Having been in the field of education in a variety of capacities since 2004, I often get asked for the most important advice I can give to new teachers. Folks often expect me to answer something akin to having strong lesson plans, good behavior management, excellent parental relations, and so on. However, for me, all of this comes secondary to the most important relationship you will have in the school, the one with the folks who set the tone for your school: administrators. This duet will make or break your experience as a teacher.
What follows are some tips picked up over the years to help strengthen this bond.
- Dress well.
If you want to be taken seriously as a professional and as a teacher, then you need to dress the part, in modest business-casual or professional attire. If you come to work in an outfit that looks like you’re ready to go to the gym, you’re not offering a good representation of the school, and principals will notice. Dressing well gives your administrator the message that you respect the institution and take pride in your work.
Administrators like to see you go the extra mile. It really does impress them. Volunteer for different committees and be an active member. Leading a committee on your school campus makes you look even better. Administrators can’t be everywhere at once, and they look favorably upon teachers who take on extra duties.
- Never, never, never criticize your administrator to anyone at work!
All of us have complaints about our bosses, so it’s inevitable you will have differences of opinion with your administrator. When this happens, don’t share your thoughts with co-workers. Tell your spouse instead—or keep it to yourself.
If a fellow teacher comes to you and speaks badly about your administrator, do everything in your power to not go along with it. Change the subject immediately. Talk about the weather or your new shoes. Say you must go and then walk away. No matter how you get out of the situation, just get out of it.
- Find out what your administrator is looking for.
Each administrator looks for different things. Find out what yours values. Some are sticklers for standards on the classroom wall, and others are more concerned about desks arranged a certain way or data consistently taken. Find out what makes your administrator tick and do that. If it’s something you don’t like, do it anyway. Sometimes it’s really the small things that make or break your administrator’s opinion of you.
Administrators like to know what’s going on in their school. If you have an issue with a student or parent, let your administrator know. You don’t want your administrator to ask why you didn’t tell them something. Just let them know so you don’t keep them in the dark. It is better to over-communicate than to go the other way. Remember, your administrator doesn’t expect your class to be perfect. Every teacher, even veteran ones, have issues that come up at some point.
- Be there!
When a teacher is absent, it’s a big headache for administrators. They need someone to cover your class, and substitutes don’t always show up. When this happens, your class needs to be split up, which inconveniences other teachers. Behavior problems tend to increase when you are not there, and critical procedures don’t always get followed. If you’re sick and must be absent, then stay home and take care of yourself. Just try to keep absences to a minimum.
- Punctuality is critical.
Administrators need to conduct meetings in order to disseminate information, and they must provide training. Make sure you come to meetings on time—in fact, arrive early. Don’t get on your cell phone during the meetings and look genuinely interested. If it is a meeting about activating prior knowledge or guided instruction, and you’ve heard it numerous times, continue listening respectfully. Administrators will notice who comes late to meetings and who looks bored. Raise your hand and contribute to meetings—say something profound!
- Build a relationship with parents.
A sure way to get on your administrator’s good side is to have excellent relationships with parents. For administrators, no news is often good news when it comes to parents; however, if they get a parental complaint, you can expect to do some explaining in the front office! Parents are our greatest ally in education. Communicate with parents several days a week, if not every day. Some parents will ask for communication every day, so follow through on this. Sending an email or text to a parent takes little time, and parents generally want to know how their child is doing and what they can do to help them. The more you communicate, the less likely they are to get surprised and complain.
Getting along with administrators is not always easy. In my experience, they have numerous demands and pressures on them that we, as teachers, are not aware of. Often, they are juggling many items at once. As a teacher you get very few opportunities to make a strong impression on administration, so take advantage of the opportunities you do have.
By Daniel Weintraub
Daniel Weintraub, EdD, BCBA, has more than a decade of experience in education as a second-grade, fifth-grade, and special education teacher. He has taught students with emotional disturbances, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, and autism. He currently works for the Clark County School District as a Special Education Teacher, in addition to teaching at the University of Phoenix, Sierra Nevada College, National University, Ball State University, and UMASS. Dr. Weintraub has taught a wide range of courses, including Introduction to Teaching, History and Social Science, Curriculum and Instruction II: Mathematics and Science, Fluency in Reading, Arts Health, PE, and Development and Learning.