Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More About Why Teaching Is HARD. So Very Hard.

ON DIRECTING: A Slight Reprise

Remember my admonition to directors, their 5 Biggest Mistakes? Here they are again:

•The Five Biggest Mistakes You Can Make as a Director

1. Believing you are the smartest person in the room 
2. Miscasting
3. Miscasting
4. You can guess what the fourth one is. That’s right: Miscasting.
5. Choosing a bad play, or merely the wrong play, for you and your group and your audience, because of that giant blindspot you have.

Let's amend this to:
•The Five Biggest Mistakes You Can Make as a Teacher

1. Believing you are the smartest person in the room 
2. Poor planning (though miscasting students sucks, too--oh, right, you didn't pick them)
3. Poor planning
4. You can guess what the fourth one is. That’s right: Poor planning.
5. Choosing a bad materials, or merely the wrong materials, for you and your group and your audience, because of that giant blindspot you have. (Oh, ego.)

Okay. Ready?


Here we will be dealing with


In other words, all the stuff you probably didn’t learn anything about in your education classes, I am deeply sorry to say. But if you’ve followed my blog this far—and chances are you did a major fade when I talked about curriculum, and god love you, who could blame you?—I am going to implement some stuff to show you how all that training would come into play in setting up this elective class.

Because I also want you to see how an ARTS elective is also a REAL CLASS. In fact, many of my students told me it was among their most demanding, which was terribly sweet of them to say.

Here was how the class opened: My Little Welcome, if you will:

[begin a page here]

THEATER PRODUCTION                                                                  MISS  O’
                                                            COURSE OVERVIEW

Theater Production provides hands-on experience in all areas related to producing a show, from the selection of the script to the pulling of the final curtain at the last performance--not to mention the set strike that follows. In this course, students help design, build, publicize, and run the shows produced by the Luxe High School Drama Club. In addition to the actual work on the show, students also study formal units in all aspects of theater, with the exception of acting.  See the yearly overview below.

I. First Quarter: Introduction to Technical Theater
            A. Major Units
                        1. Play Project: How to read a play for technical theater
                        2. Terminology, Staff, and Crews: The jobs in theater
                        3. Set Design/Props: Planning, building, and decorating a set
                        4. Lighting Design: Basic electrics and physics of light
            B. Show Practicum: This Fall’s Play Here (Performance Dates Here)
II. Second Quarter: More Aspects of Design
            A. Major Units
                        1. Costume Design: Research for rendering costumes
                        2. Costume Crafts: Building and finding accessories
                        3. Stage Makeup: Designing and applying makeup
            B. Show Practicum: Drama Class’s “Night of Scenes” [NOTE: Another practicum could be “Maintaining and Storing Equipment”]
•SEMESTER EXAM: A cumulative, comprehensive objective test with essay
III. Third Quarter: Directing, Managing, and Marketing a Show
            A. Major Units
                        1. Business of Theater: Marketing the show
                        2. Directing: The role of a director in creating a show
                        3. Stage Management: Running the show using a prompt book
            B. Show Practicum: This Spring’s Play Here (Performance Dates Here)
IV. Fourth Quarter: Putting It Together, with Sound
            A. Major Units
                        1. Sound Technology and Radio
                        2. A Production Example Practicum: The Philadelphia Story
            B. Show Practicum: This Spring’s Show Here and Set Strike/Storage
•FINAL EXAM: A prompt book practicum

CONTACT INFORMATION: miss_ohara@luxehighschool.edux or 555.555.5555, ext. 1

_______________________________________[end page]_________________________________


            I think it is extremely helpful to find out as much as you can about students early on, like Week 1 (as I demonstrated in my literacy example in the sports diatribe). Information sheets tell you more than might first be apparent, to wit:
  •         an address tells me a neighborhood;
  •         a date of birth tells me if they are on grade level and if they are driving yet;
  •         the parents’ or guardians’ phone numbers tell me who is in the picture and how available they might be for conferences;
  •         a class schedule tells me what kind of track this kid is on, academic or technical, for example, and elective courses tell me what his or her interests might be;
  •         I also get a handwriting sample.  
  •      And, because I offer class time to fill it out before they take it home, I can learn if a kid is literate or can read and write English.

