Sunday, March 25, 2007

What if administrators still had to teach?

Just as my last post was not meant as an indictment of parents in general, this one is not meant as one of administrators. Nevertheless, I have often thought, that in an ideal world, every administrator would still have to teach at least one class. I know that in many cases this would be completely impractical, and I am sympathetic to the workload of administrators. I have seen high school principals who are at school all day every day of the week, and then at school events--boys and girls basketball and hockey games, band and choir concerts--every evening including Saturday. I am not one who envies the life of a school administrator.

But teachers, like me, can sometimes find the actions of administrators maddeningly obtuse, because we depend on them for some things, and because we are under their thumbs. Administrators are the ones to whom teachers frequently need to go when they are having problems with a student or a class. In our school, for example, only the principal can mete out any meaningful discipline. Only the principal can assign detention for most infractions, suspend students, or remove them from their classes. During my career I have witnessed situations when teachers were affected by some problem and nearly the entire faculty was calling for action, but the reaction of administrators was, "Ho-hum." I have also witnessed situations in which an administrator is directly affected, and action was immediate. I have witnessed major discrepancies in the treatment of students who have treated teachers with disrespect vs. the consequences for the same students when they have treated an administrator with disrespect. Administrators are also the people who make policies for teachers to follow, and sometimes those policies are blatantly ridiculous.

Most administrators have been classroom teachers earlier in their careers, so it might seem that that would be sufficient. The problem is that they tend to forget what that experience was like over time. I can't blame them for that, because I do it, too. One of the things I love about our summer break is that it gives me a chance to re-charge and come up with new assignments and new ways of teaching or reinforcing material in my classes. The deeper into summer I get, however, the more unrealistic I can become. There have been times when I have come up with a "brilliant" idea during the summer, only to have it turn out to be a miserable failure when I actually try in out in the reality of the classroom in October. Sometimes I will find myself thinking, "Why in the world did I think that was going to work?" Just a month or two away from the classroom, and I can become as impractical as anyone.

That's why I think it would be wonderful if administrators each had to teach just one class. And not an A.P. class. In fact, it would be ideal if it were a basic class. Nothing brings home the reality of the classroom faster than dealing with some of those basic students.

Once again, I want to say that I don't think administrators' jobs are easy, and I realize that I am giving a very one-sided view of the relationship between them and teachers. I might want a principal to take strong action against a student, but I'm not the one who has to worry about being sued if a bleeding-heart judge decides that the action was inappropriate or that due process wasn't adequately followed. I understand that administrators often have pressure to act differently from every conceivable direction--from teachers, from the public, from the school board, and from other administrators. I have dealt with angry parents, but never on the scale they have. I also realize that some teachers expect the principal to do a great job maintaining school discipline while they seem unwilling to do very much about it themselves. No, I don't want to be too critical of administrators, because I've never walked a mile in their shoes. But since I have to follow the rules that they make--sometimes arbitrarily--I just wish they would have to walk a little ways in mine.

21 Comments:

Blogger Prof. Seeman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3/25/2007 3:14 PM  
Blogger Norma said...

I think it would be a great idea to have administrators teach at least once a day. They need their own kids to just remember what it is like.

I shouldn't complain though, my Admins are great.

3/25/2007 7:07 PM  
Blogger Anonymous Teacher said...

I know at least one principal at a pretty high-profile (but also far from "normal") school around here has told his guidance department to block out room for him to teach a class next year.

3/25/2007 7:36 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

AT, I know nothing more about that principal than what you just wrote, but I'd be willing to bet that he's a good one.

3/26/2007 5:02 AM  
Blogger rightwingprof said...

This is a crucial difference between the school system and the university. At the university, the nuts run the asylum. With the exception of top level administrators (presidents, provosts), administrative positions are given to university faculty, and the seats revolve. There are both advantages and disadvantages.

3/26/2007 7:16 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"At the university, the nuts run the asylum. "

I'm not sure this differentiates it from the school system. ;)

I've never had to threaten legal action against a teacher.

3/26/2007 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Rose said...

