Friday, March 23, 2007

Principals: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I've been meaning to go through the list of principals I've had since beginning at my school. Here they are. An interesting bunch, to say the least!

Principal Zero: I call him Principal Zero because he was there up until the week before I started teaching, so although I never taught under him, the atmosphere at the school when I started was largely because of PZero. He was apparently someone whom you respect, even if you didn't like him. He was effective, and rather like an intelligent, soft-spoken drill sergeant.

Principal One: This is the woman who hired me. She was ditzy and liked to yell. She had been the assistant principal under PZero (and before that, a fourth-grade teacher, I believe), and I heard that she was great as an assistant principal, only dealing with discipline. As a principal, she was scatter-brained, and overwhelmed, and took this out on other people. She never got my name down, and in fact would usually refer to all teachers as "Mr. Man" or "Mrs. Lady." I'm not kidding. She had a tendency to have really long staff meetings, in which she would listen to every single person who had any complains and then argue with them about each complaint. Once, when a co-worker left a staff meeting (it had already gone an hour and a half beyond the contracted time) to go pick up his child from the babysitter, she paused the meeting to go down the hall and fetch him back to the meeting. Whenever I'd do something she didn't like, she would yell at me that she could fire me any time she wanted! She'd do this in front of colleagues, students, and parents. She decided to retire after a year and a half or principaling, because her friend (also a principal in our district) had a heart attach and P1 herself was diagnosed with extremely high blood pressure.
Principal Two: Actually an "acting" principal only for the time before school started my third year. Although she was never the acting principal during the school year, she was in charge of getting stuff ready during the summer, and was assistant principal for the year and a half before this and the year afterwards. She was an incredible kindergarten teacher who was the only teacher in the school with an administrative credential when they needed someone to be the assistant principal. She was a lousy administrator, especially an assistant principal, whose main duties involve discipline. You really really don't want a kindergarten teacher who refers to all children as "cherubs" to be in charge of discipline for fifth grade inner-city kids.

Principal Three: An interim principal, P3 is one of my favorite people. He came out of retirement when they couldn't find a good principal for our school, and said he'd lead the school for as long as it took to find someone else. I sincerely wish that they had never found someone else. He was patient, kind, soft-spoken, yet had a definite air of authority. He listened to teachers, was reasonable, intelligent, open to new ideas, dedicated, and wanted what's best for the school. I'm going to cry if I keep writing about him, because we only got him for six months.

Principal Four: P4 is also known by a whole host of bad names. She seemed really good at first, and in fact, some of our best teachers were on the hiring committee that hired her. She was black (this is relevant; you'll see in a later post) and said that she was taking Spanish classes to help her communication with the large Latino population in the area. She seemed wonderful... until it became obvious that she was evil. I'll have a whole post on her soon, because she really deserves an entire post dedicated to her evil ways. But one anecdote should give you the general idea. When the Latino parents (the school is about 50/50 black and Latino with a few Southeast Asians thrown in) wanted the school to spend some of its money on Spanish-language books for the library - since we do have classes that are taught in Spanish, however you feel about them - she said to them something that I would never have expected to hear out of an educated person's mouth. It went something like this (and read this in a loud, slow, condescending tone, like those people who speak really loudly when someone doesn't speak English): "This is what you should do. You should go down to the corner, and open a tortilla stand. Then, with the money from the tortilla stand, you can buy some books in Spanish. OK?" This was not, by any means, the only extremely racist thing she said or did. More about that later.
Principal Five: After the disastrous P4, we thought that maybe the district would get a clue. They picked someone who was not bad in any of the same ways as P4, but was still bad. Example: My classroom wasn't cleaned and it was the last day that we had before school started, as P5 lived almost two hours away and wasn't coming in on the weekend. I told her that my classroom was still messy and dirty and there was no way it would be ready for kids on the first day of school. She looked at a space right past my head so that she wasn't looking me in the eye and said, "I really don't know what you're going to do," and walked off. She also had a limp-fish kind of handshake and a tendency to walk away when she knew you were trying to talk to her. She'd do that with kids, parents, and staff - just walk away like you weren't even there. She had completely ineffective discipline. I don't think I ever saw her smile.

Principal Six: P6 was amazing. Absolutely amazing. She was passionate, intelligent, got things done, and knew how to get around all the silly rules and procedures in the district. She cared deeply for the kids and the parents, and even the staff. She would tell the kids that they were in her heart and that they were her family. She would plead with them to be proud of their heritage and to do their best to make their families and themselves proud. She never yelled at kids but would remind us that these kids have seen more violence and neglect in their short lifetimes than most of us ever will, so that there was a reason why they acted the way they did. Yet, she had high standards for them and didn't let them get away with bad behavior. This woman was incredible. I think No Child Left Behind and the Oakland Unified School District got to her. After one year, she left to be a principal in Berkeley. I don't blame her, and I shouldn't have felt quite so abandoned - after all, I know what a hard job it is - but I did. It was hard to lose the first really good leader that we had here.

Principal Seven: Here was another one who seemed better than she was. She appeared calm, together, and competent. In many ways, she was. But she also decided a few months into the year that the school was too hard for her and that she'd find a different position. At that point, she kind of checked out. She's also the one who never got Robin paid, and in fact, never even bothered to answer any emails about the missing payment, so I have bit of a prejudice against her for that reason.

Principal Eight: My current principal. I taught with him for 7 years and he was a great teacher. He seemed to be in the profession for the right reasons, loved the kids, was willing to work hard and not capitulate to district demands, but rather do what was right... someone I loved working with. Apparently they give you lobotomies as part of your administrative credentials. Now he's firing people for no reason and becoming a politician. It's sad. I had high hopes for this one.

Actually, it's possible I have Principals 6 and 7 mixed up. They may be in the opposite order - I can't remember. And don't even think about asking me how many superintendents we've had.



1 comment:

justducky said...

I take it that gecko is shedding?
Any "before" or "after" photos?

Will there ALWAYS be a once or twice a year turnover of principals in your school?

Here we actually have principals stick around for years. There was one particularly bad teacher / applicant. I mentioned to the the hiring committee that I thought the person was a little bit dangerous when he NEVER smiled. I'd been an aide in his class.

He was turned down, thank the Lord. People who NEVER smile are creepy, don't you think?