Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just a bit of a break from the norm...

...of all that hard-core dance that has gotten to be a little bit out of control, it's cool to dance, but what about a groove that--

Oh, oops, sorry. This post isn't about the Fresh Prince (although wouldn't that be awesome), it's about one of your favorite words and mine, Reflection (TM). Not one of your favorite words, you say? That's incredible! You must be one of those poor, unfortunate soooooouls who never had the pleasure of going to Teacher School, then, because boy oh boy do we love to reflect. We love to do it, we love to talk about it, and we really love writing two-page papers about it. [1]

Anyway, I actually found myself going through the reflective process earlier this afternoon (read: thinking to myself) about my job as a principal [2] and my upcoming professional evaluation. My thoughts about this exciting event are many-fold (manifold, ha ha), but I'm not sure that any of them are actually constructive thoughts. To whit:

1. The last time we did evaluations of our staff, I printed up a little form that I would put on the inside of each of their admin folders which I would use to track in-house trainings they attended, as well as any on-their-own-time professional development they were doing: if they were taking classes, going to seminars, even just reading books to try and improve their skills. I told my supervisor I was doing this (because I'm supposed to keep him In The Loop), and he thought it was such a brilliant idea (it is) that he made a fancier version of the form, with our letterhead on it, and sent it around to all the other managers telling them to do what I was doing.[3] So we as managers also have one of these forms in our own folders, and I've been writing down all the trainings I attended, all the books (yes, plural) I've been reading, and when I go take the exam to get a math endorsement added onto my certificate, that will go on the list. Normally there would also be credit classes I've been taking on that list, because I really do work my butt off to always be learning and getting better at helping Teh Kidz. But this particular chart only goes back over the last six months and I've been paying off debt and it's too expensive to take classes at the same time so it's actually a pretty light P.D. half-year for me, compared to most of my half-years. Even so, it will be cool to have a written record of the hours I spend improving my work performance, because we have never had that before as an organization.

2. I am 100% convinced that no single other manager will have anything written on that sheet.

3. I am equally convinced that there will be no repercussions for this.

That sounds pessimistic, but consider this: we have bi-monthly Friday meetings that are "mandatory." However, one manager has missed at least half of them. Sure, she will always have called and given a reason, and usually good ones - out of town, sick, iced in during a rough winter week, etc. - but you know what? We know the meeting schedule a year in advance, and if I can schedule my out-of-town trips for non-meeting weeks, then so should she. I've also come when I'm feeling under the weather, and I've gotten a ride in if my car was having issues. At any given Friday meeting, at least 2 (of five!) managers will be absent. I have missed one Friday meeting in four years of working there, and that was because they moved the meeting from a scheduled Friday (a year in advance, remember) to a Friday we were supposed to have free, at the last minute. Because I am a responsible employee, I had scheduled my going-out-of-town for the non-meeting weekend, and they moved the meeting into it, a week before. Even so that was one Friday meeting out of 116 Friday meetings. These other people have all been managers less time than I have and have missed way more meetings. That's dumb. If the meetings are supposed to be mandatory, they should have consequences for missing them. If they're not really mandatory, please let me know so I can start sleeping the hell in on Fridays. Jerks. Anyway you can tell I have recently been feeling frustrated that I take this job seriously and work hard at it and other people don't, and yet there are no consequences for them. (I should also mention there are no perks for me: my salary is a bit higher than theirs, but only because I've been doing it for more years and so have been around for a few more annual salary adjustments.)

4. It feels like now that I have written proof of my hard work, excellent reviews from everybody (students, employees, parents, and every single person in the administration), I should be able to go in for a confident re-examination of my salary. Not only do managers at our competitor school start at twenty thousand dollars more per year (how I wish I could say I was guessing at that, or making it up), but I demonstrably work harder than any other manager in our organization. I also have more experience (at our school OR overall), more certification (not required to work in our public school but it makes our school look good that I have it), better teacher retention (and better teacher involvement in school-wide projects, as well as better teacher attendance at "mandatory" trainings), better parent reviews, and better graduation rates. I also am so full of good ideas that the supervisor takes everything I do and starts making it policy, and when he suggests things to do (like ways to drum up business), he discovers that I have already thought of them and been doing them for months. For instance, I had instituted a system for follow-ups with exited students before he called a meeting to "try and brainstorm" ways to do this, and I had been doing it for two years. This is why I had better re-enroll percentages than any other manager, but nobody had bothered to ask why (if they noticed). He even has me train new managers how to do this job. "Send them to the expert!" he laughingly says. Everybody at admin says things like that.

