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Relationships matter

By Alesha Jackson on Apr 9, 2009 07:16 AM
Photo: Amber Rhea

I recently worked with a group of new teachers at a large Philadelphia high school. We were discussing risk taking as part of lesson planning, but our talk wasn’t going very well. I’d hoped to get a dialogue going that might encourage them to think about the differences between merely “getting through the lesson” and really structuring time where students could connect personally with the work.

Finally, after a few uncomfortable minutes of shifting eyes and silence, one teacher muttered sarcastically, “That will go over real well with the ‘Ghost.’” Turns out she was referring to her principal, who she said generally advocated for skill-and-drill lessons constructed around preparing for the PSSA exam. He’d gotten his nickname from staff who’d never spoken to him directly, but were privy to his short bursts on the PA system every hour. 

With all that teachers have on their plates with instruction, it can be easy to overlook the social nature of the teaching environment. But teaching, perhaps more than any other profession, requires that we participate in interactions with people in multiple and ongoing ways. When I counsel frustrated new teachers now, I am careful to encourage them to balance classroom expectations with realistic views of what I believe our students really hope to get out of their school day: time with each other. But what about teachers’ relationships with other school staff? Let’s face it: for students and grown ups, relationships matter. 

In a school context, those relationships are complex. Much like our students, adults in school settings join clubs, construct cliques, and form alliances. But what happens in schools where contact between teachers and administration is strained? How are teachers encouraged to connect personally with their work?

Your comments from previous posts mention tales of administrative bullying, of principals becoming “the enemy.” When teachers and principals aren’t working in relative harmony, what does that mean for professional relationships in a school? 

What’s happening in your schools and classrooms? Please weigh in here. You can also email me at

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Comments (1)

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on April 11, 2009 12:49 pm

The whole question of experienced teacher avoiding schools where they are needed the most is misleading. A strong principal WILL attract good teachers. However, the SDP severly lacks good principals. I recall talking to a PFT employee once about this problem. He said the SDP admitted that they had people in principal position that clearly didn't belong in them. Why? Because the SDP can't get enough candidates to do the job right so they take anyone and everyone. As a result teachers have to often suffer under principals who are missing in action, bigoted, vindictive, corrupt, etc. It costs the district in teachers every year. Increasing recruiting won't help as long as the district looks the other way when it comes to incompetent principals.

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