Hello, my name is Al Brennan, I am the principal of Forrest high school and I hate teachers (revised)

Principal Brennan didn't actually say that, and I doubt he feels that way, too. Sadly, that's what numerous teachers heard when he told them at the welcome back staff meeting that if they didn't park in their designated spots he would have their cars towed; if they didn't turn in a classroom key, he would say they stole it (and words to the effect that he would prosecute them) and that if they were one minute late they would be disciplined. “ I wouldn't dream of talking to my students that way, and if I did I would rightfully get in trouble”, a teacher friend of mine said.

Principal Brennan has also taken to monitoring (or having monitored) his teacher’s social networking sites, telling teachers that they can’t have students on their pages and taking umbrage to some of his staff’s status updates. I have better things to do than look at my student’s pages, and I would hope people entrusted to run schools would, as well.

It's common practice for teachers to start the year strict with their students; that way, they have room to lighten up as the year progresses. It is also not uncommon for a principal, reappointed to an unfamiliar school, (and Mr. Brennan will be Forrest’s third principal in three years), to lay ground rules and expectations - but, like teachers shouldn’t, principals shouldn’t come off like bullies, either. Teachers try and protect their students from bullies, and should they expect any less?

I am not saying bosses can’t be bosses. I am saying the teachers that are most successful are the ones that get the kids to buy into what they are teaching; the ones that get the kids to want to work for them. The teachers that bully and browbeat their kids are usually the ones that are least successful, and so to will be those principals and administrators that act in the same fashion. In education, the message is important, but how you convey the message determines if people are going to hear it or not.

Sadly, this is where we find ourselves in 2010. Principals are told to shake things up, as teachers and principals have both become the scapegoats for the district. On one hand, teachers have gone from valued colleagues to someone who can be browbeaten, intimidated, marginalized and, worse of all, disrespected, while being put in positions where success is hard to achieve. Then, on the other hand, principals (thirty seven of which were reassigned last year), are also put in almost unattainable positions as they are told they can’t discipline, and to move as many kids along as possible. This, whether they are prepared for the next level or not, and the less than forty percent of students who read at grade level at the neighborhood high school, would seem to indicate that many are not. So much about doing both jobs successfully is about fostering positive relationships, and when both groups are put under such impossible pressure and in opposite positions, it’s really a tribute to the fine professionals we have that things aren’t worse.

The chasm between the administration and teachers is widening everyday, and that can't be healthy for the Duval County school system. If you want more proof , look at how the superintendent declared a financial emergency just days before the school year began in order to stop teachers from getting their step increases. Many teachers took it as the district flexing their muscles as if to say, ‘look who the boss is’. Mr. Superintendent, our bosses, both yours and the teacher’s, are ultimately the children of the district and we should be doing whatever we can to make sure they are successful, and putting both principals and teachers in impossible positions is doing the opposite of that.

Andrew Carnegie once stated “you can take my buildings and resources, leave my workers, my greatest asset, and I'll be back on top”. The school district, in contrast, treats many of its teachers and principals as if they are disposable, while at the same time playing them against each other. The sense of comraderie and teamwork between the two groups is quickly dissipating and the esprit de corps that had both groups believing they were in this together has been replaced by ‘it’s the teacher’s fault’ and ‘if this principal doesn’t crack the whip, we’ll find another one that will’, by the county’s administration and school board.

If we want to have a truly successful school system, it's going to require a partnership between teachers and their administrators. I think teachers are the district’s number one resource and should be treated with dignity and respect. I believe the better teachers are, the better they will be for their students, as well, and I also believe if they are supported - put in positions where success is attainable, and not overwhelmed with task after task - then the district will prosper. Ater all, if the teachers didn't show up one day, then school would slam to a halt; but if a principal didn't show up, school would merrily chug along.

I also think schools need leaders - people that teachers can come to when they need help and someone students can look up. A principal is like a quarterback of a football team, or like the rudder of a ship. Quarterbacks probably get too much credit and too much blame when a team flounders, but they are still the ones who keep the ball moving. A ship may still be able to float without a rudder, but at the same time its sense of direction will be seriously impaired.

I wrote above that Mr. Brennan hates teachers, but let me make emphatically clear he did NOT say that in so many words, that’s just what several members of his staff felt after their welcome back staff meeting, and how they once again felt when he monitored their social network sites. He did not say that and I sincerely hope he does not feel that way, because if he did, then the faculty, staff and students at Forrest High School are all in store for a very long year.

In actuality, however, this piece has very little to do with him and the problems at Forrest High School, which are being repeated at numerous schools throughout the district. It is more about the deteriorating relationship between teachers and administrators because of the impossible expectations put upon them and the impossible positions they are put in. It’s about how the district is fostering a contentious relationship that, unless changes are made, will inevitably collapse upon itself.


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