06 April 2008

Where Is the Love?

In February, I posted about the Fine Romance I'm having with an elementary school. Two months in and we're still honeymooning, thank you very much. I still have a lot to learn, but I'm settling in nicely.

One of the teachers remarked about the "love notes" (her term) I leave in their mailboxes. You see, most of the time when I'm in classrooms right now, it isn't because I've been specifically invited. To be sure, the teachers are always gracious and they are used to having a coach around---but I am still imposing myself on their space. Meanwhile, there is always this underlying fear that a coach is the principal's lackey, sent there to spy and report on all of the ways the teacher is miserably failing in the classroom. The simple fact is that I am not anyone's boss and I am certainly not their evaluator. Whatever I see happening in their rooms---for better or worse---is a lot like being in Vegas: it stays there. Anyway, knowing all of this, I have been taking a few minutes after a classroom visit to write a thank you note. One thing I understand is that teachers feel unappreciated. Even if the kids adore you, they wear you down each day. Demands from parents and administration leave less time to be creative with lesson planning. And most of the time, when you are doing the very best you can---no other adults are around to see that...let alone say "Thank you."

The teachers are wishing that their principal would do something tangible like this. They have a need to be wooed and romanced---in a professional sense, of course. Everyone has settled into a comfortable relationship and they're hungry for that little spark again. They want signs that what they're doing is meaningful and appreciated. It's not always enough to know inside that you're teaching you're heart out and have the quiet acceptance of your peers and boss. We need someone to notice that we've done something new with our instruction...to be reassured that our partners don't want someone else. Their teacher hearts need nurturing. I'll see what I can do to talk to the admin and nudge him toward more reminders of this nature. He's a good soul. I know that if I call his attention to this and provide him with some ideas, he'll do the right thing by his staff.

As I've been pondering all this, I wondered if there's something more missing. I think that schools have become impersonal places to work. We are so worried about the professional image we give that we don't pay attention to the human elements lying underneath. I'm not sure what to do about that, except to spend time with each conversation asking about home life, special interests, and so on. Do I encourage a once-a-month potluck lunch for people to share a favourite recipe? Can I offer some activities (walking around the track after school, the occasional stitch-and-bitch...) without appearing like a cruise director?

What would honor you as a person within your professional life?


Clix said...

I dunno... responding to emails or memos in a timely fashion? Or AT ALL? *sigh*

Unknown said...

I love that you leave thank you notes! I've worked with a coach during my first year, I wasn't worried about her impression of me, I just wanted all the help I could get, but after teaching for a bit there can def be a sense that you may be "spying" for the principal.

At this same school each Monday morning the principal had a little one page newsletter of positive observations that she had seen the week before. Each staff member had one waiting in their mailbox in the morning and it was a great way to start the week. She included all staff, not just the teachers, and just gave a little kudos to different things.

SraLra said...

My admin's send us random little candy bags and such, but I remain unimpressed. They have special trinket "N"'s to hang up to recognize people doing a good job, and I'm not impressed either. These are good ideas in theory, but I'm out in a trailer and have not even BEEN observed by the higher ups, so all they know about me comes from complaints, pretty much...if they can even put my name with my face.

I would say I'd like the positive observation newsletters, but I know it'd never touch me, because who would see anything I did unless I said, "Hey! Look at me!" I shouldn't have to jump up and down to be recognized, should I?

I miss when everybody knew everybody, like at my old, small school

Hugh O'Donnell said...

I always valued verbal praise, but the short, written note was the most appreciated and I kept them all!

If you want to make an impression and encourage teachers, keep the notes coming. Nothing else compares across the board.

The Science Goddess said...

Francie---I like the newsletter idea. I think we do too little to celebrate things along the way. There's always a "but..." that seems to cling to every compliment these days. It's time we moved away from that.

Laura---I know what you mean about working for invisible admins. I agree that it shouldn't be our responsibility as teachers to toot our own horns. We need others to see these things about us. It truly validates the efforts we make on a daily basis.