What Do Teachers Need From Administrators?

What do I need from administrators? It seems to be a huge question, and I am not sure why. Administration, in my experience in elementary schools in California’s Bay Area, seems to be a tool of policy makers, not defenders of good, wholesome educational practices–they are the purveyors of fads. Or maybe they are simply trying to stay employed.

I have had principals who never taught in an elementary classroom. I’ve had principals who have been out of a classroom for 20 years, yet still think they are current. My district has gone through 3 superintendents in 10 years, each with his/her own “bee in the bonnet” about something that has more to do with money than educating kids. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

thinkers_cartoonAdministration/principals in a school, IMHO, should be made up of current teachers. Actually, administrator should be a non-education based job–administrators should not be principals. At big hospitals there a managers who manage the business side, leaving medical personnel to do medicine. Sure there is a chief medical person, but that person is chiefly medical and only meets with the MBAs when money versus best practices is at issue, not to decide on medical procedures, ideally.

I want this for schools. Principals are too busy dealing with budgets–being the tools of the board and superintendent. School districts spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with money–cutting programs, overworking staff, eliminating positions–because America has chosen war over children, or something similar. Principals, who started as teachers, are not best used as OMB-type employees. They started out as educators, and should remain leaders of education in schools, not budget cutting consultants who come in fresh, ready to cut and slash.

I would like to see an administration separate the double role principals play into 2 distinct roles: the money role (administrator) and the educational leader role (principal). I propose to do it like this:

Let’s assume a district with 12 elementary schools–a 1-high school town. In this town there would be an MBA type administrator (or 2) who would deal with the money for all schools–budgets would be prepared and analyzed by this MBA’s staff and then presented to the educational leaders at each school. I call them educational leaders because they would be teachers. Let me explain, because here is where I go nuts:

The principal of an elementary school should be working with parents, teachers and children, not budgets and money management. In order to have an educator (teacher) as principal we would need to do something very different in terms of credentialing. Imagine if all teachers were not just credentialed as a teacher, but also as an administrator (principal)? The administrator classes one needs to take to get an administration credential are few, making them an easy addition to a regular credential program. By combining a regular credential with an administrator supplement, making a new, more robust single credential, there is suddenly a large number of those who could be principal.

In my scenario, teachers with the new credential would rotate from year to year as principal. Sure, it is similar to a teacher-led school, but my idea changes credentialing and traditional administration of schools. If I am a classroom teacher this year, I might be principal next year, then my buddy teacher the year after that with me returning to the classroom. This puts educators and colleagues in charge of the school–with no worries about finances because they are taken care of by the “money-man.”

I like the idea because my experience with administration has been an adversarial one with money pitted against what’s best for kids. What would this new principal/teacher be able to do? Freed from an Excel spreadsheet a principal would have time to help with the actual teaching of students and professional development of teachers. Staff meetings would take on an air of a team working toward more cohesion and attentiveness to the needs of students as opposed to the constant strum and drang of management-speak.

A principal should be a classroom expert, especially in elementary school.  They should be part of the school team, not part of the management adversariat.  

Teachers should run schools.  Schools are not businesses.

The Frustrated Teacher is a former elementary school teacher with 13 years of classroom experience in Title I schools.  Before that he ran summer camps and after school programs for affluent kids.  He has worked with young children for 30 years.  He left the classroom to pursue a private consulting practice where his penchant for calling it like it is won’t be such a downer.

19 Responses to “What Do Teachers Need From Administrators?”

  1. I don’t see how your MBA-type administrator would work with your teacher/principal. How is the MBA, with little (no?) education background, going to apportion a single and no doubt limited pool of money responsibility and effectively among the schools? Faced with competing demands from the various schools, I have little faith that the money would be apportioned according to need or best educational practices rather than, say, favoritism or squeaky-wheeledness or some other not-so-legitimate basis.

