Tick, Tock: Nausea, Cold Sweats and Nightmares: School Begins in a Week

“Tommy, get up, you’re going to be late to school.”

“I hate school, I’m not going.”

“It’s the first day, you have to go.”

“The kids don’t like me; the teachers hate me and make fun of me.”

“Tommy, you have to get up and go to school, you’re the principal.”

Monday morning principals will be gathering for a meeting with their superintendents.  Some will be bubbly and evanescent, others, aloof.  The supe will praise the principals for raising state test scores and single out a few for special kudos. I spoke with a long time principal.

I can’t wait for these meetings to end. Everything is scripted; I learned not to ask questions, questions are construed as criticism. We have a top down system with no input from the field, I’m expected to salute and carry out orders. My kids struggle to pass regents exams and I’m expected to schedule Advanced Placement classes. I understand we all must accept kids with social and emotional problems; however, without accompanying services, how can I help the kids. Education by press release is not education.

Principals are not happy.

For teachers, another year.

Elementary school teachers will be arriving in a few days, a week before they are required to attend. It takes to few days to set up a classroom, cloths lines with geometric shapes, word walls, bulletin boards, checking out books and supplies: getting the classroom perfect for that first day of school.

Some schools will hold retreats, a full day of schoolwide planning. Setting up google.doc sites or drop boxes so teachers can share lesson plans and student work; a principal distributes the school schedule, “Any questions? Anything we should change?”  Building a team means distributive leadership, changing one schedule impacts another teacher; teachers must learn to resolve potential conflicts and problems. English teachers always discuss/debate the books for the school year, the assignments, and all grades and subject areas create a calendar of lessons, arranging for common planning time, and, curriculum maps.

A new teacher gets a call from an experienced teacher, “Hi. I understand you’re joining us; we’re on the same grade, let’s get together and plan together.”

For the school leader creating a collaborative and nurturing environment is crucial – schools are defined by the culture of the school.

First year teachers, mid-career and senior teachers must feel valued.

Whether the school is a Renewal School struggling to survive, a high functioning school or one of the hundreds in the middle culture defines schools.

A few principals in Brooklyn will hand out a list of bars that have special Happy Hour prices for teachers.

Some principals will warn teachers that just because scores jumped this year scores will have to jump again next year, an implied threat, others will begin by congratulating a teacher who became engaged, welcoming back a teacher from maternity leave – creating that nurturing culture.

A cluster of male teachers in a serious conversation around a computer: checking an education website? No – setting up the football pool.

For school leaders school opening is a series of typical crises:

  • An email from a teacher, “I’m not returning.” A last minute vacancy.
  • Budget questions that you thought were resolved last year – you have to make last minute budget cuts.
  • Kids show up with paperwork; they want to register, they’re all overage and years behind in test scores.

School climate and school culture are different qualities. Unfortunately as I visit schools, sadly, I don’t find enough  productive climates and cultures; in fact, too often I see toxic cultures; too many schools with adequate test scores and schools in which “bitching” and complaining is commonplace.

The principal who I referenced above:

I do what’s best for my kids and teachers, I learn how to navigate the system, I keep my head down, I ignore stupid rules, I don’t want any articles about my school, we have a great school and we know it. I measure my success by the comments from students as they succeed in high school and beyond.

Welcome to the 2016-2017 school year.


3 responses to “Tick, Tock: Nausea, Cold Sweats and Nightmares: School Begins in a Week

  1. I retired from teaching back in 2005 after 30 years of teaching, and a couple of weeks before every school year I still wake up from traumatic dreams of returning to the classrooms I will never enter again. Teaching is the hardest and most demanding job I ever had and I’ve had my share of jobs and dangerous experiences from the private sector, to the U.S. Marines, into the private sector again until I became a public school teacher when I was thirty.


    • Retired- no more Public Enemy Number One

      Thank you, Mr. Lofthouse, for your frank and revealing comments. I used to think that the dread and the nightmares especially before Labor Day were mine alone.

      We must all remember that recognizing Labor Day is recognizing the durable and worthy sacrifices of well-intentioned human beings who are not merely “warm bodies filling spaces.”


      • When I was teaching, I often felt as if others outside of education thought of me as a vacuum cleaner, a robot, that was turned on when the students arrived and then turned off and put back in the closet once the children were gone. It felt like almost everyone who didn’t work in public education didn’t see teachers as humans with a normal life like everyone else.


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