This is not about judgment. This is about INFORMATION. The more you know about your kids, the more effective you can be when you are teaching. (The exception: DO NOT let any teacher colleague say, "Oh, you have Carl X.? Let me tell you he is the biggest pain..." That shit is just WRONG. You meet the kids, you take it in, and when you have QUESTIONS, you say at lunch one day, "Did anyone have Carl X. last year?" THEN you can get the scoop.)

(P.S. I know there are computers now, and that most of this information is accessible on a school’s system. Except when it isn’t, because kids’ information changes, addresses change, guardians change, schedules change, and the system is not always updated. I know we want to think computers make lives simpler. But they don’t. Can we just admit that? Thanks.)


COURSE:  _________________________________________________
CLASS PERIOD:  ____________________     YEAR:  ________________

NAME:  _______________________________GRADE LEVEL:  ________
ADDRESS:  ____________________________ HOME PHONE:  ________
_____________________________________DATE OF BIRTH:  ______

FATHER OR MALE GUARDIAN: _________________________________
WORK OR CELL PHONE* (circle one):  _________________________
MOTHER OR FEMALE GUARDIAN:  _______________________________
WORK OR CELL PHONE* (circle one):  __________________________
*Please note any special considerations when calling.

                        COURSE                      TEACHER                   LOCATION

PERIOD 1       _______________________________________________________

PERIOD 2       ______________________________________________________

PERIOD 3       _______________________________________________________

PERIOD 4       Lunch Shift: ____________________________________________

PERIOD 5       Lunch Shift: ____________________________________________

PERIOD 6       __________________________________________________________

PERIOD 7       __________________________________________________________

We the undersigned have read and understood the Class Information Sheet.

STUDENT SIGNATURE:  __________________________________________________________




______________________________________[end information sheet]


            If I ever needed to get in touch with a student during the day, and I often did, with my information sheet I could find the schedule quickly and take the hand-out or field trip permission slip to his or her math class, for example. This was especially helpful when the schools switched to block scheduling (seeing kids only every other day), and exam reviews were coming up and I needed to find the kids who had been absent.

DIATRIBE, an ASIDE: I hate “block” scheduling. H. A. T. E.  it. I need to see kids every day, they need to see me every day, or else they just forget everything. I taught fully one-third less curriculum on block, even after years of being on it, than on what I call a regular schedule. It’s a travesty. Not everyone feels this way, but this is my blog.

USAGE NOTE: It’s a good idea after the first quarter to have kids update their schedules, as many drop and add classes around that time.

            I also give out an Introduction to Class sheet, including materials and basic class expectations, as you will see below.

            The form that follows the course information is basic. I have invented Luxe County and Luxe High School as my generic places. (My friend Michael always describes himself as “luxe” or “deluxe” and I love the sound of that.) Feel free to use this as a guide or model for making your own. Obviously I had a different information packet for each separate course I taught, but they followed a similar format. You may prefer lists and bullets, or a table. Again, this is an example.

__________________________[a page starts here]______________________________


The following is a supplement to the rules and regulations of the
Luxe High School handbook, English Department rules,
and the Luxe County Code of Behavior.

MATERIALS:  Three-ringed notebook, loose leaf paper, tab division pocket folders for handouts and small items, plain printer paper (for sketching), #2 (or softer) pencils, blue or black pen, 12”ruler (with marks to a sixteenth of an inch).  Some projects require coloring. Watercolors, markers, crayons, and colored pencils may be used, and several options are available in the classroom. Some projects will require larger paper, and this will be provided should the student request it.

1.     Some projects will require the student to read a full-length play of his or her choice.  Care should be taken when selecting reading materials, as many contemporary plays contain language or situations that may be objectionable. Students are responsible for making appropriate selections.

