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Where Have All the Staff Rooms Gone?

Voice of ExperienceAs working lunches become the norm in schools, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on a time when the staff room was the hub of the teaching community. Included: Ideas for improving social networks and teaming in your school.

On days when I'm gulping my sandwich and balancing my juice box as I supervise lunch-hour hallways, my mind floats back to the lunch hours I experienced as a beginning teacher in the 1970s. Back then, staff rooms were happening places. There were never enough chairs and the coffee urn was big enough to float a navy.

The staff-room action began each morning as teachers congregated to visit before the school day began. The smell of toast and coffee wafted through the air.

Voices From the Archive

Have you seen these Voice of Experience columns written by Brenda Dyck?
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* Looking At Your Students in the Future Tense
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* Student Disinterest: Is It Curable?

Searching for Voices Would you like to share an Aha! moment -- a classroom experience that opened your eyes or a moment of reflection outside the classroom that led to a teaching epiphany? Click here to learn more about how you can contribute a Voice of Experience essay.
During recess, teachers scurried down for a quick chat and a coffee.

The best part of staff-room life happened at lunchtime, however. Because students were tended to by lunchroom supervisors, teachers could take advantage of an uninterrupted break. Even telephone calls didn't intrude into the first half of the lunch hour; the school secretary took messages. I was part of a teacher's choir that met once a week during that time -- just for the joy of singing together. Some teachers changed into shorts and went for a jog or played volleyball. On Fridays, we jumped into cars and headed for a favorite local restaurant. All of us looked forward to that time to share a meal and talk about the week's teaching experiences.

To this day, I can't eat a club sandwich without thinking of those teaching colleagues!


Today, I teach down the hall from an abandoned staff room. The lights are off, the chairs are empty, and only a small coffeepot sits brewing on the counter. The room is so seldom used that there is talk of converting it into an extra classroom.

Whatever happened?

More than ever, teachers are on the go from the moment they arrive at school until long past the last bell. Camaraderie in the staff room has been replaced by a new trend -- the working lunch, a break more about working than lunching. Multitasking has become our new mantra. Instead of chatting uninterrupted, we balance bowls of soup on our laps as we answer e-mails. We munch a sandwich while supervising volleyball in the gym. When we finally get a moment to ourselves, we hole up in our classroom to prep for the next class of students.


Last week, my school's computer network was hit by two very disabling viruses. For most of the week, we couldn't access our files, e-mail, or the Internet. We couldn't even print. One lunch hour, I threw up my hands in frustration and wandered down to our staff room.

As I approached the long-abandoned area, I heard some unfamiliar sounds. They sounded vaguely like... laughter. I turned to open the door and was treated to a scene reminiscent of the 1970s -- a room full of teaching colleagues! They were eating together and enjoying one another's company.

You would have thought they had just discovered something very new.

I, for one, hope they have.

"Great individuals don't make great teams unless they build good working relationships. Having the right ingredients -- the right mix of people, skills, resources -- is essential but not enough. Without the right relationships, even 'All Stars' can't win."

--Wayne E. Baker


Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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Copyright © 2003 Education World

Updated 02/20/2008