The Easiest Way For Principals to Respect Teachers

Teachers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the work world, constantly complaining that we get no respect. We have to take second jobs to make ends meet. We work extra hours for no extra pay. The teacher wage penalty is at an all-time high. We have less autonomy than we used to in our classrooms. We must endure teacher evaluation schemes that measure our worth using the outcomes of standardized tests and the opinions of people who watch us do our thing for less than 1% of the year. And when we complain, nobody listens. Michigan State researchers studied resignation letters that teachers posted online and found that every one “attested to the lack of voice and agency that teachers felt in policymaking and implementation.”

Many teachers’ biggest complaints are out of a principal’s control (and principals are often just as victimized by stupid policies as teachers). But there is one thing every principal can do that sends an unmistakable message that they understand the demands of their teachers’ jobs and want nothing more than to make that job easier:

Value their time.

If principals want teachers to do their best work, they must protect their teachers’ time like a mother polar bear protects her cubs.

Time is every teacher’s scarcest resource. Teachers always, always need more of it. American teachers, because they spend more time in front of their students than any other developed nation, need it even more. Time is valuable to everyone. For teachers, and American teachers in particular, it is precious.

When principals protect teachers’ time they make it clear that they value their work, and they give teachers the opportunity to focus their attention where it will have the greatest impact: on the students in their classrooms. Here are six ways principals can protect their teachers’ time:

Cancel Staff Meetings

No employee in the history of employeedom has ever been upset over a cancelled staff meeting. Not one. Everyone feels like my favorite professor of education policy, Morgan Polikoff.

If I were a principal, I’d be tempted to overschedule staff meetings just so I could give my teachers the gift of cancelling the majority of them. There’s nothing better than found time; it’s why we all love snow days so much.

And let’s be real here: How many staff meetings have you walked out of where you felt the time was better spent than however you would have spent it had you not been required to attend? The content of most staff meetings (and I’ve attended 20 years’ worth of them) usually breaks down like this:

  1. Housekeeping stuff that could be shared in an email.
  2. Teachers bitching about things, most of which don’t apply to the majority of the people in the room.
  3. A timid attempt at professional development (book studies, jigsawed articles, a slick instructional video produced by some company selling something in which a teacher instructs a small group of perfectly behaved students using a technique that is obviously better than anything you do but that might not work quite as well in your classroom) that might apply to a small number of people in the room.
  4. The sharing of grand plans that have little chance of being implemented or pursued for longer than six months.

Principals, if you must conduct a meeting, then have a tight, relevant agenda, stick to it, and dismiss everyone as soon as the meeting is over or stops being productive. Your teachers, all of them, have better things to do.

You Don’t Need a Committee

Teachers should almost never join unpaid committees, and principals should not ask them to. This should be easy because most of the time a committee isn’t needed at all.

Then, ask these questions:

Whose decision is it to make? If it’s yours and you’d like some input, then run it by a few staff members. You don’t need a committee to do that.

Are you really going to listen to dissenting views? I’ve heard so many stories from teachers who’ve served on committees that made recommendations only to see them ignored by decision makers. That’s the leaders’ prerogative, but it’s also a waste of everyone’s time.

Have you already made up your mind? If yes, then skip the dog and pony show. Teachers can see through the pretense. We can tell, usually very early on, when a committee has only been formed to give the appearance of consensus-building and hearing all sides. Skip the committee and make the decision.

If you decide that, yes, you do need a committee, then the next questions you should ask are:

What is the minimum number of teachers needed for this committee?

What is the minimum amount of time you need to meet to come to a decision or get the work done?

Rethink Professional Development

Don’t make teachers attend things that don’t apply to them. Yes, I know. There are state laws requiring x amount of PD hours. So what? Do you really think states that don’t want to fund public education are going to perform a thorough audit of teachers’ PD time? Do what’s best for your students and give teachers as much time as you possibly can to do their jobs as well as they can.

If you’re worried about compliance, then schedule your PD day and allow your teachers to develop themselves in the manner they see fit. Set some parameters, provide some resources, and allow teachers to decide how creative they’d like to be when they log their PD hours. Damn near anything can be considered professional development, and your teachers are already experts at justifying everything they do.

Lighten Their Load

Can someone other than teachers do the small things? That’s a question principals should regularly ask themselves. I changed districts this year and one of the first differences I experienced was in how many fewer small tasks I was asked to complete at my new school.

