Guest Column

Observations From the Journey of a Master Teacher

by Vye Carlile

As I near the waning days of my public school teaching journey, I am reflecting upon what made some of my school administrators successful and what made others not so. As I look back on the past 35 years of teaching in a variety of socioeconomic areas, one thing stands out among the successful administrators; that one thing each possessed was collegiality.

Those administrators made a teacher feel as if she or he were the most important person in the world. One such administrator wrote this in my first evaluation: “Mrs. Carlile is very excited about teaching, and everything she does reflects upon that excitement. We are so very happy she chose to work with us.”

That administrator was there to support us and we knew it. At our first faculty meeting, this administrator said his primary responsibility was to ensure our environment supported our endeavors. He was much beloved and much sought after as an administrator. He had no favorites. We all felt we were special in his eyes.

Another administrator sparked above all by further demonstrating her respect for teachers. When any parent complained, she immediately asked the question, “Have you talked with the teacher about this?”

When one such parent complained about my teaching about Native Americans in English class, she invited the parent in and said, “You must meet this teacher. After speaking with her, I am very sure you will be satisfied.” She left me with the parent. The parent looked me squarely in the eye and expressed his disdain. I smiled and began to explain about integrating the curriculum, making it relevant and using all the senses as a way to help ensure students learned.

After 15 minutes, the principal quietly returned. By the end of those few minutes, that parent shook my hand and said, “I wish I would have had a teacher like you. I might have liked English a lot better!” My principal said, “You have no idea what you have just done! That man is always threatening to litigate and you have won him over by just being you — by being the master teacher you are!” I smiled and returned to my classroom. What a powerful moment for all of us!

This administrator never allowed staff to tattle upon one another. She expected us to be adults and to speak with one another. “Work it out — I know so and so cares a lot about you and is very professional.” She never went behind a staff member’s back to speak to another in a conspiratorial way.

Another astute principal used to come into my English as a second language classroom and say, “When I feel depressed, I come in here because you all make me smile.” He genuinely meant what he said. Kids would hug him. He demonstrated respect for teachers as professionals and always did his best to ensure we had what we needed. He supported our field trips and often received notes or calls from the community about the wonderful behavior of our class — the manners the students demonstrated — and the delight of the community.

Impetuous Openings
Several neophyte administrators made their entrances swiftly and loudly. One major error was their impetuousness. Speaking before thinking. One wanted to continue showing a racist play that he thought was nothing short of irony. Another worried about every detail of bulletin boards and couch placements. Both demonstrated favorites — and divided the school into divisive little camps. Working under that management style was everything administration should not be about.

Their display of blatant power and disrespect for teachers caused greater teacher absenteeism, illnesses spurred on by stress, less enthusiasm in the classroom and a greater percentage of teachers on anti-depressants. The quality of teaching declined in those schools as well.

There are also those administrators who used their position for power to harass and control staff, using subtle methods of retaliation. They were so drunken in their power-driven position, they did not see the damage they were causing the community. Staff who escaped from their throes often found themselves lingering in moments of intense depression and desolation.

Sad to say, most times these administrators were protected by their school districts. They were moved to other schools, given more authority or just ignored.

A Vital Mission
One thing I have learned on this great journey — one universal quality that makes a great supervisor stand out — is one of humility and caring.

When teachers feel positive in the classroom, the students exhibit that same sort of behavior.

Teaching is a mission. This mission comes filled with emotions and those emotions help teach us, empower us and make it worthwhile to spend an entire day away from the comforts of home. Those are the management strategies that make a great school leader. Those are the ones that separate the chaff from the wheat. In the end, those are the qualities that will increase student learning. And, isn’t that what we are all about?

Vye Carlile, a 35-year veteran teacher, teaches 3rd grade at Yoshikai Elementary School, 4900 Jade St. N.E., Salem, OR 97305. E-mail: vyecarlile@excite.com