The Kick-Butt Reading Teacher’s Principal

No kick-butt reading teacher is an island.  She needs the support of many, including colleagues, parents, and family members willing to eat mac and cheese so she can purchase another set of Bone graphic novels when all of hers are nicked by overenthusiastic, light fingered pupils.  For me, the indispensable friend to my readers workshop has been my principal.  This is for a number of reasons.

First, he has known my students across the span of years–some since infancy.  At the drop of a name, he can fill me in on the ups and downs of the student, important family issues, the student’s extra-curricular history…the pieces that would take me weeks and months to gather, he can just lay out for me off the top of his smarty-pants head.  He can provide the context for a reluctant or struggling reader that sometimes is missing from the official records.  And he is generous with time, listening to stories about students, offering perspective and guidance and encouragement.  Every student is an important subject and worthy of his time and attention.  And he gives both freely, knowing he will have to catch up on paper work well into the evening or on a Saturday afternoon as a result.

Second, he is utterly convinced that I am a professional educator and expert in reading (and other) instruction.  He will certainly ask probing questions, prompt me to reflect critically on my practice, and hold me accountable for my students’ progress across the year, but in the end, he trusts me to do my job.  In a profession that is choked with conflicting research, most of which has more than the single agenda of promoting learning, it is truly inspiring to feel I have the academic freedom to use my expertise to the benefit of my students, regardless of what the flavor of the month is in Washington, D.C.

As if the first two reasons were not enough to make me insanely grateful, there is a third reason my principal has been my greatest ally in reading instruction.  He buys books.  This is a lot harder than you might think.  The budget for our building hasn’t increased in the ten years I’ve been teaching, and there are many, many competing needs.  But when any new teacher starts out in a classroom, he finds money (I never quite know how) to fill that teacher’s class with  books of his or her choosing.  And whenever he is able, he squeezes money out of that budget to help the rest of us build our classroom libraries and the school library.  This is close to blood-from-a-stone, water-into-wine territory in this day and age.

I know there are a ridiculous number of reading (and other) teachers across the country who are going it virtually alone,  mired in organizational politics and demoralized from the scapegoating of the profession for political gains.  They still do outstanding work, still create compelling opportunities that engage students and grow readers, but do it without any real understanding or support from administrators.  I am grateful to be one of the fortunate kick-butt reading teachers who has had a kick-butt principal standing behind her for many years.

So I’d like to thank Michael Gibbons, my principal and my mentor, for all of the above and a great deal more that I won’t mention, because that much flattery would likely be something of an embarrassment to a guy like him.

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