Tuesday, June 12, 2012

She's Quite a Character, Interview

I am excited to participate in Teachers Write virtual writing camp hosted by author Kate Messner. If you haven't heard about it, check it out! Join in! 

Today's 'Quick Write' was not at all quick for me! I've got a book on the back burner in my brain so I used today's prompt to get to know one of my characters a little better. I found the exercise difficult, yet interesting as I thought about what my character would say in response to the questions I asked. I continually asked myself, "Would she really say this?"...especially concerning vocal mannerisms such as 'you know?' and 'I'm going to be honest with you'. Those are quirks that gives a character a real-sounding voice I think. More work is needed here, but I appreciate the prompt for giving my character a little more substance in my mind. 

Meet Tabitha, elementary school principal, in her first published interview:

Q: What gets you out of bed in the morning? What are your thoughts as you prepare for your day?
A: I live for my school. When my feet hit the floor in the morning I can't wait to pull up to my special parking spot and go into the building. I feel like it's my own little factory. When I get there the building is already awake with teachers bustling around and my office ladies have the coffee brewing. I love the busy-ness of the building in the morning. After I settle into my office, I can check my schedule for the day and get ready for the morning announcements. My goal is to get through the day with minimal disruption to the daily schedule. I run a tight ship when it comes to instruction so, for example, if math is supposed to be at 10:15, then I expect to see math when I walk in at 10:15. I find that structure and routine keep things on track for the students and teachers as well. 

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a principal? Has it always been a goal of yours? 
A: When I first started teaching I enjoyed being in the classroom with the students, but around my 8th or 9th year, I started thinking about moving up. Originally I wanted to be an instructional coach, but also decided to work on my doctorate which I thought would be wasted on just being a coach. So it hasn't really always been a goal; I taught a couple more years while working on my Specialist degree and then I was given an assistant principalship for two years before getting my own school.

Q: You said you wanted to be an instructional coach, but changed your mind. Talk more about that.
A: Knowing myself as I do, I knew I could handle a whole building. I didn't just want to work with teachers as instructional coaches do. That can be so frustrating, you know? They don't trust you to tell them what to do. I like the feeling that I am steering this giant ship and not only do I control the course, but I run the dining room and the finances and the extra curricular activities. Coaches work very hard, but get little support and even fewer strokes. They're the ones who are supposed to tell the teachers they're doing a good job, so who tells them [the coaches] 'good job'? I've always aimed high. I always earned top grades and to settle for just being a coach wasn't something I wanted to do.

Q: How do you keep a finger on the pulse of your building?
A: I'm going to be honest with you...and this is something I struggle with in my building...teachers are working so hard, but there is always more to do. It is difficult to balance letting them know that they're doing a good job, but also keep them on their toes. I walk the building every day and try to see into every classroom for at least a moment or two. I think teachers like knowing that I'm available. I want them to know I'm involved in what they're doing. It's important for a principal to know what's going on in every classroom. We're not going to improve test scores by showing videos every day or relying on the basal reading books. I know that I can honestly answer any question about my building and my teachers because I see what's going on.

Q: What advice would you give to principals who are just starting out?
A: First of all, you have to stand firm in your decisions. You can ask for your staff's opinions, but when it comes down to it, you are responsible for making the big decisions. I always ask the opinion of my teachers. I want them to feel like they're involved in the process, but in the end it's up to me. You also cannot change your mind about something just because a teacher or two are upset. Stand firm, apologize later if needed. Second, get into those classrooms. It's vitally important for the teachers to know that you're involved and always around. Lastly, keep your personal life personal. I've had family and personal health issues, but I lay those aside when I walk in the door. Certainly the students shouldn't see any chinks in the armor of their principal, but also your teachers will not respect you if you unload all your personal problems on them. 

Q: If you could sum up your philosophy of education in one sentence, what would it be?
A: That's a tough question. I thought about this a lot when I was working on my doctorate. Students come to us ready to be shaped and molded into their best selves. It is up to educators to direct students towards that goal in whatever way we see fit. Wait, I think that was two sentences! (laughs)

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