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From a Teacher to an Educational Leader

Jose 6 Comments

Luz loved writing about education so much, she decided to give us another nugget of wisdom. Once again, Luz …

The transition began four years when I saw the chaos that was around me in the school I had been working in for six years. Even though it wasn’t always the perfect setting, there was a sense of solidarity and commitment from my colleagues. I had the privilege of having many mentors in said building who took me under their wing and helped to mold me. From them, I learned that as a teacher I had to make sure that my students were my first priority and not the latest mandates imposed upon us by a continuous changing at the district, region, NYCDOE, and state level.

Unfortunately, due to the latter, I had the privilege of meeting many administrators who added a title to their name and which carried no weight because they possessed no said qualifications of leadership. Positions had been assigned due to political connections either at the district or city level. Others had graduated from the District University of Leadership and had earned the 18 credits on paper which were needed to obtain state certification to be a building leader. Last but not least, we also had administrators who graduated from an educational leadership program, a pilot program. Yet, we still had administrators in said building whom had earned their positions by putting in the time, working hard, and their commitment to the kids, and even to themselves.

The school was undergoing a tremendous change with all the requirements we had to meet in order to remove our names from “THAT” list, the new state guidelines, and an unstable leadership. In spite of all this, the majority of the teachers worked together and maintained a semblance of stability for our students. Even though we knew things were very questionable, we also knew we had a job to do. At times, teacher morale was low therefore some of us would rally the troops and provide that moral support in these desperate times. Especially because some veteran teachers that had been teaching over fifteen years suddenly found themselves being observed, written up, threatened with a letter in their files, and felt a certain disrespect by the new administration – those whom had been in the classroom for a minute or two and had not earned their accreditation with the staff.

This was an ongoing battle both at the administrative level and the staff. The established administrators had earned their respect from many of us since not only had they put their time in but had also been teachers themselves. We found ourselves sitting in meetings in which the new administrators did not know about English language learners yet insisted directing the ELA, ESL, and bilingual teachers as to how to do their job. Conversations ranged from what color should the words for our word walls be, the reading assessments kits, weekly grade level meetings, and professional development after school. We heard from the new administrators how one has to create incentives and make them understand the relevance of what they learn.

An example that was shared with us was about a student who had difficulty reading but his incentive was not only the sports car his dad would buy him, but the business he would one day inherit. My colleagues and I sat there in silence trying to make the connection between our students whose reality at the time was the following: 1st and/or 2nd generation American-Latinos, immigrants to this country like their parents, lived in an economically diverse neighborhood, and who were below their respective reading grade level. Did this administrator not realize who our students were? Yet, this same administrator went after teachers whom were veterans and had more combined years of teaching than said person was alive. Another strategic device was for administrators to come into our classrooms with a checklist which consisted of the following: word walls, students’ work, labeled libraries, labeled notebook bins, bulletin boards up-to-date, information posted, and of course to see if we were teaching. It became a constant interruption during instruction that even my students would roll their eyes and have an attitude since we had “Big Brother” (or “Big Sister”) was watching us.

Even though I comprehend and acknowledge that the level of bureaucracy can often interfere with leadership, I do not justify incompetence as being a core requirement like I had personally witnessed in said environment. In order to lead, one does not have to micromanage teachers nor disrespect them and attempt to threaten them by putting a letter in their file because one is demanding respect when it has not been earned. Instead, have conversations with staff members and listen and address their concerns, especially when there is hesitation to try the new “miracle” curriculum.

I am not saying that teachers do not have to sometimes refresh their techniques and learn new approaches but there is finesse as to how this is done. It is easy to target those teachers whom won’t fight back unlike those teachers, whom are known not to do their job for various reasons, yet are still working and earning a paycheck because creating a paper trail is an on-going process. If these teachers are detrimental to the students, then make sure that there is a follow through because mediocrity is not acceptable. There is no need to walk around with a checklist to see if your building is in order since as a leader your vision of what the building and classroom should look like is transparent to everyone; but most importantly, the stakeholders of your school, are also aligned to this vision. It is not an easy task to undertake for those who have decided to embark on the path of educational leadership, yet is very necessary in order to transform our schools, inspire our students, and motivate our teachers.

