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How I Handled...

A Teacher Who Frequently
Missed Scheduled Duties

Maybe you have a teacher like this: He is a terrific teacher, but he often misses scheduled before- or after-school duties. I needed to find a way to drive home to him that these duties -- while not part of his classroom teaching responsibility -- are very important.

The Problem:

I have a teacher who is excellent in the classroom, but he has a habit of missing scheduled duties. I'm sure he is not blowing them off intentionally. I respect the fact that he is probably so focused on his classroom that he simply forgets about the duties, but I needed to drive home the point that those duties are very important responsibilities for many reasons.

The Solution:

Some of you might think that my approach was a little mean, but I felt I knew this teacher well; I felt we had a mutual respect, and that this was perhaps the best way -- in the end, even a fun way -- to make my point.

In order to make my point, I had to enlist the help of a couple of the teacher's peers. They were aware that he could be absent-minded when it came to these extra responsibilities; indeed, most colleagues considered his absent-mindedness -- or his seemingly single-minded focus -- to be among his endearing personality traits. Two colleagues "signed on" to help me make my point.

The inevitable happened: Soon after making arrangements, I observed that this teacher was not on his evening duty, so I put my plan into action. The morning following the duty, I stopped by his classroom. I hand him an accident-report form and asked him to fill out a report on the accident that had happened the evening before on his duty. I told him I was happy the student was not injured worse, but that being out of school for a week was bad enough. Being the joker I am, I went on about all the matters revolving around this accident. I left the form and walked off with a quick reminder that I needed the report by noon since the accident involved a hospital stay.

As I left his classroom, I could sense him squirming a bit. But I knew that the bee would get busy; he would contact colleagues to try to piece together what had happened and who ended up covering the situation for him. That's why I had enlisted the support of his peers.

To shorten this tale, the teacher finally had to inform me that he was not on duty when he should have been. I didn't want to prolong his agony, so I informed him that the accident had never really happened but that it could just as easily have occurred. I didn't belabor my point about responsibility. He sighed with relief, smiled a smile of candid-camera recognition, and headed off to finish up his day.

Needless to say, he has not missed a duty since that day.

The Reflection:

This might not be an effective strategy with every teacher, but I felt I had a good grasp of the issue and of this teacher's personality. I suppose my little lesson could have backfired, but I was sure of his good nature and he was a great sport about it. He thought it was a great lesson and marveled at the way I had involved his cohorts to make the point. When you know the people who work with you, you can often have a little bit of fun making an important point.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. Six principals comprise our How I Handled team; two of them are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals. Team members remain anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.