Saturday, July 06, 2019

Principals' Principles--How Low Can They Go?

 I know principals who'd laugh at that picture. I know others who'd place their noses in the air and feign horror. They're way too important to entertain jokes about their Very Important Work. Of course, those who take themselves uber-seriously have enormous potential to be terrible leaders. There are all too many of them in NYC.

Everyone has opinions about school leaders. Michael Bloomberg believed in the imperial principal, a person who can do whatever he golly gosh darn pleases. He enabled this, in part, by establishing a legal department to advise them. Every chapter leader has heard about "legal." They're the people who present the principal with contract as menu. Choose the parts you like, they say. Ignore the rest.

This is, of course, a terrible situation. It precludes working hand in hand as teachers and school leadership should. UFT doesn't advise me to ignore rules and do whatever I want. Also, UFT offers me accurate interpretations of the contract, as opposed to alternative facts. I'm in a completely different place than principals are.

A big question is what can be done about blatantly abusive school leaders. Sure, a lot of them have drunk Bloomberg's Kool-Aid, but some of them are way over the top. They're positively Trumpian in their intolerance of opinions differing from their own. Over at CPE 1, Monika Garg placed the UFT chapter leader and delegate on 3020a charges. It's like they were the resistance in some fascist regime, imprisoned without cause.

Garg thought her actions would intimidate and silence all who resisted her reign of terror. To the contrary, it energized the school community. Parents stood with UFT against her, and they just would not back down. Garg tried to ban parents from the school their children attended. Things got worse and worse, until someone at DOE with an iota of common sense moved the principal somewhere she could do no harm (or at least less harm).

There are other models. There is Forest Hills, and more recently La Guardia. Terrible leaders are brushed aside and sent elsewhere, to do whatever it is they do in Tweed. There is one thing these schools have in common. School communities united and took a stand against these leaders. This is a big ask for teachers, who didn't precisely sign up to be revolutionaries.

Nonetheless, if you push us too far, we will stand. We see this replicated all over the country, as teachers in red states walk rather than endure the slow death GOP lunatics envision for public education. We see it in multiple schools in the city. Of course, we don't see it everywhere.

Bad administrators are a plague here. I would not be at all surprised to learn that 25-40% of administrators ranged from inept to outright destructive. I know many readers of this blog would place that percentage higher. How many teachers suffer in silence? How many run away from the job rather than face these lunatic Boy Wonders who make demands of everyone except themselves? Does DOE care about teacher retention enough to do something about it? Not so far.

There are a few things successful schools have in common. There are votes of no confidence. This indicates a united front. It shows the staff has been pushed too far. There has also been media coverage, and for that at least someone has to be willing to go public. DOE seems to be sensitive to terrible media coverage, which is odd, since as far as I can tell, they couldn't care less about school morale. It would be good if we could change that, but that would likely entail dumping the Bloomberg leftovers who form the DOE's morally bankrupt soul.

It's really tough to organize resistance in a dispirited staff, but it can be done. I don't think there's a magic formula. A thing happens, a line gets crossed, and there's no turning back. It's hard to predict what those things will be. If we knew what they were, CSA would probably seek a way to preclude them. Doubtless they're trying to find a way to put a stop to these actions.

Fortunately for them, there is a solution. No, it's not walking things right up to the line of mutiny and leaving them there. That's not productive. It's not good for your staff and it's not ultimately good for schoolchildren. Theoretically at least, we're trying to get them to be responsible citizens who express themselves. How do we do that when we ourselves are living in abject terror?

There's a better way, CSA. Tell your members that being autocratic assholes does not equate to leadership. Tell them you lead by example, and it wouldn't hurt, if they want us to be great teachers, to be great teachers themselves. You want us to give a highly effective lesson? Get up in front of our classes and show us how it's done. That would make us respect you a lot more than watching you sit in back of our classrooms and telling us how much we suck. When's the last time your principal or AP gave a lesson, as opposed to a lecture?

For us, it's about organization. We need to stand together in small ways before we can rise together in big ways. It's harder for us than it is for CSA. I don't have a magic formula either, but I've seen how events can unexpectedly unite a staff. I'm very glad not to have had to hold a vote of no confidence where I am, but I certainly understand why others have done it.

We can encourage and enable these small revolutions. It would be much better, though, if the DOE and CSA would act to make them unnecessary. I don't know about you, but I plan to sit while I wait for that to happen.
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