14. School District Organization, Leadership and New Teacher Professionalism

All job applicants are encouraged to research prospective employers ahead of time. Once that task was difficult and time-consuming, and involved telephone calls, discussions with current employees, examination of official records, and stories in the media.

Those processes are still important, although the internet reveals much important information.

Web pages and sources like Facebook tell us much, both overtly and subliminally. How web pages are designed and what they include say much about what the district considers important. Where its priorities are.

Mary was mentored at the university in ways to check out prospective employers. To get a heads-up on what she could expect during the application and interview process. To determine if seeking an interview would be worthwhile.

In her preliminary research into web pages, Mary looks for how well teachers are represented. What their relationships are with both the academic program and students. She seeks information about how decisions are made in the district, and evidence of policy documents that outline processes for getting things done.

Are there links to policies, long-range plans, and definitions of student mastery?

Are curriculum documents available on the website? Is there any kind of link that helps parents substantively understand what students should know or do?

In this age of COVID and virtual instruction, connections with families are critical, as are efforts to upgrade both hardware and software. What information does a website offer about those concerns?

Finally, what kind of response is received when an interview appointment is arranged? Will there be opportunity for the applicant to speak with teachers and other administrators? Will the applicant be allowed to inspect curriculum documents and other materials used to support teaching and learning?

Mary Chapman’s Story Part 12

During my last semester at the university, I was required to participate in an intense job-hunting workshop. Most of us did not understand why so much emphasis was being placed on finding teaching positions. Some teaching jobs were then hard to get, like those in physical education and secondary social studies, but others like special education and fields like physics were competitive. My field was kind of in the middle.

The imbalance in those years was caused by too many or too few teacher education students majoring in particular fields. Working with special education students is known to be difficult, and those who major in fields like physics can find much better paying jobs in industry and government.

Rural jobs were then and are now easier to find than those in suburbs or comfortable cities. I am ashamed to say that jobs in which there is much cultural diversity are easier to find than those in communities that are culturally homogeneous.

Compared to the difficulties brought about by a pandemic and nationwide cultural/political disruptions, the challenges of years ago seem almost quaint. But some still apply because fault lines existing in the schools then have become chasms now.

Those chasms have opened because schools were and still are supported by a fragile infrastructure. One of my professors had been a district superintendent. He told us hierarchically structured organizations, even the military, can become too dependent on charismatic or dogmatic leaders. Those who are physically or emotionally distant from people they lead.

The professor had once been an army officer. He was convinced the best way to test the strength of any organization is to evaluate what happens when subordinates become separated from the larger unit. In traditionally run schools, teachers treated as subordinates work behind classroom doors, and are now expected to guide learning via computer screens.

They are as separated as anyone can get.

Therein is the fault line. Or the chasm. The divide between people who view themselves as decision makers and those in the trenches.

I was enormously lucky, not only to have received a state-of-art preparation for teaching, but to locate a school district with forward-looking leadership. Leadership that recognized the hazards of fault lines and chasms. Leaders who were working to close those separations through use of the new learning infrastructure.

My husband and I worked together surfing through the internet. We talked to key people who were residents of the metropolitan area in which we were living. I followed suggestions offered at the university. And screened out districts not meeting the appropriate criteria. That meant dropping about 90% of those we reviewed.

Districts remaining seemed to meet criteria, but one really stood out. It had a link to every teacher in the district, with pictures and information. Each had written comments on their goals for student learning, and how they planned to meet them. Some talked about how much they enjoyed working with teacher and administrator colleagues, and ways they tried to maintain strong connections to each student’s home.

That inclusionary feature alone was amazing! Even more amazing were comments made by the superintendent, curriculum coordinator and principals. Threaded throughout those comments were commitments to collaborative decision-making. There were also links to academic program policies, long range curriculum plans, and the district’s philosophy as to what constitutes a well-rounded student.

In a password protected link were specific curriculum documents, which could be accessed by the professional staff and parents/guardians. The prelude written above the access point to those documents expressed the district’s strong dedication to working closely with every student’s home, as well as the community at large. Woven through the statement was a beautifully written phrase that defined the district’s understanding of accountability.

It sounded almost too good to be true.

I applied immediately and was granted what was called a preliminary interview with the district’s personnel director. During the interview, my baseline credentials were reviewed, and basic employment information provided. I was then asked to spend up to three hours talking with others in the district, possibly the following day, and to arrive with questions and readiness to explain my goals and expectations.  

After arriving home, a schedule for the follow-up interview was emailed to me, and it included teachers, administrators, a board member, the curriculum coordinator, and a couple of parents.

While if felt overwhelming at first, my husband and I worked through my questions, and created a possible scenario for what I might encounter the following day.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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