Living in a small town can teach you so many things about life and human nature; if you ever get the opportunity, you should try out that rural small-town living. It really is magical to just sit back and take in all the peace and quiet a small town has to offer. I would definitely live in a small rural town again especially now that I am much wiser…
When I was in college, and for a short time after, I lived (and I mean LIVED- coexisted with the locals and everything…) in the ‘oldest town in Texas’, good ole’ Nacogdoches. Weird name, indeed, but a place that will always be special to me. I learned many things growing into adulthood in Nacogdoches, but, and almost most importantly, I learned something that I have taken with me long after I left my beautiful 2nd home. That is, as the title tells you, that loose lips do, in fact, sink ships, and they do it exponentially faster in small towns like Nacogdoches.
You see, when you’re a local, or immersed with the locals, in a small town, everyone knows everything about everyone’s business even if they don’t know them. The shows are not exaggerating this fact- this is 100% legit and something I never really experienced growing up. I lived IN Dallas (yes, actual Dallas- Plano, Garland, Frisco, Mesquite, etc… are NOT Dallas), and while sometimes things got out, the chances of you going to Kroger and someone looking at you because they know your secrets were incredibly slim, like almost impossible. When you live in a big city, running into someone who knows all your business, and may have beef with you and your business, is a true surprise because you honestly didn’t expect to see them there because the city is just so dang big.
But, in a small town, oh you better believe you won’t just see one person who knows everything about all of your comings and goings, you will see every. last. one of them.
They literally appear out of nowhere as if a homing beacon was sent out the moment you left the house. And this was something I was ignorant to until my comings and goings soon became topic among the locals as well (it’s what happens when you have a volatile relationship with one of them). Everywhere I went, there was someone who knew something, and they just glared or sneered or whatever it was that made them feel good, and it started to make me uncomfortable because it was unfamiliar. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am used to getting dirty looks- I have a nasty of habit of ruffling feathers- but, in a city of over a million, you at least get a reprieve. There is no reprieve in a small town. You are at the mercy of town gossip; it spreads like wildfire, and once it has started, you best believe you won’t be looked at the same again which it sucks.
So, what brought all this up… I am an educator, and every school is just like its own small town. We have our Mayor (Principal), our City Council (Assistant Principals), the other city employees (teachers, et al), and the citizens (students, duh), and they all make up a little community that functions day in and day out for about 9-ish months out of the year.
And if you ever wanted a phrase to live by when working at a school, it should be this one.
Loose. Lips. Sink. Ships.
Many people especially those in a position of power and/or advisement/support would benefit from letting that sink in (no pun intended) because nothing will sink your ship faster than finding out that a person who was supposed to be a member of your team has turned outside the team to complain about them. Or maybe, you did a bad thing or said something really awful about a staff member. Whatever negative thing you did or complained about, like a small town, that information was doused in gasoline and set on fire to spread magnificently throughout the school within a matter of minutes of you leaving the room/conversation.
And it happens. EVERY. TIME.
I know more things about people I don’t even really know than I do some of my own friends, and I work with like 150 people. Is it all true? Probably not. But, the point is, it’s out there, and people know, or have heard, and they now have opinions of you which affect your ability to do your job.
A lot of times, I find myself on the receiving end of the complaining and gossip because I don’t say much or really talk about my comings and goings in general (Nacogdoches taught me well)- I am a REALLY GOOD listener. I have co-worker friends, and I love them to death, but even they don’t know much about my life outside of school; I keep myself guarded which some might argue is not healthy, but I’m pretty okay with my introverted self (which I’m more of an introverted extrovert, but more on that later).
Moving right along…. If it’s someone new to sharing with me, they’ll always ask me, “How do you feel about _____?”, and I tell them my honest opinion, and let them decide whether they want to tell me whatever it is they have to say or not. Most of the time, they WILL tell me because humans are just DYING to know and dish the latest ‘hot story’… they seriously can’t help it. I’m no sociologist, but I do engage in some pretty intense people-watching, and after about 2 decades of study, it’s pretty easy to pick up on human cues, and I can certainly say that they LOVE interacting and sharing and having connections. They crave it. I do too, but I keep that for my friends outside of work and the select few at work who I’ve known for quite a long time and trust.
Even then, that’s playing with fire because at any moment, someone can get gossipy and BOOM, suddenly everyone knows that you don’t like a certain person because of x-y-and-z reason who happens to be friends with a higher up and then you’re wondering if they know, then does your boss know, and is life going to start to get difficult for you because now they don’t want you here (and they most definitely can find a way to get you to leave), and how do you sit in a meeting with them knowing that they are the ones who might cost you your job when they don’t even do theirs? And this is the nature of behind the scenes at a school. You tread so dang carefully that the ‘city employees’ are afraid to take a stand for themselves to be respected because they constantly fear being pushed out of the classroom and away from kids (‘citizens’) that need them. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told to file a complaint (myself included), and we all don’t because of fear of losing our jobs. And sure, the employee handbook says you can’t face retribution or retaliation for filing a complaint, but we all know that there are other ways to get you to leave- constant walkthroughs, nitpicking, hard focus on test scores and not student growth, etc…
I’ll never forget what a principal I interviewed when I got my Master’s said when I asked him, “How do you handle employees who refuse to get on board with your mission for the school?” He said, “You find creative ways to push them out- more preps (classes), more duties, extra meetings. They get tired and start looking for somewhere else to go.” If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘hey, I have 7 preps and admin is always in my room’ then you maybe need to reflect back to past actions to see what the heck it is you do. You do not normally get 7 preps unless you ask for it, and no teacher IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would ever ask for 7 preps.
And that, my friends, is why I come to work, keep my head down, do my job, go home, and continue to not complain against the people who definitely don’t deserve the jobs they have. Because I can’t afford to not have my job, just like every other teacher out there. So we take the disrespect and belittling from our superiors and people who claim to ‘support’ us in whatever we need even though we’re ‘ungrateful’ and ‘ask for too much’. I learned my lesson long before I started my real big-girl job, but it’s a pity that some people have to learn their lesson at the expense of their job…
so, I’m helping everyone out right now-
always, always, always remember:
Loose lips sink ships.