Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Are School Supervisors Necessary?

An interesting debate broke out at Accountable Talk over the suggestion that one way to improve the schools is to fire all the administrators. Yesterday, I posted a comment from a substitute friend of mine who commented to the teachers how nice and relaxed the school seemed and was told the principal had been out for quite a while. One of the admin/hacks made some comments about letting the teachers or kids run the school, as if that is equivalent – the typical view so many paternalistic admins have of teachers – they're big children.

AT, NYC Educator and Chaz talked about whether teachers should run schools or are better being in the classroom. The principal I met in Spain who was elected for a 3 year term by colleagues, parents and even students, did teach a few periods a day. You can hire people to do schedules and the scut work. I've known many school secretaries who I would trust to run the basic school functions – and they often do. But a principal should be the instructional leader and focus on that and teaching is part of that process. Teachers should have a major say in who this person is.

Teachers should have a major role in running schools. They have the most vested interest in the school being well run. Even more than parents, who are mostly concerned with their own child and have no long-term career like commitment to a school that teachers have.

Some of my leftist friends who view teachers strictly as workers would take exception to this position. They say that in a capitalist society that denies the kids who struggle the most the funds and resources to succeed, teachers taking on this role are doomed to failure and they should take on the classic role of workers struggling against the bosses. And they may be right.

The UFT, on the other hand, takes the position that teachers should be professionals and collaborate, but not aspire to run things, which has proven to be a lose-lose position for the teachers of NYC and wherever this philosophy has taken root.

I would come half way if teachers could at least control who the principal would be, even if they don't run the school directly. Thus, some schools would choose a business person if the teachers wanted to control the instructional component themselves, while schools with more inexperienced staffs might prefer a strong instructional leader.

About 12 years ago I suggested to the Delegate Assembly that we oppose tenure for administrators - somewhat with tongue in cheek and with some humor. I made the point that a major reason teachers needed tenure was to protect us from bad admins.

I may have gotten about 5 votes because the Unity machine, which always seems to be awfully worried about those poor admins, opposed it. Maybe because so many Unity hacks become supervisors themselves.

My point was, why give strength and make it harder to remove people who were often teachers' major enemies?

After the meeting, Sandy Feldman, in the only time she ever said a word to me, came over laughing and shook my hand, saying how she agreed with what I said but couldn't do it politically. She even offered me space in the NY Teacher to make the same points.

It was an interesting insight into Sandy's roots, which were as a real teacher involved in organizing a union in the late 50's and early 60's. While she and Shanker were certainly part of the problems we face today, that spirit for what it was worth, has been missing under the Weingarten regime. One reason why a teacher union leader should have been a real teacher. Maybe a chapter leader who has to face real problems at the micro level before tackling the bigger issues.

Some say Mike Mulgrew, rumored to be Randi's successor, has some of that. If he does, I'll bet wearing the Unity crown will wear that attitude away pretty quickly. But here's hoping I'm wrong.


  1. I heard the same thing. I still hope it is Mike Mendel as the new President of the UFT...A real classroom teacher.

  2. Chaz
    I hate to disappoint you but no matter which Mike it would be, there will be little difference from Randi.

    Don't get me wrong. I like Mike Mendel - used to sit behind him at NY Ranger games and he's never treated me with less than respect, though I hear too many stories that go the other way. Mendel is heading on the way out before long and they do not want a caretaker. The UFT has had 3 pres in over 40 years.

    I don't know Mulgrew but he gets some good marks from people I respect. And if he does get it expect a long time reign. However I'm still not convinced Randi is not running in 2010. One would expect her to hand over the job to Mulgrew now so he can serve a year before having to run. That window is closing. If she runs in 2010, one scenario is to step down soon after the election and turn it over so Mulgrew would not have to run till 2013.
    Remember the UFT is the power behind the AFT so Randi needs to make sure that base is secure before she leaves.

    If an opposition were to really grow and show some legs, that would throw a monkey wrench into their plans. But that depends on whether people like you are ready to jump in.
    If it's still a small group of activists, they will be running things forever.

  3. Mike Mulgrew is a goon who was used as an enforcer in the mid-90's to keep teachers in check at certain schools. He raises his voice and tries to intimidate teachers.

    Anyone who suggests that he will be better than Randi is dead wrong. And he will not be Randi's successor. He's not smart enough. He's not subtle enough. He lacks nuance. These are three prerequisites today for the president's position.

  4. Hey Norm, my friends at Kipp tell me that Randi and her crew are very busy trying to recruit all the TFA ..70% of Kipp staff. This will be very interesting. More dues for do do!

  5. There needs to be a coordinated effort to even the playing field for those challenging the incumbent in the next election, but those attempts have floundered in the past. This time, however, there are more anti-UFT groups and angry teachers who know who sold them down the river. Of course, the UFT will roll out the moles and spies. Time to round up the usual suspects.

  6. Is that the same Mike Mulgrew who rumor has it when he was a chapter leader had guidance counselors as his teacher delegates? If he didn't even run a chapter by the rules, how do you expect him to run the Union? Please do some research and enlighten us.

  7. I remember that coming up at an Exec bd meeting. And when 2 non-Unity people won the election at Grady, somehow it was re-engineered despite protests that the Unity Exec Bd turned down and a new election was held so Unity candidates could win.

    So Mulgrew seems to be a JAUH - Just Another Unity Hack.

    But of course he could run the union if he can't run a chapter by the rules. Randi does it that way.


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