A New School Year of Plenty, But Plenty of What?

Aug 29, 2017 by

The start of the school year is a time for a curious blend of reflection and deflection. With new wind in their sails after a summer in Bridgehampton, principals reflect on their goals for the coming year and deflect blame to their staffs for the unconsummated hopes of the past one. The teachers abide this bracing pep-talk after a “vacation” in boiling classrooms, accruing  more useless mandated academic credits or toiling at seconds jobs.

The thrill of this conference is compounded by bagels and orange juice. It’s just another vicious cycle played out in good fun.But of course there’s serious planning to do, because everyone sincerely wants their kids to do well. Teachers, who have the most direct and dynamic relationship to students, are the key.  Except for classroom educators, everyone else is window-dressing. They count for more than any texts, curriculum, or exams.

How teachers are treated by the Department of Education and by their own school leadership has a decisive bearing on whether their students will learn, be happy and thrive. Naturally no teacher will consciously slacken off or leave students in the lurch because of displeasure for the boss.  But realistically, teachers, like other employees, are more likely to perform at optimal capacity when they are regarded with trust and treated fairly.

In the case of teachers, most of whom achieve two college degrees and almost the equivalent of a third, this means reasonable discretion over their professional affairs, such as syllabus, materials, grading and student disciplinary policies, methodology and instructional styles, and the configuration of furniture and decorative displays in their classrooms. (Incredibly, teachers have gotten adverse performance reviews because desks are in traditional rows or bulletin board displays are not framed in Robin Hood-green papier-mache.)

Teachers are entitled to such leeway because the depth and length of their training is comparable to what is required of practitioners of other professions who enjoy a decent degree of autonomy.

It is common for teachers to be very solicitous of being in the good graces of their principals, but far rarer for principals to willfully cultivate a favorable image in the judgement of their subordinates.

Some do, but many more do not. Were this to be a universal priority among principals, articulated and enforced by their superintendents and the top brass at Tweed, productivity would soar and loyalty secured. It would make life easier for all as ills would be more effectively confronted, challenges met and disadvantages reversed.

That’s a tall order.  But it’s an order!

Ron Isaac


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