Dave and I had the pleasure of taking a weeklong vacation this week to Maui. Beautiful trip, so far, complete with whale watching (or more accurately, whale-waiting), listening to waves crashing on the beach, taking a driving trip around the island on a trek to get what the guidebook said was the “best banana bread on the planet” (may very well be the truth---it melts in our mouth!), and eating at some really great restaurants. But in order to get to paradise, we had to first travel a few times zones to get here, and this trip required us to change airlines at LAX. I should have thought through the amount I packed, because after trekking from one terminal to another with our suitcases and golf bags, we were exhausted. But finally, we made it to the new terminal and new airline check in spot, where we had to re-check in to get our boarding passes and check in our luggage bound for Hawaii. The problem was, there were no ticket counters whatsoever, only kiosks which consisted of computer stands at which you could check in. We figured that out without a hitch but then were stymied about where to take our luggage. We were directed two different places as the golf clubs are “oversized” and someone forgot to put yellow stickers on them that are supposed to show the baggage folks that our luggage had been scanned. So after feeling like we were run-around the check-in area for 20 minutes, I had to ask the one gal who was there to assist folks who got confused. “How do you think this type of check in area works versus the traditional ticket counter?” I asked. She started laughing (which is never really a good sign, do you think?) and answered, “Well, honestly, I haven’t been here long enough to know what it was like with a ticket counter, but I sure hear a lot of people complain about the way it is now.” She continued, “I think people get frustrated because they see there aren’t people waiting to help them and they automatically become helpless. They can’t do ANYthing on their own.” I said, “I wonder if they just want to feel there will be someone there to support them.” She pointed at me, nodded, and said, “That’s exactly what it is.”
We made it through the circus that was that check-in area. But it sure made me think about what teachers want from their supervisors, especially in a time of new evaluation systems popping up all over the country. The teachers struggling with learning a new way of being observed and evaluated just want to feel there is someone there to support them. The research I did for my dissertation a few years ago bore out this theory. Of all the characteristics, actions and behaviors the administrator could do or possess, Support for Teachers was in the top 3. “I just want to know my principal has my back”, “I just want to be supported without being thrown under the bus” and “I need to know he is there for me” were common anecdotal comments I read from the survey research. Many teachers with whom I have worked do not need 24/7 help. They don’t need someone breathing down their neck in order to teach. But, they need to know that if they have a question or concern, there is someone there that can help in a pinch, so they are not flailing in the breeze (or in the middle of LAX).
Perhaps we need to examine how we can provide the combination of assistance and autonomy for teachers, in order to strike the perfect balance that is “just right” support for teachers. We can be better equipped to “fly safely and comfortably”, then.