2.     EACH SEMESTER the students must see an OUTSIDE PLAY.  (The grade for this assignment will be assigned the second and fourth nine weeks.)  The production (musical or straight play) may be from an outside high school, college, community theater, church, or professional company.  Students are to write a review following the format provided. 

3.     In addition to content tests based on class notes, students will have daily and long-range projects each quarter involving all aspects of technical theater:  sets, costumes, lighting, sound, stage management, box office, and publicity.  Some of these projects will be directly related to school productions, and others will be only for class.

4.     Students MAY but are not required to stay after school to assist with technical work on the drama club productions. (No extra credit will be offered for this, but students can earn Thespian points and hours toward a drama club letter.)

5.     Students MUST attend one performance of each Luxe High School production.  As long as the student has worked reliably in class on the technical aspects of the show, he or she will receive one complimentary ticket for the night of his or her choice.  A written review is required to demonstrate attendance. One quiz question will be asked that will be particular to that evening’s performance.

1. “The show must go on!” The hall is rented, the tickets are sold. In this spirit, thespians, NO LATE ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED unless the student is legally absent on the due date.  All homework assignments are due at the beginning of the period and after this will not be accepted. 
2.  Any assignment which the student feels unable to complete on time because of an extenuating circumstance should be accompanied by a note from a parent or guardian at the next class meeting.  The note should state the parent’s awareness of the original due date and the student’s attempt to complete the assignment on time. AN EXTENTION MAY NOT APPLY TO LONG-RANGE PROJECTS.
3.  Oral presentations of and written work for LONG-RANGE projects are due on the assigned date.  The student is responsible for being prepared in advance of the due date; an absence on the due date does NOT warrant postponement, and so the project must be presented on the day the student returns to class.
4.  THE GIFT:  Each nine weeks, the student is given a “gift” that will allow him or her to turn in ONE assignment one day late.  There is no point penalty, but the assignment must be turned in at the beginning of the next class meeting, and must have the word “GIFT” written at the top of it. The “gift” will be recorded in the grade book, and the student is responsible for keeping the assignment as proof of use.  (The “gift” does NOT apply to tests.)

All guidelines for Luxe County Schools apply.  Students are responsible for getting make-up work, checking with the teacher about assignments, and looking in the class folder at the front of the room for returned papers and handouts.

1.  Some class sessions will take place in the auditorium.  Students are to enter through the open doors by the stage. When the class is scheduled for the auditorium in advance, TARDY RULES APPLY and the student is responsible for getting to the stage area on time.
2.  When working on the stage and auditorium area, each student is required to adhere to the following AND is responsible for consequences if he or she fails to
            a.  wear safely goggles when using tools of any kind;
            b.  avoid wearing loose clothing, dangling jewelry, slippery shoes, or bare feet;
            c.  tie back long or loose hair;
            d.  use tools only after instruction, and only then under the supervision of an instructor;
            e.  turn off, unplug, and properly store all tools at the end of a work                            session;
            f.  clean work area;
            g.  assist others with cleaning work areas;
            h.  inform teacher of illness, injury, or distress of any kind PROMPTLY.

3.  In addition, the student must NOT
            a.  push, slap, fight, wrestle, scream, or shout while working;
            b.  throw any object, including paper;
            c.  bring food or drinks;
            d.  possess matches or lighter (see Handbook);
            e.  play with equipment or deliberately misuse tools.


________________[page ends]______________________

*Yet another use of the Student Information Sheet and Why I Kept It on File All Year.


            Most parents believe in consequences. Most. But a lot--far too many--think their kid deserves a break. Innumerable breaks. As if their future bosses won’t fire their asses. Part of school’s job is to teach real consequences, otherwise we are doing no favors for the world’s future. Stick to your guns. And get it in writing.

