less than anyone because you’re educators, but I don’t understand why you deserve more either. And yes, there are lots of politics everywhere.

    Thanks for the well wishing on the thesis. I believe it’s almost done.

  11. Kristi:

    I’m not sure if you are angry at Carson… or what. I found nothing in his blog that would explain your contemptuous comments. I apologize if I’m reading too much into it.

    I do believe that being an educator has positive points, but it also has its- for lack of a better word- crap. For one, the disrespect that most teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. Kids don’t want to be there, they often don’t see the benefit… and because of that, it is disheartening being a teacher. I’m sure Mr. Carson can testify to how blessed he is to be in the school he’s in.

    Second, I don’t think that I have met a teacher that doesn’t work through spring break or Christmas break. I’m sorry but is it necessary for them to work those days? And who doesn’t get Christmas or Thanksgiving off? Please give me the statistical facts that the majority of American workers don’t get Thanksgiving off.

    I don’t know where you picked up the idea that educator’s feel they deserve a faculty room or tenure. There is more to teaching than a job, it isn’t something you do from 7 to 2, go home and stare at the TV for the rest of the night. It requires a lot more time than 40 hrs a week.

    I don’t want you to think that I don’t understand you, I understand that you don’t think that we should complain about our jobs. And you are correct, but to deny someone something because other’s don’t have it… it sounds a little childish… like tattling to mommy because your brother got the bigger cookie.

    As Christians (which I believe you are by reading your blog a little), we should be joyful in the hope we have. We should perform our respective occupations that God has given us as spiritual acts of worship. No complaints.

    On that note, I don’t see the negative side of having a place for educator’s to meet/discuss. Tenure… maybe in theory.

  12. This is the last thing I’ll say on this: I’m not angry. I’m sorry that believing in my position makes it appear that way. I teach too, in addition to working part time and going to my own classes. I know about being tired and working through spring break. But I also know what it’s like to have tenured professors who are utter crap in the classroom. I can make lengthy lists of them, in fact, which is why I don’t believe in it. I’m for it in theory, but not in practice. I know it’s a hard job. I do it myself and I’m not even remotely appropriately monetarily rewarded for it. It’s not about being childish though as I have the bigger cookie, I have a faculty lounge. Heck, I even have my own office. Also, in answer to your question about Christmas and Thanksgiving, I wasn’t referring to the actual days of December 25th and the last Thursday in November. I was referring to the lengthy break educators get. I would get it myself, except that in order to get my bills all paid, I have to work outside of the graduate program I’m in, so last year I worked the day before and the day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas eve and the day after Christmas and during my spring break. My old roommate is a nurse and she worked Dec. 25th and Thanksgiving day and New Year’s day and eve last year. I know that educators work hard during their breaks, but they are given the opportunity to get some work done without students, which is greatly need cause kids can be annoying. In 2002 a study was done and reported on in Usa Today which says that about 27% of all Americans have college educations, which leads me to believe that most Americans do not have one, which further leads me to believe that most Americans are in dead end jobs. How many times have you, or I for that matter, filled up with gas on our vacation with the full knowledge that the clerk didn’t get one? That doesn’t make it right or wrong, just the way it is, which is the question that you asked. In regards to the Christianity of my point: I believe in doing unto the least of these. See, I’ve got somewhere to go when I finish school. I can land a job with paid vacation and health insurance and so on. I can even get a teaching job if I wish. It’s not about my being whiny and childish, it’s about believing that God chose to bless me and I don’t deserve it, so I should work to bless other people whether or not they deserve it.

    In a completely unrelated topic, thanks for reading my blog. I’ve been meaning to update, but I get carried away on other people’s. I’m rarely angry, just dramatic and passionate. I hope you’ll forgive me for that.

  13. [sincere]
    I promised to not speak on this subject anymore, and I won’t. I just would hate for everyone to mistake my passion for anger and contempt. I should probably wise up and put tone of voice words in brackets before my comments like in stage directions. I’d like to think that Carson knows this by now. I’ve been this way, I’m sure, as long as he’s known me.

  14. Katie — Great comment. I could not have explained it any better. Although my fault most of the time, vactions are not the norm for me; my summers are spent doing research, traveling to present or attend various academic meetings, or making changes to my courses. Thanksgiving break and Christmas allows me to get ready and adress my syllabus for the next term.

    I will admit that I teach good students. We do not have the issues that some places have to deal with. As many on my campus know, I work to get the mosr out of those students who would like to be challenged. I am no missionary. My world does not reflect the movie “Dangerous Minds” or “Freedom Writers.” As for my intent of this blog piece, you are right again. Again, good comment.

    Kristi — Oh we have long disagreed on topics such as this, which is cool and fun. I think I did a poor job illustrating the purpose for writing this post. I wanted to focus on faculty socilization. We have plenty of conference/seminar rooms on campus. We also have a workroom for meals, coffee, food storage, campus mail etc….But that is different from the purpose of faculty lounges. Mrschili’s point is good in that not all places nor do all faculty at any level contribute to my idealism. It is not so much about the breaks; I prefer to spend most of them traveling and working on a project. But like I stated before, I work in posh setting talking about what I am most interested in talking about; I have an easy job.

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