I’ve got a couple of papers to write for a grad school class I’m taking on “Ethics and Professionalism in Education.” One of them needs to focus on an “acculturation experience” from my life or career. I think I’ve been “acculturated” so many times that I didn’t know where to start. Moving from school to school? Moving from Florida to Colorado? There were a lot of differences and adjustments that had to be made in those situations, to be sure. But last week I had something happen that smacked me on the head with the most challenging adjustment I’ve had to make in my professional career.
I think that when you’re an effective teacher, it’s kind of natural to surround yourself with other effective teachers who work with kids the same way you do — treating them with dignity and respect, and believing that they can be successful. It’s easy to believe that all teachers feel the same way about their job that you do. The minority — those “other” teachers — are kind of just “out there” doing what they do and it doesn’t really affect you.
But one thing I’ve discovered about myself since moving from the classroom to the administrative offices is that I am passionate about treating kids right. Few things get under my skin more than adults who treat kids in ways that they themselves wouldn’t want to be treated. Slamming the metaphorical door in the face of students who have ditched class a few times, using “policy” as an excuse to back kids into corners, and the like.
Out of respect for those involved, I’m going to avoid addressing specific incidents, but indulge me in a fictitious example of what I’m talking about.
A minority female student who is a 17-year-old 11th grader ditches quite a few classes during first quarter. Her administrator calls home and speaks with Grandpa – her guardian – to apprise him of the fact that if the student’s attendance pattern continues she will most likely be dropped from our rolls for non-attendance making her a high school dropout.
The next morning, the student shows up in the administrators office to apologize. Notebook and pens in hand, she is ready to try school one last time. Since she hasn’t been to class in a month, she asks for a copy of her schedule and tells the administrator that she is going to work hard so she doesn’t drop out of school.
Student leaves the office and goes to her first period class where Teacher says to her, “You? What are you doing here? I thought I withdraw-failed you weeks ago. You know you’ve got a zero in here so there’s really no point in you even coming back…”
I have to wonder how Teacher would feel if I had a post-observation conference with him that went like this: “You’re not cutting it. Your lectures are dull, your students are half-asleep. I don’t know why you bother. They’ll never pass the state test so maybe you should just retire now.”
Granted the success-to-failure ratio of students who are going to “turn it around” is incredibly low. And most of these kids are in so deep that by the time they get to be 16 or 17 that they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I just don’t know how I’d sleep at night if I turned away a kid who asked for one more chance based on the failure rate of those who have gone before her.
So I think I can pull a paper out of that. An 8-page account of my “acculturation” to administration. An experience where I quickly learned that not every teacher shares the same values as me. I promised myself when I was a teacher that I wouldn’t “burn out;” I would avoid becoming one of “those teachers” who sat in the lounge cracking about how dumb kids and administrators are. Fortunately for kids, most teachers like kids. And most that I’ve come across would bend over backwards to help a kid who asks.
And most teachers I see entering the profession today have a positive, idealistic mindset that I try hard to preseve. They believe in trying to teach all kids, that everyone should have a fair crack at an education, and that making mistakes — sometimes big ones — is part of the learning process.
Now, as an administrator, I have promised myself that I wouldn’t become one of “those administrators.” You know – the ones who want to be feared; who value their reputations as “The Hammer.” No. If I’m going to be accused of anything it’s going to be that I went the extra mile for too many kids.
Yeah. I can live with criticism like that.