Monday, August 15, 2011

What Teachers Want from their Administrators

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.


  1. -"Time is our currency"
    -Administrators who say "no" to things are great
    -I always liked admins who got there before me, left after me, and were visible throughout the day(tough given today's responsibilities)
    -Admins who are leaders and make things better

  2. I am so glad you wrote about this. You have made some excellent points, and it was point number one that really hit home. I was trying to explain something very similar not so long ago. You hope people understand what you thinking, but, after reading your post, I now know that someone out there gets it. If there is one, there are others. Rock on!

    If you get the chance, I wrote something along similar lines about administrators on August 1, 2011. I would love for you to read it.

    If it is okay with you, I would also like to link your latest blog post on my blog.

  3. Although I understand where you are coming from by blogging about what teachers want from their principal, many of your points could be transfered to teachers as well.
    For example, your point about a building principal wanting to move to a higher position. Many building principals are quite content with being a principal.
    Unfortunately for me, this blog comes off as teacher vs. administrator which is unfortunate (i.e. you get paid more than us). Although that statement is true it comes off as negative. If teachers don't want to be told about their salaries, they probably should not do the same thing to others.
    As a building principal I spend as much or more time in the school than most of my teachers. I am an educator first and care deeply about our students and teachers.
    In addition, many principals were teachers first and understand how diffcult the job can be. We, as administrators, know that our jobs are hard and we are ok with that, but it would be much easier if we knew that we had support from our teachers.

  4. Sometimes, perhaps without even realizing it, administrators are dismissive when talking to teachers. We are colleagues. Just because I CHOOSE to stay in the classroom doesn't mean I lack ambition. I will never understand how easy it is for administrators to forget how much classroom teachers need their support. It's as if amnesia sets in once that certification and new title are bestowed. We are all educators working for the empowerment of each other and our students.

  5. To Anonymous #3:

    I do hope that this post was perhaps provocative without being offensive. I tried to use the last three paragraphs to emphasize the importance that adiministrators have had in my professional growth and career. (and continue to have)

    I do dislike having teachers painted with a broad stroke, and I'm sure that an administrator would feel similar about a post like this. But my invitation in the opening paragraph was an honest request-- What do administrators want from teachers?

  6. If I have paintedadministrators with a broad brush it is due to my own lack of experience with administrators who have been relegated as on site property managers instead of teacher mentors and hands on student role models. We expect too much from our administrators when they are too busy orderdering toilet paper, textbooks and paint instead of watching the teaching/learning process and promoting tteacher collaboration and self-accountability. Their educational expertise and experience gets shelved and paperwork replaces people. Anyone else care to comment? I welcome administrators who feel they have more than enough time to be in the classroom and would like more time to dole out keys or get the copy machines fixed!

  7. Critical of Admins?...sure...but they are bosses and it comes with the territory just as teachers deal with parent and student griping. I find most of the posts these guys put up are carefully crafted in such a way as to not intentionally offend anyone. Bottom line is that educators should work with and help kids. Too many are spending more time with each other in meetings, curriculum and computers. As a lifer in the classroom I have little patience for people whose degrees outweigh their worth. Further bad admins can make everyone's job tougher as opposed to bad teachers who just screw up kids. But I think there are plenty of both. Good ones out there too. What is frustrating is the current climate in schools seems designed to limit the effectiveness of both. One thing I will leave you with is this...I've been around long enough in 3 schools to see many ineffective teachers move up as opposed to out. It was a way to escape their surroundings without restarting from scratch. They are usually equally as bad as admins. :) Glad some admins read this blog too. I suspect if you do you are a good one.

  8. Hmmm...I had a somewhat different reaction to point number one. While I agree we teachers need time to prepare for our incoming students, I don't know that right before school begins is the time to do it. If we KNOW we will be receiving PD at that time, wouldn't we be wise to do our preparation earlier? PD, when presented engagingly, is vital to keep education fresh - to remind us to embrace best practices, to use student data to inform our teaching, to have professional conversations with each other. Any profession requires its members to be prepared at the start of a have done whatever it takes to be fully present when the meeting starts. In other words, make time to eat your breakfast before you get to school...