Why are Teachers Allowed to Gossip?

Updated on October 11, 2016

Code Ethics for Teachers Needed

For a couple of years, I took a break from writing. Working in a school department. I tutored severely autistic children. This was so rewarding that, briefly, I considered getting advanced training in the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis.

However, in the end, I returned to writing. There were some things I didn't like about working in a school system. Heading the list was the toxic atmosphere in the teacher's lunchroom, thoroughly inundated with malicious gossip.

Speaking without any filter whatsoever, various teachers complained about this family, or that child. Was a certain child diagnosed with behavior problems? Well, then, everyone knew about it, regardless of whether they needed to.

Was a certain family "high maintenance?" This meant, in special education circles, they were willing to advocate for their child, and, if necessary, hire an attorney to help them get all of the services to which, under law, they were entitled.

Certain teachers decided that some parents were odd, an opinion they shared freely. However, no consideration was given to the fact that a particular mother, whom did come across as scatterbrained, was trying to parent two severely autistic children. Money in that household also seemed tight. Could this, possibly, have something to do with why she didn't appear to have it all together.

The Psychologist Also Gossiped

In this particular building, the school psychologist was the worst offender. At lunch, she sat in the middle of the teachers, loudly voicing her "professional opinions." Her mouth ran non stop.

At one point, she told me one parent wasn't that bright. Had she run an IQ test? Did she stop to think that, possibly, there were simply communication problems, as English wasn't his second language?

This parent was also, undoubtedly, under a lot of stress. He was a single parent with several children. One of them had autism, and his behaviors could be quite challenging.

The gossip was unquenchable, and it raises one important question. Why aren't teachers required to follow the same guidelines and ethics found in other professions. We usually don't hear doctors gossiping about their patients, or social workers discussing their clients. So why is it okay for people, whom work with children, to destroy their reputations?

Teachers have no official code of ethics against gossip.
Teachers have no official code of ethics against gossip. | Source

Retired Teachers Gossip Too

In my personal life, I've known a number of teachers. For some reason, it's a profession many extended family members, as well as family friends, have entered.

Most of the teachers I know don't gossip. But a distinct minority of them do. It's very disturbing to hear them casually relating potentially damaging classroom anecdotes, using real names. If you weren't of the opinion that gossip is evil, these would be highly amusing tales. However, they involve real people. A teacher should be in the position to help, and not destroy.

I wonder how many parents realize that every bit of personal information shared with a teacher, or written on a school form, could easily be made public, when the teacher socializes outside of the school?

Do they realize that, for some teachers, nothing is off limits. This includes details about a child's diagnosis, behavioral interventions, suicide attempts, medication, health care information and intelligence. All of these can go into the public rumor mill.

As one very professional educational consultant, with doctoral-level training, once remarked, "You walk into a teachers' lunchroom and your ears burn."

Teachers and Gossip

Do you think teachers should be held to the same confidentiality standards as other professionals?

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Teachers Gossip About Each Other Too

Teaching is still a largely female dominated profession, at least at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. One issue that's finally receiving some attention is the one of bullying, among teachers. A shockingly high percentage of teachers claim they've been bullied by a colleague. In the UK, about 25 percent of educators report that this has happened.

In the United States, 1 out of 4 teachers have been bullied on the job. However, this figure factors in various potential perpetrators, including parents, students and coworkers.

We can safely assume that most of these educational bullies are women. When she decides to target one of her own kind, she doesn't walk up to her and punch her rival in the gut. Instead, she will attempt to ruin this coworkers other relationships. The target soon finds herself isolated, and, likely, the subject of gossip in the teachers' lunchroom.

This type of behavior is known as "relational aggression." It's a form of bullying that's just as real, and just as devastating, as the threat of physical violence.

Teacher gossip has even been scientifically documented. In 2009, the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography published a study showing how prevalent it's become. The study subjects came a group of Midwestern elementary school educators.

Teachers may gossip about their students.
Teachers may gossip about their students. | Source

Gossip and Public Policy

Teachers have my utmost respect, for they have enormous responsibilities for relatively little pay, compared to other professions. However, the problem of gossip in the lunchroom and elsewhere, shouldn't be ignored.

