The charter school/network we’re joining is demonstrating all the right moves. Among these are many things the public schools can’t emulate, like a “longer” day and year (time good teachers work anyway) for more pay (that good teachers don’t get and grouse about.) But there are also several actions they’re taking that are much more attainable.
1 – Recruitment – In October 2008, two months into our work in China, we received an email from one of our future principals checking in and asking us about our return. We advised that we were on a two-year contract. A year later, we received another email. Teachers have one of the most status-deprived, socially isolated, and thus praise-hungry professions in the world; my wife and I are no exceptions. Someone cares enough to email us twice? That’s just about all it took.
2 – Hiring – Somebody saw us teach before they hired us. It was via YouTube, admittedly, but the important thing was that they sat down and watched us practice our art before they brought us into their school. There are lots of ways to teach, lots of ways to teach well. It's important to make sure there's philosophical harmony. By contrast, our current school brought us all the way to China before ever seeing us teach. At my first school, my principal never even had the chance to see my resume before I showed up for a key. Not his fault, for sure, but not an inspiring sign for the system.
3 – Response Time – When I send my future principal an email, I usually have a reply within a half-day, often within a few hours. If it takes longer, generally there’s a prefatory apology. Admittedly, we have the benefit of time zones. But I’m not even working at her school yet.
4 – Answers – Both my wife and I have been peppering our principals with questions for months. Almost every single query has been answered with a solid, specific, and “owned” response. There's no doubt: These people are in charge of their schools and they know what’s happening inside them. It's deeply confidence inspiring. The only time we’ve been passed on has been for questions about health insurance, and we wanted word from the top anyway.
5 – Details – For elementary school teachers, quality of work and of life is determined by the management of details. My wife had a bell schedule by the end of April. Her school isn’t built yet, but she’s been sent the blueprints to help in her planning. She’s been invited to make suggestions on ordering supplies, books and furniture. She got the warning already that her kinder class will be at thirty-to-one. It’s bad news, but she has time to adjust her plans and materials. I have a combo class among my rotation. Also bad news. But I know how many kids, I know where they’re at, and my principal and I are already formulating a plan to help better meet their academic and social needs. I have a calendar for my professional development schedule in hand, until Thanksgiving. All this is happening in May, so when August rolls around, the only surprises are truly surprises.
Does all this imply our principals are overworked? Yes. Does any of this guarantee children are learning? No. But it imparts, to me, a sense of day one urgency, dedication and professionalism that cannot help but benefit student achievement.