COMMENTARY | This summer my school’s head principal is retiring from his position and moving on up to the district office, having been chosen as the district’s new Director of Secondary Education. In choosing his successor, the district superintendent and campus faculty and administrators have gone through a lengthy, complex process of selecting which traits his replacement should possess. Individual departments were asked to compile a list of their desires in a candidate, which would be presented to the interview board by each department head. My department was unanimously supportive of one of our school’s assistant principals, who had overseen our department for two years and been an experienced teacher and coach at the same school years before.
Eventually, the many candidates were whittled down to three by the board: A head principal of a slightly smaller local freshman school, a head principal of a similarly-sized high school in a similarly-sized city, and a head principal of a small high school in a small town nearby. When word came down regarding which candidate had been chosen as our new head principal, many teachers were unhappy. Oh, the drama of recruiting and promoting public school administrators!
According to The Daily Caller, many of America’s education lags are due to administrative, rather than just teaching, woes. The Fordham Institute has found that many districts are doing a poor job of recruiting and promoting good principals. It alleges that school principals are underpaid, given too little autonomy, and are too often recruited internally, which does not allow for sufficient competition to boost job performance and gauge talent. Basically, despite the fact that they can tremendously affect teacher effort and performance, too many principals are undervalued bureaucrats.
As almost any teacher would tell you, good principals and assistant principals are an invaluable asset. A great teacher can be stymied by a bad principal, and a bad teacher can be tremendously improved by the actions of a conscientious, helpful principal. School administrators promote a faculty and staff culture that can improve a school and its performance…or sink it. Given all this, is does make you wonder why we hear so much about teacher recruitment and retention but so comparatively little about administrator recruitment or retention.
Perhaps too many “education reformers,” having spent little or no time in the classroom as K-12 public school teachers, think that good teachers and bad teachers operate in a vacuum, unaffected by orders from above or a general work culture.
While most of what the Fordham Institute suggests is pretty standard boilerplate for reform, such as granting principals greater autonomy and higher pay, an interesting discussion is broached by the suggestion that more states and school districts allow the recruitment of principals from outside the education field. The Institute suggests that public schools take a page from the private sector and seek great leaders from other fields, not just within education. Corporations, after all, have little trouble seeking to recruit CEOs from different fields, such as an aircraft manufacturing CEO moving to head a car company.
I disagree that public school principals should be brought in from outside the field of public education, for the challenges of public schooling are unique and there is little room for error. A business mogul or high-ranking military officer may be a great leader, easily able to handle the leadership tasks of being a high school principal, but the complexity of public schooling, especially in today’s education climate, would overwhelm someone not experienced with the ins and outs of education policy. While schools and school districts should more aggressively seek and develop leadership talent, it would be extremely risky to think you could bring in non-educators to run education policy.
On a practical standpoint, teachers and other administrators would be very upset. After investing decades on moving toward the position of head principal, their dream job is now taken by a retired CEO/general/lawyer/businessperson?! Talk about creating drama in the workplace! Bitterness and anger would be the virtually universal response at any large school, likely harming performance in the classroom.
But recruiting outside the field of education does show lots of promise…for recruiting teachers. As a post-baccalaureate certified teacher, I was able to put my existing college degrees to good use and become certified in only one year. Though I was a young post-bac, many are experienced in a wide range of fields. My father, for example, had been an accountant for fifteen years when he earned his post-bac certification and became certified in all K-8 subjects. He brought the real world into the classroom and had a wealth of knowledge and experience.
If we want to focus on improving the quality of America’s teachers we should consider more policies to recruit talent into our schools by expanding post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs. Currently, we focus on debating whether or not Colleges of Education are sufficiently rigorous – perhaps we should focus on recruiting teachers with real-world experience and seek a percentage of such teachers on each secondary campus. After all, aren’t we trying to prepare students for the real world? What better way than to have teachers who have worked there?
To recruit teachers from outside the field of education we must examine which aspects of teaching in public schools are encouraging or discouraging such recruitment. Do teachers have enough pay? Enough autonomy? If we want the best talent in the classroom we must make it worth their while. We need to pay teachers more, give them more power and autonomy, and stop the witch hunts that blame teachers for students’ laziness and apathy.
Perhaps if we lighten up and make teaching an attractive job we will get the talent we so desperately seek! Just a thought…