Suggestions for Addressing Problems at One's SchoolI currently teach in a school where my principal is very uninvolved and seemingly oblivious to issues that his teachers face in the classroom. ...
I currently teach in a school where my principal is very uninvolved and seemingly oblivious to issues that his teachers face in the classroom. However, most of us don't "rock the boat" or say anything to anyone above our principal (after we've tried to address issues with him) because when our principal finds out, he calls us into his office, reprimands us, and then holds a grudge against us. Does anyone have any suggestions for handling situations like this? I let most things drop, but some of the issues relate to student learning and shouldn't be overlooked.
I probably should have clarified my question a little more. The main student issues I have been concerned with are not related to classroom discipline (except plagiarism or cheating problems which we teachers are rarely backed up on). My concerns lie mainly with scheduling issues or intrusions into classroom time (at least once a week, we have a class period or two cut short by impromptu, poorly planned events). My students even get frustrated by the lack of structure. When it comes to scheduling, my principal has no idea what the difference is between the two AP English classes or really what the content of most of our classes is, and so we have to try to justify offering two AP classes. It's stuff like this that I feel is truly hindering many students' class choices and opportunities, but I no longer feel that I can speak out about these problems, because lately the response has been "Be grateful that you have a job in these tough times." When it's a scheduling or course offering concern, my principal hands it off to a guidance counselor who is just biding her time until retirement; so nothing is accomplished.
I'm really not trying to gripe. I just wondered if anyone had encountered the same problems (not necessarily discipline-related ones) and if you had found a solution.
Unfortunately, I suspect this may be a more prevalent issue than any of us would like to think. I know exactly how you feel, and I've found two things to be helpful. The first involves the students, as pointed out by clairewaite, above. Discipline is really about relationship at the teacher level. There are obviously issues which are bigger and need to be dealt with at a higher level, but most problems can be deterred if kids know their teachers are watching and care. The second involves rallying the troops. When we felt we were kind of left out there hanging, my colleagues and I would make a conscious effort to present a unified front on the things that mattered most to us. Our styles and tolerances were, of course, different; however, we could settle on those most important issues and stand together. Young people can spot and take advantage of a weak spot in the wall pretty quickly; once they do, it's difficult to reign them back in. It can be done, and it can be maintained. It's exhausting, truthfully, as they keep ramming the wall (I know, I'm stretching the metaphor a bit too far); but as soon as they know the boundary has been set and the wall's not moving, things will get better. Hang in there. The fact that you care means there's still hope!
If you are talking mainly about discipline issues, I fully understand where you are coming from.
I've found that in situations where I feel unsupported by administration (which to me, is one of the most difficult things to deal with in this profession) - the only solution is to build my repoire with students to the point that they respect me above everything else.
It takes a completely different approach knowing that anything you refer to the office will fall on dead ears. For me, this meant spending a day or two a week eating lunch with students, making a point to go to our (painful) football games and connecting with students there, actively listening and caring about my students' lives outside the classroom... it was work.
But I'll tell you what - once you've established a reputation with students - it only gets easier. Discipline is largely a matter of peer pressure - get the right students on your side and the rest fall in line.
As for other issues - well, I'll be checking back on this post to hear what others say!
My concerns lie mainly with scheduling issues or intrusions into classroom time (at least once a week, we have a class period or two cut short by impromptu, poorly planned events)
Oh man can I relate to this. It's one of my biggest pet peeves to have the rug pulled out from under me when I've planned a lesson and we are interrupted by everything else - fire drills, assemblies, announcements, note deliveries, sports dismissals. It has made me realize and believe that the degree of success I have as a teacher is largely dependent on how successful I am at keeping my classroom time and space intact.
I also believe that administrators are unique animals and very difficult to change. If they are unresponsive, there is little you can do to make them that way. I would recruit other like-minded faculty members to consistently bring up the issue of class interruptions until the staff as a whole will take a course correction on the matter. Good luck. I feel your pain.
