Read this before you post your next work-related rant


gerund or present participle: ranting
  1. 1.
    speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way.
    "she was still ranting on about the unfairness of it all"
    synonyms: fulminate, go on, hold forth, vociferate, sound off, spoutpontificate,blusterdeclaim; More
Origin: late 16th cent. (in the sense ‘behave in a boisterous way’): from Dutch ranten ‘talk nonsense, rave.’

Because I happen to be involved with several online professional development groups, I read quite a few "rants" about administrators, parents, co-workers, and students. They usually begin with "sorry in advance for this rant" or "I just had to share this with people who would understand." Maybe you've done this, whether as a cryptic Facebook status, tweet, or just venting away in the faculty lunchroom with colleagues. What I'm going to try to explain to you is this: It's not helping. You may feel better in the near term for having a good "virtual cry" but all those "likes" and retweets your rant is garnering is nothing more than proving that misery loves company. This post is about helping you to have less misery in your life. This post is about aligning yourself with successful peers, not commiserating with those who are convinced that the world is against them.

Now, take a moment. I want you to use whatever criteria you deem appropriate in order to choose one or two teachers who are successful to you. They can be "large-scale" successful or "under the radar" successful, it's up to you, just make sure they are people you truly admire. Now, ask yourself how often you've seen these teachers ranting? Chances are one of the main reasons you admire these folks is that they rarely seem to have troubles at all. How is this possible? How do these teachers seem to have all the luck?

I've been teaching for almost 25 years now. Like you, I've done my share of complaining about work, and here is what I've learned: Complaining is, in reality, an admission of my own inadequacies. Think about it. When we complain, what we're really expressing is our own frustration about not being good/clever/smart enough to solve a problem. We've run into a brick wall, and it doesn't feel so good. We don't have the savvy, the tenacity, the inspirational capability to overcome whatever it is that is happening "to" us. It's far easier to shout NO FAIR and to believe that there is nothing we can do. But this "woe, is me" way of walking through life is depressing....and not just for us, but for everyone with whom we interact...especially our students, who are far more perceptive than we give them credit for. 

Perhaps the reason you can't get your students to engage is because they can sense how defeated you are. If one of our responsibilities is to teach problem-soving, perhaps we need to look in the mirror and start solving some problems for ourselves.

Years ago I gave myself permission to complain, under one condition: The complaint statement has to be accompanied by "....and here's what I'm going to do about it." Once you start processing in this way, you begin to realize that you are the only person who really knows what your challenges are, and therefore you are the one who is uniquely positioned to do something about it. Sometimes when I complain in this way I don't know what to do about it, so next steps need to include seeking advice or constructive criticism from trusted colleagues. The point is to take action rather than looking for sympathy. As my friend Cathi says, "it may not be your fault, but it is your problem."

I've learned that complaining without taking action just leads to more problems. I've also learned that a successful career in teaching is achieved by willing yourself to look in the mirror every day in an effort to break through whatever brick walls may appear. Randy Pausch, former professor at Carnegie Mellon put it like this:

"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."

You may need to get better at people skills, strategizing, organizing, and yes....pedagogy, in order to solve whatever it is you are complaining about. All of these improvements are worthwhile (and frankly necessary) if you are going to become the, the human you are meant to be. You are the only person that knows you are reading this right now. Will you...right now...make the decision to stop ranting and start taking steps to improve yourself so you can knock down some brick walls? all starts with "and here's what I'm going to do about it."

5 responses
Brian, I'm not sure if you remember when I taught in Naperville District 203 - 1992-94. I still have a copy of a practice log you developed for your elementary band students - I think for Elm?wood Elementary school? I'm delighted to have had 3-1/2 years to work with your wonderful student, Donna Janowski. She will be a real star in the music ed world. I'm so glad, through Heather Landes and Donna, to connect back to my memorable 2 years in Naperville. Marg Schmidt
Wow Marg great to hear from you! I'd love to see that log, shoot a pic to me at if you get a chance.
Loved the article. Frequently I am the recipient of others rants. Not sure if that's misery loves company or they're seeking out help. In any case I've done my share. So you have another yes!
I am not a teacher. I followed this from the page of a relative who is. But I am the parent of mentally ill son who as a child was failed by many teachers and also greatly impacted by gifted teachers. This article does hit the nail on the head. My son was bipolar by age 4 but nobody would diagnose him because "nobody under the age of 18 can be bipolar". I survived his childhood by embracing and being embraced by Toughlove support. The most essential element in Toughlove is that each person in crisis must commit to taking one small step each week to change their own behavior because we cannot changed the behavior of others on change the dynamics of our relations with those giving us a crisis. When we change our response, the dynamic changes. The crisis giver no longer has the same power to disrupt us because our response has changed and they then must change their behavior in some way. The other side of Toughlove is that if you just want to complain and are not willing to make a commitment to make one small change in your own behavior just for one week, you are not going to succeed, you are wasting the time of the support group. So you are confronted, with take a step or take a hike. Unfortunately over the years as a group leader, I have been forced to the "take a hike" position on a few occasions. It was always painful to say that to someone. We always hoped that by doing so, changing our behavior to the person who did not really WANT to solve the problem, we somehow were also giving them a lesson how to enforce a behavior change. Toughlove is NOT about locking your child out of your house and washing your hands. It might happen, but its not the first thing you do with a struggling child. Toughlove is about changing the dynamics of a relationship that is not healthy by changing your own behavior. Toughlove is about changing the parenting style to match the needs of a struggling child. But the tools of Toughlove work well in the workplace too.