My social studies department had a supervisor, but to be honest, in the 18 years since being granted tenure, my supervisor, and for that matter all administrators, visited my classroom about 20 times. My principal didn't visit my classroom once, not once!
So what, in fact, do supervisors actually do? They hold department meetings. They oversee a collection of curricula, making sure that all the paperwork is completed and the courses comply with state mandates. They collect lesson plans and want to be kept informed on noteworthy activities, and typically approve or disapprove of field trips and guests to the school. They respond to parent concerns, some real, some imagined. On occasion they mediate disputes among colleagues or between teachers and students with their parents.
But most of their time is spent dealing with people at the Board Office. District administrators kept demands on my supervisor, and other supervisors I'm sure. Meetings were a seemingly daily occurrence. They also completed a department budget and ordered any necessary resources, keeping within District guidelines and operating with an ever dwindling budget.
I bring this to your attention because the need for classroom supervision is critical, especially in the inner city, where the need to give students a positive experience and receive exemplary classroom leadership from a teacher is an important factor in keeping kids in school. We need educators that teach kids how to advocate for themselves, and encourage student engagement, empowerment, and accountability in the classroom.
I have to assume that department supervisors in the inner city face a similar fate in their daily experience, burdened even more so given the increased participation of government agencies. This is a tragedy of the highest order. Whether in a collaborative or directional vein, the need for intense, practical, clinical supervision of teachers is vital. Department supervisors and other administrators must consider turning some powers and responsibilities over to the faculty so that they can dedicate their time and resources to helping improve teacher performance. Much of the paperwork, inventory, and even disputes can be handled by teachers, freeing the supervisor up to spend more time in the classroom. It is important that this not be seen as an adversarial relationship, which is why a collaborative approach is far preferable unless there is a real need for directional supervision.
A problem I foresee is that supervisors and administrators are often times rusty or downright uninformed about the current state of supervision and the best practices they are supposed to be encouraging. Increased professional development at the administrative level is important, but more importantly, every school should have a full time clinical supervisor on staff to do nothing other than work with teachers in the classroom.
The clinical supervisors would be specifically charged with working with all non-tenured teachers and "at risk" teachers as determined by the school administration. If a performance pay system is in place they would also have a role in its determination.
The inclusion of a clinical supervisor is obviously an added expense to school districts, but a clearly justifiable and legitimate use of revenue. The demand for quality teachers in the inner city is high, supply is low. This is not to lay the blame for the failure of inner city public schools on the lap of our teachers, but is more an affirmation of the crucial role they play in the overall maturation- social and intellectual- of children in our inner city schools.
Putting in place a better system of identifying and encouraging "star students" in college to become teachers is another piece of the puzzle, a component in the overall effort to develop a faculty of high quality educators. Having these clinical supervisors in place when these new teachers arrive will help keep these teachers in the profession, addressing what has be indicated a primary cause for many of these new teachers voluntarily resigning or staying in the profession as confused and frustrated educators. I cannot emphasize enough how important this feature is to the renewal of our inner city schools. The time to give teachers the support they want is NOW. We cannot wait.