Monday, April 30, 2018

Yawn of the Year

When you read this, you have to really think about whether or not it was a good idea to give carte blanche to imperial principals. I mean, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so when you read one story after another about principals doing crazy things, you have to find a reason somewhere. This week's story is about a principal who suspended a school aide for five days for the offense of yawning loudly.

Exactly at which point is your yawn too loud? Did you yawn because your body asked you to or because the school environment was becoming tedious? Was it voluntary or involuntary? In practice, it makes no difference, because the principal has determined it was too loud and that's all there is. Therefore you are suspended for five days from your $12 and hour job as a school aide. Can't make the rent this month? Too bad. You yawned and there must be consequences.

Naturally the principal documented this occurrence. She heard it and she's the principal, so that ought to be good enough for anyone. It kind of sucks to have a contract that allows a five-day suspension for the offense of yawning. That wouldn't happen to a teacher. But a teacher could get a letter in file for yawning, if the principal felt like issuing one. A teacher could face 3020a charges for the offense of yawning repeatedly, though I'm not persuaded a sane arbitrator would sustain a firing for it. On the other hand, having faced many arbitrators, neither am I persuaded that all of them are sane.

I guess it must be nice to be able to do any damn thing you feel like. I have to be careful how I speak to children. Chancellor's Regulation A-421 says anything that tends to make them feel uncomfortable is a violation. So if I look at them the wrong way, or say, "Good morning," in a tone that's not quite proper, I could find myself sitting in the principal's office facing a letter to file. Maybe I'd even find myself in some office in Manhattan, answering questions from DOE Big Shots. Who knows?

But it's not just about what you say. In fact, it's not just about how your students hear it. There's more to it than that. Charlotte Danielson, who clearly knows everything, has decreed it's all about engagement. As GW Bush asked, "Is our children learning?" The evidence, according to Danielson, is that they're busy and engaged. When they're jumping up and down, posing questions of their own, and barely have need of you at all, you are highly effective.

A friend pointed out that, if the principal had been more engaging, the aide would probably not have needed to yawn. I think that's a point well-taken. After all, the principal is the instructional leader. The principal ought to be setting the standard for all. Does your principal give interactive PD sessions, or does she just drone on explaining things everyone already understands in excruciating detail? Either way, she's setting the tone for the entire school.

So when people commit outrageous acts, like yawning, it's entirely the fault of the principal. Any self-respecting principal would observe the yawn, make a mental note that she hadn't sufficiently engaged the staff, and immediately write a letter to be placed in her own file. To do anything less is the height of irresponsibility.

So next time you see an article about the perfidy of teachers, or about how all we care about is ourselves, or about how we need to do more work for less pay, do the only logical thing. Blame the principal. The buck stops there.

And maybe, just maybe, someone will get the message that administrators must take responsibility for what goes on in schools, rather than pointing fingers at teachers and $12-an-hour school aides. If I treated my students the way this principal treated that aide, I'd be up on charges, and rightly so.

What a disgrace that people get a certificate, and a job, and suddenly think they are wiser and better than everyone else, fit to pass judgment on the entire world over trivial nonsense.
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