As someone who spent three years as a building administrator, I can say that the responsibilities as such a position are very different from classroom level responsibilities. My advice would be to try to help your principal be more successful and effective in his job first, then use teamwork and collaboration you have created to leverage the kind of attention and change you are wanting for your concerns.
"I'll rub your back if you rub mine"sounds like a overly simple solution, but it often works. Talk with your principal about his responsibilities and needs (likely being dictated from district administration), figure out how you can help him accomplish what needs to be done, then when you do need to approach him with a concern of your own, he is much more likely to be responsive.
This sounds like an administrator that should no longer be managing. Honestly, to me, it sounds like the best thing you can do in this situation is kill him with kindness and hope for the best. This person is not going to change, people in that position rarely do especially if they've been handed some heavy duty doses of reality from the district office. Just try to imagine for a little bit what is possible that this person might be dealing with managerially because of the times.
How can you make things easier on this person?
Are there happy instances, proud-producing instances that you can invite this person into in your classroom?
I know we can't change other people, but we can certainly change the way we deal with the trouble with other people.
Sadly, during my 25 year teaching career, I have worked under several very weak principals who fit the description of your own boss quite well. One principal in particular failed to deal with discipline problems primarily because she did not want to have to deal with the resulting parental fallout. And, as you have mentioned, reprimands were a reality if a teacher chose to oppose her. I survived for nine long years, but I wish I had transferred much earlier, and that is my advice to you if your principal appears to be digging in for a long term. If your own happiness, as well as your professional honor, are at stake here, you'll have a decision to make.
My school had a school building leadership team that met once a month with the principal (when she stuck to her schedule). It was a fairly open forum where teachers could share the frustrations or inconveniences with the administration. Granted, things had to be approached in a positive manner with politically correct wording to avoid feather ruffling. However, we did make some good and necessary changes that benefited the student's learning experience. I do not know how open to this suggestion your system might be, but my school did manage to achieve AYP for the last seven years or so.
Sounds like a rather unfortunate circumstance. Our high school has three associate principals below the school principal, so we can always go to them if we desire. Perhaps discussing student issues with the school counselors could alleviate some of the issues as well.
At any rate, there are quite a few excellent resources out there for teachers to handle discipline issues. Try to find some of the old textbooks you bought back in your teaching program and look up the sections on classroom management-even little changes can go a long way.
Wow - sounds like a case for Revolution if you ask me! I must admit from my experience if you find you are not able to survive in this environment with the lack of support, #7 makes a very valid point - maybe transferring is what you should be thinking about. However something else you might want to think about is whether it is possible to get parental support behind you and force the Principal's hand through this medium. Just an idea... Good luck as you think about your next move...
I am reading this from the other side of the world and I am right there with you! Students taken for council meetings, litter picking, assemblies, impromptu visiting speakers, sorting out issues from other lessons... the list is endless. Your administrator may not change, but if your voice isn't the one he wants to hear, gently canvass a couple of parents. You can keep it professional, but if parents and maybe students take up the cause they may get further than us whining teachers.
How strong are the parents in your district? The joke in my school is that "the parents run the school" but all joking aside, parents can be our biggest ally and they appreciate getting involved. Our PTO is very supportive of teachers' concerns and works closely with the Board of Education. Administrators don't want to hear teacher-complaints, but they tend to avoid parents' complaints like the plague.
Thanks so much for all the great suggestions. I'm going to try a combination of some of them and see what happens.
Unfortunately most of the time most of the world is not exactly the way you would like it to be. It is for every individual to choose what to change and what to accept. This decision will be influenced by your ability to change and your willingness to accept the risks and challenges of the change.
Changing the status quo is usually painful and risky in any situations. If you are looking for easy options, than it is best not to opt for changing the situation. Then it will be better to either avoid the situation by opting for the transfer. Alternatively you do your own job as well as possible within the limits of your environment.