6:40 AM Mr. Williams always tries to be the first person to arrive at school, and today is no different. A high school principal’s day is a long one, and Mr. Williams likes to capitalize on every moment. He pulls into his normal spot and shuts off the car as “Survivor” is cut off mid verse of “…It’s the eye of the tiger; it’s the thrill of the fi…”
He sits there with his hands in his lap staring ahead through the windshield at six inch high weeds growing at sporadic intervals through a zigzagging crack in the asphalt. He makes no attempt to move. He just keeps staring. Rick Williams is not dreading beginning work. He actually really likes his job. However, he knows that the quiet and peace he is enjoying in the soundless interior of his Volvo will be shattered like a Waterford crystal vase hit by an aluminum baseball bat the moment he enters his school. Today will be especially hectic because he was out the day before attending a regional principal’s meeting. He gives himself a little pep talk.
Ok, Williams. Man up. There is a school to be run and lives to change. Hell…I’m starting to sound like one of those “quote a day” calendars. How about a more practical reason: the doors won’t unlock themselves, so let’s do this thing? Yeah, that’s probably more like it.
6:42 AM After looking at his reflection in the mirror to give one last cinch and straighten to his tie, he exits Tranquility Base and makes the courageous walk to the front doors. He unlocks the doors, slides over the big “Welcome to Springfield” rug so that it aligns perfectly with the threshold, and ventures further into the temple of learning of which he is charged with managing.
6:45 AM After a quick trip through the halls, he unlocks the front office and settles behind his desk. A stack of discipline referrals sits square in front of him and a stack of mail beside them, placed there by his secretary the day before.
Why in the world are these referrals here? I suppose Mrs. Burton wanted to make sure I didn’t miss them. And I see I have several letters from the State Department of Education. Looks like I’m in for a little light reading this morning. Actually, maybe I should apply my “Second Time Around Theory” to these letters.
With that thought in his mind, Mr. Williams throws the letters, most of which contained compliance forms, into the garbage. The “Second Time Around Theory” is something he has cultivated in his many years of administration experience. Mr. Williams has learned that if something is REALLY important that it will be sent to him a second time. Through the years, this has dramatically reduced the time he spends on non-vital paperwork.
I wish I had developed my “Second Time Around Theory” earlier in my career. I probably would have added at least a month of additional time to my life. Of course, something else would have taken its place. I don’t know that I’ve ever checked my entire “To Do” list at any point as an administrator. And that includes the time before the State required a minimum of six classroom observations for each teacher. Hell…I’m lucky if I see my brother and his family six times a year, much less observing full lessons of every teacher in my building that many times.
6:47 AM As evidence of his continually growing, evolving, and varied list of tasks to complete, Mr. Williams shoves the heap of referrals to the side to uncover his most valued and coveted item in his possession. In an ironic twist, it is also something that keeps him up at night and stresses him out at times. No…it’s not a mistress. It’s his yellow legal pad that contains his “to do’s,” his important reminders, names of students he needs to have conversations with, and inspirational quotes he intends to share (but rarely does) with his faculty. Every time something on the list is done, he carefully draws a line through it and exalts in the gratification of another task completed. Much like the obsessive compulsive that enjoys picking dried glue from his fingers, Mr. Williams loves drawing lines through his tasks. He does this until an entire page has been filled with line-severed items that make the school run like a well-oiled machine. When the page is full, he unceremoniously rips it from the pad and discards it into the “Second Time Around Theory” holding container, and salivates over a crisp, clean new page in which to begin the exercise of organizing his efforts at running the school.
OK, Williams. What do we need to get done today?
He looks at the yellow page and runs down the list he had started the morning before he left for his meeting:
- Email teacher reminders
- Tour school with superintendent and school board member
- Discipline meeting with parents
- Faculty meeting
- Evaluate lesson plans
- Observe Ms. Smith
6:49 AM The item “email teacher reminders” seems to appear on Mr. Williams’ list on a daily basis, and the early morning hours provide one of the few times that he can concentrate on e-mailing these messages to his faculty and staff.
I sure hope these teachers appreciate the fact that I get to school an hour before they do so I can send out these emails during some quiet time. Before long, they’ll be circling in front of my office door like sharks. It’s amazing how little you can get done when you have to stop to answer a question every three minutes.
I always like greeting the students as they come in the door in the mornings, but Hercshel Walker couldn’t break through the usual line of teachers waiting outside my office.
6:51 AM Today’s email reminder topic: Standing at the door to welcome your students to class.
Subject: Please be at your doors!
Please remember to stand at the doors after the first bell and greet your students as they enter your classroom. I know the morning is a busy time, but few things are more important than making your students feel welcome in your class. Sometimes things pop up that are out of our control, but my expectation is that you are at your door at the beginning of class on a daily basis.
Springfield High School
6:57 AM Before he clicks “Send,” he reads through the email a couple of times looking for grammatical mistakes. Some teachers would give their morning coffee to find a mistake in one of his emails and call him out on it. Often, while in the midst of a faculty email, he recalls the pronoun/antecedent agreement incident of ’09 that almost led to blows between himself and Mr. Hughes, a veteran English teacher and self-proclaimed Grammar Cop. Sides were taken, philosophies questioned, and the English department has never been the same since.
After making sure all is right with the grammar world, he discharges his edict throughout the ether world, and then says out loud to the computer, yellow legal pad, and various artistic renderings by his children hanging on the wall:
I’m glad we’re finally going to get this issue corrected. Today is off to a great start.
