The Fear In Their Eyes
At my school there is a bewildering array of requirements for teachers. There is an extraordinarily complex and subjective evaluation system. There is a meticulously detailed, inflexible and absolutely unrealistic discipline system. There are hall pass, tardy, locker and dress code policies that administrators must have rehearsed over and over in order to describe with a straight face. “But if everybody does it”, the line goes, “then the kids will just go along and get used to it. No problem.”
Then you get the slippery slope argument: “If one teacher doesn’t make everyone tuck in their shirts then other teachers won’t and then where will that leave us?” Just stop and really think about that for a second.
If that doesn’t keep you up at night, I don’t know what will.
“The fear in their eyes” refers to the new people. They don’t know what’s going on. And they don’t need to know about all this stuff right now. Let them settle in and get ready for their classes. I remember my first year here. I spent the first four months on the verge of a heart attack. Requirements are so extensive, detailed yet unclear, explained so poorly, change so often and, in fact, cannot all possibly be complied with such that everyone, by default, must fail.
The trick is to find out what’s really important. The administration will say that everything is a matter of life and death: tucked in shirts, not chewing gum, only using approved adhesives on the wall, reporting rapes, keeping old copies of meeting agendas, updating the four required bulletin boards in a timely manner with the appropriate content,…it is all vital for the children.
I said the trick is to find out what’s really important. But it’s a little more than that. You have to find out what’s important to your particular administrator. They try not to appear so, but they are actually just human beings, too. They can’t all possibly care about all of this ridiculousness, think it’s important, and enforce it all of the time. It’s impossible and dishonest and they know it. It’s the elephant in the room at all these meetings.
But they don’t respect you enough as a professional to say so. So everybody hedges and fudges a bit. You have to find your administrator’s weak spot. Or, to put it more accurately, you have to find the point(s) where your administrator has substituted his or her own realistic judgement for that of the higher-ups. They have to let something slide. What is it? Find it. Then carefully probe for your own and see what happens. This can make you a better teacher.
Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying you should walk in hung over every day with nothing planned and turn on Shrek II. I’m just saying look at the 5 or 10 dumbest things you are supposed to do and try to find out which ones really matter to the people who are in charge of you.
Anybody who has been here knows that. But the new people haven’t a clue. In addition to having to absorb all of this incidental crap and being made to believe that they really have to know all of this and follow it to the letter right now, they are also setting up classrooms in a new building, learning and developing curriculum, trying to find out how to make copies and get a password for their computer, etc.
And in an addition to all this, they might just be nervous as all fucking hell because they are new teachers and this is a big deal. They want to do well. Their hearts are in the right place. They want to work hard. They need to be told to relax and that it’s going to be ok. But I can already see some of them being crushed by the authoritarian bureaucracy of this place. It is utterly predictable that many will leave at the end of the semester and a handful will leave before that.
I have been struck by colleagues who are now teaching at different places who have reported to me how much friendlier their new schools seem. Why is this?
Former Colleagues…Report back to me and I will post you anonymously. (firstname.lastname@example.org)