School Administrators Don't 'Supervise' Teachers

Our Patch columnist, who favors teacher autonomy, says the system doesn't provide true supervision -- even if that's what lawmakers and parents want.


(Editor's note: Patch columnist Jerry Heverly is an English teacher at San Leandro High.)

One of the hardest things for me to understand about working in a high school is our unusual organizational structure.

I’m a strong advocate for teacher autonomy. I think my students benefit when I determine what they will be exposed to. I gripe constantly about state (and soon, federal) lists of ‘standards’.

I do understand, though, when people point out that it’s difficult to fire me and that standards at least offer the taxpayers a modicum of control over what I do.

But if you were to look at the organizational chart of a high school you would see, I think, that even state oversight does not assure that I am properly supervised.

At the top of our organization is, of course, our principal. Under her she has five lieutenants called assistant principals (APs).

But these administrators have little to do with me.

Two APs deal almost exclusively with discipline.

They spend their day sitting in an office listening to a steady stream of kids who have been referred for a variety of infractions. They deal out consequences and generally try to help the teachers maintain a peaceful environment on campus.

One AP is the principal of the ninth grade building.

The other two APs have a variety of administrative duties including our after school program and issues of compliance with various government mandates.

None of these folks could be said to supervise teachers. 

Below the APs are about a dozen department heads: English, Career Technology, Art, et. al. But the name is somewhat of a misnomer, if you think of a department head as someone who directs underlings. The only structured interaction between a department head and the teachers under her or him is a monthly meeting after school.

Department heads do not observe other teachers, they don’t have any role in hiring teachers, they don’t evaluate teachers, they can’t discipline teachers, they don’t have any role in determining a teacher’s salary, they don’t decide a teacher’s schedule, they don’t determine what a teacher does in any way. Mostly they get information from the principal and pass it along to members at the monthly meeting.

{When I was English department head I argued that I was just a messenger boy but the AP who was the nominal overseer of the department insisted I should be a leader. I claimed I had no power. He said I did, but wasn’t using it.  It was power to do the inconsequential, I thought. }

We don’t have an organizational flow chart but, if we did, it would have a principal on top, five AP’s below, and 120 teachers on the bottom rung. That’s 120 highly educated/opinionated adults “supervised” by five AP’s who seldom witness any actual teaching.

The result of this system is that teachers occupy their own fiefdoms. I can close the door to my classroom and operate for 180 days out of view of any authority. I have state mandated lists of topics I must teach but I teach them as I see fit. I make no reports to my AP supervisors. I’m salaried so I don’t punch a time clock.

If I didn’t need to check my mailbox I could probably stay out of view of the school principal for 99% of the school year. (We do have monthly staff meetings.)

At this point you could reasonably call me nuts for complaining about a lack of teacher autonomy, but I do.

Next week I’d like to tell you about the one instance where I’m observed and evaluated by my boss. 

This column is written by San Leandro High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. Its tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary. You can read more essays like this in the archives of Entirely Secondary.)

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Thomas Clarke June 29, 2012 at 01:05 AM
There are at least 5 full time AP's that could go away and save well over a half million dollars in benefits and salary.
Giorgio C. February 10, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Hi Jerry, I taught high school science in West Contra Costa for three years and then fled the teaching profession altogether. I have worked in a state government agency for almost 20 years. This agency has a clearly defined chain-of-command, including supervisors for each unit within a branch. Yes, being constantly supervised is not always pleasant, but there is accountability on everyone's part every step of the way. We desperately need this in our schools. Supervisors help an employee excel as they are delegated the responsibility of providing all necessary tools that the employee will need for performing their duties. And yes, competency assessment is rigorous. This would also address the issue regarding the occasional incompetent teacher who cannot be terminated because no one has time for the increased monitoring and resultant necessary documentation. A teacher supervisor could be someone who teaches 50% of the time, and spends the remainder supervising. Where I taught, there was no way the Principal and Assistant Principal could perform a meaningful assessment of a teacher's performance. This means they also couldn't tell if a teacher needed help. This must change asap. How about putting something on the next ballot, Jerry? If you are interested in helping me out, give me a holler. Thanks for your very well-written column on this topic. Respectfully, Giorgio Cosentino, Hercules, CA gcosentino1964@gmail.com
Giorgio C. February 10, 2013 at 08:24 PM
One more thing. At the secondary level, you could have a supervisor for each department, thus the supervisor would be a content expert, making the evaluation process more meaningful and accurate.


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