July 14, 2007

Administrative Support?

I’ve been critical of administrators in the past. I continue to take issue with many of the shortcomings of administrators in general. However, I have to give credit where credit is due, and recently my principal went to the mat for me, and won.

The issue had to do with technology in my classroom; the old computers needed to be replaced. I was teaching on Apple Macintosh computers. They had survived for seven years, way beyond their life expectancy or usefulness. In the Spring, the principal came to me and explained that money was available for new machines and asked me to put together a proposal. I did. I selected new Apple Macintosh computers to replace the old ones because I believe that they are the best tool for the job. (By the way, I do not work for Apple Computer, I really don’t. I can’t even get them to send me a nifty black polo shirt. Nothing.) I sent off my request and got back to teaching. However, having no power to guarantee my selection, I’m just the classroom teacher afterall, I wasn’t very confident that I’d get what I had asked for.

In addition, I had a feeling that my selection might cause some problems at the district level. You see, I work for a Windows/Dell ONLY district. Someone somewhere decided that it would be easier to support a single platform, and they selected Windows/Dell. That’s fine. I can understand the need to simplify the support process and the benefits of everyone having the same type of computer hardware and software. BUT, mine is a special case. I teach multimedia classes. More specifically, University of California category F (Fine Arts) approved college prep Art classes, not ROP computer classes. I’m in no way knocking ROP computer classes, their hugely important. I teach the elements of Art and principals of design, NOT THE SOFTWARE. Again, I believe that the Apple Macintosh computer is the better tool for the courses I teach.

To further complicate the situation, the money to pay for the new machines could not be spent until July 1st. School starts on August 15th, so the purchase process had to be expedited. The purchase requisition floated in limbo until the end of June when it finally hit the district technology coordinators desk. After the technology coordinator read the requisition we spoke on the phone at length defending our two positions without resolve. As a result, representatives from both Apple and Adobe, who writes software for Windows, were invited to make presentations to a panel including most of the district technology support staff, my principal, and myself. Five hours over two days were spent listening and carefully considering the merits of both groups of software applications. While I was thoroughly impressed by what Adobe had to offer my mind was not changed. Neither was the mind of the district technology coordinator… at first.

The last three paragraphs have been prologue to what happened next. I went on at length because I felt it was important for you the reader to see the whole picture. To recap: I was placed in a situation where I was asked by my supervisor to make a decision and I made it. However, I was given no power at all to enforce my decision, and my choices were rejected at the district level. District 1, Teacher 0, end of story, right?

Wrong, the story continues. Instead of my principal turning to me at the end of both presentations and saying, “oh well, we tried, enjoy your new PCs,” she began to ask questions of the technology coordinator. Keep in mind that this is not the most “tech-savvy” (her words) person in the world. The Principal stressed that this decision should be prioritized with the curriculum and the needs of the students at the top of the list. The technology coordinator agreed. The Principal pressed on by asking about the potential problems that having two platforms on the same network would create. What at first appeared to be a monumental problem, quickly dissolved into something “doable.” I kept my mouth shut. The end of the story was that in spite of district policy deciding against the teacher’s choice for his classroom, the principal stood up for the teacher and fought for victory and won. I’m getting new Apple Macintosh computers for my classroom.

As a teacher I have to say that it is a wonderful feeling when I am given the respect I feel that I deserve, and when instead of being told what, how, when, where, and why I will teach, I’m asked, “what do you need to be successful with your students in your classroom?” And then I get it. Sure, it’s rare, even in the best districts, with the best administrators. But it happened to me, and for that I am very thankful.

I think that sometimes we teachers forget our place in the world. Not in a bad way. But because we get dumped on so much, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance that we make as individuals building up the lives of the students in our classrooms. I can’t even get curtains to block out the sun so that the kids can clearly see my LCD projection. I’ve been asking for them for four years! But then, every once in a while we’ll get that special note, or an email, or phone message from a parent or a former student that makes us say, “oh yea, that’s why I do this.” And sometimes, after being told there’s not enough money in the budget for more microscopes, or we must teach these standards on these days, and give this test before that date by our administrators, the administrators are able to do something extraordinarily significant to support the teachers. Sure, it’s their job, and they get paid more than us, and they’re really just Sith anyway (Star Wars reference), but I believe that in their hearts, most administrators want the same thing the teachers want: to do what’s best for the kids. Sometimes the administrators fail, and sometimes they save the day.