Guest Column

Out of the Classroom But Not Out of Teaching

by GEORGE BESCULIDES


Ino longer can count how many times over my administrative career teachers have asked when I last taught. It is as though you cannot be considered a teacher unless you set foot into a classroom.

Because of the repetitiveness of the question, I came to internalize that thinking. I accepted the notion that administrators were not teachers. It has been nearly 30 years since I taught social studies to high school students. But I still am in touch with the way students think, owing to recent experience teaching graduate-level courses.

One reason I entered administration was to break down some of the perceived differences that existed between teachers and administrators and between teaching and administration. Perhaps in undertaking this mission I lost sight of the role I was playing myself, first as a student and then as a teacher.

Long-Lasting Ideas
When I was a fledgling administrator, I served as a high school vice principal and attended the superintendent’s administrative cabinet meetings. The superintendent would seek our opinions about issues and impart information. I remember taking notes on items that gave me insight into the field. Some of those thoughts have stayed with me over the many years: "You have to relieve pressure." "Listen to who is doing the drumming." "Voice your opinions about a policy before it is created, and support it after it is created."

If we faced a situation where pressure was building, we were taught we should not ignore it, but rather try to relieve the pressure before the situation exploded into a major problem. We were urged to be mindful of the voices within the community and to determine whether people were expressing their own discontent or represented larger constituencies.

As Thoreau spoke of people marching to a different drummer, my superintendent recognized the need to differentiate between individual gripes versus people reflecting widespread levels of discontent. Each must be dealt with, but perhaps in different ways.

On district policy matters, we were encouraged as administrators to express our opinions about issues in the developmental stage. This superintendent believed, as I have over the years, that the time for these expressions was before things became codified. Once established as policy, it became our obligation to support it, not snipe at it.

Discovering the Source
Amazingly, I can recall these guiding principles decades later. Since then, I served as principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent. Recently, I returned to the district where I worked as high school principal, along with several hundred others, to celebrate the pending retirement of an assistant superintendent. I ran into the current high school principal, who had been an intern with me years earlier and whom I later appointed assistant principal.

We were exchanging stories when he said, "Remember, if you get into a scrap with someone, no matter how right you are, you are going to pick up a few scars. Decide if it is worth it to you."

"Where did you learn that?" I asked laughing.

"You taught me that," he replied.

With his reminder, the events surrounding that lesson came streaming back to the forefront of my memory. I just never saw myself in the role of a teacher at the time.

When conducting my own cabinet meetings as superintendent, I hear someone express a point of view with a familiar ring to it. On occasion, I pause to ask where the idea came from. Frequently, the administrator’s response is, "You taught me that."

I apparently have missed the point that even though I have not been teaching in a classroom for some time, I nevertheless have remained a teacher.

A Ready Response
Years ago, the literature in educational administration described the superintendent as a master teacher. In recent years, I have seen few articles describe the role in this manner. The job seems to have moved more into the realm of legal interpretation and community relations. Surveys of our profession show that the amount of time a superintendent actually spends on instructional matters is minimal. Our roles can be described more aptly as working in the art of compromise.

Ultimately, I have concluded I never really left teaching. Today, my cabinet meetings are my classroom, where I impart thoughts about administrative roles and responsibilities. While I do not see the people around the table taking notes on everything I may utter, as my high schoolers often did, they apparently incorporate many of the ideas into their own thinking.

My classroom also is in session when my board of education meets. Sometimes the community at large serves as the classroom when we instruct citizens about the annual budget and inform them about its importance to children.

So the next time someone asks, "How long has it been since you have been out of the classroom?" my response is going to be, "I never left it!"

George Besculides is the new superintendent of the American Community Schools, 129 Aghias Paraskevis St., Ano Halandri, Athens 152 34, Greece. E-mail: Dr.GB@acs.gr