Howdy ho, neighbours! Just now I’m a substitute or guest teacher. I visit a lot of schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding suburbs. I can see quite a bit about your school, your adult culture, and your student culture in less than 10 minutes based on observation and shameless eavesdropping.
I know your school is healthy because:
- The front of your school is clean, in good repair, and the trash has been taken out. It’s unattractive to have a family of 10 squirrels raiding your front door trash cans and demonstrating bushy -tailed awake-ness by decorating your front walk and lawn on Monday morning at 7am. Your signs or banners are hung appropriately and not sagging or flapping like old pirate flags. Your doors are as close to shiny as time and weather permit. I know it’s a school loaded with kids, but some polish needs to be in evidence as this is your school entrance. Entrance water and dirt control devices (rugs and those metal grating things) are clean and swept. We live in Minnesota, I know how hard that is on entrance ways, but have a broom and shovel handy and after the masses arrive; be sure to keep that entrance as clean as possible.
- Your front office is a model of efficiency. It’s 7.15 am and I just had to drive through some horrid weather and/or traffic to get to your space. Your front office person is on time, professionally dressed, and politely efficient. If a person is there in jeans and a sweatshirt, I assume that person is NOT the office person, but someone else. The space is clean, in good repair, and organized. I don’t need to know how many boxes of office supplies you got from Office Depot. The trash has been emptied and the bins are clean. Your office person knows I am coming and has folders, keys, and badges out ready to go. If it turns into a comedy of errors and no one knows I’m coming, knows a teacher is out, and no plans are to be had, I most likely won’t come back to your school. And, since I am on Aesop and we are to leave feed back about your school, I will leave such notes as discourage others from going to your school. No one needs the unprepared day to land on them.
- Evidence of a well trained maintenance team. Hallways are clean and in good repair; the newer the paint, the better the impression. Bathrooms smell pleasant, are well stocked with paper, and clean. Signage is level and symmetrical. Classrooms are clearly numbered and labeled with who’s teaching where and what are they teaching. Many times this is my first inkling of what I’m really doing today is the sign outside a classroom door.
- Staff areas that can support the number of staff you have working in your school. These include break rooms, lounges, and bathroom facilities. Break rooms should have large tables, functioning microwaves and refrigerators. Staff restrooms should be separate from student facilities. You have no idea how much using the same potties as the kiddies gives me the willies. Staff areas also include copy rooms. Those should be neat, stocked with papers, toner, and assorted supplies. There is nothing more annoying than being a guest in your school and I am the one to fill the machines while having to get stuff ready for my own class. I will choose the wrong paper every time and load the toner wrong.
- While I’m in your staff areas and hallways, I will eavesdrop on conversations. I love to hear staff having brief hallway meetings to trouble shoot an issue. I feel good when I hear staff talking positively to each other. Hearing students talk about academic issues makes me happy. Since I am a sub and I don’t really get to have true camaraderie, I have to live vicariously through others. It’s fabulous when I hear affirming chatter from staff and students that is earned, not just handed out like cheap candy on Halloween.
- The sub folder is ready to go with lesson plans, activities, and school information (login codes, copy codes, phone numbers, maps, bell schedules). I don’t want to try and be a fill in teacher without the proper information on school behavior policies, dress codes, and classroom expectations. I will impose my own if none exists.
- Login codes. If you want me to use your SMART Board or Prometheus or any other computer oriented technology, set me up with the appropriate passwords. I’m not going to hack into your system from afar, I just want to do my job and spending a half hour chasing around after the media or IT folks is exhausting and unproductive. Don’t for one moment assume I have my own logins from the district office or main IT chick or Yahweh. I don’t. I really don’t want to look bad either hacking into you system or not doing what you wanted in the first place.
If you are in charge of a school, nearly every day of the school year you will have someone out due to life events like flu, weather, transit issues, and family things. You will need a pinch hitter and I’m it. I judge your school based on what I see and hear starting from when I get to your parking lot to when I look at the stop sign at the lot exit. Remember, not only are you screening me, I am screening you.