Maybe I'm presumptuous to imply in this title that I speak for all teachers. Let me know if you agree.
As many teachers prepare to greet their students on the first day of school, and others enter their buildings for the first time since last spring I would like to offer this open letter of sorts to all of our administrators explaining what we would like from you this year. If any administrators out there are reading, we'd be glad to have your input on this list, and perhaps even your wishlist for teachers.
1) Give us time to work. Professional development and school improvement meetings are important, but when teachers are preparing for a new school year our primary concern is quite immediate and practical: "When students walk into my room for the first time, will I be ready to engage them?" Until this basic teacher need is met, nothing else matters. It's like a hungry child sitting in a classroom. He/she isn't going to learn a thing as long as the focus is an empty belly. The best professional development in the world won't mean a thing to teachers who don't even feel prepared to face the first day.
2) Focus on your immediate responsibility. My primary responsibility is the classroom. If writing for Teaching Underground interferes with that responsibility I should either quit writing and focus on my teaching, or quit teaching and become a professional writer. I don't care how badly you want to become the head principal, superintendent, or something bigger, don't neglect your job for it. The classroom is my responsibility. If your responsibility is a department, a building, or a division, don't short-change it by focusing on your long-term career goals.
3) If you don't agree with it, say so, and do something about it. I do what is best for my classroom. That involves compromise, and sometimes doing things that I am told just because I am told, but not speaking up is professionally irresponsible. Whether you're dealing with teachers who are out of line, or district level administrators that you disagree with-- do something about it.
4) Tell me what you expect from me. We (teachers) like you (administrators). We couldn't do the job we love without your support. We understand that your job is hard. So is ours. Let us know how we can work together to best serve our students.
5) Treat us at least as well as you expect students to be treated. If you've ever been frustrated because Mr. X just stands in front of his class every day and lectures and you have to deal with referrals every day because students can't help but misbehave...then don't wonder why we're so disengaged when someone stands in front of us and reads from a powerpoint calling it professional development.
6) Protect our time and ability to educate. I know that teachers bear responsibility for this, but unless we change job title, instructors instruct, administrators administrate. You get paid more than us. There is a reason for that. Let us know how to help with supervision, school operations, and discipline, but don't put the primary responsibility on us.
I have enjoyed many excellent administrators that have helped shape who I am today. I have also endured many administrators who have made little difference in my professional life other than to make it more difficult.
My very first principal told me after my first observation, "I won't lie. You're not the best teacher I've ever seen, but we can work on that. I'm ok with what I saw yesterday, but if I come back in two months and things are still the same we might have some problems." He took the time to know me and my classroom well enough to honestly make that comment. He spoke the truth and offered encouragement.
Fifteen years later I still appreciate the wisdom shared by that principal. I recognize every year that I'm still not the best teacher, but I can work on it. If I reflect on what I'm doing and two months from now things aren't any better, there's a problem. His words in my first official evaluation have provided a context for continual self-evaluation and improvement that lead me into my sixteenth year of teaching.
Teachers make a difference, but so do the administrators. Best wishes for a great new school year. And let us know what we can do for you.