Wednesday, October 17, 2007
posted by Q6 at 8:10 PM
A teacher I know posted on her blog the other day, and it made me feel both happy and sad. In this post she wrote of a lunchroom conversation at her school in which teachers lamented for "something else." I felt sad, because like them I also yearn for something different; I felt happy as well, because it proved I was not alone in my thinking . . . and for a while I believed I was.

Dare I say I'm starting to get bored with my job? As an Assistant Principal of an affluent, public, high-performing 7th-12th school, how could I possibly get bored? Each day brings a new problem to solve, a new wrong to right, another person to help. I guess you have to be there to understand--riding an untamed mare gets pretty dull once you've broken her. For six years I've been streamlining various parts of this school. Where I haven't been able to prevent the problem, I've been able to reduce it; where I haven't been able to reduce it, I've created more efficient and productive ways of dealing with it. I have managed to have my fingers forced into just about every pie on this campus, and I've got procedures and instructions written (and I've even created better paperwork) for just about everything. While I still have hectic days, those days have more to do with how much I do and not what I have to deal with. If there's a plateau in this profession where nothing seems new and where I've dealt with the same things so many times that I've got them down to a simple science, then that's where I am. So I read this blog post about teachers looking over the fence, and I ask myself:

What if I were to give this up and move on to something else?

While it's not difficult to solemnly ask this question, it is pretty tough to move on to the answer. I may not be addicted to this job or even this profession; I am, however, addicted to things like food and shelter. The fact is that I'm not qualified by education or by experience to do anything else unless I were to go into business for myself in some way, and the uncertainty of paychecks from that source has always scared me off the idea. Like one of the teachers in the story, I, too, dream of writing a novel (three, actually), but until that happens I'll have to remain here to provide for my wife (to-be) and children. At one point I looked toward going back to teaching, but it seems that even the teachers are looking toward other things.

One day I DO hope to find my "Something Else," but until I can make it a reality that sustains my life and family, it will have to remain exactly that: something else.

posted by Q6 at 6:01 PM
For the first time in my career--a career now in its fifteenth year--I have my own assistant. (I prefer "assistant" to "secretary," though she doesn't have a preference . . . just as long as I don't call her "ma'am.")

Part of me is a control freak, which means I've always done all of my own work (right down to the typing and filing). It's been that way since I was young. My mother is a bit OCD, and it's rubbed off on me in some ways, but it has more to do with what she taught me long ago: do one thing at a time, do it well, do it until it is done, and do it like it's the only thing they'll ever see you do. Seriously, how could you not become a control freak with a philosophy like that? I even gave her control of my work schedule (which was a HUGE leap for me), and I'm pretty sure she didn't even see my hands tremble when I gave it to her.

At first I thought, "Great, another mouth to feed. I'll never come up with enough for her to do." She wasn't someone I interviewed; she was originally hired for another position, and inadvertently got reassigned to me for half days. Funny thing is--and this is really strange to me, because I don't usually have this kind of luck where I work--she's exactly who I would have hired for the job. She's efficient, she's thorough, she's a quick learner, and she puts up with my quirky way of doing things (including my sense of humor, which can be taxing).

In four (or so) short weeks, I went from "What am I going to do with an assistant?" to "How have I been doing this job for six years without one?" She's doing a fantastic job, and at some point soon I'll take her to lunch to show my gratitude . . . . that's what bosses do, right? I've never been one before.

Saturday, October 06, 2007
posted by Q6 at 6:00 PM
Does "Thank You" not mean anything anymore, or was the concept of gratitude officially shifted while I wasn't looking?

For the last four weeks, I've been dealing with students for all kinds of discipline reasons: attendance, rough play/fighting, failure to perform in class, failure to attend detention, blah, blah, blah. Some of them get the worst tongue lashing they've had in years; others are made to feel so guilty for their behavior that I worry I may have poured it on too thick; some even leave my office crying.

