Authored by Julie Rust
“I’m also trying to remember to just be kind. To each other. To our students. To our administrators. Side point: there’s a toxic sentiment in schools that places teachers and administrators squarely against each other. I don’t like that. Our administrators are dealing with *stuff* too, and sometimes it’s hard to see because we don’t (or can’t) know about much of what they are handling; but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot. A whole lot. And so I’m pretty sure they are tired too. Do I complain and get frustrated? Obviously. But do I think my administrators care about me as a person? I do. Do I think that they are working as hard as we are? Yes. Do I think they get overwhelmed and frustrated and tired too? For sure.”Marty Kelly, “A Time to Be Tired”
This is a blog in which I build excitement for the Spring series of podcasts which will be dropped weekly starting in April. But it’s really not that. It’s something much bigger to me. It’s something that’s been percolating for the 2.7 years I’ve been on this job. It’s something I feel deep in my bones:
The perception of a divide between faculty/admin breaks my heart.
In what will surprise no one who knows me even a little bit, I don’t really enjoy conflict. When I was six, my parents fought passionately about how to cook a box of mac ‘n’ cheese resulting, at one point, in my mom’s furious tossing of the cardboard box on the ground, bursting it open, pellets of tiny hard pasta flying bullet-like around the room. I am told I intervened in impressive lengths, explaining to each of them the other side with passion and a surprising amount of insight. From where I stood, both perspectives were valid, and it was ultimately quite frustrating to my six-year-old self to see two people who loved each other miscommunicating so poorly. Also I was hungry. And I needed someone to cook the damn dinner.
It’s not so much that I hate conflict. It’s just that I can always so vividly see every side to every argument. And I can also see the emotions that are really underlying the entire feud to begin with. And they almost always stem from a desire to be respected, loved, heard, and valued and the sense that at least one party (often both) is feeling a lack in any of the above categories. I feel this way about mac ‘n’ cheese; I feel this way about political polarization; and I feel this way anytime I hear a faculty member project a negative stereotype on an administrator or vice versa.
But I also am gonna be honest. When I was a full time faculty member in middle school, high school, and higher ed, I kinda saw admin as the bad guys. And to be fair one of the dudes I worked for (the one that screamed at me when I was 8 months pregnant because I had the audacity to allow my ninth graders to line up to leave right before the bell rang) had an affair with another English teacher and wasn’t honestly that nice of a dude. But even that one really really great administrator I had my first years of teaching (shoutout Julie Bowers) totally and utterly terrified me. How could those school leaders possibly know what was best for my classroom? And anyway, power always corrupts people. Even those with the best of intentions.
Well now I AM an evil administrator and it IS easy to lose touch of what’s going on in the classroom. That’s why my favorite people to talk to are faculty. . . still the smartest, most in-touch people in the room any time of day. That’s why I love my job, because teaching and learning darn better be intimately embedded in the every day of faculty: prepping the flow of a class, designing assessments, managing insanely energetic youth, differentiating what you do to meet a wide range of skill levels. It’s the hardest and the worst and the best job in the world. It’s why I want all of you to collectively slap me if I start to lose sight of the expertise of the folks leading our classrooms every day. Maybe a figurative slap. I don’t really like violence. Or pain.
But guess what? This whole “us versus them vibe” is absurd. Because, y’all (as I remind my three kids during road trips or when we are all attempting to clean the house) . . . SAME TEAM. SAME GOALS. I wish there were clearer cut villains and good guys in this life, but the longer I live the clearer it becomes: We are all doing the best with the knowledge and skills and experiences and energy that we have. Do we all make mistakes too? You betcha. Especially in schools, where the job couldn’t be harder and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
That’s why our new podcast season is dedicated to a proverbial clearing of the air. Saying what needs to be said. Sharing our experiences across different roles in this school. Because the most vicious of cycles is closing the door to your echo chamber, rolling your eyes, and making comments to your buddies about “those faculty” or “those admin.” So this season we are going to look each other in the eye, the “us” and the “them” (whichever us or them you are) and we are going to share stories and words that reflect our truths and lived realities on a variety of themes that matter to this pursuit that we share . . . educating youth. We are going to share a “day in the life of” from both vantage points, discuss hot topics like graduation requirements, debate what makes a “great” administrator and faculty member, imagine what true teacher support should look like, and outline our own perspectives about classroom management and positive school culture. We are, in short, going to talk about real stuff from different vantage points. And while I doubt we will always agree, I am pretty sure we will be the better from it. Or at the very least, I hope we can make space to see each other a bit more fully. Because from what I see out of our school leaders and faculty, there are a lot of super-smart, super-caring humans putting their all into our community. And I think we can all agree that macaroni and cheese tastes a whole lot better when it’s stirred in a pot of mutual understanding.