At my previous school, I had to print off and sign my own attendance reports every week. Everything related to a field trip, from scheduling the buses to creating, sending, and collecting permission slips and money was my responsibility. If I needed a sub for any reason, it was my job to put in for one.

At my new school, office staff deals with the attendance reports, every permission slip is made for me, copied, and put in my mailbox, buses are scheduled by the office, as are substitutes for anything that’s district-related. I’m going to a conference this week and the office signed me up and booked the hotel for me. All I have to do is show up.

Removing small tasks from teachers’ plates does two things. First, every minute that a teacher spends on administrative tasks is a minute not spent on things that have the potential to directly affect students, which is what teachers are there for. Second, it shows teachers how valued their time is.

Here are just five small things principals who want to give their teachers more time might consider. With some thought, you can probably come up with many more.

1. Office staff should find substitute teachers, sign teachers up for conferences, and submit extra duty hours to accounting. These administrative tasks are just better handled by people who do administrative work all day. Fewer balls will be dropped when one or two people are responsible for these tasks instead of expecting teachers to take care of them.

2. Data entry should be done by someone other than your most highly-trained professionals. Don’t ask teachers to scan tests or input numbers into a data warehouse. That’s a huge waste of time and literally anyone in a school can do it.

3. Expedite the process teachers use to request help with technology or maintenance needs. Make the online form easy to find and easy to complete and submit.

4. Consider the location of copy machines. The farther your teachers have to walk to pick up copies, the more time they’re spending doing nothing.

5. Assign recess, bus, lunch, and hall duties to non-teaching staff. It makes zero sense to have teachers stand around watching kids when they could be planning to better educate them.  

These may seem like small things. It feels petty listing them. Surely, teachers can take a few minutes to print off attendance reports, sign them, and put them in a tray in the office. But all of the above adds up, and teachers already don’t have enough time.

Make Planning Time Untouchable

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

Teachers cannot prepare effective lessons and provide useful feedback to students without prep time. If your district doesn’t provide it, or if they regularly take it away, then they are telling you one of two things:

We don’t care how effective you are.

Or, more likely:

We expect you to be effective, but we don’t want to provide you with the time you need. Therefore, we expect you to use your personal, unpaid time to ensure effectiveness.

If you work for a district that has taken away your planning time, you either work for people who have no clue what it takes to do your job well, or who do and don’t care what it does to your well-being.

This includes scheduling meetings during planning time. It includes forcing teachers to do PLCs during planning time. If those things are important, then schedule them outside of teachers’ planning time.

One of the more inequitable practices in schools occur in those that schedule IEPs and other parent meetings during teachers’ planning time. I worked for a district that did this and you did not want to be a teacher with more than a couple of identified students because it meant hours of additional work without pay.

Pediatricians don’t work around parents’ schedules, and no one accuses them of being insensitive to the needs of their patients. If it’s important, and most meetings with parents are, then expect parents to find the time to attend, just like they do to get their kids to the doctor and themselves to the bank. 

Provide planning time. Treat it as sacred. Move mountains to ensure that teachers never lose it so they may use it for its intended purpose.

Stop Requiring Time Wasters

Every minute a teacher devotes to work that doesn’t improve students’ chances of success is a minute wasted. And schools love to waste teachers’ minutes with nonsense. Here are four examples:

Lesson Plans

As I wrote here, principals don’t need lesson plans if their teachers are required to teach a board-approved program with strict fidelity. The lesson plans are done for them. If principals want to know if those scripted lessons are being followed, then they need only visit teachers’ classrooms. The only time principals should ask for lesson plans is if they have a teacher who is struggling and the principal believes part of that struggle might be her inability to effectively plan. Even then, principals should only require plans for lessons they will observe, because plans don’t actually mean anything unless they’re followed.

Requiring lesson plans does two things: It sends a message of distrust, and it wastes teachers’ time. Why any principal would want to do those two things is beyond me.

Parent Communications

Good teachers communicate with parents; bad principals force them to. I’ve worked for a principal who required weekly newsletters that she wanted to see before they were sent home, a principal who strongly encouraged having a class website for parents to access, and a principal who expected teachers to make five positive parent phone calls per week. None of those things are bad (except asking to see the newsletters ahead of time), but there are good reasons teachers balk at being told to do them. The main reason is time.

Principals, everything single thing you require of teachers takes time that they do not have. Asking them to make five positive phone calls home is stealing 15-30 minutes from them. Either something doesn’t get done, it gets done poorly, or it gets done when your teachers should be detaching from work. Avoid mandates. Let teachers decide how to best use their time.

