Filed under Assistant Principal, Curriculum and Instruction, School Leadership
Tagged as education, elementary, funding, instruction, leadership, principal, principals, student achievement, teacher pay, teaching
I enjoyed your piece about teacher turnover and would like to give examples of my typical day as a high school principal at a poor, rural school in Arizona that needed a lot of work when I became its principal more than a decade ago. I kept a diary and here is one of the entries.
“I am so busy with my daily to-do list, that I have little time to work with the teachers on their new teaching skills. There’s the fight in the bathroom, the fire in the trash can, the kid high on drugs, the building that was broken into, the glass of the empty beer bottles strewn over the campus, the little girl who asked for a pass to go to the bathroom and had a baby…a baby she didn’t know she was carrying… the police looking for so and so who is alleged to have murdered so and so last night… where is the time to create the vision. How did my predecessor ever do it?
I don’t think I sat down for more than five minutes and still there were so many things that still needed to be done that were not on my list…ask Mrs. Ortiz, the bookroom clerk, about how book distribution went …talk to a student about her tardiness because she’s a cross age tutor, a model for other students…distribute the letters I wrote to each aide who volunteered to do additional duty… interview a perspective teacher who wants to work with us…meet with a teacher about her evaluation… tell her how well she is doing…ask her to build on the techniques she is using to engage her students…meet with a first year teacher and give her the bad news…I could not recommend her for another year… when you’re working on a school that needed so much to escalate it to the first floor, there was no time to work with a teacher who did not have the rudiments. Earlier in the year, I had assigned her a mentor…Mr. Sossaman… but I could see no positive results. I felt so badly for her…she had no excuses…no lies to tell me…no prefabrications about why her lessons was so unproductive…I knew when she left my office she would insult my mother in the teacher’s lounge.
I just came home from the meeting with some of the parents of the basketball team. They don’t like the new coach… “He doesn’t play our boys”… “He has favorites”…and then went back to my office to do the paperwork…it was nine o’clock in the evening.
Some principals just sit in their offices doing paperwork. Individuals who have never occupied the office don’t realize that the paperwork speaks important words if the school is to continue to function. A teacher who has been working late, walks into my office, stops short of the desk and says, “Oh you look busy…doing principal stuff…I’ll come back in the morning.” But in the morning, I will still have to do the principal stuff. I began to wonder about the principal stuff…I know what teacher stuff is after the students leave the classroom…lesson plans, grading papers, completing forms to get things they need for their students …but did they wonder what principal stuff was…when the teacher walked in I had a mass of paper in front of me…paper which I sometimes read, sometimes read and filed, sometimes just filed, sometimes just threw into another basket for another day….sometimes just threw in the wastepaper basket. To the teacher, the piles of paper were just something principals attended to in order to appear busy. But the words on the paper had meaning to me…those memos, those letters, those notes, those articles… were all part of the organism…the family called high school. However most principals, if they are good, spend the majority of their time in the classrooms…that’s what I learned in principal school anyway. So if the paperwork is not completed during the day, it must get done at night. It never goes away because the state education department, the regional agencies, the local agencies, the school board, the superintendent, the supervisors, the teachers, the parents, the students, the community and the vendors want and sometimes need responses to what they have written on the paper. Sometimes when you can’t complete it because the words on the pages bare proof of your astigmatism, you wait until the morning hours to do it. For me, the morning hours are the best…about six, when it is quiet…still almost dark…when for a fleeting movement you think about how nice it would be if the living organism…the family… was not connected by students and teachers.
I agree with you! The principalship, especially those positions in communities that are very rural or very urban, is a never ending challenge. It’s no wonder that principals don’t stay very long! For too long we have structured schools in the old business model of one leader who shoulders the responsibility for the plethora of issues that beset the school every day. It’s way past time that we “reinvent” the principalship as the CEO of the organization whose primary responsibility is to ensure that students are achieving and thriving in a culture where everyone takes responsibility for effective instruction and works to ensure that the organization promotes and supports a positive learning and working environment focused on continuous improvement and the growth of teacher leaders. The principal is no longer able to “manage” the school by him/herself. It requires a team of individuals (teachers and administrators…maybe even parents!) that are willing to take ownership of the school and the students and dedicate themselves to doing “whatever it takes” to ensure that best practices in teaching, classroom management and leadership become the norm rather than the exception. Because isn’t that the real problem? Too few educators willing to be leaders outside of the classroom, too few willing to change the status quo, too few willing to tell the unions to worry more about students and less about teachers, too few willing to believe the data that shows their students are not learning, too few administrators that are willing to do the work required to get rid of teachers that are ineffective, too few administrators willing to take the stand that we have a moral and ethical responsibility for the children in our care and too many people that are willing to put politics before kids.
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