The pyramid shape of business and government organizations does not bode well for education systems. Not that there should be a hundred school superintendents to one teacher, but rather that the level of importance, of strength, educational prowess and excellence, not only should but must be found in the classroom not the principal/superintendent’s office(s). Successful and powerful educational organizations be they primary, secondary, or higher educational systems are marked by successful and powerful teachers.
As an educational consultant I’ve been in many schools and undeniably the schools with best attendance, test scores, least discipline problems, and greatest graduation rates had the best teachers. In fact these schools most often had invisible administrators. I would venture to say that these schools could easily have functioned without a “principal” (administrator) utilizing an administrative staff to communicate with local and state authorities about policy and procedures. I remember one high school where the principal for health reasons was more often than not, not present during the school days with little or no impact to the faculty and no impact on the students.
The administrative function in educations needs revisiting. The term “principal” used to mean “lead teacher” meaning the principal lead the school using his/her teaching skills as the main teacher in the building; not the person who signs travel requisitions. We need all our efforts focused on securing the best teachers and (here’s a sore spot) pay them accordingly. We need to remove the “principals” from their offices, send them back to the classrooms, and reorganize the “administrative” functions of schools and of county/district offices. It is that superior academic program, lead by those excellent teachers, that identifies outstanding schools.
One of the beautiful and special times in a Cave Dweller’s life is when they run across one of the Pearls in education. A student who because of or in spite of some outside or inside conflict or problem manages to do their best and succeeds. I hear about these Pearls often from administrators as I visit their schools. You have to have been a Cave Dweller, or in a similar type position with teenagers, to understand the relationship.
Years ago I noticed this darkly clad freshman, who had her fingernails painted black, her eye makeup and hair was black, and as often as she could get away with it, she would hide her face with a hat. I did not have her in my class until her sophomore year, and then she sat in the back of class always looking down. She drew. Her art work was dark. As it turned out she liked me, so that by the end of her sophomore year, on traditional schedule, she would write me short notes on the tests I would give, sometimes offering alternative solutions to the problems, but more often asking deep philosophical questions about life in general.
Her story as it turns out was a life living in a car while her mom had sex for money in the house to support her drug habit. She could not go into the house while her mother was either “entertaining” or using, so she’d slip in only to wash and would sleep in her car. In the mornings she would go in and check on her mom, feed her, and then go to school. After school, off to a job at a food store. My wife and I bought her some clothes, food occasionally, and similar items throughout her junior year in school. When school began again in August her senior year, she walked into my classroom and at first I did not realize it was her. She wore color. Her hair was its original light brown, eyes a bright hazel, and she was smiling and chatting to others. She still wrote to me on all her tests, and despite dismal grades from her freshman year, carried a 4.0 the remaining three years.
On graduation night all the seniors are given a rose and told they should give it to the person who most influenced their lives — a parent, relative, friend, educator. As she approached me with her rose I could see before she made it to stand in front of me the tears streaming down her cheeks. There were no words I could say; no words came from her.
She lives in another state, happily married, a successful teacher. She is my Pearl. Cave Dweller Pearls are different in that they are often times a solitary accomplishment, not a collaboration or church or community thing, just the Cave Dweller and the Pearl. At this time of year as hosts of high school seniors cross the stage and receive their diploma, amongst every class are Pearls of wonderment. So listen while you attend graduation because somewhere in the audience there’s a Cave Dweller clapping louder than anyone for their Pearl.