If I were a teacher, I'd want strict regulations enacted to curb this chatter, so it doesn't detract from the profession. Right now, it's an open secret that reputations, as well as papers, are shredded by some school personnel.

Please understand I am not suggesting that all teachers are prolific gossips. But, apparently, enough of this trash talking goes on, something that's caught the attention of researchers.

If there's any nationwide movement to address this problem, it wasn't evident with a Google search, typing likely phrases, such as "stopping teacher gossiping" into the search box. Nor does there seem to be any nationwide effort at enacting legislation to curb these runaway mouths.

At the local level, nearly all of the anti-bullying policies put forth by individual school districts seem aimed at reigning in student behavior. It appears as if teachers are still getting a pass.

The Limits of FERPA

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that protects access, in most cases, to a student's educational records. However, FERPA doesn't protect against teacher's sharing non-educational information, such as classroom incidents of misbehavior, or their own personal opinion on how well the parents of the students in their care are doing their jobs.

Parental "shortcomings," from my own personal experience in the teacher lunchroom, are a common topic.

FERPA also does not guard against an educator discussing what particular medication a child is taking, or why. Nor does it prevent various diagnostic labels from being bandied about.

Teachers may gossip at school.
Teachers may gossip at school. | Source

What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Families

In the absence of public policy regarding teachers who talk about their students, and their families, it's safe to assume that anything you tell a teacher may not remain confidential, depending upon his or her personal ethics.

Therefore, if you live in a small community, and are employed there, you need to carefully think through any information you intend to share with a teacher. If it's not directly necessary for your child's education or welfare, there's probably no need to confide in a teacher.

School counselors, however, are supposed to abide by a code of ethics, which includes confidentiality. So, a sensitive problem is best handled at that level. It can't hurt to remind the counselor that you are not sharing this matter with the teacher.

Until we have a nationwide code of ethics, specifically written for teachers, you can also instruct your child or children to discuss any problems that may arise with their guidance counselor.

Although I believe the behavior I witnessed, by a school psychologist, was the exception, this code of ethics did not prevent her from sharing her very unprofessional opinions with everyone inclined to listen.

Proper Behavior in the Teacher Lunch Room


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Submit a Comment

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi SanXuary, you've made some excellent points. I homeschooled my children for a part of their school career. I noticed some appalling things early on. It seems as if the lessons were dumbed down so that no one could learn to think on their own. I'm not impressed with the system either. Thanks for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi letstalkabouteduc, you certainly had a front row seat into all this dysfunction. It's a shame it continues unabated. Thanks so much for reading and for commenting.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    That is a very progressive school system. I wish the others would follow their good example. That's horrible that you have seen info on students on Facebook. That should be illegal. Thanks so much for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Peachpurple, thanks so much for reading. The feedback I'm getting is that gossip in the lunch room is a big problem.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Patricia, that is very wise advice you gave to the new teachers. I agree that it is only a minority that engages in such unprofessional behavior. The Facebook posts are outrageous.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Ethan, thanks so much for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Even over there. Sadly, this must be a worldwide problem. Thanks for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    teaches, how sad you have to eat lunch alone. Of course, this is the far better option. Just listening to gossip is wrong (and sinful). I do wish there was legislation outlawing this chatter in the break room. Maybe some day.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Flourish, thanks so much for reading. I don't think all school psychologists have such loose lips, because confidentiality is stressed, and they are at least trained not to gossip about their clients. But the same thing is not happening for teachers, unfortunately.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Alicia and MsDora, thank you so much for reading. It is good to know this doesn't happen in every single school. MsDora, I agree that this is not professional, and professionalism does not allow for gossip.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Jodah, I totally agree they should be held to higher standards. The way it is now is ridiculous.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Fawntia, that might be a solution. The standardized testing certainly isn't addressing the problem of gossip. At this point, things just need to change to the gossip is reigned in.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi billy, thanks for the confirmation. I strongly believe this happens all over the place. Something needs to change.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Eric, moving seems like the only way to solve the problem. I wish there was a nationwide policy to curb this chatter.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Rachael, thanks so much for reading. Special needs parents seem to have it the worst with teachers, because they must advocate for their children, which means they are probably in the school building more than other parents.

    You are so right about this preconceived notion business. I don't know what it will take to change this situation. I'd still like to see the standards raised.


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