Friday, October 10, 2003

Politics, Politics

School politics, that is.

Here's a little more background on my school. We are a very small, public magnet school, founded only last year. We have only 120-odd students and 8 staff members (including principal & school aide). We share a building with a much larger elementary school, and technically we are only a "program," not really our own school. All of us on staff are smart, driven, and very hard-working, committed to educational equity for low-income and minority children, and interested in providing an excellent education to our students. Needless to say, we have strong personalities and opinions, and all in the interest of the kids! So, as we try to run our school collectively, we inevitably bump into conflicts, lots and lots of conflicts, and the school is too small for anyone to just hide out and avoid getting involved (which is a good thing).

This week was one of those weeks, when many issues came up between staff members. The details are complicated and not that interesting to those who aren't involved, but here's an overview.

Sometimes the principal doesn't take time to find out what's really going on before interrupting or stating her opinion; today, she barged into a teacher's classroom and asked if a fight was going on, since the room was pretty loud. The teacher maintains that the kids were just very actively engaged in a content-related game, and that her tone was inappropriate. Other teachers have similar issues with our principal about interruptions of their lessons for silly things that could easily wait.

Then, she gave the entire school lunch detention for not lining up properly at the end of recess; for two days, the kids have to come upstairs after lunch and read quietly in their homerooms. This raised a lot of problems: Do ALL the children really deserve this punishment? Should we lose our (working!) lunch periods to deal with a detention that someone else gave the kids (that one got resolved - the teachers who already have lunch duty oversaw the detentions)? And whenever the kids get lunch detention, they are grumpy and resistant during their afternoon classes - surely there's another solution?

I usually manage to project an air of professionalism, and I always try to act in the way that I expect others to act, so most of the nasty stuff isn't aimed at me. Plus, I have an invisible layer of foam around me that absorbs a lot of crap and filters out negative tones-of-voice, leaving only what the person really wants to say... Not that I can absorb everything - I've certainly been drawn into conflicts at our school - but I just seem able to discuss what needs to be discussed, ignore what ought to be ignored, and accept things that are just plain how it's gonna be. Other teachers are more sensitive or have hotter tempers or longer memories, and they end up more deeply embroiled in these conflicts. At least two teachers left school today really angry... several of us discussed the issues in the school parking lot for ten minutes, but it isn't clear to me how we are going to bring up the legitimate issues with my principal without putting her on the defensive, since most of the issues do relate to her. *sigh*

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