It's been 6 years since I last taught a math class. I can't believe it's been that long, but I'm back in the saddle again this year. I'm doing a small "favor" for our math department as we came up a little short on funding and a little long on students. One period per semester, or 90 minutes every other day, I go from being the administrator to being the teacher. My way of lightening the load on the rest of the department.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that (1) every administrator should do this from time to time, and (2) being an administrator has made me a better teacher. Even a little bit of experience in the admin office can give you a whole new perspective. You see, this is also the second year out of three that I've had an administrative intern with me. It's truly enjoyable to watch their attitudes mature as they see things from an administrative perspective. I'm lead to believe that quality leadership experiences positively affect classroom teaching.
For one, you get a more global perspective. When I was in the classroom I saw things from my perspective. I didn't fully understand why, as a "floating" (read: cart) teacher that I couldn't have a certain room during a certain period. It made perfect sense to me so why didn't the dumb administrators see that? What I failed to understand is that my moving room-to-room one time kept someone newer from moving three times.
Second, and arguably most important, there is no "higher power." There is no magic that happens in my office. The irony of this kind of struck me as I stood in front of my class this fall for the first time in six years. I've never been one to have tons of rules and consequences, choosing instead to rely on humor and respect to get me through, but our school has enacted (yet another) new tardy policy and I felt that since I was teaching I'd better be darn sure I was on board with it.
So I stood there, explaining the policy on the first day to my 12th graders: "OK. So in the unlikely event that you get to five tardies -- which you won't -- I'm supposed to write a referral to your administrator. Er -- um -- me, I guess." Kind of funny, I thought. After all, what "magic" would I conjure in the office that I couldn't work here in the classroom? I tried again: "Listen, guys - bottom line? Let's all be here on time and I promise not to waste yours, K?"
When a kid comes to me for excessive tardies, we shake hands and introduce ourselves (if we don't already know each other) and sit down at the small, round table in my office. I ask them what's up, chat about their classes a bit, and finally get down to why they're there. Is it oversleeping? Is there too much traffic coming back from lunch? What's the story? As much as I have enjoyed our conversation, I'd like to see you in here next time for something positive - so let's work through this 'cause, really, you don't need this hassle, right? What are some things you can do to get here earlier? How can I help you with that? And that's usually about it. It's rare that a kid comes back for the same thing. And I've got a friend for life!
Without fail, my intern will turn to me when the kid leaves and say, "That's it?" "Yup. Now you take the next one..."
See - it's not that I am condoning a kid's tardiness, but it's so important that we take the teim to work with kids instead of against them. More often than I'd like, I'll hear things like, "My mom has to work at 4am and I have to drop my brother off at elementary school before I get here. The traffic is so bad at the drop-off that I'm late every morning. It's usually only 4 or 5 minutes, though. And I really need this class to graduate."
So, yeah. I deal with every kid as an individual when they come to my office. Because they've got issues that I only ever saw on after-school specials when I was a kid. And that's a huge lesson that I've brought back into the classroom. It's also a lesson that I try to help my interns understand. I can hire someone who knows math or English or science, but it's a little harder to find a teacher who is willing to work with kids. To listen to them. To really hear what they're saying and take it to heart in a way that's more meaningful than, "What rules do you think we should have in this class?"
I guess standing in front of that room of seniors going over the new rule on tardies I just sort of realized that if every teacher figured out that they could do this on their own, I'd be out of a job. Except for all but the most egregious offenses, it really could start and end in the classroom.