The discourse in education always disproportionately focuses on teachers, as if we are the root of all school evils. We never talk about ineffective Superintendents who make $250,000 a year but still need an $800 a month car allowance in a recession. We don’t complain about our School Boards who hire these Superintendents to five-year contracts, fire them after two years, then still have to pay out their remaining contract. We remain silent when they hire a replacement Superintendent to an even more lavish contract who they will also fire prematurely yet pay out for years. We let these kinds of circles go on forever, like the spinning beach-ball of death on an iMac computer. Instead, we continue to deride teachers, teachers, teachers—some of whom take home only $800 a month after paying for our ridiculous health benefits packages.
Yet we never talk about Administrators.
My high school has one principal and three assistant principals. Since the sixties this place has had one principal and three assistant principals. Except back then our school hosted only a few hundred students. Today, our four administrators handle a staff of 200 adults, as well as 2,000 students. There is no way they can do their job. Their job is pure insanity. It is the kind of job where you sit at your computer in the morning hoping to check your email and get to the stack of paper on your desk, but the phone rings as you take your computer off of sleep mode, and the rest of the day spirals into a nightmare of suspensions and screaming teachers and crying parents so that you don’t even sit back down at your desk until school gets out. By then you have twice as many emails and three times as much paper on your stack.
If we want to address what’s really at the heart of the problems in our public schools, we need to take a long look at how our schools are run. Forget about teachers for one second. We need to look at our districts, district officials, school boards, and superintendents—and at some point we need to turn the scrutiny toward principals.
Saying our administrators are overworked is like saying the candidates in the Republican primary are a bit weak—it is way worse than that. We need to take a close look at the responsibilities our administrators have, and ask them truthfully, “Can this be done by one human?”
I’ll give you a concrete example. Discipline at a high school is usually parceled out among APs so that when a kid gets in trouble, his last name determines which AP will handle him. This system creates confusion right away. Plus, the APs have so many other duties, discipline is just another sheet of paper on their desk they won’t be able to get to today.
When it comes to this one example, I can tell you the solution very quickly. We need one AP in charge of discipline—AND NOTHING ELSE. You call him the Dean, the Chief of Security, I don’t care what, but we need a Warden who works with the security staff and SROs to ensure our public campuses are safe. I use the word “Warden” very deliberately because the situation on our campuses is so severe the students and the teachers feel about as safe as prisoners at times. We’ve had a few teachers assaulted this year, and not one of the students has been expelled. One was moved to a different school in the district. And the student last week, the one who decided to shove his math teacher as hard as he could with both hands, is back on campus AND HAS THE SAME MATH TEACHER! We can’t even get students who assault us out of our classes, let alone off this campus. So when I say we need someone whose sole focus is discipline, I mean it. Otherwise we have a campus controlled by students and fear.
But here’s what we really need: 2 principals and 6 assistant principals.
Whoever thought up this undermanned four person administrative team didn’t have today’s public schools in mind. It would be like designing an offense for the Super Bowl with only a quarterback, a center, and one wide receiver. Except public education is more important than the Super Bowl, and society is at stake. Why do we continue with this outdated, ineffective farce? When we talk about changes in education, why don’t we ever talk about the people in charge? To continue the football analogy, we spend all our time complaining about the running backs and linebackers when we should be scrutinizing the coaching staff.
If I were superintendent of my district, I would do a couple of things very quickly: I would double the administrative team at each school and make sure discipline is being doled out equally across my schools with a Dean whose sole job is focused on keeping the campus safe. And if a student ASSAULTS a teacher, I would make sure they are expelled.
If you noticed, I’m not even getting specific in my grievances about the administrators I know. Honestly, it all comes down to the idea that I can’t really be mad at them because their job is impossible. Sure, they could do aspects of it better, but in the end it comes down to the fact that no human can do it well. We just need more humans.
But I’m not Superintendent, I’m just a teacher who seems to be the only one who has noticed our schools are being run by a skeleton crew who is outnumbered and overwhelmed.
In that way our administrators are a lot like teachers, only no one ever throws the blame their way.
Matt Amaral is a writer and high school English teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area. He received his undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of California at Davis and an MFA in Creative Writing from National University. Matt is a featured Blogger at EducationNews.org, a leading international website for Education, and New America Media, the nation’s leading ethnic news organization. He is the former Editor-In-Chief of The Gnu Literary Journal. You can also read his work in the 2010 issues of TeachHub, emPower Magazine, The Dirty Napkin, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Eclectic Flash, Bird’s Eye ReView, TravelMag, Escape From America Magazine and InTravel Magazine.