Part 3: Administrators who can’t or won’t support their staff!
HEY everyone, happy Fri-Yay! Here I am, once again, standing up for my colleagues. Am I alone? Hopefully you all are standing with me. I’m Paula Baack, the author of Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child! Today’s focus: bad administrators. No sour grapes, just reality: one of those administrators did end my career quite profoundly. Continuing with What’s Really Wrong with American Education: Where have all the good admin gone?
I’ve worked with 21 principals/department chairs over my 46 year career. Only two literally stood up for me. Perhaps the good admin haven’t gone anywhere. They just don’t exist! However, a special salute to those who do protect their teachers. Since only two actually had my back, these examples will not take long:
The first time it happened was in 1973. Teachers, parents and admin were gathered to discuss the performing arts. The assistant principal made an off the cuff negative comment about my wanting to audition students for a special choir. The principal turned to him and said, “I’m going to tell you what the superintendent told me, as a principal, when I complained about the basketball coach’s selection of starters. Shut up.” I couldn’t believe my ears! My principal just told the vice principal to “shut up” on my account.
The second and last time it happened was in 1994. My principal appeared in my office at the end of the day and asked me to respond to a situation involving two hostile girls in my class. I explained what happened and how I handled it. He said “thank you” and left. A couple of days later, I asked him what that was all about. He said the parents of one of the girls accused me of favoring the other girl and acting unprofessionally. My principal sat down with the parents, listened to them and then said he doubted Mrs. Baack would behave in such a way and he already had spoken to me about it. The parents were placated since I was “brought in for questioning” and dropped the matter. Ironically that same principal, a few years later, told A ranting parent I had one flaw: I cared too much about my students. A back-handed compliment but one I wore with honor until I was forced out of my teaching position in 2017.
Is it possible to believe administrators could protect their staff from frivolous complaints? I always felt like I was standing on the narrow, bobbing branch while my principal robustly sawed away at the other end. Here are a couple of my fondest memories:
I brought in a highly successful university football player (first round draft pick), who loved to play piano by ear and talk to kids about having a good work ethic. The presentation was amazing. Afterwards my principal called me over. I was expecting a nice compliment. Instead he told me we must not interrupt the academic day ever again with this kind of dribble.
There were two suicides at a neighboring school so I asked a few other staff members if they would like to set up an after school club to mentor kids. We did, lots of kids came and it was a great success. No, I am not a trained social worker. We never went into the dark recesses of these kids’ minds. They just wanted a place to feel safe, hang out and discuss the esoteric issues of the day. The school newspaper thought it a wonderful addition to our school so of course they did an article on it. When the principal read the story, he called in my colleagues and admonished them. They came to warn me and it’s a good thing. I didn’t get admonished. I almost got fired. He told me if I ever did anything like that again, he would fire me. For once in my life, I had a comeback that didn’t take two hours to formulate and I said this: If caring about kids can get me fired, perhaps teaching was not the field I thought it was.
Solution? It’s simple. Drawing on yesterday’s podcast, there are two groups who must be held accountable. The first group: We must challenge the central administration to fact find and provide due process for any teacher harassed by chronically complaining parents or needless trauma caused by a feckless principal. The second group: School boards must be proactive in protecting their teachers, which translates that they must be involved in the day to day operations of their schools. But here is something which could be corrected TODAY: when a teacher files a grievance, it should be answered within hours and the process should NEVER TAKE WEEKS OR IN SOME CASES, MONTHS! During my tenure as a college department chair, I discovered that the grievance process, created by my division chair, was designed to last 90-180 days. Who, after six months, has the time or the energy to follow up. I believe this also true in most school districts, where grievances are allowed to sit on an administrator’s desk for 60-90 days.
TUNE IN MONDAY. Here’s a tease: Teachers who choose the profession for all the wrong reasons.
PLEASE SHARE THIS LINK WITH ANY AND ALL . If you’re experiencing unfair practices in your teaching position, please reach out to me at rescuetheteacher @yahoo.com! Oh, please buy my book TODAY and help a retired teacher survive inflation!