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?"