            The above examples are what are known in the profession as CYA documents. When you teach any class, you must at the outset define what responsibilities are to be assumed by students and their parents, and which responsibilities are yours. Otherwise it can get ugly. It only takes one litigious parent to make your entire school year a misery, and I know. (Almost invariably these parents are lousy parents and their kids are sometimes (but not always) lousy kids as a result, but what can you do? There is no test for becoming a parent. Diddle around in a back seat of a Nissan on the night of homecoming, and presto! You get to raise a kid. In the meantime, it took my stable, grown-up music teacher friends three years of state visitations and papertrails just to apply to be adoptive parents. Revelation: Nothing is fair.)

            So at the outset of the class, I made sure that I reiterated the school rules, the county rules  (which reflected state laws) and pointed out that my rules were a supplement to these rules, and I make everyone SIGN. I kept these documents on file. Have I ever needed them? Yep. I carried them more than once to parent-teacher conferences. “Why can’t she turn in late work?” And there it is, you signed it, I don’t accept late work. (Would I work with parents? Of course I would. Every situation is different. But I wanted my out when what we were talking about was something more insidious than a bad quarter grade. Parents need to address their kid’s larger problems, such as undiagnosed dyslexia or drug abuse or alcoholism or criminal activity, by not being allowed to blame their kid’s English teacher.)

            A note about the late work: Some teachers are fine accepting late assignments. Thespis knows I counted on those teachers when I was a student. But I was also trained for show business, and that curtain goes up whether you like it or not. Therefore I think it’s valuable for kids to have both kinds of teachers: the teachers who take late work for points off and the teachers who do not accept late work at all. I can harden my heart, even if I love the kid like mad. Not everyone can and not everyone needs to be this tough. But SOMEONE needs to. Let it be me!


            The power of the name cannot be overstated: You must, must, must learn all your kids’ names during the first week of school. First and last. To do this, you must have a seating chart.

            Oh, sure, go ahead: Be Innovative, play the “there are no rules” and “sit where you want” and “I’m cooler than cool” games. Go ahead, and you will be an EX-teacher within a semester. Less. I have seen it happen a dozen times. Most of these were student teachers, but a few were spectacularly stupid young hires. It’s heartbreaking. They always leave while crying, “No one supported me,” as they stuff more cotton wool into their already packed ears. (One such teacher at Luxe hung up his deliberately mismatched Keds sneakers—black and red!—on the little flag post stuck into a thingy on the top of the chalkboard, you know what I mean, in of one of his floating classrooms, and spent his last day (at the end of only one quarter) making “death be not proud” speeches to all of his classes, as if they were going to be bereft without him. His self-importance was astonishing. We who had really, really tried to offer support and suggestions barely glanced at him when he left—just hopeless.)

            Kids like limits. They like rules. Rules and follow-through make kids feel safe. Within the established structure, kids will feel safe enough to try the stuff that is truly daring. Sitting where you want? What is that? But working on an original set design idea? That is cool. Thinking your teacher is cool? Who cares? Can your kids write compositions that express their original thoughts on a whole new level? That rocks.

            How do they get there? You start by making them feel safe in the room. They start to feel safe when they are known. They feel safer when you set down rules and follow them consistently. Emerson did NOT say, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Making young people feel safe is not foolish.

            The key to safety begins with the simple tool of learning their names.

            It’s amazing how much this impresses a kid.

            Before the first day of school, I use my rosters to make a chart like this (with last names, as well as first) for each one of my classes:

 <begin seating chart>
Row 1     Row 2         Row 3     Row 4     Row 5
 [names go under each row]


<end chart>

            I taped this chart on the lectern at the front of the room, with a direction written on the board to refer to the chart to find their seats. Again, the names on the chart are first and last. I triple-hole-punched the charts into my grade book. I taped each class’s chart in front of me every single day for as long as I needed it, and referred to it every time I called on a student. I also used it to take attendance, including adding and removing students as schedules change. I put copies in the "Substitute Folder."

            I did not invent this. While I’d used seating charts, the “lectern” method was taught to me by a colleague I’ll refer to as “Jane Williams” at my old high school, and someone taught her, and she and others taught me a lot of other stuff that’s in various forms in this book, too. I learned from innumerable colleagues and students about how to do lots of things. I listened. (After that first “I’m going to show them!” arrogant asshole period, sorry to say.)

