Administrative limitations faced by elementary teachers in the U.S.
Being an elementary school teacher can be a very rewarding profession if administrators work with and support their teachers. An elementary school can be a very happy and safe place to be if administrative practices are fair, consistent, and practical. However, when administrators decide that all of the power should be in their hands, being a teacher in an elementary can be very restrictive.
I have been teaching for forty years, and I have worked for many administrators during that time. The ones I found it very difficult to work for were the ones who tried to control everything in their schools. For example, it is expected that schools follow a mandated curriculum and that perhaps the materials provided to the classrooms to teach this curriculum are the same throughout a grade level. However, when teachers are told exactly how they are to teach the curriculum, the children and the teacher suffer. Just as there many different learning styles among students, there are many different teaching styles among teachers. Forcing a teacher to teach by a method with which she/he is uncomfortable reduces the amount of success she/he has in administering to her/his students’ education.
Another way that some administrators restrict their teachers is the way in which they handle discipline. They feel that teachers should be able to handle their own problems except for the very severe ones. They’re right. Teachers should be able to handle the everyday problems. But when an administrator takes away every tool that the teacher has at her/his disposal, it is almost impossible for the teacher to do this. For example, in the assertive discipline method of establishing control in the classroom, the children know what the rules are, what the consequences are for breaking them, and what the rewards are for following them. However, when an administrator takes the consequences and rewards away from the teacher, she/he is really powerless. When the administrator is very lenient and allows students to curse at adults in the building, disobey the same rules over and over again, wreak havoc in the classroom and in the time-out room, threaten her/his classmates, be cruel to classmates, exhibit temper tantrums, refuse to work either in school or outside of it, the school becomes a very unpleasant place. If teachers were given the power of administering consequences and rewards, a lot of these problems would not exist.
Another way an administrator can limit the effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom is by allowing the parents to insist upon (and receive) whatever they want for their children. If an administrator accepts a call from a parent who has a complaint and does not refer that parent to the teacher first, that teacher is seen as having no power over her/his classroom. Allowing parents to change their children’s class placement for no serious reason lets the parents think they are in control. When parents think that, both students and teachers suffer. Teachers don’t get the support they need from the home, and the children are being taught that their parents will get them out of any trouble they may get into.
The final way that I think an administrator can limit the effectiveness of a teacher is by failing to communicate. When an administrator doesn’t want to know about anything a teacher has to say, how will she/he know exactly what is going on in the building? When an administrator doesn’t explain to teachers about situations in which they are involved, how can a teacher be effective in that situation?
I wish that I could provide ways that teachers could alleviate these problems. I am sure that many of them are suffering in the same way that I am. Maybe they have an administrator that will at least listen. Then I would suggest talking to her/him. Maybe she/he just isn’t aware of the atmosphere she/he has created. Some administrators just “bury their heads in the sand” and pretend that everything is okay. Maybe teachers could tell them that things are not okay.