Chapter Six: Teachers, Administrators, and the School System
“Hey, it’s great to see you again.” Toni grinned broadly at Aaron, her former classmate in the Faculty of Education. “How’s the job? Are you going crazy the same as me?”
“It’s tough,” Aaron replied. “I’m working harder than I ever have before. But I’m enjoying it too. There are really good people on the staff at my school, and they’ve helped me a lot. So has my principal. I’ve been given some extra prep time. I feel as if I’m making progress, even if I don’t always feel that the kids are making as much as I want them to!”
“You mean you actually know what other teachers in your school are doing? I don’t even know all their names yet, and I haven’t had time to speak to most of them.”
“What about at your orientation?” Aaron asked. “Didn’t you meet everyone there? Didn’t you get a chance to talk about school programming? And what about your team meetings?”
“What orientation?” Toni replied. “You mean the school meeting that was held right before school? It was basically just an orientation to the school plan and handbook, and who was going to serve on committees. I was introduced as the new teacher, and that was that. I arrived, was shown my classroom, given my class list, and told where the textbooks were. The teachers next door to me have said hello, and invited me to let them know if I need anything, but they’re busy too, and I hate to bother them. Some of the teachers haven’t even introduced themselves yet. Teachers don’t have meetings except for staff meetings, and those are usually full of administrative details and reminders about deadlines; I don’t know what you mean by ‘team meetings.’ I’m the only new teacher on staff, and I’m spending every evening and most of the weekend just trying to keep up. In addition to the regular teaching, I’ve been doing a ton of supervision. I’m already dead tired, and it’s only October.”
“That sounds tough,” Aaron commiserated. “Our staff works in grade-level teams, so we meet every week during a common prep period to talk about programs, particular kids, and teaching ideas. I’m working really hard too, but I also feel I’m learning an incredible amount and the other teachers are really helpful. But what about your principal? Isn’t he helpful?”
“I wouldn’t exactly describe Mr. Plett that way,” said Toni. “He talks mostly to the two staff members who seem to be his personal friends. He hasn’t taken much interest in me. I never see him. The norm in the school just seems to be that you do things on your own. Aside from getting the paperwork done, or whatever the latest board policy is, everyone, including the teachers, seems to prefer to be left alone to teach in their own way. Even when there are discipline problems, I definitely get the feeling that Mr. Plett expects me to solve them on my own, and I’m not sure he thinks I can do it.”
“I can’t believe how different my school is,” Aaron responded. “My principal has been in my class at least a half dozen times already. She just drops in for a few minutes, chats with some of the kids, and gets a sense of what we’re doing. The next time I see her she’s always got some positive remark to make about something she saw in the class. And she spent an hour with me after the first week, talking about how I was doing, offering suggestions, and most of all letting me know that she was there to support me. Even our staff meetings are pretty good. We spend most of the time talking about educational issues—language development, new program ideas, grading practices, and so on. We’ve got a school discipline policy, and I talk with other teachers quite a bit about what they’re doing with particular kids.”
“You know,” Toni mused, “I thought that teaching was teaching, wherever you were. But talking to you makes me realize how much difference the kind of school you’re in can make to your attitude. When I listen to your enthusiasm, I realize how important the principal and other teachers are.”
Prospective teachers are generally motivated by their desire to help children and to foster learning. At the same time, it is important to remember that teaching is also a job for which people are well paid, and one that occurs in a defined setting, with particular rules, procedures, and conventions.
When new teachers begin their first job, or when experienced teachers change schools, they move into a setting that is already formed. The school has a history, a set of practices, a culture (“the way things are done around here”), and a group of people who may have been there for some time. The new person must learn about these practices and habits and, for the most part, adjust to them. Although new teachers often begin their careers with a great deal of idealism about how they can change things, they may soon encounter aspects of their work that instead change them.
Some of these conditions are inherent in the history and development of schools as institutions and of teaching as an occupation. Other conditions are created by the administrators who run the schools. Teachers need to understand how their work is shaped by these conditions. To that end, this chapter reviews the school as a workplace and teaching as an occupation, including the roles of teachers and administrators. Features such as hiring, pay, and evaluation are reviewed, and some of the tensions inherent in these activities are identified.