    And on the other side, though I certainly see the advantages of freeing principals from at least the financial-administrative crap, I’m concerned about the lack of consistency/continuity if the principal changes from year to year.

  2. The MBA would listen to the teachers and balance their needs with whatever the board has determined.

    If all teachers in a school are in line to become “principal” then they will be more inclined to collaborate and work together, making a stronger more cohesive team that any one of the members could lead.

  3. Well said; good stuff!

  4. bored of your rhetoric Reply September 10, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Why is it that the administration of education is seen as some sordid pastime? Non-educational staff are made out to be pariahs and there is little or no effort to respect any credential outside of a teaching certificate. I don’t have an MBA btw so I’m not bothered from that perspective…but what if I did…so what? Does it brand me, as you suggest, as some grim reaper??

    I truly find this contrived as a conversation when a private “consultant” waxes lyrical about the woes of the system. Fuel the flames…not find solutions (because your submission that the “MBA” handles the money and the teachers teach is just not valid, ergo – it ain’t a solution). Educators…lead teachers, principals whatever you want to call them, NEED to be part of the fiscal decision-making AND the accountabilty that goes along with it. Divorcing the two (business and education) is so divisive and models out-dated partisan thinking).

    What we’re looking for is a unified REALISTIC approach to how education is managed and funded. Your article does a disservice to anyone who has set foot into a school as an employee. Polarised “them and us” rhetoric is just beyond reproach! You want to go after the problem….go after the politicians who devalue the education system as a whole through lip-service and false promise.

    • bored (or pissed, I can’t tell),

      I left the classroom a year ago after 13 years. I won’t go into all the reasons, but ill health is one of them.

      There is enough for teachers to do without worrying about the money, which in itself is a full time job, ergo an MBA-type money manager could do that part with input from educators.

      Education seems to be an after-thought for too many. If we funded education commensurate with its importance, we wouldn’t be trading “school” for “war.”

      There are many teacher-led schools in operation, and more on the way. They provide an educational environment instead of a business-first environment.

      It’s too bad you prefer schools to be run as businesses. They aren’t businesses. It’s a big cost to provide a decent education for America’s kids, and we teachers are trying to do that every day with very little.

      Sorry you are so angry with me.

      • I’m not “angry”. Passion is not the sole domain of educators. As a Dad, someone in “the system” and a member of the great unwashed, I’m entitled to have fire in my (substantive) belly. No need to feel hard done too.

        Just one correction to a convenient/false assumption you made. Contrary to what you said, I don’t prefer to see schools run as businesses. In fact what I said was a “unified” approach is required. Why is it so difficult to accept that people without a teaching certificate may actually know “something” about education that they can contribute and educators without that tarnished MBA can actually make informed decisions about where best to spend anemic dollars.

        What is “maddening” should one let that feeling swell, is that the black and white standpoint that you take does a disservice to those of us who work both sides of that fence.

        And to reiterate, the common denominator in all of this is the political element – from big/little government to the unions to the press. Those OUTSIDE of the system (and that is the entire learning community….not just “the classroom”) are the ones to be rallying against.

        • Okay. Please explain the unified approach. What do we consider first? Do we look at teacher evaluation (what the Business Roundtable suggested and is currently funding through RTTT)or high-stakes tests or federal standards or teacher autonomy or what?

          I am not discounting anything you say because you aren’t a teacher or because you are of the great unwashed (my dad used to use that phrase).

          I am open to hear any suggestion.-

          I am rallying to those outside the system every time I reitterate the need for Universal health care and free, high quality early childhood education.

  5. Just as you suggest (by implication, at least) that principals are not by training, temperament, preference, money managers, I say that teachers are not necessarily administrators. I’m not sure that the qualities that make a great teacher in the classroom make a great administrator or even a teacher-collaborator.

    And isn’t it the responsibility of principals now, under the traditional model, to deal with money and budgets? Would having an MBA, rather than a principal, deal with money issues increase the pool of money so that teachers would be able to worry less about money under that model than they do with a principal worrying about money?

