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How to fix your Underperforming School (pt. 1)

April 24, 2012

If you are a teacher, administrator, student or parent of a student at an ‘underperforming’ school, you are probably a little bipolar.  There is a weird duality of love and disdain that I have found to be common among anyone affiliated with an ‘underperforming’ school.  Every one of you has wanted to do something to help at one point and later wondered why you were ever stupid enough to think you could make a difference.  If you are in one of your “I want to do something but have no idea how” phases, allow me to make a friendly suggestion: go grab a damn mop and buy an air freshener for your classroom. 

I don’t care if you are a parent, student or the principal.  I don’t need to quote studies or statistics here.  This is common sense.  When you walk into a dirty, dingy school that smells bad and your feet stick to the floor, nobody is motivated to teach or learn.  Change those freakin’ busted light bulbs and scrape that peeling paint off the ceiling like you have been meaning to do for the last 8 years but never got around to.  It’s not solitary; it’s school for Christ sake.  I don’t care what your schedule is like, what your curriculum says or what your job description says.  The first step to turning a school around is to clean it up.  Nobody is above picking up trash in the hallway every now and then.

If for some unholy reason an actual student is reading this, here is some advice.  Be polite to every adult and go out of your way to pick up trash around the building.  Even if you hate your teacher and your friends think you are a complete tool (or whatever term students are using these days).  Don’t be too obvious.  If you start acting like some character from one of those god awful Disney shows about what high school must be like for a bunch of white kids and their well-behaved minority friends nobody is going to buy it.  And you’re definitely going to get your ass kicked.  No matter what, your teachers will be suspicious for a day or two.  But if you can somehow keep it up for a couple weeks you’ll never have to worry about homework again.

To any administrator reading this, here is the first step to turning your school around.  Take a day or two and get everyone to start scrubbing.  Teachers and administrators need to be visibly involved.  Invite parents, community members, and local figures (politicians/celebrities/etc.)  The chance to scrub a graffiti penis off the back stairwell hand in hand with a cute Black girl and a rough looking Latino boy with hazel eyes that seem to say “I get into a lot of trouble but deep down inside I am a wonderful human being” is exactly the photo op that your mayor is looking for to distract everyone from this shit economy.  If you’re really lucky there might be a tight gubernatorial race going on.  And to my dear friends in LAUSD, there are TONS of celebrities that need to fill community service hours after their DUI or professional athletes who need to rebuild their reputation after making an impulsive homophonic comment after losing a big game on Twitter (its only redeeming quality). 

An investment of a day or two will yield huge rewards in the long run for everybody. 

Don’t expect everyone to be equally involved.  If one kid isn’t working as hard as another don’t reprimand or get angry.  Don’t say anything.  You can’t force school spirit.  When you try, it always backfires.  When the hard working students start complaining that others aren’t pulling their weight (and they absolutely will), point out that the work is voluntary and tell them to lead by example (or else they’ll end up like Charlie Sheen over there – he’s not a volunteer but he’s actually a janitor).  It will rub off eventually.  It’s important to remember that you are trying to build a spirit of community and school pride.  It’s not going to happen overnight.

I don’t mean some superficial cleaning either.  Take some of that budget you don’t have and buy some paint.  Call a local home improvement store and ask for donations.  Chances are they will help a great deal.  Administrators, you need to take a few bucks out of your pocket and pay for some of the supplies yourself.  I know times are tough, but being a school administrator is a labor of love and I have a hard time imagining you can’t spare a few hundred bucks – maybe even a grand (yeah, I went there) out of your six figures.  And don’t go announcing your benevolence over the loudspeaker either (assuming your loudspeakers work).  Teachers gossip more than students – word will get around – that you are personally invested and truly care about your staff and students.  You do care, don’t you? 

Let this be the one day you leave the suit and tie at home.  I completely agree that you should be setting an example, but to make your point you need to be seen in casual attire every once in a while – at least as a point of reference.  For the lady administrators, (especially my Black women) well let’s be honest here, there aren’t any reading this because they whipped their school into shape four years ago and definitely didn’t need some white guy from New England to tell them how to dress. 

to be continued….

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2012 3:39 pm

    Matt, Tell It Like It is! I will say it again: All anyone needs to do to fix schools is talk with dedicated teachers like you. Thank you.


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