I'd lke to see our district adminstrators substitute one day a month so they could get the flavor life in the classroom again. It would also help our lack of substitutes also, since we rarely have enough. I think it would be a good thing both for teachers and the district since the upper level admns have totally forgotten what it is like at the school level.

3/26/2007 11:40 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Rightwingprof, I'm not as conservative as you are, so I'm not a Republican, but the rules the Democrats make for education could make me one.

Rose, I'm with you!

Crypticlife:
1. Which nuts are you referring to?

2. You would never have to threaten legal action. If you weren't happy, you could simply drive them crazy with your arguments. ;-)

3/26/2007 12:31 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I think administrators should teach a full load for a complete year every five years to maintain their credentials. That way they would get the full view of the effect some of their decisions have.

And if they think this is "punishment," then they have no business being in the field of education.

3/26/2007 2:44 PM  
Blogger Polski3 said...

My first full-time teaching job was in a very rural public high school on a Native American "reservation". We were short on a math teacher. So our principal taught a math class. Same situation at our adjacent jr. high; they had a math class that needed a teacher. So the principal there (who was married to the h.s. principal) taught that math class. The teachers had tremendous respect for these two administrators for what they did, and of course, both were very well liked, admired and respected by their teachers.

At the school level, I have believed for many years, that the school site administration should be required to teach at least one class. Your post expressed my feelings on this subject very well!

Good Post !

3/26/2007 6:40 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Ms. Cornelius, I'd be willing to go along with your method or mine, but I'm afraid neither of us will ever get our way.

Polski3, I'll bet those principals you mentioned were good in the classroom, and when that is the case, it's no surprise when they are good principals. That's the way it always should be. Unfortunately, that's not always the way it is.

I think the most important position in a school is the principal. One of the problems in education is that there is nothing to assure that our best and brightest end up taking that position. When you've been around as long as I have you see a lot. I think most of us probably know teachers who went into administration and became principals because they wanted to get out of the classroom. And they wanted to get out of the classroom because they weren't very good at it. Guess what kind of principals they usually make?

I think many of us have also known people who have gone into administration because that's where they can make the most money. There is an old saying that goes, "those who can do, do; those who can't, teach." I don't think that's generally the case, but for people who go into education with the idea that they can make big bucks, it probably is.

There are also people, however, who go into administration because they know they are good, and they think they can make a bigger difference there. The people that Polski3 writes about sound like that. If only we could do something to make sure that was always the case!

I

3/27/2007 5:21 AM  
Blogger rightwingprof said...

"I'm not sure this differentiates it from the school system. ;)"

You have a point, though what I was trying to say is that with the exception of the very top administrators, university administrators aren't external--the faculty/administration divide doesn't exist, because the administration is pulled from the faculty and rotates.

There are exceptions. The department where I did my graduate work had a long history of political nastiness and infighting, and twice, the university hired faculty from elsewhere and put them in as department chairs. But things like that don't happen very often, and the people they hired were hired as faculty.

3/28/2007 8:47 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Hee hee! You do know how to make someone feel good about themselves, Dennis.

I really can't say much about the teacher-admin interaction or whether the university system is better overall. I can't even say what it would be like to have adminstrators teach. I would think if nothing else, they'd be bad at it (lack of practice).

I once had a situation where the Bd of Ed pretty unambiguously violated state law in pulling about 300 kids out of school one day without notice, hearings, or appeals. On being informed that the statute required 15 days notice, and then a public hearing after another 15 days before removing students, the Bd. of Ed responded that they'd give 5 days notice, and no hearings. That fails my rather low set of expectations for people's ability to do their jobs.

So, it's really the Bd. of Ed I was referring to as nuts. I really don't know enough about the actions or jobs of individual school admins, principals, vps, and the like. I can say the quality of office secretaries I've met has been reasonable.

3/29/2007 11:03 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

A bit OT, but what do you think of this?

Mexico goes to heavy-computing environment

It strikes me it might be good for some things, bad for others.

3/30/2007 6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My colleagues and I have often discussed this problem, how administrators seem to have lost touch with the "real life" problems that face teachers on a daily basis. We've also discussed how guidance/school counselors in the school also seem to have unrealistic demands of teachers.

