Thursday, October 3, 2019

Bad Administrator Field Guide

Is there a lousier job in the world than that of a school administrator. For the past twenty years, it has been all of the responsibility and none of the power. Yet a building principal (and to some extent a superintendent) have enormous control over a teacher's workplace-- how miserable is it, how safe is it, and how hard is it for teachers to do the job they signed up to do?

Administrators come in all shapes and sizes these days (though they are still mostly men), especially since the last twenty years of reformy baloney has done some bad things to the hiring pool. But there are still good ones out there who somehow find a way to fulfill the basic function of an administrator-- that is, to provide the tools, setting and processes that encourage your people to do their best work.

But there are other  admins out there. Bad ones. This taxonomy is by no means complete, but here's a quick introduction to some of the species you might find yourself dealing with:

The Conflict Avoider    

I just want to go through the day without any yelling, either from me or at  me. If you run into my office screaming that the building is on fire, the first problem I will want to solve is that you are in my office screaming. If you are screwing up, I will not call you into my office; I will just send an email scolding everybody. My go-to response in a crisis is to suggest we all  just shut up about it and wait for it to go away quietly on its own. If I must pass on bad news, I will do it in an email on Friday afternoon at 6:00 PM.

The Cruise Director  

I'm hoping that my principalling duties don't become so demanding that I don't have time to put a fun puzzle or quiz in your mailbox every morning. I think a good way to maintain morale is to have fun contests, with prizes to be awarded from the bag of Oriental Trading goodies I have in my office closet. If you insist that you would rather be treated like a grown-ass professional adult, I will alternately freeze you out of important work stuff and tease you in annoying ways that you can't push back on without being insubordinate. It's your own fault for not being a team player. I don't  know why you're such a grump-- I'm pretty sure the kids think I'm cool.

The Boss, And Don't You Forget It  

I don't have any particular educational philosophy or guiding management principles other than my desire to assert dominance over everyone I meet, whether it's a thirty-year classroom veteran or a five year old kindergartner. I will escalate the smallest disagreement just to show you that I'm in charge here.Your only hope of getting me to change direction is to set it up so that I think it's my idea and I'm straightening you out.

The Random Synapse

Most of the time I'm happy to just stay in my office and let you teachers do your thing. But every once in a while I read an article or attend a workshop, and I get all inspired. Remember when I read that book about learning styles and made everyone rewrite their curriculum and start using new lesson plan forms? Lucky for you I also have a short attention span.

The Ladder Climber  

Yeah, your school is lovely. The problem is "Didn't mess with success and just kept things running smoothly" doesn't look as good on my resume as "dynamic agent of transformative change," so I'm going to be implementing several huge programs to change how things work. I may or may not get my next job offer before we get these new ideas off the ground (I'm already interviewing), but that's okay because I've put no thought into sustainability because I don't expect to be here long enough for that to matter. Hell, on my way out I'm going to take all my materials with me anyway (for the portfolio), so you're not going to have the materials or information you need to keep it going anyway.

The Commuter  

I don't live here, and I don't visit. Half the kids in this school couldn't pick me out of a line-up if I were standing there with an inflatable doll and an oversized teddy bear. I have no idea about the culture and values of this community, and nobody who lives here has ever seen me outside of the building.

The Phantom

I probably said something about my office being open, but here's the thing-- I'm never in it. I go to conferences and travel to other districts and deliver speeches about my awesome managerial-- well, I don't have to explain how I spend my time to you. Do you have a problem? That's why I have an assistant.

The Data Overlord  

The past decade has been freakin' awesome! No more talking about all that human interaction stuff-- all I need are spreadsheets with test scores plugged in. You say that there important aspects of education that can't be measured by standardized test scores, but I say if it isn't something that can be handled by Excel, it just doesn't matter. I have three big beautiful computer monitors in my room, and that's all I need. If I have to direct teachers to improve their data, I can just email them. If I play my cards right, I won't have to interact with carbon based life forms for weeks at a time. What do you mean, "Do I even know the students"? I've studied all their data at great length. What else do I need to know?

