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In the Spirit and To the Letter

A letter in the current New York Teacher has both struck my fancy and hit a nerve so I shall respond to it speaking only for myself.

Rosie Canty makes some superb observations about the difficulties that qualified teachers encounter in their efforts to get hired, the nature of what constitutes qualifications that truly prepare prospective teachers for the realities they will face, and the arguments favoring experienced versus novice teachers on the job. She also notes the concerns of teachers seeking transfers on the basis of hardship and the dangers of cronyism outweighing merit as the determinating factor of who gets hired for a specific position. There’s a lot of insight and wise counsel in this short letter.

But one statement incites me. It is “I understand that giving principals the power to hire does make sense—after all, it is their building.”

In my opinion, this resignation and acceptance is at the root and heart of what is ailing, directly and indirectly, the whole school system.

The school building is equally the property of the educators, parents and students. It is a cooperative. The surrender of total authority to principal has done a lot of damage. For instance, the principal’s educational philosophy has been allowed to choke out the creative teaching style of staff members who in many cases have vastly more knowledge and experience than has the principal, yet face career-threatening charges of insubordination if they buck their supervisor.

Contractual enforcement is made more difficult over a host of issues and may require extraordinary courage when chapter leaders must deal with autocratic, patronizing principals who feel they are Plantagenet monarchs.

Principals dominate School Leadership Teams and need only consult, or go through the motions and give lip service as they deem fit, about budget priorities, etc.

There is no reason why total reality must be under the principal’s control. As teachers can we choose or eliminate from our rosters every student by our decree? We must find strategies to cope and so should principals.

The principal may be the lord and master of the school’s masonry. But its humanity is the common property, legacy, and vision of all stakeholders.

And the best principals understand that.

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1 Comment:

  • 1 Teacher31231
    · Jan 8, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    We’ve surrendered the schools to the Principals and lost a great deal in the process. Yes, we have our committees, but they are an illusion of power. Every decision goes to the Principal and we as members are at their mercy.

    Another thing she mentions in her letter is Hardship Transfers. To this point the number of Hardship Medical Transfers done to appointed positions is zero, nada, none since 2-contracts ago when we agreed to the Open Market Hiring System. Why? The answer from the DOE is that Principals can’t be forced to take a teacher. So…sick and disabled teachers are forced into untenable ATR Positions(One step closer to putting them out the door) or left to struggle.