Each and every one of them has said the same thing to me as they've left my office: "Thank you." Are they just blithely saying it as they leave my office, as if on some sort of responsive autopilot, or do they actually mean it? I understand that respect for authority is expected, and I'm not really complaining about this, but I don't get it. This hasn't happened in prior years. Many times I've said to myself, "These little brats should be thanking me for setting them straight." I just never thought I'd see the day when it actually happened.

It's a little weird.

Friday, October 05, 2007
posted by Q6 at 5:33 PM
Sometimes there's a bold line drawn between the attitudes of teachers and their students, and sometimes there is no line at all.

My job description over the last six years has gone from a leaflet to something resembling War and Peace, and the newest addition to this tome is Attendance. All 7th-12th grade attendance issues are now routed through me, the Middle School Assistant Principal. (I suspect the impetus for this change has something to do with the fact that I get through my referrals in about a fifth the time it takes the High School AP. If it keeps up like this, I should be doing everything but school finance and master schedule by the end of 2010.)

One of our teachers, one with a conference period at the beginning of the school day, has been making a habit of coming in late. I finally had a chance to call him on it, and his main argument was that it was not affecting his job performance. "I'm still getting everything done, so what's the big deal?" I called upon the contract language for support, the fact that other teachers did not have this luxury he seemed to be abusing, the example he was setting, etc. Finally the matter was settled, and lately I've seen him each morning passing through the front office well before school starts (whether this is for legitimate reasons or just a show for me, I couldn't care less--he's here, and that's all I really want.)

Later the same day I called several students in to discuss their lacking attendance. This has become my routine, and it's too soon to tell if it's having a positive impact or not. I was struck by the response of one 12th grader, a young man who had been missing classes after lunch with some frequency. When I imparted to him the potential harms of ditching class, his response was almost frightening:

"I'm still getting all my work done, so what's the big deal?"

In my many rants about the state of the public education system (or the school I work at, anyway) I don't think I've yet touched on this item: at what point in time did we begin to move away from the basic concept of time? I'm now working in a district that is dealing with such things as Credit Recovery and Year-Round Summer School (to, supposedly, remove the stigma of an extra year of school from course failure). Online courses are everywhere. We're offering college courses to high school students. Remediation is a thing of the past at our school--students here are majoring in "Fast Forward." Now we've come to the point where time itself is irrelevant.

I miss that place I once knew as "high school." I miss it because it sure as hell isn't anywhere around my office.

Monday, October 01, 2007
posted by Q6 at 5:05 PM
There have been concerns lately that the newly-intoduced-on-our-campus AP English Language course may be having problems. It's no surprise, especially when you consider the fact that this course was supposed to be taught by our department chair--who quickly fled to another school district closer to home (good for her, by the way)--and was given to someone who hired in at the last minute and had no idea it was coming. There is now the distinct possibility that those two sections will be switched to another teacher. "Who will we get to teach this class?" my principal asked me. I didn't even skip a beat:

"Give it to me," I replied. "I'll teach it."

The several seconds of silence that followed were a clear indication that she was considering it. I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell, you understand . . .

We'd been through this last year when an administrator was poised and ready to take over a Math class. The district didn't want administrative time spent in the classroom (presumably since there is so much administrative stuff to do), and so there's no way they'd switch positions and let me back into the classroom (which is now my dream: to get myself financially stable enough to get back into the classroom, hopefully while my mother is still on this Earth). I'd like to point out two things on the subject, though:

One, the term "principal" in education has its roots in the schoolhouses of old. There may have been more than one teacher, but one was considered the top dog--or, more accurately, the principal teacher, which is where we get the term. Whatever idiot eventually decided to move this position out of the classroom altogether clearly wanted his own office, little interaction with students, and premium dental insurance.

Two, I think the only real way for administrators to truly have their fingers on the pulses of their schools is to be on the front lines and in the classrooms themselves. Anything less, and we're seriously shortchanging the students. (For the teachers' union's position on the concept of administrators in the classroom, click HERE.)

* This quote is legendary, and shame on you if you can't place it. The movie remake from this classic TV series looks good, by the way.