Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Them versus Us"

lips movePerhaps it's a totally new concept: administrators, teachers, parents, and students all working together, as a team, in our educational system. No "them-versus-us" mentality that does nothing but create opposition, miscommunication, hurt feelings, and even underhandedness, but actual teambuilding with truly *shared* goals.

I had an interview yesterday at a local elementary school. It was a school that I had taken my resume to earlier this summer. I didn't hear back from the principal until a week and a half ago, when a one-line email message popped up in my in-box: "If you're still wanting a position, call my cell this morning" with the principal's phone number as the signature. I called the cell phone, reached the principal's voice mail, and left an affirmative "yes I'm available to interview" message with my phone numbers. I received a response yesterday morning in the wee hours in the form of another one-line email message: "Can you come in for an interview at 3:30 today?" I emailed back that yes, I was looking forward to meeting the principal at three thirty, and I then inquired for which grade or position I was to be interviewing. No response. I downloaded the Texas Education Knowledge and Standards (TEKS) parent handout for grades K-5, thought about how I'd respond to the questions I anticipated being asked, and enjoyed the rest of my morning with my toddler.

I arrived at the school fifteen minutes before my interview, and was pleased to find the neighborhood parents friendly, and the staff helpful. The students were full of energy as they left for the day, and smiles abounded. All GREAT signs! I signed in at the office, and was soon joined in the waiting area by another teacher applicant also there to interview. She had no idea which grade or position was needing to be filled either, but we quickly found some mental direction when the secretary made an announcement over the intercom asking that all third grade teachers report to the principal. I quickly reviewed the TEKS handout for third grade, made sure my information packet and resume were ready to go and crinkle/crease-free, and talked with kindergarten students who were waiting to be picked up at the office. (The students were wearing AWESOME "10th Day of School" crowns, I HAD to admire them!)

The other applicant was taken to be interviewed first by the principal, who had quickly introduced himself to us as the third grade teachers congregated. After twenty minutes, I saw the first applicant quickly leaving the building looking a bit down and unsure of herself. I wondered if she had been overwhelmed by the number of people interviewing her, or was experiencing the "I-should-have-said-this" aftershock that tends to hit people after presenting themselves for consideration to a bunch of strangers. The principal came and escorted me to the interview room, and I was pleased to see four cheerful teachers waiting.

I introduced myself, and the principal asked me to tell the teachers a bit about myself before getting started with the interview questions. No doubt you've noticed, dear readers, that I'm a bit of a rambler, so once I realized I'd gotten off on a tangent, I quickly added humor to the mix, and apologized for getting off-subject. The principal expressed that he was in a hurry and that we'd need to get the questions underway, and asked the teachers to begin the interview. I was prepared to answer questions about my teaching experience, my educational background, teaching philosophy, teaching style, views on curriculum and instruction, and demonstrate familiarity with Texas and District specific issues such as the Texas State Standards, the district's testing policies regarding NCLB, and how I'd work with bi-lingual students and staff. I also figured I'd be asked about my discipline policy and questioned as to how many extra duties I'd be willing to take on.

I was asked to describe my teaching style, to detail how I'd ensure all of my students experienced success, who I thought was responsible for discipline in the school, how I communicate with parents, and how I'd treat my grade-level colleagues. Nothing else, so I worked to infuse my responses with pepperings of the other information I felt was pertinent (that wasn't being asked for), and was comfortable adding humorous examples and positive messages about working with collegial groups and teambuilding. The response from the teachers was shared laughter, nods of what I hoped was approval, and an overall relaxing of tone as the interview progressed. The response from the principal however, was nothing short of.... bristling, to include the folding of his hands, and the crossing of his arms in front of his chest.

To round out my answer to how I'd treat my colleagues, I responded that I would treat my colleagues the way I treat my students, as "whole people." I may need the E.L.L. teacher's help with some of my students, but I'll remember that when working together in my room, or on committees, or after-school projects, we ALL have families to get home to, so it's important to work effectively so that we're not living, eating, breathing and sleeping at school all the time. And hey, even if I don't get to work with everyone on the staff as much as I'd like to, I'm happy to bring cookies to the staff room once a quarter for staff support!

Lots of additional smiles, laughter, nods and "thank goodness'" from the teachers, immediatly followed by the principal indicating the interview was over saying "Well, I just feel I need to close this interview by mentioning the following. This is a DIFFERENT school. Teachers HERE give 150% and that's what makes us effective. You might want to consider that if you are hired to teach here."

Wouldn't you know it, I had a response.

"Thank you Principal ______________, I see exactly where you're coming from. Since I've taught for twelve years, been hired by three school districts, and have received glowing letters of recommendation from each one, it's obvious that I take my job very seriously and I'm good at it. But my own childrens' band concerts, volleyball games, and science fair projects are just as important as my students, so I won't be staying here until nine p.m. each evening. Teachers who sacrifice their marriages and their families to martyr themselves for their students are, in my opinion, living grossly unbalanced lives."

He thanked me for my time, stood up, and walked me to the door, at which point I gave him my resume and information packet. I'm sure they were tossed in the trashcan as soon as I walked out the door.

Something tells me I won't be teaching third grade at that school this year, which is a shame because I rather enjoyed the dynamic I experienced in my short time with the other teachers and I liked the feel of the school environment. But I had done a little homework before the interview, and found out that this was the principal's first year at this particular school, and that the school's science scores fell below the state's average, and that the school, while "academically acceptable" hadn't received public kudos or accolades for a whopping year. None of these details bothered me until experiencing the principal's reaction to my responses during the interview.

First-year principals, like first-year ANYTHINGS, are eager to prove themselves. In today's Blue Ribbon/Gold Star/Sparkley Crown School competition, and with the requirements set by NCLB, I understand that administrators, like teachers and students, are pushed to perform, and pushed to produce the results that have been labeled as "indicators of success." But meeting administrators that desire the banners, the photo ops and the publicity at the cost of the well-being of their teachers bothers me.

I'm qualified. I do a good job. As a rather simplistic job description, I'm paid to require other people to think. But I'm tired of meeting administrators who don't like the fact that I myself have opinions and am willing to share them, especially when I'm asked what they are in an interview. I don't challenge administrator's authority, nor do I disrespect their role, but I'm very clear on what I think that role is: school administrators are employed to make sure I can do MY job effectively for our students. A principal might hire me, but it's his or her job to provide safety plans, collegial group time, and various other resources for any student and/or teacher support that is necessary. Principals are guides, to help me and my colleagues achieve not just OTHER peoples' goals for our school and district, but the goals we set for ourselves and our students. Principals should be advocates not only for students, but for teachers, support staff, and other paraprofessionals whose jobs make student learning possible each day.

This "them versus us" is getting old. Am I really the only person who feels this way?

1 comment:

  1. I've worked at one of the "high profile" schools in this area, and the people I met there became close friends. The school has had a series of administrators, though, who've all moved on. I left several years ago, myself, dissatisfied with one of the previous principals because she wasn't supportive of what I felt was a really excellent group of teachers. You're right, principals should be advocates for teachers.


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