CAT Tracks for November 15, 2012

As I look back upon my 39 years of teaching at Cairo High School/CJSHS...

...well, I need a cheat sheet to remember the principals of the thing:

A couple of additions:

A total of 18 names.


If it hadn't been for Leo Verble (a decade, albeit shared for the last couple of years), Elmer McPherson (six years), and Constance Williams (six years, split into two 3-year terms) well, the average "life span" of a CHS Principal would have been much worse.

Mostly, though, it was two years and out...

...except for the year when it was two for one (interim principals doing a semester each!)

Let me pause and allow you to read the's short if not sweet.

I'll be back on the other side with my usual cattiness...

From Education Week

Why Teachers Quit: It's the Principal, Stupid

CAT Tracks Editor's Note:

Most of the principals on the list above came to Cairo High School and laid down their ultimatum:

"It's my way or the highway!"

Well, they got the "highway" part right, they simply didn't envision that it would be them making the trip!

If they had listened closely to the faculty and staff as they were issuing their edict...

...the undertone of mumbling and grumbling...

"Yeah, well, we were here when you came, and we'll be here when you leave"

...maybe they would have reconsidered.

Then again, probably not.

With few exceptions, principals are not into listening, they are into dictating. They feel the need to prove themselves.

It didn't help that the Superintendents and School Boards of CSD #1 were intent on hiring a person who would put the Cairo High School faculty in their place...their subservient place. (How do I know this? A couple of the departing principals told us so...telling us how they had come to learn - too late - that we were not the problem, that we were the ones trying to find a solution to the turmoil that was CHS.)

One thing I learned in my 39 years...

A bad principal can suck the life out of a school, can make every morning wake-up something to be dreaded.

And don't even mention Sunday afternoon...

...that sinking feeling, the onset of depression as you grade papers and do lesson plans.


Can somebody please explain to me why lesson plans are the favorite "stick" of principals? It seems that whenever a school principal wants to establish power and control - or to punish the faculty for some perceived slight - they crack the lesson plan whip. Principals turn a routine part of teaching into an onerous task that detracts from education, rather than enhancing it. Lesson plans become a thing unto themselves - "busy work", often written to satisfy the whims of the principal and having nothing to do with what actually goes on in the classroom.

I mean... much of teaching is spontaneous.

It's like they say about battle plans...

...that they go to hell when the first shot is fired.

Unless the teacher is blessed with a crystal ball, there is no way to "plan" for what is going to greet you when you walk into that classroom.

Oh, yeah...

A teacher should know the material that they hope to present when they walk through the door. The teacher has their "style" they plan to accomplish the goals and objectives of the day's lesson. (And, bears repeating, let the teacher do it their way. It's their job that is on the line!)


Whether the teacher will be doing G.1b or H.2c or whatever, give me a break! If I plan on teaching the students (allowing the students to discover) how to factor polynomials, then that's what we will try to do...

...assuming some student doesn't barf five minutes into class...

...barring an announcement over the intercom that anyone wanting to ride the fan bus needs to sign up in the office by noon...

...and hope to God that it's not picture day or SIP day. You might as well "plan" on doing no lessons on those damn days! (Except that the Principal won't let you off that easy. You still have to "play the game", write the fake damn plans, pretend that something wonderfully educational is going to happen that day.)

Ooh, ooh, ooh...

...don't forget spirit week, fall festival week, or whatever damn week the Principal deems important!


I'm sorry, I digressed.

In my defense, all I can say is that it's a normal reaction for any teacher or ex-teacher.

Don't believe me?

Walk up to any teacher or ex-teacher today and say two words: "Lesson Plans!"

(Expletives Deleted)

Teaching is a hard job under the best of circumstances.

Whether you are an elementary teacher responsible for 20-30 kids all day long, or a secondary teacher responsible for 100-150 kids over six 1-hour have to deal with a multitude of personalities (sometimes in one kid!)

A teacher needs to be focused...needs support, not distraction. Needs a morale booster, not a morale buster.

Looking back...

I had some good principals (okay, a couple) - "educational leaders" - who would "get their way", making a positive contribution (without the teachers even realizing they had been "nudged" in a different direction.)

I had some bad principals (well, more than a couple) - some of the "draw a paycheck" types, pausing in Cairo before departing to their next destination. Fortunately, the faculty and staff at CHS were a strong and dedicated to take care of business as long as the Principal would stand aside and allow let them do their thing.

And, yes, there were the ugly...determined to prove that they were large and in charge!

The old saying holds true about school principals:

"They need to lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way."

Unfortunately, it usually took two years to get rid of the ugly...

...two years of hell...

...two years when the faculty had to jump through hoops and fight silly battles while trying to do what only they can do, educate children.

Principals do not educate kids, teachers do. A good principal supports that effort, maybe even enhances that effort. The bad principal at least knows their limitations, stays in the office "doing important things", and allows teachers to, well, teach. The ugly principal attacks the teachers, creates chaos, trying to prove (to themselves?) that they have "THE POWER".

My mumbling, grumbling teachers from above?

"Yeah, well, we were here when you came, and we'll be here when you leave."

Unfortunately... the article above laments, many teachers when faced with the bad or ugly principal will take to the highway, not willing to "play the game", not willing to suffer abuse.

So it was in Cairo... many excellent teachers taking their talents elsewhere.

Our loss, another school's gain.