Barely ten years into an education career, Patrick J. Bathras has gone from the classroom to the assistant principal's office to the national spotlight. In January, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development named him its first Outstanding Young Educator of the Year, noting his "innovative contributions to his school and district." Bathras discussed his inspirations, goals, and passions in an Education World e-interview. Included: Tips for aspiring young administrators.
Patrick J. Bathras, an assistant principal at Brooklyn Park Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland, won the first Outstanding Young Educator of the Year award from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Education World: What was your reaction to winning the award?
Patrick J. Bathras: I received a phone call from Dr. Gene R. Carter, executive director of ASCD on January 6, and he congratulated me on winning. I was floored. I couldn't believe I won. I know that I am just one of many educators who do great things for our students on a daily basis, but they chose me as the winner. What an honor!
EW: Who inspired you to be an educator?
Bathras: I began college at Anne Arundel Community College in 1988 as a pre-physical therapy major, but my heart wasn't in it, so I decided to follow my heart. I received my associate's of arts degree with a concentration in biology in December, 1990, and transferred to Towson State University in January, 1991, where I majored in elementary education.
Looking back on my schooling, all of my teachers inspired me to teach. My elementary teachers were great, my middle school experience was great, and high school teacher Teresa McComas influenced me. My baseball coach Mel Montgomery inspired me to be the best and take pride in myself and what I do. A lot of lessons learned on the baseball field transfer into the "real-world." I try to stress to my teachers how much they do influence and inspire others to learn. Their role is so very important; it is not just about the curriculum.
EW: What was the hardest part of the transition from teacher to administrator?
Bathras: As a classroom teacher, I respected the amount of work that goes on "behind the scenes," [at school] but I never thought that being an administrator would be so time-consuming. An administrator bears the awesome burden of responsibility for everything that goes on in the school. As a teacher, even out of the building, I would think about my students and ways to make them successful, or think about creating a more creative lesson in the classroom. But as an administrator, you are constantly thinking of everything that goes on in the building and all of those individuals who have a stake in what is going on inside the schoolhouse walls. When I was a teacher, most decisions I made just affected my classroom or grade level; as an administrator, my decisions influence the entire school and community, along with other stakeholders.
EW: What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most difficult?
Bathras: As an educator, the most rewarding part of the job is to see students who are struggling [to finally understand something] and watch the "light bulb" go off. It's a point in their lives when things begin to make sense, whether they are academic, social, or behavior [related]. It is fabulous to see children appreciate the learning process and value the opportunities that they have in terms of their education. When you can create a safe learning environment where children can learn and want to learn, that is a good feeling.
The most difficult part of the job is dealing with discipline. You want to be able to fast-forward the students' lives and show them how important school is and how it will shape their futures. You don't want to see them waste great educational opportunities. The challenges [on the job] continue to mount. But this does not discourage me; rather it is what motivates me to work harder. I try to stress to the students that there is no substitute for hard work.
EW: Why do you like working with the middle-school age group?
Bathras: I have worked with elementary school students and middle school students, and I prefer middle school students. I can make connections with them and relate things that are happening to them to the "real-world." I enjoy their energy and their sense of humor -- even though others might think it is warped at this age. Middle school students are at a critical point in their lives where decisions that they make will greatly influence the direction they will go in high school. This [middle school] is the last hope to turn some of these students around, to better prepare them for high school. I want nothing more than to have each of my students become a successful and productive citizen.
EW: What makes a good day for you?
Bathras: A good day is when my students arrive at school on time and ready to learn. When they arrive on the [school] doorstep in the morning, I am out on the steps greeting the sixth and seventh grade students. To see their smiling faces, [knowing they are] eager to learn, is a good feeling. I mentor a couple of students, and when I see them at lunch and check their progress reports to see that they are meeting expectations and receiving positive teacher comments, that is a great feeling. I am like their surrogate parent, because it takes all of us in the community of learners to raise these kids. To walk into a classroom and see students engaged in meaningful learning activities and enjoying school is a great feeling. To work with a committed and dedicated staff, where everyone gets deeply involved in promoting student achievementthat is a fantastic feeling.
EW: What are your goals as an administrator?
Bathras: My goal is to be an instructional leader who moves the community of learners forward and promotes student achievement. That becomes the ultimate challenge! I also want to instill pride in all of our students at Brooklyn Park Middle School. I launched a slogan, "Brooklyn Park PRIDE!" We even have a large welcome mat in our lobby that displays this slogan. Taking pride in the community and school is what will inspire students at our school to better themselves. Forty-two percent of our students qualify for free- or reduced-price meals, which is indicative of high poverty, but that will not stop us for pushing our students to succeed. It is all about high expectations. We believe that allstudents can and will succeed. It is the function of the administration to "rally the troops" and design creative and innovative solutions to the ongoing problems of promoting student achievement.
My other goal is to provide a safe learning environment. By establishing, stating, and reinforcing behavioral expectations, the students fully understand what it will take to be successful. The staff works together to implement consistent procedures and rules. We have a school community where students feel they can trust and confide in the adults to solve their problems. We have established a positive learning climate conducive to student learning.
EW: What advice do you have for young teachers who might be considering a path into administration?
Bathras: Be ready to commit yourself fully to a job where you have to lead a group of people and the way is not always paved with easy decisions. It is a daunting task and the hours often are long. If you are at a point in your career and life where you feel you can lead others to do great and inspiring things for the good of students, then by all means, it is a great job. I strongly encourage teachers to gain as much experience in leadership roles as possible [before becoming administrators] so that they may experience firsthand decision-making, accountability, responsibility for a larger group and cause, and learn ways to lead others.
This e-interview with Patrick J. Bathras is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click