Teachers and their bosses

Any good teaching I did was done in spite of administrators, not because of them

I taught English at Butte College for nearly two decades, finishing out a four-decade teaching career there. Except for the actual teaching, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience. The faculty politics were pretty gnarly, the administration seemed pretty clueless about what teachers actually do, and the sense that those bosses actually took much interest in what was going on in the classrooms was fairly hard to come by.

Lots of people outside of the teaching profession know the observation about office politics, the one that compares staff to mushrooms, kept in the dark and covered with manure. That was largely the relationship between teachers and administrators I knew at Butte, a loose association with people who made lots more money for doing things that often seemed like they didn’t need to be done.

The distance between administration and faculty was somewhat ironically compounded by the twice-a-year events in which administrators gathered the faculty for mandatory meetings that invariably included lots of generalized plaudits about what a great bunch we were and what a great job we were doing, immediately followed by the directive that there was no use in our asking for anything that might involve money because the cupboard was bare.

That bit of bad news was then followed by reports about some expensive administrative retreat that had put our remote overseers in touch with some consultant or other who would then take the podium to tell us how to improve what we did.

These slick hustlers were usually people rather like the administrators who’d contracted with them to come speak to us. Most of them had a brief acquaintance with the classroom, didn’t like it much, then found greener pastures as consultants with enough chutzpah to tell teachers who actually liked teaching how to do it better.

Suffice it to say, those gatherings set up to kick off each semester were monumentally dispiriting events guaranteed to diminish the enthusiasm many of us had gathered for the return to school.

I cannot speak for other teachers I worked with, though I suspect I do when I say that any good teaching I ever did was done in spite of administrators, never because of them. And that remote and/or adversarial relationship between teachers and administrators seems like something that could be fixed, though I don’t know how. It might help, however, if the differential of pay and perks were not so wide, and if all or most of the administrators still had to teach as part of their responsibilities.