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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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  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I taught for eighteen years, and what you say is absolutely true. I wouldn't even go to the teacher's lounge because of the nasty gossip that went on there.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    It is unfortunate but teachers do gossip about students, parents, other teachers and families. In most of the school districts my children went to, many of the teachers, if and when they ever sanctioned, had access to strong union backing to plead their case. One teacher told me she considered it "consulting with another teacher to gain some perspective on how to deal with the child." I told her that I hoped it wasn't in the hall or in the break room because speaking about any child should be done in privacy and I hope that was taken into consideration when they were talking.

    Whether it was within a child's hearing or not, children know that teachers speak about them amongst themselves. They can tell by the way they are treated by them. And if other teachers who don't have that child in their class overhear it, then they now have a preconceived notion about that child. If it happens in the hall where other students hear it too, it only makes for bad social situations.

    But we all know that this is gossiping, pure and simple. Since gossip is a human tendency, I do not feel that there is anything that can be done to make it stop 100%. Making examples out of the most blatant offenders might curb it, but only for a short time.

    I have spent my fair share of time in all five of my childrens' schools, since I have a special needs child (he's now 29) who needed revisions in IEP every few months in each school year and completely new IEPs written at the start of each new school year.

    I can't tell you how many times a teacher would say "I spoke to another teacher who said that she was having the same problems with (my son's name) in her class. My answer: Well, let her come to me if she has a problem. I'm here to deal with the issues at hand in your classroom.

    This article was a good insight into what we already know happens but it needs to be said over and over again so all are aware.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Very interesting subject. My experience tells me that it is a real problem. Especially when children move up from year to year. With my youngest daughter we went to the extent of moving her to a new school.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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 2 years ago from USA

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

  • Fawntia profile image

    Fawntia Fowler 2 years ago from San Francisco

    I would like to see teachers evaluated by parents and students rather than relying so much on standardized tests. Maybe that would help to solve the issues you've outlined in this Hub.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

    hi ologsinquito. I never realised that teachers gossipped so much. I thought that they may sometimes discuss a problem student with the aim of getting advice but I didn't know it was so common. They should have the same regulations of confidentiality as doctors and clergy. Voted up. Thanks for sharing this information.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

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

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is shocking information, Ologsinquito. In my school we definitely don't gossip. I don't know if this is the case in other schools in my area because my school has a different setup from many schools. All the teachers are well aware that what is discussed in the staff meeting is confidential and stays there, unless a group of students has made a proposal for us to discuss or unless we want to discuss a situation with the counsellor in private. I was very sad to learn from your hub that some teachers gossip. This should never happen.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

    I still hope that it has to do with the kind of people they are, rather than the fact that they're teachers. "Professionalism" as I know it does not allow gossip; teachers are no exception. Thanks for sharing your experience and calling out these offenders.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

    Shame on those teachers and that school psychologist for setting such a terrible example. You have outed them for being unprofessional and lily livered.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

    Oh how well I know this story. I avoid break rooms due to the conversations that go on in there. It is better to eat bread alone than to sit in an awkward setting.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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.

  • profile image

    Ethan Digby-New 2 years ago

    Very interesting article. Gossip is a common occurrence in the teaching environment, but I didn't realize this much. This was a very informative article.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    I too have noticed teachers gossiping and that is a common behavior, Interesting and well-noted.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

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

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Ethan, thanks so much for reading.

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

    Sadly there are those among the ranks of ANY profession that gossip. It is small of them and often leads to hurt feelings and untrue rumors being spread. I did not hang out in the teacher's lounge--too busy #1; gossip hotline central was there #2

    I was a teacher for 40+ years and learned very quickly to avoid those who chose to spread tales of others.

    One piece of unsolicited advice I gave to newbie teachers and to those who I mentored was this: never say anything you do not want to hear repeated. Words spoken seemingly in private and sworn to secrecy usually wind up on the gossip hotline.

    I have even seen some things put on Facebook by teachers and assistants that had no place there.

    The good news is : it is the minority that does it and of course they are the ones that give others a bad name.

    Voted up++++ shared g+ tweeted shared

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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.

  • peachpurple profile image

    peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    in my school days, 99% of my teachers are female, they are gossipers.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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.

  • brakel2 profile image

    Audrey Selig 2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    Hi Oleg -I do know of one school system in my area where gossiping is against the school rules. One teacher stated she is not allowed to discuss students at all. I don't know about other school systems,but am sad to learn about all the gossip that does go on. I even see info about students on Facebook. Maybe it becomes a release, but it is not a good thing. Blessings, Audrey

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 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.

  • letstalkabouteduc profile image

    McKenna Meyers 2 years ago from Bend, OR

    Wow, I've never heard this topic discussed, but you're so right. When I was a teacher, I hated the teacher's lounge because it was filled with gossip, negativity, and way too many high-calorie treats! I'd often stay in my classroom or walk around the block to avoid it and keep my sanity. Teachers were always making judgments about what family was a "good family" and what family was not. Since I have a son with autism, I would definitely not be placed in the "good family" category. Because it's a female dominated profession, there's so much cattiness. My job at a preschool was the cattiness work environment I've ever experienced by far. Love the hub. Voted up!

  • 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.

  • profile image

    SanXuary 2 years ago

    I think the education system is all garbage and no real professionals and destroys those who desire to be. It chooses those they want to succeed and condemns those they do not like. When I was a military instructor I was held to incredible standards to teach someone before they were allowed to fail. You really were not ready for the course if you could not pass it by the time we called it quits. I see no standards but complete bias for a lot of students in todays school system. Then again I see nothing but bias in everything we do. Psychologist are probably the biggest waste of money you will ever spend and I do not think they have any real purpose without an agenda they support.

  • 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.

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