    • Having an MBA-type person would free up educators so they could educate, yes.

      Principals, in elementary schools at least, are almost always former teachers. Nothing wrong with that except the principal’s job has become much more business-centered than education centered, making these principals struggle with tasks they simply aren’t prepared for, either in temperament, preference or skill.

      Having a trained accountant to deal with budgets would make it possible for an educator to deal with the daily issues of discipline, parent concerns, staff development and assessment in their role as principal. Nothing this teacher/principal would have to do is dissimilar to a classroom and the issues that come with leading a classroom.

      Sure, some teachers wouldn’t want to take their turn as principal. Fine.

      But being able to focus on the kids, the curriculum, and the families, and make/change school policies to that end, seems more doable when folks have the time to do it. As it is, principals take too much time in executive committee doing funding favors for administration and the PTA president.

  6. I need the Administrators to start caring more about educating our students, and less about money. Sadly it seems that schools are just businesses looking to make money. Sadly, not caring much about education at all.
    Kind regards.

  7. I think there’s a fundamental flaw in comparing what’s done in schools to how hospitals are run. Like it or not, hospitals are businesses, and more often than not hospital policies are based on how much the hospital will be reimbursed from an insurance company.

    Adding the qualifier “ideally” does not excuse the comparison, because ideally administrators in their current role should be “a classroom expert” and “part of the school team.”

  8. Hospitals are businesses, yes, but in theory they should exist in order to make people well. Similarly, schools have turned into businesses and “like it or not” school policies these days are based on how much money a site or a district will get from the respective government agency; or, as is often the case, how much money they might lose in a lawsuit. IMO it’s about as adept a comparison you could make, under the circumstances.

  9. That should say “as apt a comparison,” not “adept.” I hate it when that happens.

  10. “In my scenario, teachers with the new credential would rotate from year to year as principal.”

    Please, no! If we think we have issues with the fad or flavour of the year now, how would changing who is leading a school every year possibly help matters? Unless you envisage a situation where all teachers are working from the same page (unlikely, and perhaps not even desirable), this is a recipe for a lack of consistency for staff, for students, for parents, and for the division.

    I’ve read, and believe, that it takes most teachers a couple of years to really become expert at a particular teaching assignment. Logic says the same is true of principals. The first year brings a steep learning curve. Let’s give people a chance to learn a position before shuffling them out.

    And what about supervision and evaluation? In your scenario, it would be “This year I’m the principal and I’m writing your evaluation, next year you’re the principal and you’re writing mine.” Does anyone else see a problem with this?

    “The administrator classes one needs to take to get an administration credential are few, making them an easy addition to a regular credential program.”

    Again, please no! First off, I think that if the requirements to obtain an administration credential are “a few classes” which would make “an easy addition” to regular education degrees, well that’s a big problem. A masters degree in educational admin or 100+ hours of PD (or both) seems like the norm where I’m from.

    I also think that some teachers have the interest in and/or aptitude for educational administration, and others do not. This is not a bad thing. I work with many great colleagues who love working with students in the classroom and have no desire to become administrators.

    I think that all administrators should first be teachers… I would go so far as to say that maybe it’s a good idea for administrators to continue teaching in addition to their work as administrators (ie teaching one class or for part of their day). But I don’t think that all teachers should be administrators.

  11. Former teacher, always a teacher Reply September 13, 2010 at 7:09 am

    My only comment is – I’m saddened by the lumping and stereotyping of building administrators. There are many principals that are instructional leaders and put our students first. They fight to save programs that work, support collaboration and decision making among their teacher teams, and understand, inside and out, the instructional components of the level they serve. There are principals who still teach classes, volunteer to cover for their teachers to free up planning time, and who know it’s the classroom where “the rubber meets the road”. I’ve been a part of these systems – I know they exist. Like many positions, not everyone who assumes the role is the best person for that position, and, unfortunately, in many instances due to district circumstances, the principal – or the teacher leader, does not have opportunity to act as s/he believes. I’m disheartened that many of you have not had opportunity to experience what the principalship should be. And contrary to opinion – the contemporary, i.e. 21st century principal, is an instructional leader NOT a manager.