We have often said that administrators and guidance counselors should have to teach a certain amount of classes a month or observe a certain amount of classes a year so that they can see what really happens outside their offices.

As I was reading your blog today, and consequently discussing this topic again with a colleague, we did discuss how, if an adminstrator were to teach a class, the students would certainly act differently and perhaps the administrator would not get a true view of the classroom environment today. Just some food for thought.

3/30/2007 12:52 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, I have been hearing for a long time about the magic that computers would work in education. You know as well as I do what has happened to test scores, so I hope you'll forgive me for being skeptical.

Anonymous, I don't think that would be as big a problem as you do. Students might be a little intimidated by having an administrator as a teacher for a while, but I think that effect would be less and less over time. Certainly, an administrator would get a much better feel for what is going on in classrooms even if kids didn't act quite the same as they do for other teachers. Heck, it would be better than nothing!

3/30/2007 6:38 PM  
Blogger danw said...

I remember my first day as an attendance coordinator (at the same school where I had taught); one of my colleagues caught me in the hall to tell me, "You've already forgotten!" Ouch! Having been out of the classroom for over a decade now, I would welcome the chance to get back with students on a regular basis and live with some of those brilliant decisions that I've made. Currently I don't see how practical that would be, but one way I've been able to do this on a limited basis is team teaching with select teachers from time to time. It's given me fresh perspective on the teacher's responsibilities and challenges and earned me some respect and support from my teacher colleagues.

Another way to keep that perspective is to maintain a willingness to hear criticism from all parties. Once you block out voices of dissension, you run the risk of losing that feedback from the only folks who can tell you whether decisions are effective or not.

4/03/2007 11:21 PM  
Anonymous Traci said...

I have often felt that it would be helpful for administrators to teach at least one class every couple of years. While I have worked with some wonderful administrators who have never forgotten the world of the classroom, there are others who suffer from "amnesia." A turn in the classroom would do them good. I do wonder how effective an administrator could be, though, at planning for his/her classroom if he/she is still expected to perform administrative duties at the same time.

On the other hand, I have found it very enlightening as a teacher to "shadow" a couple of administrators through their workdays this semester, as part of my graduate program in leadership. While most administrators have at least been in the classroom, few teachers have ever experienced what it's like to BE an administrator. The bits and pieces that teachers see of an administrator's job are not adequate to understand the complexities of the position. I myself am guilty of making assumptions about the decision-making process of administrators, assumptions that were simplistic and naive. One of the biggest misperceptions in my own district is that all (or most) of a school's policies are handed down by the administrative team. More frequently, the school administrators are simply following orders from the district. While these administrators could deflect the negativity from teachers by saying, "hey, it's not my call," most take the more professional stance of taking responsibility for and ownership of their school's implementation. Additionally, administrators are often unable to defend or justify their choices to teachers, especially with regard to personnel issues, due to legal considerations. Such silence is OFTEN misinterpreted by the staff, who have access to only one side of the story.

Obviously, there are administrators out there who are not doing what's best for teachers and students. The unfortunate thing is that I'm not sure a stint back in the classroom would change much for them. However, I think getting the chance to work with students again would be welcomed by our most effective administrators--and it might help them to keep the proper perspective as they make administrative decisions.

4/05/2007 9:18 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

DanW, you sound like a good one! And I think the fact that you're doing some team teaching is great.

Traci, thanks for giving us your two cents worth. It sounds like you have a unique perspective on this. And once again, I want to repeat that this was not meant as a post to bash administrators. I've never had an experience like Traci, but I do understand that administrators have tough jobs. And I also understand that my idea would be completely impractical for many administrators. Nevertheless, I think anytime an administrator could get a chance to actually run a classroom, it would be healthy.

4/05/2007 2:30 PM  
Blogger nbosch said...

The superintendent of our large district (30,000 kids) subs one day a month, and has for 15 years. I've always been impressed by that.

4/10/2007 7:07 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Nbosch, maybe it's not as impractical as I thought. Good for your super!

4/11/2007 2:35 PM  

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