The Train Engineer  

We will by God have order around here. I don't care if the students are learning or the staff is miserable-- I just want order. Know what you're supposed to be doing, and if you can't remember,  just consult the systems laid out in the policies and procedures manual. It takes all my time just to keep things orderly around here. God, but it would be so much easier if we didn't have all of these students.

The Royal We

The way I see it, loyalty is important, so I'm loyal to those teachers who are loyal to me. I mean, I don't have time to take care of everyone's problems, so why not focus on solving issues for people I like, and  who show their gratitude. Why not stack committees with good team players (my team, that is). And why not hand out privileges and perks (including the selective non-enforcement of rules) to people that I like? And why would I want to listen to people I don't like? Get on my team, or shut up.

The Amateur

I never had an actual classroom teaching career, so I really don't have the faintest idea what the hell you teachers do all day. I will compensate by insisting that you implement policies that I pull out of my butt. And if you ever need some helpful support or coaching, you can be sure that I won't provide it, because, again, and I can't stress this enough, I have no idea what the hell you do.

I've Made A Huge Mistake    

"Get out of the classroom," they said. "Take a cushy admin job and get a huge pay bump," they said. Now I can't quit because my family needs the health insurance, so I spend my days hiding and running away.

The Dunning Kruger Test Case

I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, but I'm blissfully unaware of the gaping chasm of professional ignorance taking up negative space in my brain. Some days I get cranky because of the feeling that a bunch of people are in on something that I'm oblivious to, but mostly I'm content to offer directives and advice that fall somewhere between "useless" and "dangerously wrong."

The Bad Policy Fatalist  

You don't have to tell me. I know as well as you do that the Big Standardized Test does not give us useful data, that our VAM-based evaluations are bunk, and that our budget cuts are happening not because of mismanagement or eroding tax base but because of charter schools. I know that many of these things that have been passed to us by the state are toxic educational malpractice. My response will continue to be a shrug. This is what the state says to do, so, well, we'll just do that. I know it sucks to have class time wasted on test prep and practice exams, and that much of this policy is an assault on teachers and students. Boy, wouldn't be great if someone had your back and stood up for you in the face of all this. I wonder where we can find someone like that.

The Bus Driver     

Every school has its occasional crisis. Problems of one sort or another will always arise. When they do, you can be sure that I will be the first to step up and throw you under the bus. I don't know what's gone wrong this time, but it sure as hell isn't my fault.

The Helpless Bystander  

After  you've worked for me for a while, you will wonder why they pay me. There is no problem so small, no issue so trivial, that I can't shrug and walk away. "I wish I could help, but that's the  policy," I'll say, and you'll point out that I "wrote the frickin' policy in the first place," but I'll just nod sadly and walk away. See, doing things is hard, and it's already been a long day. Hope you can find a person to help you solve your issue.

The Chameleon   

I  know what I told you yesterday about the issue, but since I talked to you, I've talked to someone else, and that person wanted hear different things than you did, and I'm firmly committed to whatever I said in my most recent conversation with someone.

The Passive Aggressive Delegator

Look, I don't have time to do everything myself. And I went to some training where they said empowering teachers was a good thing and helped a school run better. So I'm putting you on this committee and empowering you to study up on this issue and come up with a solution, and I will keep sending that solution back to you for reconsideration until you finally come up with the answer that I've already decided I want. And if that isn't fun enough, next year I'm sending you all to PLC training, most of which I'll ignore as I implement plain old principal-directed work groups. But I'll call them PLCs because that's cool.

You may find many of these types combined into one big bad admin turducken. And there are, of course, many more, and I'm sure we can read about them in the comments (and yes, many of these bad managers are not exclusive to education). I've skipped over the big city politician-admins  and the guy I once worked for who expressed everything in ill-fitting sports metaphors. But you have to draw the line somewhere.

1 comment:

  1. What about the PR/Marketing Director:

    Since perception is everything to me, I have no tolerance for substance. I will continue to take awesome photos that highlight our fantastic students and share them with the world. Morale problem? What morale problem? Everybody is happy in this wonderful school and all students are perfect. And if you don't agree with my rosy worldview, I will cover my ears and stick out my tongue at you.