  12. This is not feasible, or reasonable. Get your admin degree and be an administrator for one year. Then write a blog about that experience and we will see if you feel the same. Without principals holding teachers accountable, there would be a stronger lack of learning then there already is.

  13. I never had a principal hold me accountable; I did that on my own. I have tried to hold them accountable for the lack of follow through on discipline, but they like to write teachers up for that.

    Often, they are part of the problem, much more than a teacher.

    Go work in a school, then come back and tell us how crucial the principal was to student learning.

  14. I have a great Principal that leaves me alone. I have been a math teacher for 17 years. I have a Math degree and an MBA. Let’s just say that I know my stuff. My experience may be odd in the fact that all of the administrators that I have worked with have been former PE teachers or counselors. These are the “teaching” jobs that don’t require much outside work, so they simply have more time in their early years to pursue advanced degrees( ed-admin degrees are relatively easy to obtain). Our current Superintendent was a former PE teacher…. what a joke.
    I love my job, but it is highly specialized, and I don’t appreciate a former PE teacher(who only taught for 3 years by the way)micromanaging me.
    The “real work” of a school building is done by teachers and everyone knows who the good and bad teachers are. In my building, it’s the bad teachers that are driven out. The job is simply too stressful for them. You have to bring your “A” game everyday, and they simply aren’t capable. My job is stressful, and I love it anyway. I really like the kids, and they work hard for the most part. However, many of you seem to forget that the biggest jerk in your office usually has kids too, and I have to teach them. The apples don’t fall far from the tree.
    The kids usually behave better than the parents in these cases. They get to see plenty of good role models at school.
    I am one of those “good” teachers. Parents and students request my classes, Admin likes me because my kids bring in the good scores( both state tests and the ones that actually matter) and my name is not attached to any discipline numbers for the building. My secret? Good solid teaching(not the kind of stuff that the media wants to see- I’m not a fan of trying all the new “fads” ), pushing the kid to work better , frequent assessment, highly organized. I miss as little school as possible, I only go to training in the summers( I teach summer school too…like you, I need to eat and pay bills). I work with kids every lunch hour( that’s what every teacher in my building does) and I am available everyday after school for 1 hour. Students email me at night as well for help. Could I do more ….probably not. I have a family and kids. My building is pushing teachers to come to school on Saturdays for 1/2 of their prorated hourly pay. They want us to “parent the kids” and help them with their homework. You won’t see me there.
    I’m raising my own kids, and I really don’t want to raise everyone elses.

    In a nutshell, my job is more stessful than some, less than others. I am not a martyr, so pay me reasonably( I am paid well, but I did alot of research to find a district that would). Since I teach summer school, I have about 3 weeks more vacation than my husband, but I make 2/3 of what he makes. I’m not complaining though. I knew I would always make less.
    I remember the first years though. I took home $350 per week after taxes, and had to rent an apartment in a complex that was primarily section 8 housing. It was a bit depressing.
    Let’s just say this is not a job for the weak….

  15. Similar issues and challenges face school leaders in Australian primary schools. Whilst generally (and I hate generalisations) their area of expertise was initially in the area of teaching, the demands of ‘administrivia’ are many and consequently distract them at times from teaching and learning. However I agree that informed decisions about budget allocations and staffing need to be made by people with knowledge of teaching and learning.

    The best Principals are those that remain focused on the main game and yet can utilise and manipulate resources to most effectively support student learning. They remain connected with the ‘chalkface’ even if they aren’t directly teaching a class.

    In Australia, this balance could be better achieved with additional administrative support for school leaders (Principals) to release them from the unnecessary admin tasks to focus on the main game.

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