Posted Learning Goals

I’ve written about this here, here, and here, so I won’t belabor the point.


Principals should allow teachers to design their own homework policies and establish their own expectations. Since homework and grading has the potential to eat up hours of a teacher’s time, it should be up to the teacher to manage it.


Too many principals pretend as though trade-offs do not exist for their teachers. They see little problem with adding one more thing to teachers’ responsibilities. But principals who want to help their teachers do their best work don’t just avoid giving their teachers more to do. They look at the way things are done in their buildings and find ways to free up more time for their staffs. Teachers know they’ll pay for squandered time later. Principals who want the best from their teachers should recognize it, too.






11 Time-Saving Tips for Teachers

A guest post by Lauren Adley

Teachers are often overwhelmed by the numerous lessons they have to plan, the piles of marking waiting for them, and the various tasks on their to-do lists.

Here are useful time management tips that will help teachers tackle those tasks and reduce those piles efficiently.

1. Clear your laptop

According to Brother International Corporation research, over half of employees spend thirty minutes a week looking for things they can’t find on their laptops. If you clear your computer and organize your digital workstation, you could gain back time that would be otherwise squandered.

Delete documents you don’t need anymore, transfer important files to a cloud service, and make an organizational system that works for you.

2. Organize your desk

Additional research from Brother International shows that two-thirds of workers spend a minimum of 30 minutes every week searching for misplaced items. Piling things on your desk is a sure way to lose them.

Therefore, declutter and organize your physical space:

– Use shelves or labeled bins for everyday submissions.

– Use an inbox/outbox system for permission slips, notes from home, and other things that come to your desk.

– Each item on your desk should have its own place; make sure you put it there every time.

3. Manage papers efficiently

Are you overwhelmed with the piles of tests, memos, attendance forms, and letters? If so, it’s time to bring some order.

– Assign a file drawer for every subject you teach.

– Use colored files to classify papers by topics, like red for quizzes and tests and blue for lesson plans.

– If you haven’t used the paper in six months or more, recycle it.

4. Grade papers effortlessly

Grading student papers is one of the most tiring and tedious tasks for teachers. Pointing out each mistake on a student’s writing can be so time-consuming. Instead, focus on the errors that are directly related to the lesson. Then, create a document with frequently-used comments you can copy and paste. That way, you will automate the process and save time and energy.

5. Plan your lessons online

Planning your lesson is another activity that takes a lot of effort. However, it doesn’t have to be like that if you use lesson planning sites which are great time-saving tools.

Use CommonCurriculum or Planbook to create lessons easily and quickly. Not only can you organize lessons around Common Core standards, but you can also design custom schedules for every class and allow students and other teachers to view your plans online.

6. Use the 2-Minute Rule

When you need to tackle tasks that actually aren’t difficult to do, you tend to procrastinate and wait for the last minute to start. An efficient way to crush your procrastination is to apply the 2-Minute Rule, suggested in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done.

The rule says that if a task requires less than two minutes to complete, then do it right away. Don’t wait to answer your email or file a document.  Instead, embrace the 2-Minute Rule and boost your productivity.

7. Plan your day

To make the most of your time and use it wisely, it’s crucial to plan your day. Spend a few minutes after school each day jotting down what you’ll do tomorrow. Use an agenda with time slots to schedule every task at the appropriate time. That way, you will use your time more efficiently and get more things done. Without proper planning, you won’t be in control of your time so you’ll be at the mercy of other people’s schedules.

8. Eliminate all distractions

Nowadays there are many distractions, such as social media notifications, emails, text messages, or incoming calls that pull teachers away from their plans and waste precious time.

For that reason, limit your time on social networks or check your emails only twice a day. Also, put your smartphone on Airplane mode while working and avoid unpleasant interruptions. Everything can wait until you finish your job.

9. Automate some tasks

Sometimes you don’t need to work harder to be more efficient, just work smarter. This means you can automate some tasks and save some time.

For example, you probably send many emails to parents and students on a variety of matters. Instead of squandering your time writing the same email over and over again, create some templates you can quickly revise and compose emails in no time at all.

10. Go digital

Printing and copying class materials take a lot of your time. Besides, it requires time to store all the papers and find one when a student needs it.

That’s why you should consider going digital and using cloud services for storing your documents. That way, you will always have a ready copy that your students can download and more importantly you will save time and drawer space.