7:40 AM With her arms full of lesson materials, Ms. Jansen practically falls through the front door of the school, speed walks to the office, and signs in with five minutes to spare. It didn’t help that a few students stopped her in the hall to ask about the deadline for turning in their fundraiser money, but she makes it on time nonetheless.
Beth Jansen has been teaching English for three years and truly loves her job. Students find her class challenging, but it is also interesting, and students even catch themselves calling it fun. In today’s lesson, Ms. Jansen is going for a combination of all three. She has spent $88.34 of her own money to purchase canvases, paint, and brushes so that students could create paintings to accompany the poems they would be writing in class. As she hurries to her room, the thought occurs to her that the $78.34 could have been spent on a little red cocktail dress her internet browser seemed to direct her to at least once a day of its own accord.
Who even has time to date? I spend most of my weekends grading papers and preparing lessons for the next week, so it would just hang in my closet anyway.
7:49 After making it to her room, she puts the load of materials down and organizes them on a table at the front of the room.
7:54 Task completed, Ms. Jansen turns on her computer and opens her email account moments before students would start to stream in to her classroom.
ELEVEN emails before first period!? Today’s going to be one of those days. Let’s see…one from a parent, one from Mr. Hughes…since he became department chair I don’t think a day has gone by he hasn’t sent us something…another one from a parent, a reminder about a meeting next week, one from the PTA president, one from Mr. Williams…I guess I better go ahead and read his now.
Subject: Please be at your doors!
Please remember to stand at your doors after the first bell and greet your students. I know the morning is a busy time…
7:55 AM First bell rings signaling students to go to their first period class.
Wonderful. My students will be here any second. I wonder if any of the other teachers were able to read more than half an email before they had students in their rooms. I need to finish this quickly…
…but few things…blah blah…making your students feel welcome…blah blah…things pop up…blah blah…but my expectation is that you are at your door at the beginning of class on a daily basis.
7:56 AM Brian Morgan is a C student, a surprisingly good hip-hop dancer, and makes an art form out of procrastination. As he pulls into the school parking lot, he knows he only has a couple of minutes to get to class on time before the tardy bell after he parks his car. A couple of his buddies are hanging out and talking by a car in the parking lot, but Brian has already been late for Ms. Jansen’s class once this week, and he knows he can’t talk his way out of another tardy.
As he races into the building, Brian catches a glimpse of Mr. Williams out of the corner of his eye and hears words that remind him of his precarious situation.
Good morning, Brian. Looks like you’re in a bit of a hurry this morning.
Mr. Williams’ voice echoes down the hall and follows Brian all the way to Ms. Jansen’s door. Brian quickly enters, slides into his seat, and grabs a crumpled folder that contains a nearly complete essay that he was supposed to finish for homework last night. Since he sits near Ms. Jansen’s desk, Brian can tell that she is sufficiently distracted by something she is reading on her computer.
Awesome! Maybe I can finish this homework now. I love it when she’s on her computer in the morning when we come in. It’s not the friendliest way for a teacher to act, but it’s better than having some worksheet on our desks every morning when I sit down like in some of my classes.
Just as Brian gets started on the final lines of his essay, he hears Mr. Williams at the doorway. He cringes at first, but then realizes he was talking to Ms. Jansen.
Hmmm…Mr. Williams doesn’t look too happy. I wonder what Ms. Jansen did? I bet she loves starting the day off by having her boss look mad at her.
7:58 As she reads the last word of the email, Ms. Jansen hears a familiar voice say “Good morning” from her doorway…it is Mr. Williams.
Ms. Jansen, don’t forget the message from my email earlier this morning. Did you have a chance to read it?
Ms. Jansen’s face turns bright red, and she gives Mr. Williams a polite smile, but on the inside she is a little bit aggravated.
Yes sir. I was just reading it.
Mr. Williams gives a sage nod that, to Ms. Jansen, carries multiple meanings of acknowledgement, disapproval, and admonishment all rolled into one. He glances at the students already in the classroom and says to Ms. Jansen in a congenial tone:
Thank you. I know you will make an effort on that. Have a good day.
Ms. Jansen gives a smile that would have won an academy award if anyone could have read her mind.
Maybe I COULD be at the door greeting my students if I wasn’t stuck at my desk reading a backlog of emails! What does he think…that we read emails at home every morning while we’re brushing our teeth?!
7:59 By the time she stands up and walks towards the door of her classroom, Ms. Jansen’s room is almost full of sleepy-eyed teenagers, none of whom look overly eager to engage in conversation with their teacher…or any other humanoid life form that expects them to think this early in the morning.
Ms. Jansen: God, I hate email.
Brian: God, I love email.
Mr. Williams: God, why don’t they read my emails??
There are rarely black and white issues in education. Actually, it is a profession (educator), experience (student), and institution (parents), that is layered with so many varying shades of gray that it would make E.L. James froth at the mouth. In this instance, for example, Mr. Williams is making a perfectly sound request in an attempt to improve the culture of the school. Ms. Jansen is a great teacher who goes out of her way to engage students and actually doesn’t get to the request in time because she IS going out of her way to engage her students. In a juxtaposition of perspectives, Mr. Williams thinks he isn’t being taken seriously, Ms. Jansen thinks she isn’t being treated professionally, and Brian thinks the Universe is working on his side toward his academic benefit because his teacher isn’t paying attention to her students. In the end, they are all wrong, but they were all trying to do right…well, maybe not Brian. This is the reality of education, the reality of a day at school.