The Principal's Dilemma

11/09/2010 01:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When I began teaching, there were a couple of things that struck me as being unique to education. The first was the expectation that supplies that those in the corporate world take for granted would need to be provided by me. The second is that my immediate supervisor, my boss, would rarely make an appearance in my classroom.

As long as I kept up the appearance of being able to have good control of my classroom by not writing too many referrals, it would "appear" that I was a "good" teacher.

A good teacher in my first two years of teaching.

As if that thought shouldn't strike you as ludicrous.

My first two evaluations were rated as satisfactory. No mention of areas that I could improve upon and thus move from a good teacher to a great teacher.

This bothered me because I had come from a different world prior to becoming a teacher. I had worked for two corporations in my career before becoming a teacher. In the evaluations that I received in these positions, there were always areas that were marked in which I excelled and then areas in which there could be improvement. When my boss would go over my evaluation, we would have a good 20 to 30 minute debriefing about the evaluation.

For the most part, my evaluations were good and the conversations I would have with my boss also helped me, I would like to think, become a better employee.

So, how does this relate to teaching?

In a nutshell, many principals simply do not have the time or resources to help the teachers at their school sites become better educators. Just like teachers, they are overworked and the demands on their time too often makes it very difficult for them to help teachers, struggling or not.

It is one of the things that really drives me crazy in the current education debate. I wish that more administrators would start speaking out against the unreasonable demands on their time. I also wish that they would acknowledge that sometimes it's easier for them to keep a struggling teacher rather than to go through the process of hiring someone new.

Yet, their voices have remained mostly silent in this debate.

Why is that?

Perhaps they fear losing their jobs if they speak out.

In my current role as the leader of my local association, I've come to realize that part of the power that I have is the ability to speak to school site administrators and district administrators as an equal. Therefore, when there are issues between a teacher and their principal, I don't fear the loss of my job. This enables me to advocate for the teacher without fear of retribution.

I also know that while some principals would welcome this discourse regardless of my union protection, there are others who would not. These principals would openly welcome the dismantling of the teachers union and would have no qualms of going after those teachers that they do not see as kowtowing to their vision for their school site, no matter how right or wrong-headed that vision may be!

Furthermore, I have been allowed to have a voice at the table in my own district, although I am aware that sometimes it may not be a welcome voice. I don't believe that many principals enjoy this same sort of freedom to speak their minds in front of their superiors. It is why it looks to so many of us in classrooms that principals have wholeheartedly embraced the testing culture, pushing for more test prep in lieu of science, history, music or P.E. As one principal stated to me, "they look at me when the test scores don't rise."

As districts make more and more cuts to programs and services, more demands are placed on school site administrators. My district has seen the complete elimination of middle school counselors and librarians (one librarian serving the needs of almost 15,000 students) and drastic reductions to our school nurses. Who is expected to pick up the slack? Teachers and school site administrators. So, why are we only hearing from teachers? When it comes to making tough budget decisions and crucial programs such as P.E. and music are up on the chopping block, it would be nice for a principal to speak before the Board about eliminating and/or reducing district benchmark assessments and state testing. It would also be nice to read letters to the editor with a group of principal as signers. I've yet to see this in Vallejo & don't know if it is happening elsewhere.

Instead principals are silent. Perhaps they like this new status quo, where teachers are under the gun for the poor performance of students and they believe that most teachers are bad. Perhaps they want to see the complete dismantling of public education and teachers unions. Perhaps they know that being principal is just a stepping stone to becoming a district administrator or a superintendent. Or perhaps, it is all of the above.

I hope that it is NOT all of the above.

Instead, I hope that their silence is because many principals are caught between wanting to do what is right for children and their teachers and wanting to keep their jobs. They are caught in the middle in positions that are often tenuous based on the whims of district administrators and the school board. If this is the case, then I hope that they will start to collectively raise their voices and start speaking out about the new status quo, where test prep trumps real learning and where the only two subjects that matter is language arts and mathematics.

I know that I would welcome their voice to this conversation.