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Chairmen vs Assistant Principals

April 22, 2011 pm30 2:19 pm

Years ago, rumor has it, New York City schools had departmental chairmen, not Assistant Principals for Supervision.

At this distance, having chairmen makes sense. Non-evaluative. Expert in content and pedagogy. Still teaches. Can develop a non-threatening relationship aimed at improving and developing teachers. Not a transmission belt for administration.

Why did we lose them?

Was there something bad about them I am missing?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Maureen permalink
    April 22, 2011 pm30 2:22 pm 2:22 pm

    Why would you be thinking about this now? It is interesting. Perhaps, for a while, or even currently, the “literacy coach” model exists in its place?

  2. April 22, 2011 pm30 2:27 pm 2:27 pm

    A department chair would presumably have a … chair. Budget constraints require that all teachers stand at all times, though they are allowed to sit on the floor or on outside benches when not on duty with students.

    I hear that the new chancellor will soon allow departments to have heads as all faculty presumably have one as a requirement of the job. But you will note that there are no official Heads in Tweed.

  3. April 22, 2011 pm30 3:25 pm 3:25 pm

    My former math coach in NYC was the department chair. His official status was “Assistant Principal” and occasionally he would evaluate us during evaluation season. But my first year as a teacher, he came into my class everyday and read every single one of my lessons before they happened and offered me feedback on how to tweak my lessons and worksheets and how to improve my discipline. He was absolutely, hands-down the best mentor. I’m not sure how other new teachers survive without these guys around. He was evaluative when it came down to it, but more than that he was a true coach and a trainer, to the extent that I absolutely always welcomed it when he would come into my classroom, as opposed to feeling nervous when he came by.

    What I’m trying to say is that I think the problem is not in our supervisors being evaluative. We all need an honest evaluation from time to time. But hopefully we already have a relationship of trust built with that person, so that we would KNOW absolutely for certain that the evaluation is a mere formality, and their true intention is to help us grow. Unfortunately, most teachers lack that relationship with their evaluating supervisors… That’s the real issue, I think.

  4. Arjun Janah permalink
    May 7, 2011 pm31 9:45 pm 9:45 pm

    There is a mentality that thinks that every worker needs a boss. Hence the super-visor. He/she “looks on from above”. The “above” does not refer to perspective (which we all need) but to position in hierarchy. We have to have a high and a low, make sure the workers aren’t goofing off, keep their noses to the grindstone, in their place, etc.

    When I was a student and later a worker at two public universities in this country (U. of Md. and U. of Ca. — the latter being perhaps not completely public) I noticed that the chairmanship of the physics (and presumably other) departments were rotated among the professors — many of whom were extremely reluctant to take that position, with its administrative duties.

    When I joined the school system, I wondered if it was possible for teachers to gradually assume (via the local union board in the building, and by working with parents in the leadership teams, more and more decision-making powers, with a long view to making the supervisory class irrelevant. I broached this idea with my chapter leader (Paul Millstein) and also asked him if the UFT could persuade the CSU to became part of it. He was receptive to the idea.

    Of course, power never lets go easily. I found this out when Paul tried to have budgets made public or at least accessible to some in the faculty — or when he tried to reach out to other schools’ leadership teams — or even their principals — to resolve matters that seriously affected the functioning of the schools — without going up the DOE ladder. Our principal had his wrist slapped, and other principals were told to shun our outreach. So much for horizontality and networking, circa 1990’s.

    I personally thought, over 20 years ago, that we had made a deal with the devil by agreeing to the (then less malign) evaluation system, which was so subject to bias of either a personal or ideological nature.

    But then, if we were to do away with evaluations and with what I considered an unnecessary and indeed counterproductive supervisory layer, we needed some more accurate measures of accountability, both to satisfy the public who paid our salaries and to ensure some sort of responsibility from us and equity among us. Perhaps even some small incentives… But here I ran into very heavy weather from my union brothers — perhaps understandably.

    The need for administration (as opposed to supervision) cannot of course be done away with. I have been in high school science departments that ran admirably without a supervisor, with a teacher given a period or two off to act as a coordinator.

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