            Another helpful tip as per the seating chart: While students are filling out surveys or writing compositions or reading, stand at the lectern and use the chart to help you memorize the students in your class. And not just the names. Really look at them. Notice their hygiene, their modes of dress, their hairstyles, their ability to sit still. This is all information for a teacher. You don’t need to judge the kids. Just learn about them. Watch their work habits. Can they concentrate? What kinds of materials are they bringing to class? Do they look hungry? It’s amazing how useful this time is.

            The next period when they walk in and you say, “Hello, Carolina,” and “How are you, Muller?” you will be amazed at the respect you garner. It’s the easiest step on the road to good classroom management. (The next is good lesson planning.)

            And with that...we continue with Getting to Know Your Theater Production Class.


            I tried to make open-ended surveys with room for the kids to think about what they wanted out of a class and to tell me what they already knew. I was curious about them. I also wanted to see what I was dealing with.

            •The best part of reading these is to see their sense of humor. High school kids are funny. High school drama kids are funnier. They just have this lens trained on the world that can teach you a thing or two. There is no rule about surveys. The following example is a long one, a compilation of various kinds of questions I’ve asked over the years. I’d keep any survey to one front/back handout that can easily be completed in 15 minutes.

            •I followed this up by having them pick two answers to read to a partner. I then had those partners introduce themselves to two more partners. They shared again. Then I asked them to create a short presentation, any way they want, to introduce themselves to the rest of the class by group.

            NOTE: In a drama class, even a technical theater one, the kids are usually okay with this. I even did a similar activity with my English classes (involving storytelling), and it worked. It sets a tone for involvement, is simple, and fairly nonthreatening. Also, this is for your benefit more than theirs. Watch and listen. Say something nice and thank them. Make sure the presenters say their names one last time. Give them a 100 participation grade for doing it.

            Everyone should start a class with a good grade.

NAME: ________________________  DATE: ___________________


A.  Please complete the following statements.

1.  I am taking Theater Production because ______________________________________
2.  As far as theater goes, I am most interested in ________________________________
__________________________________________________________ Outside of theater, I am interested in _______________________________.

3.  I know the most about ____________________________________________. For example, did you know that ____________________________________________?


4a.  I have seen at least ______ (number) live theatrical productions, and of these my favorite was _____________________________________ because _______________________________________________.

4b. While I have never seen a live theatrical production, not even an assembly in elementary school or a talent show, I have seen ________ _______________________________________________________.

5.  My special talents and abilities include _____________________________________________
B.  In the space provided, draw your idea of a dramatic scene on stage.

C.  Write ten (10) words below that pertain to your idea of art.

D.  Write your dream of a fabulous theater or artistic experience.

E.  Write down your greatest fear in taking this class.

Now choose one of those fear words above and draw the word below so that it visually represents the feeling of that word.

F.  WORD ASSOCIATION.  Write the first word that comes into your head beside each of the words or phrases below.

2.  JIGSAW--
7.  PAINT--
8.  NAILS--
10.  MAKE-UP--

G.  Below, draw your idea of a cool theatrical costume.  Any show, any style.

H.  State one goal you have in this class. How will you know if you succeeded?

[end survey]
[Reminder: this is a compilation of many kinds of questions--you don’t need a survey this long.]

            Some kids sign up for a class through pressure from a guidance counselor (“Miss O’Hara is really nice...” “You will really enjoy this class...” “You need an elective for second period...”) and, not to be too blunt, you have to weed out the chaff, or separate the wheat from the chaff, if you prefer the correct metaphor.

            I speak from experience. “But, Miss O’Hara, your class is an elective, and Billy the Future Murderer of America can take it if he elects to. That’s why it’s called an elective.” Here is my philosophy of elective classes, and this in no way reflects the values of most principals I’ve met: Electives should be fun. Teachers teach them and kids take them because these classes are fun as well as educational. Everyone should want to be there, have this one bright spot in the schedule, to make the rest of the day bearable. (Bearable? I can see the faces of teachers who believe their required classes are cool, bristling . . . if faces can bristle. There’s an image. So I have to ask you, and remember I taught English: How many kids would sign up for your subject by choice? Exactly. Now why don’t you change that?) I also think that electives are a kind of privilege. Taking one because you truly want to might actually be your reward and encouragement to keep going toward the diploma.

