Dr. Trotter's Letter To A Middle School Principal.
Dr. Trotter's Letter to a Middle School Principal!

(The Principal's Name Has Been Redacted.)

November 1, 2005

Mr. _____ _________
_________ ____ School
_______, Georgia _____

Dear Mr. _____________:

I am writing this letter on behalf of our members who teach at _______ ______ School. Several teachers have lodged consistent complaints about the teaching conditions at _______. At MACE, we firmly believe that you cannot have good learning conditions until there are first good teaching conditions in place. These two are not mutually exclusive; they are inextricably linked. You cannot have the former without first making sure that the latter is in place. Or, to put it in a Maslowian conceptual framework, let us just say that a satisfied need no longer motivates. If you want the teachers on the _______ staff to truly operate in the most self-actualizing way, then it is incumbent upon you as the building administrator to satisfy the teachers' most base needs. For example, if the teachers are daily frustrated about their inability to use the school's copy machine because of the administration's mandates and hurdles thrown in their way, then the teachers will be motivated by this egregious lack of equipment/resources to do their jobs. This is a lower need that you as the principal must satisfy in order for the teachers to be able to reach out to the students in the most optimum fashion. If a teacher has to constantly worry about more base needs (physical, safety, security, social, esteem needs, etc.), these needs will predominate the teacher's thinking and preoccupation. The teacher will be motivated by these needs. But, if you, as the building administrator, can satisfy these needs, then a teacher will no longer be motivated by these needs. (As I stated before, a satisfied need no longer motivates.) Then, the teacher's preoccupation will be toward becoming an empathetic, authentic, self-actualizing teacher. Then, and only then, will the teacher be able to function at his or her most optimum level. That is what you desire, right? With this in mind, I offer the following teacher concerns in the spirit that you would indeed like to know what issues are frustrating the teachers on your staff and which issues are very possibly keeping the teachers from being the most effective teachers that they can be. I realize that today's practice of administration still dates back to the hackneyed era of the Max Weber bureaucratic/production model. This assembly-line approach to public education is both archaic and truncated. This top-down, heavy-handed approach to management is passÚ among enlightened business and industrial circles today. It is counterproductive and completely ineffective in public education. But, of course, the public schooling process in America stagnates several decades behind business and industry. Now, leaders in the business and industrial world realize how important employee morale is and how important it is for the employees to have a voice concerning their working conditions. Here is what we are hearing, Mr. ________, from the teachers at _________:

1. Teachers have virtually no access to the school copier. This is a huge frustration.

2. Very little planning time. In fact, teachers report to us that they get only one day of personal planning time (Friday).

3. Too much paperwork. The teachers report that you require an unrealistic written weekly assessment for all students in their classes (up to 130 students).

4. Micromanagement of the teachers' lesson plans. The teachers complain that you personally have to approve each teacher's lesson plans before they can proceed to teach from them. You reportedly write all over the plans, and if the plans are not approved by you, then the teachers have to re-submit them. This is an inordinate amount of "snoopervision" for people who are supposed to be considered professionals. The definition of a professional is someone who exercises his or her personal judgment, discretion, and wisdom in making decisions in the work place.

5. Mandatory tutorials. Again, this is a matter of professionalism. I doubt that there is a teacher on the ________staff who would neglect to engage in tutorials for those students who need them. But, to mandate a certain day of each week for every teacher to engage in tutorials smacks with the top-down, heavy-handed management that is characteristic of the old days of hierarchical labor-management tension.

6. Teachers feel that you are unapproachable. They feel that they have little or no input on anything that goes on in the school. They complain that the morale is low among the teachers on staff. A teaching staff with high morale will always outperform a teaching staff with low morale. Again, the business world is steadily beginning to understand this. Public school administration is still operating under the notion that employees (even professionals) can be brow-beaten. Mr. ________, as an administrator, I could get teachers to go the extra mile because I first showed them respect. If an administrator first shows the teachers the respect that is due to them, then teachers invariably reciprocate. This concept is so simple that administrators today trip all over it. You cannot demand respect. You can only earn respect. Anything else is only forced capitulation and genuflection.

7. Too much morning down time. Teachers are forced to hold students in a holding pattern from 8:15 AM until 9:00 AM. Teachers, I understand, have asked you if this time can be divided so that teachers can have more planning time.

8. Too much fighting. Teachers complain that students who fight are meted out light punishment like time in In-school Suspension.

9. Teachers feel that there is not-so-subtle pressure on them to "give" students passing grades when, in fact, some students do nothing to earn a passing grade. Teachers say that virtually ALL of the responsibility for learning is placed upon the teachers. I remind you that the Production Model approach to public schooling assumes that students learn simply because teachers teach. And, if students are not learning, then it is because the teacher is not teaching. This is terrible theory for explaining the lack of learning that occurs in today's public schooling. Many times, a student does not learn simply because the student does not want to learn. The motivation to learn is a prerequisite of learning. A teacher can teach the student but the teacher cannot learn the student. This is bad grammar and bad theory. If a teacher teaches her heart out with splendid plans and superb execution of those plans, then goes the extra mile to contact the parent(s) through various means, assigns homework, offers special tutorials, etc., then the teacher has gone way beyond her duty to enable to the student to learn - if only the student would put forth any effort to learn. Many, many of today's students don't give two plugged nickels about learning. This motivation to learn or lack thereof is the responsibility of the parent(s). Perhaps the parent(s) ought to apply the "board of education" to the backside of their children or ground them or do whatever it takes to get their children's attention. But, to displace their frustrations onto the backs of the already beleaguered and put-upon teachers is a classic abandonment and ownership of their own responsibilities as parents. Irate and irresponsible parents should not be allowed to drive the expectations and practices of the school. If a student refuses to learn, then the student should be assigned the grade that he/she earns, viz., an "F" for Failure.

10. The teachers complain that your constant going in and out of their classes is both unnecessary and disruptive. Teachers understand that a state-mandated evaluative process must be followed, but they feel that a little bit of the best of things can go a long way. Anything can be overdone. Too much ice cream will make even an ice cream lover sick to his stomach. If it is your intention to rattle the teachers, then that is one thing. But, if your motivations are purely altruistic and pedagogical, then keep in mind that too many visits to any one class or to any one teacher's classes is counterproductive. Remember that even St. Paul said, "Let your moderation be known to all men." Moderation is the happy medium. Too little or too much supervision can lead to disastrous results.

Mr. ________, I hope that you accept these suggestions in a spirit of trying to do what is best for the overall good of the students at ________ ________ School. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me.


John R. A. Trotter, Ed.D.,J.D.

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