Along the way, in between, I’ve been having discussions with teachers at our school. I mentioned to one of them that I’d been having a lot more class coverages lately1. They told me that lately it’s not unusual to have 30 (or about 1/4 of our) teachers absent on any given day. The reason for those absences? Some are valid: conferences, or illness. A lot of the others, apparently, are due to bad morale or burnout.
And the cause of the morale? Discipline. I hadn’t seen it in my classroom – I’ve had difficulties, but they seem to be under control at the moment. But I can’t walk down the hall (I avoid the teacher’s lunch room like the plague) without hearing about discipline issues. I’ve also seen direct evidence that schoolwide discipline is falling apart at the seams.
Set up for failure
Our district has some staffing problems. To address this, they have outsourced a large number of math and science positions: They have hired fresh teachers from India & the Phillipines. I have a number of them as colleagues, and they are reasonably bright, kind people. But they also have no experience with American inner city classroom culture. They walk into a classroom expecting the students to stand up and bow to them, and instead they get what is evidenced in Scott’s videos. I think several of them are good enough that they’ll figure it out. Next Year. Many others, however, have quit, or are going to quit. There are few other jobs where the price of failure is so great. So, next year we’ll get to repeat this whole experiment with a new crop, some of which will be victims, and some of which will turn into teachers.
What the “good” teachers do2
So, at this school at least, discipline is a huge part of being able to teach at all, much less well. Many of the teachers are successful. They have well run organized classrooms, their students are engaged and learning, and succeeding at it. In talking with one of them, we came to the realization that there are a lot of different styles, but they all have at least one thing in common:
The classroom is a culturally isolated from the rest of the school.
Teachers stand at the doors, and do a brain check on each kid as they come into the classroom. Every kid is given some sort of reminder that that door is a threshold, that when they cross it, the rules change, the expectations change, and their behavior better change. Those classrooms are little individual fortresses, and the successful teachers bring in the kids, but have set up barriers to keep the bad behavior out.
I should try to tie this together. I mentioned an old principal who stood out from the crowd.
It seems that most principals have a school management philosophy based on successfull classroom management: If the teachers manage the classes well, everything else will work wonderfully.
This fails on a number of grounds. As mentioned above, our school will always have new teachers, inexperienced teachers. Expecting them to provide a foundation for a well managed school is to expect failure.
Furthermore, even if every teacher was perfect, it would still be like trying to build a wall without any mortar. Without something to hold it together, it’s just a pile of bricks.
So, my question is this: Where do administrators learn school management?
Classroom management is important. A teacher needs to be responsible for what happens in their classroom. Take away that responsibility, and they won’t take responsibility for engaging the students or for finding the optimal method of teaching the students. Fortunately, there are tons of resources out there to help them out.
But, how do administrators learn to do the same thing at a larger level? How do they manage the behavior in between the classrooms? How do they set boundaries between the outside world and the schoolyard gates, and say “This is how things will work in here”? Is there a course for that? Is there even an expectation that this is the right thing to do?
I’m not sure what the popular wisdom on this is. But it might go a long way towards making poor teachers better, okay teachers good, and good teachers great.
1 I have a first period conference, and if a teacher doesn’t get a sub or is tardy, yours truly is one of the people who gets to pick up the slack. In the past two weeks (10 school days) I have had to cover 7 different classes.
2 “Good” is in quotes for this reason: There is a lot more to being a good teacher than classroom management. But when things start to go to hell, it seems that’s the only thing that matters on the evaluations.