Over at the mothership, Sunny Schubert has a wonderful column about a teacher she knows that has attempted to infuse his school with a little class. Zach, the fresh faced 22 year old newbie, decided he needed to set himself apart from his 7th grade students, so he started wearing a tie to school. For this transgression, he was mocked by the veteran teachers, none of whom saw any reason to dress up for school. In a show of solidarity with their teacher, Zach’s students actually started wearing ties to school – while the other teachers took time out of their day to trash his classroom with gaudy neckties.
This story is good enough – but Schubert also mentions a wildly entertaining “scandal” brewing at Glendale Elementary School in Madison, which serves a large number of African-American children. (In fact, Glendale has the highest percentage of poor and minority students at any Madison elementary school.)
In 2005, Mickey Buhl took over as Glendale’s principal, with the purpose of instilling the school with a new attitude and more innovative techniques. Since he took over, the school’s test scores have risen dramatically.
Yet Buhl’s techniques haven’t sat well with a handful of the school’s teachers, who have filed a number of complaints against the principal. Schubert points out these complaints are summarized in this 27-page attorney report posted at the Madison.com website.
It is an astounding document. It details the travails of a principal merely trying to provide the best education for his kids, yet having to spend most of his time refereeing the most banal, petulant disputes between teachers and himself. Even when Buhl attempted to mediate disputes between teachers or between a teacher and himself, the teachers generally lawyered up and demanded a teacher’s union representative be present.
Among Buhl’s transgressions that earned him complaints:
- Upon taking office, he urged teachers to stop “gossiping” amongst themselves. Teachers found that the term “gossip” made them “uncomfortable.”
- He often tried to talk to uncooperative teachers who either insulted him or simply walked away. Many thought his insistence that he be treated respectfully were “intimidating” and it made them uncomfortable.
- An attempt to tell a food service worker to stop raising her voice to the kids eventually led to that worker contacting her representative at the food workers union to file a grievance. The worker also refused to do any tasks that went beyond her duties as a food service worker, even for a few minutes.
- Sometimes, Buhl would attempt to compliment his teachers by comparing them to his former school. He would tell them they do this-or-that much better than he had seen in the past. According to their complaint, some Glendale staff members were “uncomfortable with Mr. Buhl’s use of comparisons as compliments.” They believed he shouldn’t be “putting down” people in order to “build them up.” (A hearty eye roll and head shake is warranted here.)
- One teacher who had previously resigned offered to return as a volunteer. Buhl thought it was a good idea. Of course, the union objected and filed a complaint, as they generally oppose volunteers doing the jobs of paid teachers. That teacher then gave up and never volunteered.
- At field day in 2008 and 2009, Buhl would play with the kids, picking up a hose and squirting them with water. Some of the teachers were squirted, as well. Uncomfortable. Complaint.
- Buhl and many of the teachers disagreed over the school’s bullying policy. Buhl thought bullying was repeated instances of unwanted touching, while the teachers thought one touch was enough. To demonstrate, Buhl pushed one of the teachers as a demonstration to ask if that was “bullying.” Uncomfortable. Complaint. (Although it doesn’t say the teacher herself complained – it merely says the fact he touched her made “some staff members” uncomfortable.)
In other instances, Buhl is accused of “raising his voice” or using “threatening body language.” Yet after reading through all the snarky insolence he had to endure, it’s a wonder he kept his cool as well as he did. (In many instances, problems arose with the school’s interpreters for deaf students – had I been principal, I may have sent them an unmistakable signal in sign language.)
Someday, someone is going to write a great movie contrasting how elementary students learn the basics of how to interact and relate with one another – while each disagreement their teachers have with one another ends up in a soap opera-style drama or a union grievance. Clearly, the 4th graders are more mature than many of their teachers.
And as for Buhl, this is the thanks he gets for trying to give kids the best education they can get. He was exonerated on all of the complaints mentioned in the report, yet he clearly spent hours and hours trying to mediate the BS the teachers slung at him. It’s mind-boggling to think what goes on at elementary schools that don’t have principals as dedicated to the children.