14 May 2015

You Did Not Just Say That — Or — Weird and Insulting Remarks by Public School Administrators that I Heard Live and in Person

Over the course of approximately 20 years as a public school teacher I had exposure to that strange breed of human known as the school administrator. Typically where I worked these creatures took the form of a principal or vice principal. They are, by and large, soulless individuals whose main purpose in life is to keep their positions. They have to kiss up to pretty much everyone they encounter but most of all parents, their higher ups and members of the public. These are people who are slaves to the latest educational trends. The furthest notion from their minds is doing anything innovative -- unless it has been suggested to them by a district administrator and by suggested I mean ordered. 

A school administrator once told me to never trust a school administrator (wise but wholly unnecessary words). It was subsequently proven that I could not trust him. Administrators tend to have but a fleeting relationship with the truth. It is only employed when to their advantage. Otherwise prevarications will do just as well.

Public school administrators are fearful people. They have no tenure. Every year they are subject to the axe and it can come as the result of myriad reasons. Besides summary termination their greatest fears are lawsuits, scandal at school, low test scores, teacher unrest, parent unrest and visits by their overlords. Many public school administrators can identify students (even by name) but they are too far removed from the classroom (emotionally and intellectually) to have any understanding of what students do or think. Actually they don’t much care for students. 

Many administrators have a particular enemy — teachers. It is not unusual for an administrator to loathe teachers, either as a general group or individual ones. To them teachers are perpetual whiners who are forever asking (if not demanding) things of them and conspiring against them. To an administrator, every teacher is a mistake waiting to happen or a lawsuit waiting to he filed.

I heard many a school administrators utter many a ridiculous comment and sling many a gratuitous insult. I had the displeasure of working under one principal who was renown for her ineptitude and bald faced lies. That it took four years to can her speaks volumes of how slowly the wheels of justice can grind. She provides much, but by no means all, of the real and true comments you will read below. Mind you, this is but a sampling of what I heard over the course of my career.

It was my first year teaching, I had just given a test and students had not done as well as I had expected. I was idling in the hallways after school and the principal happened by. I shared my lament about the test results hoping for a word of encouragement or perhaps some insight. Here is what she said: “That’s a sign of bad teaching.” And with that she continued on her way leaving me feeling even worse. How sweet.

The thoroughly incompetent principal mentioned in the foreword was a veritable fountain of stupidity. This particular one I did not hear but was told of. This principal — let’s just call her Ms. Patterson — once bragged (I swear this is true) that she had a spy in our teacher-only union meetings. First of all, what idiot brags about having a secret to the people she is keeping the secret from? Secondly, what idiot brags about spying on others? Third, we knew she had a teacher informant and knew who it was. I told you this woman was a nincompoop.

The same Ms. Patterson encouraged teachers to bring her topics that needed discussing at staff meetings. Well good for her, right? I took her up on the offer one day and suggested we take up the abhorrent behavior that students were displaying in the hallways between classes. Her response? “We’ve already talked about that.” In other words if a problem you’ve talked about continues — oh well. Already discussed so nothing more we can do.

Here’s another gem about Patterson. One morning she managed to get to school before classes started (this was a rarity, on top of her other sins she was lazy, when we say she worked 24/7 we meant 24 hours a week 7 months a year). So anyway she was standing there as students headed to class with her thumb squarely up her bum when the school secretary approached and said that the people scheduled to meet her (Patterson) were in her office. Patterson responded: “tell ‘em they’ll have to wait, I have to get these students to class.” It was remarkable that she could get students to class without so much as uttering a word or moving a muscle but somehow I guess she was doing it. How they got to class that 95% of the time she meandered on campus late was anybody’s guess.

I can’t stop with the Patterson stories. Here’s another: One day during lunch I asked if anyone had heard that one of our vice principals was leaving us at the end of the school year. My own missus had reported hearing this from a school parent. My question got back to the principal who called me to her office. She proceeded to light into me for repeating rumors. I tried to convince this lunatic that asking a question did not equate to spreading a rumor but she could not see the distinction. I was to retract the rumor I had spread and do so via email. I did so but as you may have guessed was quite sarcastic about it. But let’s assume for a moment that my asking the question was tantamount to spreading a rumor. What was the original source of this rumor? I found out. The parent who told my wife had heard it at a meeting and it was spoken by none other than Ms. Patterson herself. Yes that rumor monger. By the way, the vice principal did leave at the end of the year just as he said he would.

Let’s focus on another principal. One day he observed my class for purposes of my evaluation. He witnessed a teaching tactic that he did not approve of and made quite a point of it in my evaluation (I had given a short lecture to students sans overheard or notes on the board in order to prepare them for what would sometimes happen in high school). During our subsequent meeting I objected to this being written up so negatively, especially since it was a one time occurrence. He responded that he had been in my class three times and had seen it once so in his mind I did it happened one third of the time. Seriously. Imagine a prospective parent visiting the school three times and on the third visit a student pulls a fire alarm. How would the principal react if the parent said: as far as I’m concerned this happens every third day.

Several administrators had the habit of seeing teachers do something to which they objected but not mentioning it at the time, instead saving it up for their evaluation meeting. I have three examples. Once an administrator called me out for leaving campus during my prep period. By this time I’d been teaching for over 15 years and it was the first and only time I heard that you couldn't leave campus during your free period (and in fact no such rule exists). But the point is he didn't mention to me the day of the “incident” but weeks later during my evaluation. Similarly a principal sited me in my eval meeting for reading a newspaper during a district wide meeting day when breakout groups were meeting. There’s no way I was doing this but it was difficult to speak to because it happened three months before. The third and final case was with the moron — I mean principal — who assailed me during my eval meeting for not exerting enough discipline with a class — two months before. First of all, how could I speak to an incident that happened that long ago that probably faded from memory the next day and secondly if discipline is so crucial at a middle school (and it is) why on Earth would you wait months to address it? What’s more important, zapping a teacher in his eval or addressing a disciplinary issue in a classroom? Call me crazy (many have) but I would have spoken to the teacher on the spot. Then again I actually care about students.

One more. There was an incident in my classroom one day that required me sending a student to the office with a note detailing his actions. Not surprisingly the miscreant was suspended. However, as is generally the case, he had to wait for someone to pick him up from home. Evidently it was rather crowded in the office so -- and this had never been done before -- he was sent back to my class. My lesson was thus interrupted by his return and the many questions students posed to him about whether he had been suspended and for how long. I wrote an email to the vice principal who handled the matter suggesting that suspended students should not be sent back to the class where their misdeeds had only recently been committed. His response: "If teachers are providing an engaging enough lesson then students will not act out in such a way as to require suspending in the first place." In other words it was all my fault. My response (written but never sent) was: thank you very much and by that I mean fuck you very much.

Like I said public school administrators say some crazy ass shit and I've just given you a few of the lowlights.

(It may be suggested that in describing administrators I have "painted with a pretty broad brush" -- I get that a lot -- to that I would reply: you're welcome.)

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