Posts Tagged ‘compensation’

I have heard the story, and repeated it myself a number of times, about how the position of Superintendent of Schools got started. It makes sense to me. It goes something like this.

Somewhere, sometime in the past, there was a small school that had a single teacher for all the grades, a typical one-room school house. In the winter, in addition to the responsibility to teach, the teacher had to keep the building warm by keeping the fire going in the pot-belly stove. She, and to begin with they were all women, also had the responsibility to keep the place tidy which included sweeping and emptying the trash as needed. Even at this time, a school board was responsible for hiring the teacher, paying her, and mediating issues of underwriting the costs associated with running a school. Somewhere, someplace, one of these boards, being generous and concerned about the welfare of their teacher, decided to hire someone to help with the chores, do the sweeping and clean up, and keep the stove stoked and ready for school before the teacher even arrived. They were called the school superintendent, what today we would call the custodian. Not to be outdone, this practice caught on, easing the burden on the teacher so she could concentrate on teaching.

In some school, the board happened to hire a rather overqualified and talented person, one with initiative and a outgoing personality. Since this person was not tied down to the classroom, he, most likely a he, socialized with members of the board and discussed the issues of the day including the need to enlarge the school or even build a second one. Before long, the board, feeling the stress of needing to grow, sought some help. They decided to hire this janitor for a bigger role. He was not to be just the custodian, but an adviser to the board since he was in and around the school a lot. In this special relationship with the board, he promoted the idea of a bigger job with more pay as their agent in dealing with the issues of the day. Persuasive, they went along this easy path and hired him. Now, instead of being the school superintendent, he became the Superintendent of the School. Using his special access to the board while the teacher was busy in the classroom, his position became important. It became a filter through which the board understood what was going on in the school. His job developed to be the most important position in that district. At this point, he became the arbiter of information, the boss of the teacher, the chief honcho in the school district. As the schools grew, as they began to hire male teachers, the male teachers began to see administrative positions as the logical way to advance, to make more money, to have power to influence the direction of education. And it was not long before programs to train men how to be administrators developed to provide legitimacy to the role of administrator. Now, the building superintendent is supposed to also be an expert in educational theory as well as finance, and public relations.

This is how I have heard that the building superintendent became the most important person in a school district, a position paying several times what a teacher is paid as though the corporate model was the most appropriate model for education.  An administrator doesn’t have to grade papers or prepare for tomorrows classes.  An administrator can participate in civil sector activities during the day without having to arrange for a substitute.  An administrator doesn’t have to evaluate and grade students although he might have to evaluate teachers.  It is easy to forget what it is like to be a teacher, to prepare for a class knowing that the night before their students probably watched at least one TV show that costs thousands of dollars to produce.

Education would be more effective it administrators taught classes they had to prepare for and teachers would be more effective if part of their time was in participation with the administrative aspects of education.  As described above, we somehow got things mixed up.