By Andrew Pillow
In a world where sugar coating the truth has become a virtue, can we be brutally honest for a second? Every teacher that walks into a classroom cannot, and will not be good.
We would like to believe that every teacher is good, but every teacher is not good. Furthermore, every teacher does not even have that capacity to be good. A good principal must confront this basic fact if his or her school is to reach it’s full potential. Truly great and transcendent teachers are rare. A principal’s main job is to create an environment in which an average or even a bad teacher can still be a successful educator.
For example, most people know that managing behavior in some inner-city schools is difficult for even the most experienced teachers. Knowing this, a principal of such a school can’t have full confidence that teachers can simply “handle it” because we know a certain percentage them will not have that ability. Therefore, the leaders of the school have to plan and adjust accordingly.
It is akin to a basketball coach who creates a plan that caters to the skill set of his players. A basketball coach might like to have 12 players that can guard their man effectively in one-on-one defense, but in reality, he may only have one or two players that can play defense in that manner. In that situation, a good coach will opt for a defensive scheme that hides his team’s defensive deficiencies like a 2-3 zone or a full-court press. A bad coach, will yell and scream at his players to display skills they simply do not possess.
So what is a principal to do?
1. Assume your teachers will struggle
You may hire a teacher every once in a while that is amazing and doesn’t struggle. But for the most part, even good teachers struggle from time to time. It is amazing to me how many schools are caught off guard by teachers struggling to manage classrooms or deliver content considering how common it is.
2. Put systems in place that helps struggling teachers
Create systems and policies that mitigate the weaknesses of your staff.
For a long time, my school had a policy that basically prevented teachers from removing behavior problems from the class. I understood why we had this rule, but essentially it created a system in which only the teachers that were good enough to handle every discipline issue in the class were able to effectively teach…and this was a short list. Throughout the year the difference between the super classroom managers, and the marginal classroom managers became more and more pronounced.
We now allow teachers to send extreme behavior problems to a buddy room. It's not a perfect system, but it does allow teachers who struggle with behavior from time to time to get through a lesson and it also allows them to receive help in handing discipline when needed. This increases the number of effective classrooms.
3. Develop skills
Realizing the teacher gaps in your school and planning for them does not preclude good old fashioned coaching. Yes, several of your teachers may struggle with some component of teaching. You should have a system in place to mitigate their struggles, but you should also work to make sure they are getting better at their weaknesses.
I struggled with classroom management my first year as one would expect. My school coached me until I didn’t struggle with it as much. I wonder how much better I would have gotten if I was allowed to simply send students out like teachers are today? That system would have decreased the need to coach me, but I'd like to think my principal would have still seen the value in developing my behavior management skills.
We don’t live in a perfect world in any capacity and that includes education. Administrators need to realize this and plan for the staff they have, not the staff they wish they had.