“Shitballs,” I muttered today, opening my first email.
“Evaluation meeting, 9:00am,” read the handy reminder sent from my Gmail calendar.
Oh, right. That little meeting where my principal critiques me and tells me whether I’m doing a good job or just sucking it up big time and ruining all the futures of my current students. And for which, supposedly, I’ve prepared a whole slew of documents. Or would have, if I’d remembered we had a meeting.
I glanced at clock. Seven-forty. T-minus fifteen minutes until teaching. Quick mental inventory of options:
1. Do nothing. Wing meeting.
2. Scramble to prepare a few documents. Act prepared.
3. Do nothing. Hope principal asks me if he’s gay. Derail conversation.
Most attractive option? #3.
Quick mental inventory of probability of #3 happening:
1. Principal has wife that works at the school and three kids.
I hauled ass and whipped out some reasonably coherent updates to my evaluation documents. Then, I met with my principal. He asked me how I’d done this year. Wanted to know where I was going in the future. Inquired as to what I’d like to change. Gave some practical advice.
My boss, it turns out, is a reasonably competent man.
Which, of course, is entirely unacceptable. Everybody knows that evaluation meetings are supposed to be only one of two things: a) a joke or b) non-existent.
But not this guy. Nooo, I’ve got the Educational Guru of a principal. I’ve got that guy who’s all like “Oooh, look at me. I’m a boss who actually knows what he’s talking about. I’m the educator that actually knows education. I expect you to show some skills, document some progress, and after all that, then I’m going to give you some relevant feedback!”
Geez. Over-competent freak. So, after my unacceptably coherent meeting, I sought out some moral support in the form of my teacher friends.
“Tell me about your evaluations,” I asked one friend who teaches at a middle school.
“Well,” she said, “My last principal sat in my room and wrote thank you notes during my lesson. And not a single one was for me.”
“Awesome!” I said. “That’s more like it.”
“Tell me about your evaluations,” I tried another friend.
“Current principal did one evaluation on me. I went to talk to her about it, but she never wanted to meet,” she said. “Since then I haven’t really seen her.”
“Yeah!” We high-fived. That’s the school administration I know and love!
I tracked down a male. Maybe the boys had better luck.
“Tell me about your teacher evaluations,” I asked again.
See? Everyone knows the industry standard. So who did my principal think he was, giving me all sorts of relevant feedback?
I’d been searching for the Reasonably Competent Principal my entire career.
Way back in the day, at another job in another place and time, I used to play a little game called “Let’s See If I Can Get My Boss To Give Me Any Feedback Whatsoever.” That version was actually the wiffleball version of the original “Let’s See If I Can Get My Boss To Give Me Any Useful Feedback” game, but the “useful” qualifier had proved so entirely impossible that the whole undertaking had to be dumbed down a bit. Still, despite the simpler version, my score wasn’t pretty. And that’s considering that my bosses didn’t even know we were playing.
“Here we go again!” I gave myself a pep talk (and, for lack of teammates, slapped my own rear just to show how sporty I really was) as I stepped into my evaluation meeting my second year of teaching. It had only taken me one year to discover that the real challenge in teaching was…well…getting someone to challenge you. So I quickly resolved that issue by inventing my feedback game. If I could get the boss man (or woman) to give me one coherent, relevant piece of advice, I got a point. More advice = more points.
“Hey, welcome!” My principal that year greeted me warmly as I entered his office. “Thanks for letting me visit your classroom. How do you think it went?”
This was a promising start.
“Pretty good,” I said. “What did you observe?”
Jump right in. Be direct. Hit a line drive asking for feedback so that he couldn’t dodge.
“Solid,” he said. “You had a variety of activities using a variety of skills. I did notice that there was a group of kids in the back of the room that talked the entire time…but I really think that’s just your style of teaching.”
“Everybody is different and as long as the kids are learning, some teachers just let them chat.”
No! No, stop! You almost gave me a point, then snatched it away by excusing my incompetency! STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR ME AND LET ME GET BETTER, DAMMIT!
“So, is it true people around school really think I’m gay?”
“I mean, since my divorce I’ve heard murmurings about murmurings that I might be gay.”
“Um…” I watched my wiffleball ride a gust of wind out to left field.
“You know, with the divorce and all I do want to look better, so I had some girlfriends take me out clothes shopping. I like to look nice. But now I hear these rumblings around the school that people think I got divorced because I’m gay. I like to wear nice clothes and I have good personal hygiene. So what? But…is that really the rumor?”
Short answer? Yes.
“I’m not really cool enough to be up on the gossip,” I replied sweetly. I gave up on points from that evaluation conversation. But it didn’t really matter, since that particular principal took another job. In San Francisco.
Our department supervision moved to a new principal who had a reputation as being a bit of a b-i-t-c-h. We got along alright, but I suppose that was really just due to me not being a total train wreck in the classroom. Another year, another boss, another round of observations.
“Why don’t we just do your post-evaluation conversation in the car on the way to Smith High?” suggested my New Principal. We were heading out for an off-site observation in the hopes of hiring one of their teachers.
“Fine by me,” We’d be trapped together in a small space. She’d have no recourse but to answer my questions.
“So,” I warmed up at the wiffleball home plate. “What do I need to do for my evaluation?”
“Oh,” she said. “It looks good. I’ve got your paperwork done, we finished your observation and you’re accompanying me on this school visit, so you’re obviously a strong teacher. We’ll just need to sign everything and get it in your file.”
“But if you had to give me suggestions for improvement, what would they be?” Seriously, lady. I can’t hit any harder. It’s a home run headed straight for your face.
“Oh, who knows. I’d have to go back and look at my notes to see what I wrote. Plus, I’m sure Matt gave you lots of good feedback last year. Oh! Did you know he’s gay, by the way?”
Are you kidding me? How was my evaluation meeting about this guy, again?
But now, in my current job, had I finally found the Reasonably Competent Principal? This was a game-changer. I had just completed an evaluation meeting that…evaluated me. I had gotten useful feedback! My questions had been answered! And…we hadn’t even talked about my principal’s sexual orientation! Not once!
I stopped in my tracks mid-hallway and ran back to the office.
“Hey, boss,” I said breathlessly bursting in his door as he started with surprise, “I really don’t care if you’re gay or not, but I’d totally tell you if people were talking about you because you’re the first person to let me win my wiffleball game. Just please don’t get divorced and move to San Francisco.”
“Teach? ” said my definitively-not-gay-overly-competent-and-now-thoroughly-confused principal with some consternation. “Are you ok?”
“Home run!” I shouted and ran all the way back to my classroom.