ttalk.gif (2686 bytes)

 

ESSENTIAL MANAGEMENT?

12/20/00

    The PCT has been campaigning to reduce class size in our district in a financially responsible way - by significantly reducing our administrative costs. A conservative estimate of next year’s budget for principals, assistant principals, directors, assistant directors and chair persons is some four million dollars ($4,000,000). Critics of the PCT’s proposal suggest that these various levels of administration are vital to the proper supervision of the teaching staff. The experience of most teachers says otherwise. In an era when educationist cant holds that what we do in education should be "data driven," there has been a curious lack of objective study of the worth of middle-level management positions versus classroom teaching staff to the achievement of students. Why do you suppose that hasn’t happened?

    Does anyone seriously think that paying someone to paw over teachers’ lesson plans sniffing out some flabby objective or medial summary is money well spent? The purpose of this work couldn’t possibly be the improvement of instruction. Its purpose is much more clearly related to the exertion of administrative authority - pushing people around for the sheer pleasure of it. An extreme case of this was reported to me last year in which it was alleged that a middle manager said to a group of new teachers, "I’m going off to have a wonderful weekend, but you will have to stay home and write your lesson plans for me." That’s really worth more than one hundred thousand dollars a year ($100,000). We could have almost three new teachers instead.

    But then there are the valuable observations that these middle managers perform. Surely these are important to the district’s instructional program. A primary justification for observing teachers is the improvement of instruction, although I’ve never understood how this happens to any significant degree. Even a casual reading of the classroom observations done on teachers in this or any district will reveal the absurdity of the idea that the observation process is central to the improvement of instruction. They almost always begin with a blow by blow description of what the teacher taught - "and then . . . and then . . . and then" - like the observer was being paid by the word. There follows a list of what are often magisterially termed "commendable items." I have had occasion to note that what is commendable in one administrator’s observations is often a suggestion for improvement in an other’s. The suggestion section of these observations is usually my favorite. "You might have . . . and you might have . . . and you might have." As one of my sister union officers is fond of saying, "I might have danced naked on my desk. What does, ‘I might have’ to do with the quality of my lesson?" When you add the fact that most of these observations are not returned to the observed teacher for weeks and in some cases months, how is it possible to suggest that something serious would be lost if the people doing this work were put to the useful occupation of teaching.

    Teaching kids or pushing paper. That’s the choice if people care to think about it.

return to pobct homepage