Education Opinion

Teachers’ Views of Leaders: Feedback From Our Readers

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — December 11, 2016 6 min read
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Our recent post Boss and Buddy: Can a Leader Be Both? provoked comments from our readers that captured our attention. We found them eye opening and wanted to respond. As we thought about them, we realized a larger reality. What do teachers think of the job their leaders are doing? Is that how the leaders think they are perceived? When we wrote Boss and Buddy: Can a Leader Be Both? , we were thinking about the potentially conflicting roles leaders have to maneuver. We didn’t anticipate we’d uncover the views our readers expressed.

We believe leaders are able to gain respect from the teachers in the organization and do so with effectiveness and with grace. Yet, our readers indicate that the role of boss is the one, at least in their experience, most taken, and it is resented. If you share our naivety, get ready to be surprised. Here are their voices ...

The sad truth is that it is easier for administrators to dictate than it is for them to reason. They will always condescend, deprecate, insult and otherwise relegate teachers to the lower rungs of society. After all, they were smart enough to move out of the classroom they couldn’t manage. They are blessed with the knowledge that the real money is in admin. (Which is a bunch of garbage and a lie). Crappy teachers make crappy administrators. It is a given. Live with it.

Excellent discussion of types of leadership, unfortunately we seem to be plagued by the dominant, bossy kind of leaders. Very few principals have the personal or professional qualities and experience to be transformational leaders. Most of them never took the time to develop the necessary skills to become effective educational leaders, so they become just transactional leaders, always reaching for the stick. There are just too many careerists, poor teachers desperate to get out of the classroom, and people with dictatorial tendencies in the principal’s ranks, people who perfectly fit the dominant profile.

With the school climate today, I wouldn’t want to be an administrator. Most are now paper pushers and mandate followers versus wanting to lead their staffs anywhere for the benefit of students...We just spent 45 minutes of a staff meeting reviewing test expectations and resources for the spring test, a test that now must be taken on a computer within a system that continually crashes...but hey, we somehow all needed to hear that info...even though one third of us will not be administering the d thing...Few administrators want to truly lead. It’s easier to collect that paycheck by not rocking the boat and by throwing useless mandates at staff members. Very few administrators are visionaries...When you have an administrator tell you her vision is to raise test scores, then a few years later tell you during a PD 2 hrs: “You need to listen because I put this together for you...” then collect notes taken that day....It’s hard to see leadership as described in the post.

...Few teachers get into education for the pay. But there’s a subset of teachers who go into education not to teach, but to climb the ladder. In my thirty years, I’ve seen one physical education or special education teacher after another teach for five to seven years, go get an M.S. in administration, and then start climbing. One made it as far as regional superintendent. In my experience, that particular subset was never really good at teaching. As a consequence they were mediocre (at best) administrators. The goal was money and a career-climb, not young people.

Actually, there are many people who move into administration just for the money. When the top teacher salary in California is less than $80,000.00, with more than 20 years experience and advanced degrees, and the BEGINNING salary for a principal is more than $100,000.00 per year, with just a few years experience in the classroom (as few as three), and an administrative credential, it’s easy to see why so many careerists go into teaching, just to become administrators and make the real good money. Unfortunately, these are the individuals who become tyrants and despots. Granted, not all principals fit into this group, but most of them do.

Although we hesitate to generalize these comments as a reflection of the majority opinion, we feel compelled to share our thoughts about what is happening in school leadership and the sad truth for those who perceive their leaders as “dominant and bossy”. We, of course, do not know each and every school leader across country. What we do know is that a great number of the leaders we do know work hard, are serious about keeping children at the heart of that work and have great respect for those who are in classrooms. They aspire to being the best they can be. But, we acknowledge they are the gatekeepers through which all regulations and polices flow. They frequently are delivering messages not of their own writing. There may even be days when they feel like “paper pushers and mandate followers”.

The knowledge, skills, and personal attributes successful leaders must possess need constant attention, nurturing, and development. But if leadership is questioned and perceived to be “bossy and dominant”, there is work to be done. From the comments provoked by the post, there is a need for leaders who can lead rather than manage.

One important acknowledgement we found in one response was that there are teachers who are in need of improvement. It is rare to hear a teacher admit that. Although it was stated in response to a leader in need of improvement, it is a good beginning to admit that in each role in the school system, there is always room for improvement. Truth telling is a good beginning.

Schools have, of late, been the target of the public criticism. It is not easy to lead nor work in a system where higher performance, more transparency, and the implementation of new and different standards and standardized tests and budget woes are a constant. School leaders and teachers feel burdened by the incessant demands and feel pressured to implement them, correctly and fast. In that process, have some changed paths from one of leader to one of manager, and, for some, to policeman or woman ordering and accounting for progress. Perhaps that is what our responders see.

The most disturbing and common thread in the comments was about “climbing the ladder”. Are there those who enter school leadership to earn more money? Probably yes. Although we think most would say they entered leadership roles to have a wider positive impact on students and culture. There is a responsibility that comes with leadership whether embraced gracefully or with a heavy hand. We have walked in those shoes and know the heavy weight of responsibility for the school or district. We know the unlimited work day and week. We know the responsibility for human interactions and safety of all. We know how easy it can be for vision to fade in the midst of the urgent daily life. But, we also know relationships are essential. School leaders cannot succeed with them.

But, our readers brought us to hard ground at the comments about who enters leadership. Our systems will never get better if they are right. We have held a lifelong belief that only the best teachers should become leaders. We know many of them who have chosen that path. Those who become leaders to escape the classroom typically do not serve well. As an educational community could we agree that poor teachers and aspiring dictators and tyrants need not apply to lead schools? If we can, perhaps, in a boss or buddy role, we could then ask our faculty how they see us and be brave enough to listen.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.