Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 8: Making Nice with the Administration

Hello friends!

Another Wednesday, another guestblog of questionable taste, accuracy, and helpfulness! I don't know why I didn't start with this one and end with the one about coupons and dollar stores and Staples rewards, but there you go. Rather than devise some How to Make Friends and Influence People-type of master plan, I thought that today I might simply tell you a few things that any new teacher should avoid if he or she has any hope of getting along with his or her boss.

This, as you can imagine, is a controversial subject. Any teacher worth his or her salt is a professional--yes, even the newbies--and as people who tend to be, as a group, just a tiny bit opinionated, we don't cotton to being micromanaged. And, these days, many administrators are indeed micromanagers, and the UFT doesn't tend to do much for nontenured teachers. Yeah, it's a recipe for disaster.

So what can you do to maintain your sanity, make your administrator happy, and keep a sense of independence in your classroom? The first thing I would suggest is to talk to your colleagues. (See how important it is to be on good terms with your co-workers?) They can tell you what your particular principal and AP really care about, and what you can safely ignore deprioritize. Some admins are obsessed with bulletin boards, some with portfolios, some with TANs, some with libraries, whatever. Find out whatever your admin's particular obsession may be and make it your business to master it. This is not the time to question whether or not it really matters that every single bulletin board has its own task card (although that is a fine question to ask!). Just do it. Like books being in baskets (can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?), sometimes it's better to not ask. And speaking of pet peeves, casually survey your colleagues and see if you can figure out whatever your boss's is, no matter how silly it may seem. And then avoid it.

Another good way to not make the wrong kind of impression on your principal is to not miss much work. There are a lot of good reasons to show up as often as possible--your kids really will suffer if you're absent a lot, and you'll deplete your CAR (Cumulative Absence Reserve--your sick day bank) and it won't be there if you really get sick (or, for the ladies, when you want to have a baby). Also, it's generally a big hassle for the main office when you don't show up. Something almost always goes a little haywire when the regular teacher isn't there, even with the most conscientious and thoughtful substitutes. This sounds self-explanatory, but I know teachers who use up or even overdraw their sick bank every year, and not because they had an organ transplant or something.

Volunteer for something. Not everything, not every time. But most principals do appreciate and remember it. Good ones will write a nice note for your file, too, when you go above and beyond, and that will look good if you ever want to transfer. It helps out your colleagues, too, because everything you don't do is something that someone else will probably have to do, so share the burden and teach that PTA workshop/afterschool club/sports team from time to time. It also sends a good message to the parents if they see you outside of the regular school day.

Never ever appear unprepared. Always have a lesson plan, even if it's just a quick outline, and your plan book filled in. It doesn't so much matter if your class goes a little off track, as long as you can show that you have a plan. Most administrators understand tangents and teachable moments, and don't be afraid of those things--just have a plan and do your best to stick to it every day. Also, for us youngsters of the digital age especially, be respectful of the fact that your admin is likely of a different generation and they may not understand or care about the website or database where all your lesson plans are. Unless you've been specifically told that electronic lesson plans and plan books are okay, have hard copies available. Most admins like to be able to come into your classroom, glance at your desk, and see your book and lesson plan without any guesswork. Yes, this does happen, that they will come in uninvited and make themselves comfortable, and no, there is nothing you can do about it. Be prepared.

Speaking of invitations, invite your admins to anything special that's going on in your classroom. I invited my admins to all of my "publishing parties" last year after a colleague said my celebration idea sounded great and was worth sharing. I was petrified at first, but I got used to it, and now I look forward to showing off my and my students' hard work. Don't worry too much about the kiddies, either--most kids will also welcome the chance to show off and be on their best behavior.

Take advantage of your right to pre- and post-observation conferences. Formal observations are serious business--they go in writing and into your permanent file. If your admin doesn't offer pre- and post-observation conferences, ask for them, in writing. Most admins will offer them. My old AP was a real machine: you got a memo a week before the pre-ob conference, have the pre-ob, have the ob, and the same day you got a memo with the date of the post-ob. No fuss, no muss. Not all admins are that organized, though, so know your rights and exercise them.

Finally, just as with your colleagues, show your appreciation. Hopefully your admin is a veteran teacher and they will offer you some positive and/or constructive feedback. Use it and express your appreciation when it works. Remember them at the holidays. They have a job I'd never in a million years want, and as much they might be breathing down your neck, try to remember that they have people breathing down theirs, too.

Most admins are good people trying to do a very hard job. They might seem scary, and they do have a lot of power over you in your first three years, but you can have a good relationship with them and learn from them.

I'm almost out of ideas for this series, so if you have any, leave 'em in the comments, along with your compliments, incensed outrage, half-baked ramblings, etc.

Miss Eyre
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