A recent tweet about my “crew” brings me to this Post. I did not know that I had a crew until someone pointed it out in a tweet. The tweeter made reference to the @tomwhitby crew discussion – 1) Admins stink. 2) Teachers are holy. 3) ???? 4) Profit! I really did not fully understand points 3 & 4, but, based on 1 & 2, I believe this person felt that I always knock Administrators and praise teachers.
If that is the perception of the flavor of my tweets, I am misrepresenting my beliefs and I should apologize to a number of people. I firmly believe that, if education is to improve, it will be because a number of great educational leaders will lead us from where we are today, to where we should be tomorrow. I do not believe we should throw everything out and begin from scratch. Many of these leaders reside in the ranks of today’s educational administrators. In my not-so humble opinion there is a difference between leaders and administrators.
My perspective on this comes from a career in education as a teacher who has worked with a number of Administrators. My personal,professional experience has spanned over three school Districts and two Colleges. I entered the teaching profession as enrollments were declining and schools were reducing their staffs to accommodate the shrinking size of their baby-boomer, student bodies. Many teachers lost their jobs and did not re-enter the profession. With each reduction I was lucky enough to land on my feet and secure positions in other schools.
In 34 years I worked under many administrators; Eight Superintendents, nine Principals, sixteen assistant Principals, ten department Chairs. Recalling these numbers for the purpose of this post brought to mind many good people and many others who did not exactly advance education. Those I had great respect for included: Two of the eight Superintendents, three of the nine principals, two of the sixteen assistant Principals and three of the ten chairs. My respect for those administrators came from their ability to understand and enable teachers on the staff to be successful. It was apparent to me that for many reasons, the great administrators came in much smaller numbers. Too many of the less supportive people floated to the top. I am haunted by the thought of those 13 AP’s moving up.
During my career I have always been involved with Professional Development. Many of the teachers that I worked with looked to improve their teaching methods and learn about new tools. This is not to say that there weren’t teachers who were unwilling to learn and grow. I really believe that I have addressed those teachers in many of my tweets. I also spent Five years on the Board of Directors of the New York State Association of Computers and Technology in Education. I worked with many progressive administrators leading their schools into the future with technology. That was highlighted by their teachers giving wonderful presentations of accomplishments with Tech and Teaching. Presentations which would not be possible without administrative support.
Teachers, however, are at the bottom of the power structure. The only group lower than teachers in regard to power would be the students. If real change is to come, it might be suggested by the lower levels, but it must be directed to happen from the top. Superintendents and Principals are in a much better position to promote lasting change in the educational system. Their attitudes and leadership will direct buildings and districts. Teachers or students, although influential, do not have that power.
And then there was the Superintendent from Rhode Island announcing that her entire teaching staff was being terminated. The teachers refused to work longer hours and more days without additional money. They also refused to eat their lunches in the student cafeteria with the students. This particular superintendent did not provide the leadership needed for improvement. If the teaching methods were not working during the regular work week, why would a superintendent expect that, an increase in the number of hours and days using those same methods, would improve a dropout rate? What other ideas had this superintendent implemented for professional development? Did she promote best practices? Was there a mentor program in place? How supportive was she of her staff?
What made it worse for me was that our head Educational leader, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, immediately supported the action and said that more actions like this may follow. This was underscored by the President of the United States reaffirming that statement within days.
What motivates people to become teachers is usually a need to affect change. I see many students enter the profession with passion and energy to change the world. They are smart and willing to work. If, after a period of time as a teacher, these qualities are less obvious, they may not have disappeared, but rather may have gone dormant for a number of reasons, lack of leadership being one. These qualities do still exist. They may need to be awakened by a caring and knowledgeable leader who looks to build and not tear things down. Teachers should teach, and Administrators should lead. Politicians should do whatever it is they do, but that would not be anything involving Education, unless it is their own. The only way to improve education is to lead us to improvement. Tearing down the system and starting over wastes resources, money, and people.
With this as a backdrop to my tweet, I apologize to all of those administrators who are supporting their staffs and encouraging learning. I believe teachers who are not doing their best to advance themselves professionally are doing wrong by themselves, and their students. They should be held accountable. I do not apologize for promoting collaboration and discussion to involve those who need to be changed. I believe teachers need to support change by directing and supporting their administrators in the best ways to teach kids how to learn. I believe social media allows all parties to collaborate and exchange ideas to benefit all educators. I believe anyone willing to be in my crew gets an extra ration of RUM.