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Plan for administrators in the classroom has merit

February 18, 1998

Plan for administrators in the classroom has merit

To Maryland Del. Janet Greenip, a former teacher, it sounded like a great idea - keep school administrators in touch with what's going on in the classroom by requiring them to teach for one semester every five years before they're recertified. But the Anne Arundel County Republican wasn't prepared for the storm of opposition the bill provoked.

Dave Ryker, Greenip's legislative aide, said it was immediately opposed by the state school board, the superintendents' association and many local boards, including the Washington County board. Even those who supported the theory behind the bill expressed some concern about how it would be implemented, Ryker said.

The death blow came when opponents began referring to it as an unfunded mandate, a hot-button word that conjures up visions of ivory-tower legislators dreaming up ways to spend local government dollars.

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It wasn't supposed to be a burden to the locals at all, Ryker said, although he conceded the bill wasn't sold as well as it could have been.

The bill didn't envision taking the superintendent out of his or her job for months at a time, Ryker says, but using the private college model, where deans and administrators teach one class a year, an hour a day, to keep in touch with the student body. The requirement could be fulfilled, Ryker said, by teaching one hour in the morning for five semesters during a five-year period.

That's not the way the bill was worded, said Dori Nipps, a member of the Washington County school board. According to Nipps, the bill said that "for each renewal of a certificate, (the administrator) shall at a minimum teach one full semester..."

"That to me is very tough, to ask them to go back as a full-time teacher," Nipps said, adding that it would involve preparing lesson plans and other paperwork.

"And what happens to those kids?" Nipps asked, recalling that when one of her children had three English teachers in one year, it wasn't a good learning experience.

And not to discount practical classroom experience, she said, but "the superintendent makes an awfully expensive substitute."

Ed Hayes, another school board member, also objected to the idea that the bill would have taken an administrator out of his or her job for months at a time. That would mean paying someone else to do the job in the meantime, Hayes said.

"It sounds great on the surface, but who's going to pay for it - the State of Maryland?" Hayes asked.

And then there's the fairness issue, he said.

"We aren't asking teachers to do two jobs," he said, so why ask administrators to pick up this burden. Of the administrators who work at Commonwealth Avenue, there are only about six who aren't in the classroom on a regular basis, evaluating teachers and performing other duties, Hayes said.

"I just don't like the idea that Washington County should pick that price tag up," Hayes said, adding that "I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but who's going to pay for it?"

The whole issue is moot for this session because Greenip has withdrawn the bill, according to her office, so she could work on two other bills - to direct more lottery money to school construction and to modify the testing program that's part of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

It may be introduced in modified form at some future date, Ryker said. I personally believe that would be a good idea, for these reasons:

- the assumption that high-level administrators can't take on any additional duties seems false to me. If the superintendent had to teach for an hour a day, he'd probably cope by shifting some routine administrative duties to subordinates, or by having them help with teaching-related duties, like writing lesson plans or grading papers.

- the experience of being in the classroom as an observer (as Hayes says many top-level board employees are) is not the same as being the teacher. I've been in a lot of college classrooms, but none prepared me for the experience of teaching a course at Hagerstown Junior College a few years ago.

It was the difference between watching a stage play and acting in one. Though it was a required course, that didn't always guarantee the class's full attention. I had to work for that, and when the semester was done, I marveled at the fact that some teachers routinely carry three or four times the load I did.

The course also put me in touch with some bright young people who forced me to re-examine my beliefs and to understand that their ideas came from a culture and experiences much different from the ones I had as a student. That can't be a bad thing, and if administrators had come up with this idea on their own, it would have been seen as an educational innovation instead of as a legislative intrusion. Here's hoping Del. Greenip tries this one again in 1999.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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