Our Principal Tells Us We Cannot Teach!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about principal who criticizes:

I work in a charter school. My co-workers and I are dedicated to our field and enjoy teaching. We just cannot deal with our principal.She tells teachers who have years of teaching that they cannot teach. She pulls teachers into her office and asks them what makes you think that you know more than me. She just makes you feel that you are worthless. We at the school do not know what to do.

We are all afraid to complain, because we do not have a union to protect us. Even if we do decide to complain we don’t know if we can trust anyone. She has blocked some teachers from getting hired at other schools because she is so well liked by the company.She creates a stress level in the school that can be felt by visitors. Any help or advice would be appreciated. I am currently thinking about just quitting, but I have children to support and cannot do so. I feel sick when I get ready for work, I try to avoid her as much as possible. What can teachers at charter schools do? Who can they go to for help?If you use this PLEASE DO NOT USE MY EMAIL ADDRESS. I MAY GET FIRED.

Signed, Ready To Quit

Dear Ready To Quit:

Your principal apparently hovers over you who are under her charge because she believes that is the way to make your charter school do well. Her way of administration probably comes from fear on her part that the school will not look good and she will be blamed. One of the skills that teachers are rarely taught is how to deal with bad bosses. Of course as a last resort you can vote with your feet against a bad boss. But as you say, you like and are committed to teaching and have children to support.

So you bite your tongue and work in fear, loathing, and with the consequent festering toll on your body and mind. Can you do anything else and not be fired from your job? Maybe not.If you are to voice your concerns, you have go either go solo or confer with your co-workers for a collective approach. Going it alone is probable both more risky and more safe. More risky because one individual can be singled out as just one unhappy camper, but if you were to organize (confer is a safer word) with your colleagues to confront Ms. I Am Principal and Know Best (IAPAKB), she would likely ferret out who was a ring leader and you likely would be even more vulnerable. First you must determine if not biting your tongue is what you want to do. There is no way to cope with a demeaning boss anonymously. Assuming you are stressed enough that you will not be a marshmallow any longer, your second decision is to go it alone or collectively, even if you don’t have a union. (Not incidentally one of the reasons for charter schools is to be free from teacher’s unions. So if you do get fired for talking up confrontation collectively, you might apply to the national or state’s chapter of the NEA or AFT to become an organizer for charter schools.) For the next step, I will assume you decide not to gossip about Ms. IAPAKB, but to act on your own.Step three entails logging her (when, where, who, what) bossing acts that are demeaning as well as are constructive. This will mean carefully recalling past and current actions of Ms. I Am Principal And Know Best. Make several copies and keep them in separate places. Unfortunately, creating such a log will detract from your main job of teaching. However, it can be therapeutic because you are focusing times of frustration and anxiety on coping rather than internalizing them. It is necessary if you are to assert your self.Next, you need to learn what is the policy within your charter system for complaints. Who is in charge? Providing that you have met with your principal expressing your displeasure with her behavior, I think it is best to go to the top and to copy those in between your principal and the chief executive. Frankly, I know you are working scared now and that you will be even more afraid if you by-pass Ms. IAPAKB. Also I know that that top individual will ask if you have voiced your complaints to the principal, and if so, if she has listened and corrected what you assert is bad bossing. Here again, you must decide if you will meet with Ms. IAPAKB before you schedule a meeting with the top person or if you will inform her that you are going or have gone above her. Or if you want to ask for a meeting with the CEO (Charter Chief Administrator) with Ms. IAPAKB present. One way to help you decide what you will do is to ask yourself how you would want someone such as a parent to have a complaint about you–brought first to you, brought to the principal without your knowing it, or brought in the presence of the principal and you together. What does the Charter Policy Book advise regarding the procedure for dealing with superiors such as principals? Follow that.My preference is for you to first schedule a meeting with your principal and ask for her appraisal of your work. Then present her with a description (oral and written) of the behaviors (good and bad) that she has that pertain to you alone. You know those best. Meet with her with head held high and a light in your eyes. Tell her you are committed to teaching and that you want to please her and the program. Express candidly the feelings and stress you experience in light of how she behaves toward you. Tell her how you want to be managed, corrected, encouraged, praised. Have those in writing also and ask for her confirmation, modification, or rejection of those. Be sure to schedule a follow up session with her in six weeks to evaluate how well it is going.More could be said if you do not have the courage to confront your principal alone and have confidence that you have a number of teachers with the guts to confront her and the top administrators together. Follow the same systematic collection of data from each individual’s experience with Ms. IAPAKB. Meet with her as a body. Or meet with the top administrator as a body. Believe me sparks will fly. No matter how much you think she is liked by those above, her tenure or if not will change.Think over these thoughts. Weigh them and act. Or continue to suffer from working scared. Should my colleague and/or a principal to whom I forwarded you letter add their remarks, I will send them to you.Schools should model how to deal with authority. That should be democracy in action. I think of that as WEGO mindedness.

William Gorden