Monday, December 22, 2008

What they didn't teach me in my admin program

I'm nearly 1/2 of the way through my third year as a school administrator, and still love what I do. Lately, though, I've been thinking about the details of my job and wondering where I've learned how to do what I do.
For the uninitiated, becoming a school administrator is a similar process to becoming a teacher: a specialized training program where you are taught the theories and legal specifics of school leadership, and perform fieldwork to familiarize you with the day-to-day aspects of the job. Upon completion, you are certified by the state to work in an administrative capacity, deemed fully capable to manage a school.
I assume the majority of my readers have been through teacher credentialing programs, and direct this question towards them: How ready were you, your first day in the classroom, for actual teaching?
Yeah, that's what I thought. I hope you didn't spew coffee all over your monitor while you laughed at that.
Admin programs, at least the one I went through, do an admirable job of providing the theoretical foundation for school administration, but fall short of really getting one ready for the day-to-day dirty work, in much the same way that teaching programs fail to get teachers ready to actually run a classroom.
Some of the things I wish my program could have taught me:
1) How to interview a naughty kid
This sounds like it should be easy, but it isn't. Some kids will break down in tears at the first questions, others will look you right in the eyes and lie/blame others/deny knowledge of anything related to what you're asking about. To get to the bottom of things, you need to have a variety of questioning techniques at your disposal- the "I'm just here to help you out" technique, the "in-your-face-'you'd-better-come-clean-now'" approach, the "long, uncomfortable, staring silence" approach to name just a few. None of these were taught in my admin program- I had to learn them on-the-job.
2) When to give in to a parent demand and when to hold firm
This is a tough one, and it varies from situation to situation. There are easy ones, like "Little Timmy chose Home Ec as his preferred elective, but all his friends are in Band. I want you to switch his elective, even though it will whack out his entire schedule!" (No, sorry, but electives don't drive the master schedule. I'll be happy to make that change at the semester, though.) Some are much harder, like "Timmy is having trouble with one of his teachers. I don't want to talk to the teacher about the issue, but I want him moved to another class, and if you don't I'm going to the school board!"
3) When to give into a teacher demand and when to hold firm
Same as the situation above, but substitute "I'll go to the union!" for "I'm going to the school board!"
4) Student A is having a conflict with Student B, and Students C through R all have something to say about it.
Sometimes your office is just WAY too small for everyone you need to see.

These, among others, are the challenges of the job I don't feel were really addressed during my professional preparation, despite an otherwise excellent administrative credentialing program. Over the last 2 1/2 years I've developed some proficiency in dealing with these situations, but it would have been nice to have had some advance preparation before I started the job.

Other school administrators, what do you think? School admin wanna-bes, what do you think you need to know before you join the "dark side?"


ehoffman said...

I'm a "wanna-be" so far - in my interning, here's what I've run across that I would have enjoyed being trained for!

What the admin's job is in the event of unplanned fire alarms going off (turned out a kid had tried to microwave a pair of jeans - fyi, it doesn't end well for the jeans)

How to handle angry parents

How to handle it when you find a knife in a kid's purse (the kid left it in the classroom, and in the course of looking for ID so we could return the purse, we found a 5" knife)

How to interrogate kids (you mentioned it above but it would REALLY be helpful)

How to smoothly handle board members

How to hide your BlackBerry during meetings

Ed Shepherd said...

I had another superintendent tell me, "you will learn everyday what it is you are supposed to be in charge of." Man is that one true.

I think that every admin, just like every teacher, goes through the trial by fire during the first year. What all first year teachers and administrators need is a real mentor to turn.

Would love to be part of a wiki that is designed to create a true guide to being a first year administrator. I am i if anyone wants to get it started.

Jon Becker said...

I'm eager to see what sort of comments follow. It'd be interesting to see how the points in your post and the comments that follow stack up against the standards to which ed. leadership preparation programs are held. Those standards are here:

MrDooley said...

Wow, this is an excellent post. I too am a wanna-be like ehoffman. I am going through my program now and I am looking at administrator blogs and twitter accounts to see what I can learn before I actually 'get my head in the game.' If someone creates a wiki, that would be an excellent primary source of information for myself and others that want to seek extra advise from those currently living in the administrative trenches. Sign me up!

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