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This post has been a long time coming.

I’ve obviously dropped off on posting for a while. I’ve been blocked. As you can tell, from reading back a bit, a big part of that has been due to my frustrations and feelings of failure. I’ve been thinking of how to express those, how to evaluate my contributions to that, and how to learn from it.

A big part of the problem is that I signed up to do more than I should. I had two preps that I’d never taught before, and I was department chair, a learning groups facilitator, and the new teacher coordinator.

The only one of those things I did well was the new teacher thing. We only had one official meeting, and the rest was either managed by emailing them instructions, or making rounds visiting them during lunch & nutrition. Being a new teacher is outrageously time intensive, and I didn’t want to make them sit through another time suck when they felt they could be doing something else. Based on the feedback I got from them, this was the right approach – they all still felt supported rather than burdened by my interactions.

So much for the good stuff.

I should have known the department chair thing was going to suck when everyone, and I mean everyone, ducked the nominations. It wasn’t until halfway through second semester that I found out just how many people who were still there had done it before, and how many refused to talk to each other. It was a big part of the reason that the 6th grade teachers lobbied (and succeeded) in breaking off to develop their own department. The amount of passive aggressive sabotage was amazing.

Here’s the stupid part, though – nothing that happened was anything worse than what students have done to try to upset my classrooms. I’ve learned to win over intentionally hostile and disruptive students – I should be able to do the same with teachers. I’ve sat through enough faculty meetings to know that teachers, as a rule, don’t behave very well as professionals1. If I had known what to expect, if I had been comfortable with all the different archetypes, I could have created an environment where something got done. Instead, like so many of the chairs before me, I burned out.

One of the useful books I read this year was If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students. It’s written for administrators, and I read it to get an idea of what I should expect from a decent administration. The both surprising, and completely obvious take away from this is that a lot of the things that make you a good teacher (Provide structure, provide empowerment within that structure, eliminate distractions, and make the work its own reward) are exactly the same things that make a good administrator. I certainly didn’t pull that off, but should I ever be in that situation again2, I think I’ll have some ways of approaching my job.

1 There were two other teachers that I interacted with regularly who had corporate lives before becoming teachers. We would often commiserate on the difference between corporate expectations, and those at schools.

2 I’ve jumped ship. Details to follow in a later post.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Tom Escott | August 18, 2009 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    Very well written expression of many of our frustrations. I know that the administration holds the power, but they are not your customers (in a fantasy world). Instead, the students are your customers; they get first priority.

    Meetings serve no practical purpose. Anything productive should be handled 1-on-1, perhaps when passing in the hall. You have proven this to yourself with your new teacher. Did you ever notice that there are always teachers absent from meetings? Send an email to the school secretary saying that you can’t attend because you are meeting with parents. You’ve just saved yourself an hour or two.

    As department chair, you are the math czar. Democracy is only for those who want to participate. If anyone has objections to your decisions, give them the job with coming up with an alternative, or better yet, two. Despite what you want the other teachers to do, they will tend to do what they want first. Administration only wants to know that you have agreed to do X (and sometimes Y).

    You have two new preps, so stay close to the book (and the curriculum if you have one). If you can’t find the curriculum, see if someone in your district has one. If not, you’re free to make your own decisions.

    If anyone asks you a question, ask for their recommendations first. In the corporate world, employees don’ come to their bosses with problems, they come with solutions. Review their solution and then say “Why don’t you run this by Mrs. Anderson and get back to me?”

    As the leader of anything, you don’t do the work, you delegate the work. If no one wants to do it, then it isn’t important.

    If administration wants something from you now, tell them you’ll have it to them by Friday, you need to run it by the district coordinator. Or, you can trade something. Say you can have it earlier if you can skip the Wednesday faculty meeting.

    Did I mention that students are your first priority? Well, almost. Keeping parents happy are your first priority. If you can get parents to give good feedback to the administration, then you’re making administration very happy. Use that as leverage.

    Good luck this year. Learn to keep your door closed and locked and your phone off the hook.

  2. dkzody | August 30, 2009 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    department chairperson is not a job anyone is trying to acquire. I finally told my department that after 10+ years (I’ve lost count) that I would no longer do it. We get a nice stipend for the job so another teacher said she would do it. It’s basically going to meetings, signing off on documents, running department meetings, so she was willing to try it. Besides, this is my last year in teaching so I felt it was time for someone else to do the job.