How to Take a Good Teacher and Turn Them into a Bad Administrator

In the world of education, there isn't a way to go 'up', unless you go the route of administration.  When you begin your teaching career, you're placed on a salary schedule, given a set of classes, and then you begin your career.  You do this for 30-some years, and then retire.  Good teachers communicate their information better than bad teachers.  They may get more leadership roles in schools, may have better schedules and classrooms, and may therefore enjoy their job more, but there isn't really a way to go 'up' in this role.  Even if you're great and the person next to you sucks, you get the same raise every year.  

So what happens, quite often, is that a teacher wants to make more money, wants a 'promotion', and goes the route of administration - the only significant pay raise.  (Ex. In Grand Rapids, admin make, on average, $20K more than teachers; In Chicago, it was about $40K).  Even when it stems from a good place "I want to make this place better!" this logic is flawed.  The things that make a teacher good, and the things that make an administrator good are very different things.  

But, few people with power realize this, and a lot of districts take good teachers and 'promote' them to administrators.  The logic is like this: since this person was good as a teacher, they'll be good as an administrator.  They know the schools, relate well to kids, and can control a room: obviously this will be good.  This logic is just as flawed as the assumption that a good athlete would make a good coach.  

The skills needed for both jobs are entirely different.  Good teachers are knowledgeable about a subject, able to communicate that subject, and can relate the content of that subject to a wide range of people.  Good teachers are compassionate, forgiving, helpful, and take specific instances into consideration on a frequent basis.  A good teacher is adaptable, flexible, and creative.  In every decision a teacher makes, they're weighing the good of the class v the good of the student.  You may adapt one assignment for a particular class, change a book for a certain group, or allow one student much extra time on a task.  This is because your job is to teach every student and how a teacher does this must change.  Sometimes, this might mean passing someone that should have failed.  Sometimes that means allowing one more retake, or not writing someone up and instead allowing them to ask forgiveness (ex. 'teachable moments').  In an English class, this may mean not failing a student for plagiarism, because their mistake was close enough to an accident that you can use that same mistake to help many other students not plagarize.  It might mean dropping the lowest test score of a student so that their average is an 80% rather than a 79% at the end of a semester.  Or, it might mean offering 'extra credit' for learning opportunities to help a student pass your class.

And these all may be great things, but that's up to a teacher.  The problem is that these same positive attributes of compassion and flexibility actually hurt an administrator.  Often, when these good teachers get promoted, they use these skills on the school as a whole.  It's very common to hear an administrator say, "In my class I used to..." and this is a major problem.  Already, they're showing the lens that they look at students through.  I've heard more than one administrator say, "These are all my kids" or "I view every kid in this school like my own child". 

This is problematic for a few reasons, but one is: what if you're a bad parent?  

Being a parent and in charge of the good of the whole are completely different things.  

Administrators have the job and responsibility of educating the collective whole.  And this must have firm rules.  If the rules say "Anyone found with a cellphone in class will have this cellphone confiscated until a parent or guardian collects it at the school office" you better make damn sure to follow this.  The second that you allow one student to use that phone, while confiscating the other, you just showed an entire building that rules are subject to the breaker of the rule.  (This is also an example of when a good teacher may show forgiveness: ex. a student has never used a phone in class, and it rings loudly during a quiz.  They simply forgot to silence the phone.  Maybe you allow them to quickly perform that task and put it away without consequence.)

Too often, what happens is that the good teacher was promoted to administration.  Then they work in this role for a while, but are never good at it.  They use their teacher skills to look at everything, putting in place rules and policy that have no good for the collective whole.  They cut deals in almost every situation, and the overall structure of a place goes down.  Without even trying, I can think of seven such teachers that have been placed in these roles.  I've seen their schools and approach, and they hurt the school overall.

When this happens, when you take a good teacher and place them in the role of administration, you're setting them up for failure.  But, the other thing you're doing is removing a good teacher from a classroom.  So, in turn, you're actually hurting the district that you claimed you were there to help.  

So, simply promoting someone into the position of power, because they were good at one job, is how you take a good teacher, and turn them into a bad administrator.  (For this one, the examples will definitely help).

Pt. 12 Examples

In the last post, I talked about how good teachers are often made administrators, but argued that the skills of a good teacher do not necessarily translate to good administrator.  In this post, I will provide three specific examples of what I'm talking about.  Examples of people that were taken from one role, placed into another, with devestating effects.

1. The Damn Good Teacher

I had one administrator that told me, verbatim during a post-conference, "I was a damn good teacher."  For the record, I hear that only from this administrator.  Some colleagues disagreed with this person's self-assessment.  

(Tangent: What I should have said was, "You should go back to that, because you suck at this."  I didn't, though, because I was too worried about playing the game and having a bad evaluation.  But then I did have a bad evaluation, from this person, so my worries were all for naught.  Especially, because this person used their own children so much that I quite literarally had to ask, "Could you please stop bringing up your own children".  This was responded to by this, "I consider every one of these students to be my own children".  Ah, no wonder you suck at this.)

This admin perfectly exemplifies the problems of promoting a 'damn good teacher'.   This same person was 'damn good' in middle school, yet 'promoted' to a high school administrator.  In this person's new role, they were in charge of curricular matters over the entire building, including evaluating teaching, though they'd taught nothing but science and had zero experience in this grade.  So when you asked practical advice, there was no answer.  I tested this theory.  I asked, "What would your recommend?" to a specific piece of 'feedback'.   The response: "Talk to the curriculum coach".  Read: I have no idea.  This was not helpful at all.  This person was simply promoted because someone thought this person would be good.  They aren't.  

But the real irony is that this person is currently doing the district a double disservice.  Because by accepting an administrative role, this person removed one "damn good teacher" from the district, while adding another terrible administrator.  

The district is at a net-loss.

2. The Next-in-Line Promotion.

Another example of how this happens, is that a school experiences a sudden change in leadership (like the principal leaves) and they must scramble to find a replacement.  Rather than due dilligence, they go to the 'next in line'.  For example, there was a principal that was hired as a Dean of Students.  This person was personable, and talented at this job.  No one would doubt this.  As a Dean, this person was great, took the job seriously, and had a very positive impact.  So, when the principal took a higher position in the district, this person was 'next-in-line' and promoted the head principal.  The problem was that this person was a terrible principal.  This person had no academic training or teaching experience.  So, while this person was good with people and relationships, when it came to managing teachers and curriculum - most of whom had decades of experience and masters degrees, this person was immediately recognized as a failure.  This person had zero teaching training, or content training, yet was thrown into creating and evaluating all of it.  This person needed help editing evaluations, and didn't know any of the terms that go with academic language.  So, while this person was a very good fit for a dean, the 'promotion' hurt everyone involved.  

The problem compounds, though, because with the general nature of people, once we get promoted, we almost never say we deserve a demotion.  

3.  They Know More Than Anyone Else

Another sad example of how this happens is akin to the big fish in a small pond.  This usually happens when a place is looking for stability or a new direction, so goes for a short term - rather than a long term - solution.  One example is a building was doing some experimental education.  An interesting program.  One person had more knowledge and training than the rest of the staff, so was considered the expert on a particular type of teaching.  Due to this 'expertise', this person was placed as the principal of the entire program.  The short term solution may have worked.  But this person was then awarded the long term position.  But this was awarded not based upon qualifications or experience, but rather because this person knew more than their peers.  The problem was that when the program expanded, there were several people that knew more than the Big Fish.  Consequently, the long-term suffered due to the short-term.  No good.