This may be a stretch, but I am going to propose something to our community that could help everyone understand what it’s like to live in the world of public education on a regular basis. I know being Principal or Teacher for a Day would be fun and quite informative, but I think I have a better idea. Come be School Secretary for a Day.
“How could this be more informative than being Principal for a Day?” you say.
Good question. The office is the nerve center of most any school. While the principal is often there, she is likely to be in a classroom observing or at the administration building in meetings. There are good lessons in both places, but the goal here is to really learn about the school day holistically.
“What about staying with one teacher all day?”
Also a grand idea. If the office is the brain, then teachers are the heart of the school. In my experience, the best teachers create their own mini universe in their classrooms. It’s a safe place where kids know their expectations and thrive, their closest friends are there, and the teacher guides them through it all. Every classroom is different depending on the culture a teacher creates. You’ll get a great picture of that teacher and his students, but you won’t get that overall view I am after.
So come to the office! Have a seat in one of the reception chairs and just listen in to the conversations. Make sure you’re there about an hour before school starts so you get the full picture.
It’s incredibly busy during the morning. Kids come in late, parents call their children in for absences, and teachers pick up their mail. There may be a lull, until a child who has a loose tooth to be pulled shows up and you have to find the nurse. Then a parent comes in to drop off their child’s lunch money. You will find out which class the child is in and call down there to get the child to come to the office and retrieve the money.
Lunch happens! You will get a thirty minute break (if you’re lucky) to step away from your desk to eat and use the restroom. Oh, but wait! One of your students spots you in the hall and tells you a story about the dream she had last night.
You get back to your desk to find that there was an injury on the playground, and the nurse isn’t around, so you get to doctor up that baby. Don’t forget to put on your gloves!
Now you’ve got some time to do some paperwork the principal has assigned you. This could range from preparing for a Christmas luncheon and gift exchange all the way to writing purchase orders for teachers to get supplies.
You’ve got another visitor, but they don’t speak English, and neither do you, so you go track down the bilingual teacher for help. You learn that the parent needs to drop off some records from their child’s former school. Now you get to file that away in a secure back room while the phone is ringing, ringing, ringing.
The next thing you know, it’s time to start dismissal. Ten parents have come to pick up children early, another few have called to pass on messages about how to get home to their children. Then the bus riders go by, the car riders line up and leave, and the day care people are carted away. But there’s one little guy left. And he stays and stays. You can’t leave him alone, and you’re the only one here right now.
Finally his parent comes, and you get to go home too.
It’s got to be mentally exhausting, and I am certain I’ve left out some basic tasks (nose bleeds, DHS calls, IEP meetings, etc.). You are interrupted nearly every five minutes by well-intentioned people. This kind of work takes someone with ample patience and a hospitable nature. I’m certain I’m not equipped.
Knowing the day-to-day in the office offers a glimpse into the whole business that is a school. Elementary, that is. Middle and high school are a whole other world!