Luz, who’d love to hear your enlightened opinions about all of this …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonFrom a Teacher to an Educational Leader

Comments 6

  1. Hugh O'Donnell

    ” In order to lead, one does not have to micromanage teachers nor disrespect them and attempt to threaten them by putting a letter in their file because one is demanding respect when it has not been earned. Instead, have conversations with staff members and listen and address their concerns, especially when there is hesitation to try the new “miracle” curriculum.”

    Luz, for me, the heart of your discussion on administrative (and leadership in general) is expressed above. Great words on a difficult subject.

    But, actually, it’s not difficult at all, if a person in a so-called administrative position has an epiphany like the one my Dad facilitated for me.

    Dad was also a teacher (Levittown, NY, 1953-1963; Hillsboro, OR, 1963-1982), and his “secret” of leadership was never widely taught in jealous educational admin circles, but it was well known in the world of WWII veterans, and he was one.

    Here it is: “take care of your people, and they will take care of business.”

    What does that mean? It means that a leader makes sure that her/his people have all the support they need to do their jobs; that their questions are answered, their fears are quelled; their shortcomings bolstered up.

    A leader should never criticize, condemn, or complain about his/her people, but should never hesitate to offer support to help them improve.

    A leader needs to be trustworthy and worthy of the confidence of his people, and most of all, a leader needs to work harder, learn more, and keep on keeping on when everyone else is ready to drop.

    That’s a leader who earns respect. But it all boils down to “take care of your people and they will take care of business.”

    And like I found out at Ft. Ord, California, your men will even be ready, willing, and able to fend off a three drunk, jealous, and hostile non-coms who staggered out of a bowling alley on post, recognized me, and picked a fight because my platoon beat their platoons on the rifle range.

    I thought I was going to the hospital (with some company, of course), but my eight of my guys appeared out of nowhere and offered to beat the stuffing out of the aggressors. I didn’t think I deserved such support, but the guys said, “Hey, Sarge, you always take care of us. It was our turn to take care of you.”

    Ironically, my most visible leadership action was that I always got in the chow line after all my guys, and never cut to the head of the line like all the other sergeants. (Thanks, Dad!)

    If you’ve read to the end of this comment, here’s the payoff, and I’ll defend it anywhere…

    Kids are a teachers first concern, but teachers are an administrators first concern! Take care of your people, administrators, and they’ll take care of the kids.

    Hugh O’Donnells last blog post..eSchool News

  2. Maegan la Mala

    Luz, Gracias for your words and experiences. I am not a teacher pero active in my daughter’s school community and am sympathetic to the struggles of teachers to actually help student’s learn against the constantly changing demands of the DOE. Good teaching cannot be checked off a list and I dare say it cannot even be gleaned from test scores where children learn the art of filling in bubbles. It comes from student’s wanting to go back to the classroom each day because they see/feel the human connection and their mind being challenged.

  3. Amauri T.

    In the developed world ‘rationalized’ bureaucracy has become like death and taxes; one of the few absolute certainties. In fat I’d say it is close to being the defining aspect of our age. God bless Luz, Jose, and all of you teachers fighting the good fight in the face of the almighty, all-efficient System.

    Amauri T.s last blog post..President B.H. Obama

  4. Jonathan

    There’s a nasty, mean undercurrent that says that experience is not an asset, and is even a demerit. It is TFA and Klein.

    I think, to be good at teaching, or leading teachers, takes experience. They think it takes a fancy degree, money, power.

    They are in charge, they probably believe, because they should be – it is their right, their responsibility, their destiny, and there is no sense of learning to do the job.

    Jonathans last blog post..ATR Deal – comments, no post

  5. Andres Castro

    Luz,

    I started a small literary magazine for teachers a few years ago, The Teacher’s Voice, and it’s free online now. I founded it with teachers just like you much in mind. At the moment I am trying to steer the magazine towards many of the issues that you mention. And what I’ve found from teachers/creative writers nationwide is fear. And the most fear is held by the best creative writers. What a pity. I understand fear of losing your job and tarnishing your name by being too “radical” are real worries, but still, what a pity.

    Keep writing. Keep blowing that whistle. You do it your way, I will do it mine, and the more people who find ways to get the true picture out there the better. This is necessary work.

    Peace,
    Andres

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