Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Walk a Mile High

The Rocky Mountain news reports a bill pending approval from the Governor, Bill Owens, that would require anyone who wants to become a public school principal to rise from teachers' ranks and hold a master's degree. The article reports that Democrats have largely backed the measure. They argue that anyone entering the field of education should have to walk the walk of a teacher.

I understand this “pay your dues” attitude. I understand it particularly well as a person interested in educational leadership but with only a modicum of classroom experience. I’ve thought about this a lot and I have a few conclusions based on talks with administrators, my studies, chats with policy folks, and teachers. To me this bill sounds extreme. In a perfect world schools would have two different types of leaders: instructional and administrative/political. The instructional leader would be a master academician, skilled in teacher theory and practice. This leader would be familiar in the latest scholarship and research. This leader could model effective classroom instruction, management, and provide significant practical and emotional support to teachers. This leader could also advocate on behalf of the teachers as his or her say in decision making was of extreme import in school. The administrative leader would spend his or time in the affairs of the school and community as many administrators do now, particularly secondary administrators. Decision making between these joint chiefs would need to be close to “joint.”

Because most traditional school principals work heavy in management, test score improvement, parental fire-fighting, and as liaison between county leadership and school level demands (a gamut requiring political acumen) I do not necessarily agree that good teachers make good administrators. This bill doesn’t seem to suggest exactly that, but it does declare that to be an administrator at all, regardless of how exceptional an administrator one becomes, experience in teaching is a necessary prerequisite. That to me is a shame, because most of the demands administrators face have nothing to do with teaching. I can certainly understand how teaching experience could make one more sensitive to the rigors and demands teachers face. I think most principals would benefit from walking a few miles in a teacher’s shoes. I just think the best principals do this out of necessity, not because they are former teachers.


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