Advice to directors
This site is dedicated to the memory of Fred Caruolo, former principal of Byram Hills High School, Armonk, New York, who died by suicide while he was principal. At the time, the School Board members had decided that principals were too lenient in their evaluations of teachers. They wanted to see direct, honest and realistic evaluations, especially from poor teachers, not the timid evaluations they said they were used to receiving. When Fred followed his instructions, all hell broke loose. The teachers rallied against him. The teachers’ association insisted on participating in some evaluations. Fred’s response was not meeting the deadlines for his evaluations. Weeks passed and he still did not deliver them. Then one day, he closed his garage doors and started his car engine.
All the directors knew what had killed him. However, we were too intimidated to speak. The wisest of us ignore the instructions of the School Board and continue to praise the teachers, even the poor. Only now do I tell you this, more than twenty years after I left that school system. Fred’s wife sued, alleging “wrongful death,” but I don’t know what the outcome was.
1. Every school has its bad teachers. How should a director handle them? Let me offer you this advice:
Keep your relationship friendly.
For repeated faults in good teaching and good work habits, write a note to the teacher, with a copy to the teacher’s file, pointing out the offense (s) without withdrawing the support. “I’m going to put bed bugs in your bed if you don’t get to school on time. Please don’t make my life difficult! Help me! Be on time!”
Make suggestions for improvement, spoken or written, in a helpful spirit. “We are all trying to do our best for the students. Here’s a suggestion … I’m not always right, but this is what I think.”
Avoid tough final judgments like the plague.
2. Don’t be angry, ever. The confrontations always increase.
Find the humorous answer.
- To the eternal departed teacher: I’m going to put bed bugs in your bed.
- Dejected Employee: Did you lose your boyfriend / girlfriend?
3. Make your limits known. If possible, make them a policy. 4. Don’t be overwhelmed by pushy / demanding / talkative teachers / parents. It is better to be alone than to be at the mercy of pushy / demanding / talkative teachers / parents. “Sorry, I don’t have time to talk to you.”
5. When you disagree with your superiors, ask first: is it okay if I express my opinion on this issue?
- Communicate. Keep superiors updated on what you are doing at work.
- Don’t expect superiors to be different. They are unlikely to change. We are the ones who should get along. When a superior is negative with you, do not respond negatively. Rather, try to heal the gap.
6. Acknowledge that you may not be right. If a teacher is conscientious, trustworthy, and honorable, be satisfied. A teacher has the right to his own way of teaching.
7. When a parent complains about a teacher, ask the parent to complain to the teacher before taking any action.
8. As much as possible, resort to politics. Develop written policies that you can turn to. For example: policy: we do not accept children visiting classrooms (children visiting families, where families want the school to take care of children during the school day).
9. A confrontational style is doomed to fail. When you are impatient, annoyed, and authoritarian, you meet resistance from your listener, who finds ways to reward you. Always speak quietly, never raise your voice, be a calm and confident presence.
10. How to say “no”:
“In this school we have to weigh priorities all the time. Our staff is absolutely full of work. I wish we could do more, but we don’t have time. More staff is the only solution.”
“A school has so many constituencies that it is impossible to please them all. We just have to do the best we can, as we see it.”
“We are like parents with hundreds of mothers-in-law and in-laws. We are happy to get advice, but ultimately the decisions about the school have to be ours.”
11. Don’t take too much curriculum. If you do a good job with the basics, you’re doing it right. Watch out for add-ons parents and parent groups like PTA are looking for. When parents want a foreign language in elementary school, Friendly Circle programs, etc., etc., please explain: “Our curriculum is fully booked. We are sorry that we cannot add anything else.”
12. Volunteers are a distraction. You and the teachers have a lot to do without worrying about volunteers. It is true that there are wonderful and helpful people who are good volunteers. However, mixed in with them are those people who are nosy and troublemakers who take too much of their time.
13. The “gifted and talented” programs that base entry on an IQ test are elitist. IQ tests miss specific gifts and talents. Gifted and talented students should receive advanced courses, library projects, correspondence courses, computer software, and additional work on workbooks and kits, depending on what interests them. The Internet is a great resource for these students.
14. Don’t get bogged down in being the disciplinarian of the school, which is what some teachers will want and expect you to be. If a student is “sent to the principal’s office,” have a secretary automatically call the student’s home for a parent to come pick them up and drive them home for the remainder of the day. If a parent is not available, have the student sit in the waiting area until bus time.
15. Keep your focus on the students, they are your mission.
16. Make room for yourself. You make mistakes when you’re in a hurry.