A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, June 11, 2011

If you had listened...

Dear Principal,

I bid you farewell as you leave our school. Not with fondness, unfortunately, but with a sense of sadness, frustration, and even anger at the way that our so-called "relationship" developed. Indeed I use this term with some sense that it is completely inappropriate, given that you have done everything in your power to avoid developing any sort of relationship with any of the staff but a covey of sycophants whose servile obsequiousness to your face was actually less revolting than their gleeful mockery of you behind your back.

I come not to mock, but to mourn.

Teachers make their livings partly by being heard. This is one of the great conundrums of education today, since their voices are usually the last ones to be sought out by those that influence policy. You certainly maintained this same pattern in your dealings with your staff. In your interview before your official hiring, you looked us straight in the eye and declared that you were going to "be there" for your staff and support us and set up all kinds of mechanisms to listen to us. As an aside, although it was obvious from the choices of the other finalists that you were "the annointed one," the proprieties were still observed and you were "interviewed by some select staff members." But listening is not a task that you were in any way invested in. And yes, listening can be a task. But it is a task that enables a leader to lead effectively. It is indicative of understanding that the work of any school is the work of all the people there from the maintenance staff and secretaries to the lunch ladies to the teachers and support personnel to the administrators.

It was perhaps cute (or actually a bit Stepford-wifely) that you wore a suit in our school colors even to that interview and then for the first solid year that you were with us. I didn't know they made that many kinds of suits in that color (you may not be able to lead a collie to kibble, but man, you certainly can SHOP). You wore these suits to transmit a symbolic emblem of your investment (monetarily and supposedly emotionally) in our school. But purchasing a uniform does not make you a member of a team. It is not what is on the outside that matters, to use the old cliche. A real leader's raiment is integrity, professionalism, openness, honesty, forthrightness, strength, discipline, vision, and cooperation.

The first thing you did upon ensconcing yourself in the principal's office was attempt to completely redo the daily schedule and course offerings. Now, to be fair, this may have been decreed by our well-intentioned but generally blindered superintendent and/or school board. But it would have been wiser to get your feet under you, see for yourself what things needed to be changed, and THEN moved from a position of first-hand knowledge.

If you were in any way self-reflective and honest with yourself, you would, I hope, realize that your first and greatest failure, before the lying and manipulation and supercilious contempt, was a hubristic failure to listen to people who truly were stakeholders in the school. Or, many many times, to even make an appearance in the hallways at least once a week. Sometimes, we even kept a tally to make sure we weren't imagining the H.G. Wells act.

We were there before you came. We are still here now that you are leaving. We will continue on in the task we have elected to take up-- the education of our fellow citizens and future workers-- and attempt to clean up the mess that has developed because there are no other options for those of us who truly care about this school.

Several people tried to dialogue with you in a positive way about policies and procedures and challenges facing the school. At first, these were vestigial challenges that could not have possibly been interpreted by you as implying any criticism or failures upon your administration, and yet you recoiled from listening as if your teachers were attempting to force you to watch some sort of existentialist French puppet show.

If you had listened perhaps you would have learned or been reminded of yet another crucial lesson for a leader: that those on your staff are PEOPLE who are deserving of being treated with respect and human decency. Countless examples of untruths and half-truths issued from your lips about dealings you had with your staff. You publicly humiliated people with your thoughtlessness and then had the nerve to warn THEM to maintain professionalism and decorum. YOU have driven more than one adult to tears. In front of students. Appalling.

Then there was your response in the face of crises, as I have previously talked about here. We had a few the last few years: natural disasters, tragic student illnesses, and crime waves that could happen at any school, and, if handled properly, are weathered by the school community with little long-term effect. But you didn't seem to be concerned with working with the staff to meet these challenges so much as you were concerned with aggrandizing your own sense of power and limiting the flow of information in a patent attempt to build up the mystique of that "power." Rather than be honest with the staff about situations in the school community, your favorite tactic was to call emergency meetings after school to ask staff to report "ANYTHING suspicious"-- ANYTHING-- while claiming that you could not tell that same staff the context regarding the crisis or concern. By the time staff got home from work, the local news organizations had released far more information about the incident at hand than you had shared with us. You claim that "the law" prevents you from being informative. YOU ARE WRONG, either through ignorance or flat-out dishonesty.

So much that was so wrong. Impugning the integrity of your staff. Behaving like a capricious martinet instead of a person of substance. Hatefulness and incomparable hubris. Farewell, Captain Queeg. Godspeed. Which is another way of saying that you should accelerate yourself out the door. For everyone's sake.

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At 6/19/11, 10:57 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

Glad to hear from you hon. Yep, administrators come and go. Some are missed, others, NOT. Have a Great Summer !


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