Here is the curious thing about electives that also does not reflect the values of most principals I have met:  Electives can often not only integrate the learning from a bunch of other academic classes, in can also teach things beyond the scope of those classes. I know: Radical! And this is one of the core reasons I am writing this book.


Set Design Project in the elective Theater Production: A set designer designs the set for a play. The actors will perform the play on this set, on a stage.

To complete a set design, the designer

  •    must interpret the meaning of the play;
  • b.     research the place and historical time period;
  • c.      choose furniture and fabrics;
  • d.     make budgets;
  • e.     buy building materials;
  • f.      do the measuring and scale drawings;
  • g.     understand the physics of things such as wall supports.

So what classes are we talking about now? English, Geography, History, Home Ec, Math, Tech Ed, Science. And that’s just off the top of my head. What better way to make those classes “relevant” to a doubting adolescent? Ah, arts.
            What causes the diminishment in choices of electives? Money, money, money. Here’s how that conversation goes, and usually the person answering your questions is a guidance counselor in charge of scheduling. That’s right, scheduling. What a waste of counseling talents, but there you are. The principal will direct you there.

An Elective Dies: A Memoir from My Last Year at My First School

Scene: A guidance office

GUIDANCE: We had to cut your drama class this year because you didn’t have a high enough enrollment.
YOU: How many signed up?
GUIDANCE: I don’t remember...but the state says you have to have 25, and you didn’t have 25.
YOU: Since when is it 25? This school has never had more than 20 in any drama class for years.
GUIDANCE: The state says it has to be 25.
YOU: Is this a new law? When was it passed?
GUIDANCE: The state says it has to be 25.

            You can go on like this for hours, days, turn it into a Beckett play. What is the actual reason you lost your special course? “They” need you to teach senior English; you are the only one free that period . . . if they can just take away that pesky elective drama class. No one will admit this. It’s one of the things I hate about public life: the necessity that superiors feel to lie. It’s all about fears of litigation or not getting re-elected, but I really value a straight answer. Once, a group of us teachers were threatened with termination--we were the least senior teachers in the department--and the principal gathered us in a room and drew diagrams of his needs, explained how the schedule for next year was structured, how it was not possible to . . . blah, blah, blah, but what it came down to is this: He could easily live without a drama class, but the school must have a yearbook. Now who will take that yearbook class? You will get to stay! (Oddly, we ALL were allowed to stay, as soon as Ms. Finally said she’d do Yearbook. Funny.)

            Here’s another dilemma no one talks about: There are high school teachers who are terminally lazy about working, and they strategically set up for themselves cushy situations. They become “specialists” in reading or math, or become assistant librarians. They are given state money to tutor a few kids each period or shelve books. It’s not that the jobs aren’t worthy or that there aren’t people in those jobs who work their asses off--I’ve known Latin and German teachers with relatively low enrollments who work like mad, and assistant librarians who assist teachers as if on a mission for NASA. It’s just that those are easy jobs to slack in. We all know those people in education who do nothing much in standard academic situations, too. (We all know these slackers in EVERY line of work.) And yet their cushy lives of no papers to grade continue at the expense of teachers who are happy to work extra hard (three preps!) in order to teach a class they believe in, one that requires a lot of grading (as you will see with Theater Production). I don’t know how to change this.

            Wait. Yes, I do. And it’s not about firing. Firing is easy.

            MAKE THESE SLACKERS WORK. (See, Nick? I’m taking Manifesto tips!)

