Principal Threatens All Of Us With Firing

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about threats of firing: The new principal, taking his lead I guess, has regularly threatened to fire us at weekly meetings for things she doesn’t like.

I’m a new teacher in a small charter high school for at risk & under-served teens. During professional development, prior to school opening for the fall, the director of the overarching organization that runs this school told us he would fire all of us if we did certain things he didn’t like. The new principal, taking his lead I guess, has regularly threatened to fire us at weekly meetings for things she doesn’t like. She calls students “her babies” and sees problems as hurting her babies. I’m weary already of leadership that routinely threatens firing & reminds us we’re expendable and it’s a bad economy. It’s exhausting. It’s not motivating. Teaching is the most comprehensively difficult work I’ve ever done and group threat meetings don’t provide any motivation to do my job any better.

Signed, Exhausted

Dear Exhausted:

Obviously, management of the charter organization in which you’re employed has a get-tough culture. Threat to fire is its mode of getting his teachers to work their tails off. You find these threats demeaning and demoralizing. What can you do about them? Walk on eggs? Don’t vary from approved lesson plans? Teach to the tests? That should please. I assume you need the job and took the job in light of the hype that charter schools are superior to union-dominated public schools. But now you are not so sure about that and you’re working, scared to voice your frustration with your principal’s threats.

Frankly I see little you can do but bite your tongue, so long as you are afraid to challenge your principal. That “little”, however, might make your life a bit better:
·Let’s suppose that you first accept the harsh reality that you can be fired for good reason or no reason. Even if you have a contract, a principal can find you defective in many ways and might be already making a file of problems she sees with your teaching.
· Second, get a clear picture of the criteria for performance evaluation.
· Third, design your teaching accordingly.
· Fourth, don’t allow this to stifle your spirit as it now is doing.
· Fifth, become proactive. Schedule a meeting with your principal. Acknowledge that you want to make her job easier and that you are well aware of her determination to get the best out of you and the other teachers. Ask for her help. Have your lesson plans ready to show her. Invite her suggestions and then modify your lesson plans according. (It might be difficult to not see her as a sergeant and an adversary, but try to understand that she too is working scared; scared that those above her mean to fire those who don’t produce.)

This doesn’t rule out a candid talk with her about how uncomfortable you feel when she threatens to fire at almost every staff meeting. You might determine that there is a need for that kind of confrontation and that you can do that kindly but firmly.
· Sixth, make her welcome in your classroom and take her critique seriously. Also compile a log of her comments, both positive and negative.
· Seventh, don’t cling on your principal’s every word or seek to be her friend. If you do, your co-instructors will see you as the principal’s pet or a much more insultingly dependent bootlicker. And guard against the temptation to gossip about her threats. Simply, deflect the inevitable criticism that will come among those, like you, who are uncomfortable with her kind of management.
· Think team. Think quality. See staff meetings as skull sessions and as opportunity to collaborate on ways to cut wasted supplies, duplication, energy, and money. I know just teaching monopolizes your every thought; however, make some of those thoughts about ways to innovate and display student’s accomplishments. Possibly you will come to think of and treat your principle as a coach or director of an orchestra, one that has her way of doing things and one who has experience and expertise.Don’t take any of these suggestions as a quick fix or a sure fix. You may decide that this charter school is not the only place to work or just a place to work until you can find a workplace with teacher-friendly culture. However, if you think some of them make sense, I predict you will find your days ahead will be a little less threatening. If you have scanned out Q&As, you probably have seen my signature advice: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. How might you apply that signature thought at your charter school?

William Gorden