Now I know by this point the egotism is getting vomit-inducing, but I beg you to bear with me. I am not normally an over-confident person, by any means. I own not one but two T-shirts making fun of my own shyness, I will readily admit that I have the world's shittiest memory, I can't learn languages for crap, I suck at every conceivable sport [4], and I use parentheses to an absolutely ludicrous extent. I don't think I am the best boss ever - in fact I have had no training in it at all and am just floundering my way through, trying to get lucky - but I do try, and I get as much feedback from my teachers as possible in order to try to Be a Better Boss. I don't think my ideas are the best ever - that's why I share them with other people, to improve them. I honestly do not send them to my supervisor so that he can tell everybody else to be more like me. I am really not that stuck-up. Really!

But I do work my BUTT off for this job. I read four different books (three of which were useless) about defiant teenagers, because they baffle me and I really do want to learn WTF I am supposed to do with them. I am trying to find some books about educational leadership that are not just filled with BS (although I have failed utterly on this so far). I spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours going through the Professional Certification process in order to renew my teaching certificate, something that would automatically net me more money in other schools, and I didn't even have to do it, either. I've taken classes on all of the major learning disorders we run into at my school, so that I can know better how to develop appropriate programs, how to reach the kids, and how to talk to their parents (and their psychs), not to mention making our school look good when people talk to me and assume that everyone in the organization is as educated and stays up on the current research about all this. I work a lot of hours at the school, but even when I'm not at the school I spend a lot of time trying to be better at what I will do when I am back at the school :P Not because I think it will advance my career or increase my salary (ha ha ha ha) but because I am fanatically devoted to what I do. I know I am fantastic at it, and I work hard, on a consistent basis, to be even better.

BUT (there's always a but, isn't there), The Economy Is Bad. Enrollments have been down at the school for about a year and a half now, and our revenues aren't what they were. They'll eventually go back up, but it's been rough. I've been working hard to keep expenses down and enrollments up (my enrolled hours were over FIVE TIMES that of any other manager last month), but overall the company is struggling.

Not a good time to ask for a raise. Sigh.

5. In real evaluations, you should identify things that you have improved during this period, and also come up with some things you want to work on for later. This is real, honest reflection. What would I truly like to be better at? Well, I'd like to be better at dealing with crazy parents--how to soothe them, and where to draw the line. I wish I had a mentor manager who had been doing this longer than me who I could talk to and learn from her experiences. I used to have one (which is why I wrote "her") but she quit. And now I'm the most experienced manager in the organization. With only four years under my belt. And yes, that is even more than my supervisor. And no, I don't want him to be my mentor manager because a) while I do like him, he's a bit of a pompous, out-of-touch-with-real-people windbag and b) I actually have more experience, in my absurdly limited tenure, than he does. That is just stupid. [5] So if I were to tell him that is my goal, he would wax pedantic about listening and validating feelings and other meaningless drivel. Not only would that not be practically useful, it would make me want to bop him on the head with an inflatable baseball bat even more than I already do, and trust me, that is a lot. I could say I want to get better at marketing, and getting people into the school, because I want more people in the school, but honestly I do NOT want to get better at that. I want to have a marketing director who does that so that I can do my actual job, overseeing student programs and managing the campus. I hate marketing and sales :P I am having a hard time identifying things I could tell him I want to try and improve because honestly as far as he's concerned he needs to recognize first the things that I am fan-fricking-tastic at, and because he'd think that means I am not awesome if I am admitting imperfections. Plus he'd think that means he's supposed to teach me whatever it is I said I wanted to work on. Oh, buddy, let's not go there.

6. All of this means, though, that I am not being very good at reflection. Because in reflection, you're supposed to take all the problems that you are assume are other people's problems, and discover that they're actually your problems and you can fix them. But my supervisor really IS a tool :P And I really AM awesome at my job. Is there ever a point where you are allowed to say, I am currently pretty proud of my performance, actually, and I think I'm doing a great job? Yes, of course there is more I can learn (for instance I still have not found a helpful book on how to deal with oppositional-defiant teenagers, and they still completely flummox me), but that for right now, just for this one little moment, can I feel like I am "exceeds expectations" and not "needs improvement"? We all, always, need some kind of improvement, right, but can I just this once have my frickin' gold star?

And maybe another twenty thousand dollars? :P

[1] Any of you veteran teachers out there - did they make you go on and on about reflection when you went to Teacher School? Or is this a new breed of bullcrap, and they had different bullcrap in your programs?
[2] or as close as we have to a principal in our AlternaEd situation, anyway
[3] This happens all the time. Seriously. It kind of gives me a complex, like the other managers are going to hate me for being "that sister" who your parents are always telling you to live up to. I just want to do my job and be great at it. But I sometimes think supervisor puts me in an odd position. Anyway.
[4] except for, it turns out, kickball played with a tennis racked, but who could have conceived of that!?
[5] He does have more experience going to meetings, knowing everyone in the world, and schmoozing people, which is why he is the head and I am not, and trust me, that is exactly how it should be - I wouldn't want that job in a million years - but he is not that helpful to me as a supervisor.


Aunt Becky said...

I am terrible at reflection.

nitza said...

I'm not even that great at the kind that involves a mirror. Lol.

Also, yay, a comment! ;)