Monday, August 10, 2015

Sharing really ISN'T caring

I always end up sitting next to an oversharer, either or in a training meeting, at church or on public transportation.  Maybe there’s something about my face that screams, “Share your life story with me!”  People do, much to my ongoing horror.  Oversharing is awkward and uncomfortable, and no one likes it.

No one, that is, except teens.  Teens don’t always know what is socially correct, so they have no problem oversharing or listening to oversharers.

I’m sure most of us have some bad habits that we wish we didn’t have, like biting our fingernails or binge-eating during Cadbury Crème Egg season, just to name a few that have nothing to do with me.  Most of us either try to break those habits or at least hide them.  But a very few persons like to parade those habits in front of others as some of their most defining characteristics.  And some of these persons are teachers in classrooms for whom a captive audience is a dream come true.  They share everything, gratifying their need for attention and approval.  Usually, these teachers argue that oversharing is an effective teaching strategy for “keeping it real” with students.

Let's call two of these teachers Mr. Randall and Ms. Boggs.  I worked with them at TCS. The way I found out they were oversharers is the reason revealing too much about your life is a terrible idea.

“Ms. Marlowe, you ever have a hard time going to sleep at night?” Taylor, a 17-year old junior asked me one day during advisory.

“Sure, sometimes.  Most people do,” I answered.

“So what do you do if you can’t go to sleep?”

“Usually I try to read a book that I know is boring or something I’m familiar with so that it tires my eyes out,” I responded.

“Mr. Randall says he always has a hard time going to sleep,” she informed me.  I feigned polite interest by tilting my head and raising my eyebrows.  I was trying to grade some essays, so I didn’t care about his sleep problems, nor could I figure out why she cared about them.  “Huh,” I said noncommittally.

“He drinks Michelob Lite until he passes out at night. Otherwise, he says he can’t go to sleep.  So does that work?” Taylor asked.  She looked, frighteningly enough, genuinely interested.

“Wait – what?”

“Drinking beer until you fall asleep.  Can you really fall asleep drinking?”  Her eyes looked solemn and curious.

Apparently, Mr. Randall had been regaling the class with stories about how it sucks to get older because you lose your hair, your looks, and your general mojo, making it harder to go to sleep.  Taylor informed me that since Mr. Randall and his wife no longer share a bedroom, (insert my coughing fit here) he watches TV and drinks Michelob Lite until he passes out.  Mr. Randall taught social studies, so I don’t know how this was part of the curriculum standards, unless he was talking about the general depression of the American populace before, during, and after the second Gulf War.

Did it ever cross his mind that this little nugget of information might be detrimental for them to know?  Did it occur to him that students might use this information against him in the future?  Trust me, if you think that won’t happen, then you don’t know teenagers.

I don't know what ended up happening with Mr. Randall since I left TCS as soon as they left the door open.  But I do know that people who overshare tend to have other issues that can spill over into the classroom.  That should be a warning to students, administrators and other teachers alike.

Ms. Boggs also liked to share more than what is appropriate.  She, like Winnie, wanted students to feel comfortable in class, so she encouraged them to share their thoughts, feelings, and favorite curse words with impunity.  Students said Ms. Boggs was “keeping it real,” making her beloved by many of the younger students. 

Fortunately, she didn’t discuss her current vices with the class, for which we were all grateful.  Most of the teacher’s lounge knew what those vices were, and they may or may not have included prescription drug abuse and shoplifting. But she did like to reminisce about her young, wilder days with the students. Guess how I found out? 

“Ms. Marlowe, did you ever smoke pot?” a student, Kevin, asked me once in class.

“That’s a pretty personal question,” I responded brusquely. I probably should have been surprised by it, but nothing seems to surprise me anymore. 

“No seriously, did you?” he insisted.

“No, seriously, that is none of your business.” I insisted back.

Kevin seemed surprised.  “Why won’t you just tell me?  It’s no big deal.” 

“You don't need to know and I'm not obligated to answer a question like that.”

“But Ms. Boggs told us!”  Yes, reader, she did.  AND she told them how old she was when she lost her virginity (15).   

“Good for her,” I said, mentally punching her in the face and deciding to contact the department head as soon as class was over.  “But it’s an inappropriate question for you to ask an adult.”

“No it’s not, ‘cause she told us!”

Here is the problem oversharers create.  They set the expectation that teachers are obliged to answer these sorts of questions, even though they absolutely shouldn’t.  Fellow teachers are now in the awful position of trying to fend off curious questions while finding out that these are the kinds of conversations going on in other classrooms.  I know I certainly didn’t appreciate it, and I can guarantee that most parents wouldn't appreciate it either.

The oversharing and lack of appropriate behavior was one of the reasons Ms. Boggs was let go at the end of the year.  I think constantly trying to sleep off her hangover during study hall might have been another reason, but fortunately (or unfortunately), I didn't learn about that one from the students.