605. Community Buzzes

People talk to each other. One of the reasons they do so is that they like to trade ideas that work and warn each other about ideas that don’t. At its best, that’s one of the great tendencies communities have; it makes learning more likely. Alone, we have neither anywhere near as many good ideas nor as much experience as we have together. “Community” comes from the Latin “communire,” which means, “to build together,” and communities can accomplish great things when building together is what they do.
But communities can also destroy together. Recently, I was talking with a teacher I admire. She expressed concern about what she called some “buzzing” she’d heard about from a parent of one of her pupils. This parent had praised her, but had added that what people were saying about this teacher was simply not true – that this teacher was indeed sensitive to the needs of the children she taught.
I hate compliments like that. It’s like saying to someone, “I don’t care what people say about you; I think you’re NICE!” When someone receives such a compliment, there’s a tendency to spend more time wondering what people are saying than thinking about the part of the compliment that’s complimentary. People who give such compliments may or may not mean well, but such compliments tend not to leave the recipients feeling good.
There may or may not be any actual “buzzing” in the commmunity. Maybe one parent made one comment, and it was passed along to the teacher as a “buzz.” Teachers know how quickly their effectiveness can be undermined by the rumor mill, and their worries about that are often realistic: What if people start hearing that I’m not a good teacher? What if parents write letters to the principal or superintendent asking that their children not be placed in my class? What if the powers that be are influenced by such letters? On the one hand, I know I’m a good teacher, but on the other hand, don’t I know about some bad teachers who also know they’re good teachers?
Tenure can provide a certain amount of security, but not enough. I can think of two categories of insecurity teachers may be prone to: job security worries and worries about whether the job is being done well. It’s not enough to be able to think, it doesn’t matter whether I’m a good teacher; I’ve got tenure. Nor is it helpful, ultimately, to think, I don’t care whether I keep my job; I know I’m a good teacher.
I live in the community in which I volunteer as a teachers’ aide. I know the teachers, the administrators, and the parents. I’m mostly immune to “buzzes;” it doesn’t matter so much any more whether I’m a great teacher; the community doesn’t pay me, so whatever I do is a gift. Once in a while, I hear little “buzzes” about teachers, and I usually do my best to quiet them down. If a certain teacher is ineffective or destructive,
“buzzing” probably isn’t going to get that teacher to shape up or ship out. And it probably won’t provide reliable information. So let’s either speak or be quiet; let’s not “buzz.”

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