Sunday, June 04, 2017

Educational Leadership--The Right Person for the Job

Every day I read the education stories and some days they are simply amazing. Here's the story of an assistant principal who's a serial liar, scamming teachers for cash with various sob stories, getting caught, and then moving up to a better gig on Long Island.

Long Island, evidently, is a really cool place for aspiring supervisors. I remember the former principal of my daughter's junior high school not only for his overuse of the word, "illustrious," which I found disturbing, but also for getting caught somewhere having non-consensual sex with a 16-year old. Turns out he'd also lied about his criminal record. Go figure.

There's something called Sayre's Law, that posits academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. I wonder how many of us have seen this at work. I can't think of anyone I know who hasn't come across an abusive supervisor. Of course none of us are perfect, and none of us treat everyone fairly all the time. Some people now believe that the use of rubrics mandates fairness and precludes human shortcoming altogether. Of course those people are idiots.

I'm sensitive to stereotype, particularly since I see it so frequently directed against teachers. I want to be careful not to do the same to supervisors. Much as I hate to admit it, I've had positive relationships with my supervisors for most of my career. I'm also gonna go out on a limb here and admit that not all of us teachers are perfect. Sometimes we make mistakes. Let's take it a step further and admit outright that, despite all our complaints about supervisors, almost all of them come from our own ranks.

As such, we are not blameless. There are those of us on a mission to do whatever the hell we are told. When the DOE says the workshop model, or whatever, is the solution to all the ills of humanity, we do the workshop model every goshdarn day. If they say sit in a rocking chair for fourteen minutes, we make sure not to do it for fifteen, as that would likely as not precipitate the end of the world. I think, to be a good teacher or supervisor, there needs to be some level of vision or imagination independent of the top-down messaging that comes down from city, state, or fed. I can't imagine there are a whole lot of students running around saying, "Boy, that workshop model changed my life.Thank goodness Ms. Grundy used it fourteen minutes every single day without exception."

There are also those of us who long to escape the classroom. That's a hard one for me to fathom, because the most rewarding moments of my career happen there. In our classroom last week, we showed an I Love Lucy episode called Job Switching. This was the episode where Lucy worked in the candy factory. We used it to spur conversation about perceived gender roles and also what makes a good job. I'm gonna brag here--when our students wrote about what's important in a job, several not only said doing what makes you happy is a key factor, but also cited yours truly as someone who's clearly happy at work.

Of course if I weren't happy, it would be hard for me to be a good teacher or role model. Now how would I deal with that? One way, of course, would be to seek a move upward. I could take courses in supervision, get the license, cozy up to some principal or other, and end up running a department. No more of that tedious classroom crap for me. Instead, I could tell all the other teachers what to do. Only I never liked doing it, I therefore never did it very well, and now I'm giving others advice. Where is that gonna lead?

What if the only thing I actually care about is my own advancement? What if that overrides any interest I have in helping teachers or students? How far can I get with that outlook? Judging from the various Principals from Hell I've encountered this year, I'd say pretty far. While we've seen one removed, there are still a bunch of them standing tall.

I don't think ambition is necessarily a bad thing. If it's coupled with a positive individual vision, maybe that person can make wide positive changes and expand them on the way up. But when ambition is the only thing, particularly when it isn't accompanied by appreciation for or love of the classroom, we get departments, schools, and entire systems going entirely in the wrong direction.

It's on us to keep a lookout for that, and to sound the alarm when we see it. As the Trumpies move to weaken our union and intimidate us, we can't forget that for one moment. Trump can appoint a non-teacher who's never held a job before as Secretary of Education. Andrew Cuomo can deny mandated CFE funding to NY schools and claim to be a student lobbyist. NYC can appoint insane principals and Boy Wonder supervisors. But there have to be real educational leaders somewhere.

My advice? Step up to a mirror and look for one.
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