            State law says your school needs these full-time specialists. Fine. Now, principals, observe those classes. Assess the needs. Do you need this person to teach five periods, or could it be done in three? And couldn’t they pick up two classes in another area? Look at substantive enrollments in electives across departments, and not just at the “seniority” of the teachers in those departments. And I don’t mean this bitterly, only that the resentments engendered by these forms of favoritism, or “good old boy” networking—and I do mean boys, baby—perceived or otherwise, are toxic. They also cause very good people to go elsewhere for work, or, worse, to stop putting forth creative and meaningful efforts because they aren’t really valued by the school’s leadership. I once heard a principal say to a teacher, “All I care about is the perception of a school that runs smoothly.” So much for feeling valued.

            Now here is a flipside of that coin: The principals who recognize and then exploit the talents and energies of hardworking and creative educators, thereby burning them out in a year or three. I saw it happen to teachers, assistant principals, coaches, and counselors.

            It happened to me in my first job. Because you (and by “you” I mean “I”) are so “good,” the principal calls on you not only to teach a lot of preps or head a lot of committees, he or she also expects you to coach teams, host district and regional festivals, attend all sporting events, chaperone dances, stay up all night at the senior prom party. And what happens is that the things that are really important begin to suffer: you can’t plan effective lessons or keep up with grading all the papers, your team has a losing season, your plays don’t have sets, your committees siphon valuable time from counseling students, you forget to wear pants. And you begin to feel like a failure. So, for the good of the kids and your own wellbeing, you quit. Usually you adjourn to an entirely different career, according to all the educational surveys I’ve read.

            Of all the things in education that derail its true intent, the largest of these is, of course, politics. Young teachers don’t dare say “No” when they are overwhelmed, because the threat is, “I’ll find another teacher.” So you play politics. I’ve known teachers who have had their teaching lives destroyed by principals when they start to say “no.” It begins with, “You are not a team player.” (As my mother, Lynne, said to me, “I cannot imagine anything worse than being called a ‘team player’.”) Maybe you are given four preps. Maybe you find yourself with maxed-out sections for every one of your classes, all filled with n’er-do-wells and trouble-makers. When your failure rates are too high, you may be threatened with probation. And all you had to do was sponsor the Junior Class, coach volleyball, and host the regional chess tournament. What is your problem?

            Not that this is rampant, but no kidding, we’ve all seen it happen. I had two friends quit over this treatment. I stood my ground the two times it happened to me and was able somehow to “get away” with it and keep my job as was. Geoffrey Canada, whom I respect, heads the Harlem Children’s Zone (I mention him in the previous post) with this motto: “Whatever it takes.” In other words, if he needs you 24/7, and you balk, you go. He will find someone else. But he tells you of that demand going in, and you can try and fail and leave, but at least with warning.

            Education’s bailiwick du jour--whether it be testing, sports fairness, class size, or block scheduling--invariably has nothing to do with what kids actually need in order to, you know, learn stuff. As long as people promote dissertations and run for office, there will be politics. You may quote me. Meaning: Nothing will change? All you can do is make the best of whatever situation you are in? All I can say is that there is no substitute for great leadership at the school level. As a kid, I had three magnificent principals at my elementary, middle, and high schools and I will name them here: David Kite, Ronald Keeler, and Phil Gainous. The schools were great schools with their own sets of problems, but the leaders cared, the kids felt secure, and faculty members seemed pretty happy to be there. Leadership is really hard to focus today, and I know that, so great are the roles a school is expected to play. Schools are expected to be...well, you know what people expect of them. It’s exhausting.

            There are schools that will succeed in spite of their principals, but these schools will never be as effective as they could be. There will be schools that fail because of circumstances even the best principals cannot control. But good principals, like good presidents, rally the troops, set the tone, establish the value systems, and enforce the rules. They make you feel anything is possible and that we will do it together.

            So I say to you, principals, DON’T SACRIFICE THE CLASSES. Don’t take away kids’ reasons for wanting to come into the building. Don’t sacrifice the talents of your good teachers for mere expediency. I say to school systems, HIRE GOOD PRINCIPALS.

            Where was I? Oh, yes. Theater. See the next blog post.

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