Understanding Why Some Teachers and Administrators are Inept

Was talking to a friend the other day about bosses. It has me thinking but having had dozens of bosses, here is what I’ve noticed. Some manage our of fear. They do what they can to keep a lid on what they perceive as a train wreck waiting to happen. They are defensive, bossy, controlling, and will resort to threats, shaming and humiliation, not because they don’t like you but because they themselves are holding on by their fingernails, avoiding impending doom. And if you are working for someone like that, I say, don’t let their rainy day spoil your sunny day.

Other bosses, accept, and embrace the fact that the job at hand can best be done though effort, passion, risk taking, and the inevitable messes it creates, but accept that is part of being great and making progress. they acknowledge their own liabilities and others , but emphasize the wondrous, diverse, and unique skills that we all bring. They tolerate things that might not fit their personality, so as to allow the strengths, such as creativity to soar.

So if you are in the unfortunate position of working for someone that seems like a control freak, critical, and threatening, accept that they are on a learning curve, but that doesn’t mean their assessment of you is accurate. Be the awesome creative, incredible person that you are. Everything is temporary anyway. The job. The boss. The hassles. The only thing that matters is loving what you do, making a difference for yourself and the others that are lucky enough to be in your circle of influence.

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I read a great article years ago about how and why teachers leave the profession and why it seems as though the quality of teachers we get is inferior to the teachers we have now.  I’d have to say the same goes for administration.  In a nut shell, back in the day, women had fewer choices of careers.  It was primarily secretaries, nurses, and teachers.  I’m willing to bet that the men in education made their way up the ladder to administration or university level where the pay was better and frustrations less.  I don’t know this but it seems to make sense to me.
Thanks to women’s lib and the ERA, jobs opened up for women that could provide greater finanical as well as personal satisfaction.  So what ype of women were willing to take that level of risk.  And who were the ones less likely to leave teaching?  Prior to that time, with the flood of women willing to teach, and many with husbands that also worked and due to the economy, husbands made more money.  So paying teachers less, and still high quality teachers as they could skim the cream off the top of the teaching candidates.
Se here we have both teachers and administration going into and if they decide to stay, one might wonder why.
Certainly one reason is because they love teaching.  Teaching provides a level of satisfaction in the five areas of well being, as discussed by Martin Seligman in his book “Flourish”.  They satisfy the need for fun, flow, relationships, achievement and purpose.  That is certainly one of the reasons I stayed in teaching despite the lack of financial success.
Do people stay in teaching for other reasons?  Of course.  But why?  If they aren’t getting their needs met, why stay?  For one reason, they believe it is the best they can do.  One might think seriously?  Sometimes a person gets along in life, complicated with children, a need for the money, and taking time off to job hunt, or retrain, or take a lower paying job, despite its potential is not possible.
And finally, there are those, and I might add if there is even one in your school, then it is too many, that dislike teaching but for some reason, it is the only perceived option available.  They don’t know how to do anything else, or what they can do won’t pay enough.
I was certainly in this frame of mind.  In the early years, when I was really, really struggling, I thought my only other option was to leave and start back at the bottom, at minimum wage.  Wouldn’t be able to support my family.  I did eventually leave teaching, but this was before kids, and the wife was working so I could afford to work at minimum wage for a while.  I waited on tables, which I’m really good at.  I did construction, until winter came along and hours were cut.  I tried and failed miserably at selling cars.  Too boring, too much dishonesty.  I tried selling satellite dishes…for four days.  More lying and dishonesty.  Tried selling a commercial collection agencies services in a room full of sales people saying whatever you had to say to get a sale.  Failed.  Sold steel Quonset hut style buildings.  Failed.  One thing I did do was sell insurance and investment products.  If I had been with the right company, with the right product, in the right area, it might have worked.  In fact my boss said in the 20 years he had been doing it, I had more potential than anyone.  Despite the fact that I was starving after four years, the “potential” wasn’t paying the bills. Emotionally, at that time, I did not deal well with the rejection.
So when the opportunity presented itself, I got back into teaching.  Planned to only stay a year. Stayed 20.
So try to make sense out of this one.  I was a pretty marginal teacher at the beginning.  In fact, in any other industry, I’m pretty sure they would have let me go if there were people standing in line wanting the job.  But here’s the thing about teaching.  They no longer skim the cream of the crop.  They take the best they can get, which oftentimes, isn’t all that great.  They have to keep what they have because it’s easier to hope someone will get better than try to find a replacement, and have more of the same problems or even worse.
I was lucky.  They put up with me long enough until I learned enough about my content area and my classroom management skills, that I got pretty good at it.  When I was hired, there were real shop teachers looking for jobs.  Fewer and fewer shop teachers are becoming teachers.  With the opportunities for industrial training and engineering jobs, there are other opportunities with greater rewards available.  Which is back to the same issue of when women started going into other careers.  The grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. When I was hired, we had a small pool of industrial arts and home economics teachers looking for work.  As each one left, they were usually replaced business education major types.  So much for hands on learning.

Where does that leave education now.  Everything I said about teachers applies to administration.  Some good ones there for the right reason, others, not so sure.  Until a career in education provides a higher level of personal satisfaction, and financial benefit, there will be fewer and fewer teachers even applying for the job.  There won’t be a whole lot of cream to skim off the top, so you resort to hiring a warm body and hope for the best. Of those that go into, and love it, they will go where they can do better for themselves financially and otherwise.

Lots of good teachers in NC have taken jobs elsewhere, many just over the boarder, where they can make more money with less hassles, with more autonomy.  You can thank the NC legislature for cultivating the race to the bottom with frozen wages, and lousy management.


There is a phrase I’ve often heard in education.  “We do the best we can with what we have.”  The system is such that what we have to work with, be it the hiring pool, supplies, equipment, leadership is not what it could be and is not what it should be.  And people wonder why our education system seems to lag behind other states and countries.
For my next topic?  Teacher of the year.  And how it really seems they get elected.

Surviving Teaching: Purpose as a motivator

I realized giving a 30 minute talk the other day that there is no way to condense all my my thoughts about teaching in 30 minutes.  But I can try to devote several paragraphs to each concept.  Let’s see how that goes.

This is geared to teachers who are struggling, those considering teaching, and in reality, it applies to any career.

I was miserable teaching.  I enjoyed my college classes learning how to work with wood, metal, plastics, ceramics, drafting, small engines.  I loved learning.  I thought my love of learning would translate into a love of teaching.  Or maybe a love of watching others learn.  But not all students were as excited about learning what I had to teach.  many had other ideas of why they were in my class, and oftentimes it wasn’t to learn. I was miserable.  So were many of the kids.  For a few years.

Why did I stay?  Surely I could have found another job paying as little, and maybe more than I was making.  Why did I, and why do you persevere with anything that is unpleasant?  It could be a relationship, a job, and more.  I think the answer is 1. Hope and 2. Purpose.

As long as we have hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that there is a chance it will all work out in the end, then we stay.  Sometimes we come to the conclusion it is hopeless.  Then we leave.  Break up. Resign.  Who hasn’t poured their heart and soul into a relationship (or a job), only to realize it will never get better.  That necessary ingredient, the salve, the potion, the agreement, the understanding on one person’s part is lacking, and probably will never be there.  Careers are like a relationship in so many ways. Even when you are going through the rough stuff, if there is hope and purpose, you can make it through.  But when there is no longer any hope of achieving your purpose, then it is time to bale. The challenge is knowing when to stay and when to go.

When I started teaching, I really was unqualified.  I had marginal teaching skills, classroom management skills, and the minimal amount of working knowledge of the curriculum. College only gets your foot in the door.  Despite my lack of qualifications,  they hired me.  Either there were so few applicants, but even if there were many, they still offered me the job, so I reminded myself when overwhelmed and convinced of imminent failure, I was the best person for the job.

I have learned that a sense of purpose or meaning is one of the five critical things needed ro a well lived life.  As a good Catholic until age 13, and then as a Jesus freak from the age of 17-20, I absorbed, embraced, and cultivated the belief that “I am here for a reason.”  I didn’t and still don’t know the specifics, but if I accept the notion that I’m here for a purpose, and that everything happens for a reason, or has some benefit, then it changes my perspective.  Instead of being a victim, any event can be reinterpreted as a gift, or an opportunity to learn, grow and prepare for bigger and better things ahead.  Every setback, every failure is an opportunity to assess could can be done differently next time.

The early years of teaching are overwhelming.  There is no way to get around it.  Way too much to learn, to do, and for many, at least me, the constant fear that the administration will see what is clear to me, I’m in way over my head.  The feelings of imminent doom stirred up my anxiety to the point where I went on drugs to control it as well as my depression.  the image of me digging ditches the rest of my life was a regular occurrence. One of the main reasons I stayed was purpose.  I was there not only for my benefit but for the benefit of some others, the students.

I was pretty convinced, that I was there for a reason.  There were a few things I could teach and teach well, and what I didn’t, I could learn.  I told myself “You will get through this. It does get easier. It is worth it. ”

My desperation for help led me to a professional organization of peers.  I found in them a support group and a resource of information.  They agreed that the early years were the hardest.  Some said it took three years before it got easier.  My experience is five years, but I’m a slow learner.

The moral of the story?  Find something that you believe deeply that gives you purpose and meaning.  Accept the fact that is is going to be really challenging but those challenges will teach you what you need to know before it gets easier. You will know when it is time to go on or  when it is time to quit.  Whether you leave to find something new, or someone new, I hope you feel as though you gave it your best shot.

After 27 years of teaching, filled with both mistakes, missteps, growth and at times small victories, I can say, that my purpose was fulfilled.  I learned.  I grew. I am a better person for it.   As for the students I taught.  Some learned. Some grew.  I accept that I didn’t reach them all, but like the little boy that was putting star fish back in the water that were washed ashore by the tide, it mattered to the ones that he did save.