11. Learn to delegate

Learning to delegate is a crucial skill that every teacher should learn. Use tools that can give you a hand and work more productively.

You don’t have to do everything yourself. Don’t shy away from using aides, paras, or even asking parents or students to lighten your load. There are always some simple tasks that they can assist you with and many are more than happy to do so. As a result, you’ll avoid burnout and feel more energized.

If you’re serious about saving time and recapturing your personal life, try Angela Watson’s acclaimed 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Thousands of teachers swear by it; you can see what they say here. If you decide to give it a go, do so quickly so you can take advantage of the Early Bird benefits to help you spend your summer effectively and early access to the Facebook group so you can begin sharing best practices with other teachers who’ve decided to make a change. Teacher Habits is an affiliate partner of the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek.

  Lauren Adley is a writer and editor Paper Essay and Edu Birdie. She is dedicated to her family, work and friends. She was dedicated as a writer to Assignment Holic for a long time. She is keen on reading, playing the guitar and traveling. She is interested in educational, marketing and blogging issues. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

Short-Term Gain for Long-Term Pain

Suppose you were offered the following choice:  $50 right now or $60 in six days. Which would you choose?

Now suppose you are offered $50 today or $60 in six months. Which would you take?

Your answer will likely depend on a number of factors, such as:

How hard up for cash you are.

Whether or not you’ve been given less than six months to live.

How much you trust the person offering you the money to return with it when he promises to.

And whether or not you believe you can invest the money and make more than the delayed option in the given timeframe.

Your choice will also depend on the fact that you’re human, and being human you likely prefer immediate gratification over delayed rewards. Although an extra ten bucks is an extra ten bucks no matter when it’s collected, robust research shows that most people take the smaller amount if they can have it now. Economists call this tendency to over-value immediate rewards at the expense of long-term intentions present bias.

Present bias explains why you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolutions. It’s why you blow up your monthly budget to buy that amazing purse during an Amazon Lightning deal. It explains why you destroy your diet when there’s a delicious pizza pie in front of you and also why you find yourself in a long line at the supermarket before dinner time with all the other procrastinators. It’s why one-third of Americans have nothing saved for retirement and why the average household owes about $7,000 in credit card debt.

Present bias also explains why good teachers get fed up and quit.

Short-Term Gain for Long-Term Pain

Suppose you are a principal who is offered the following choice: Help one child now or help many children over the course of 10 years? Which would you choose?

It seems obvious to help the many instead of the one and yet each year, thanks to present bias, principals do the opposite. They satisfy immediate needs at the expense of long-term benefits.

Beth Houf, principal of Fulton Middle School in Missouri and the coauthor of the book Lead Like a Pirate, once wrote that the reason great teachers are asked to do more is that’s what’s best for kids. She’s hardly the only administrator who believes this. And it’s hard to argue with such logic. When a needy student is right there in front of you, you’d have to be a monster to not want to help.

So principals move a struggling child from one teacher’s class into a more effective teacher’s room. They place more challenging students in the classroom of teachers who’ve mastered classroom management. They give the most competent educators the toughest intervention groups because those are the students who need the best instruction. They ask the most dedicated teachers to present at parent nights because they know those teachers will accept and that the presentation will go well.

They solve the problem in front of them without considering the long-term costs. They succumb to present bias. In doing so,  they make it more likely that their school and the future students who will attend it will suffer.

The Paradox of Success

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown describes something he calls the “paradox of success.” For teachers, it works like this:

1. We start out focused on being the best teacher we can for our students. As young, overwhelmed teachers, we limit our efforts to what will make the biggest impact and we’re open to learning from others.

2. Because we are focused and always learning, we improve. Our success is noticed by our principals, who offer us additional opportunities. If successful with these, we become a go-to person who is offered even more opportunities.

3. The more we are asked to do, the less we’re able to focus on what led to our initial success. Our efforts are diffused as we are spread thinner and thinner.

4. We become distracted from our highest contribution, which is effectively teaching the students in front of us. We’ve undermined our own success by doing too much.

Some of this is on the teacher. Teachers need to get better at telling people no, which, not coincidentally, is the subject of my book, The Teacher’s Guide to Saying NOBut principals must also be aware of the dangers of the success paradox and present bias. Yes, your best teachers can help you solve your most pressing problems. Many of them will see your frequent dependence on them as a compliment and they won’t refuse your requests. But asking the same teachers to solve multiple problems will wear them out. It will make them less effective at their primary job. And it can, over time, drive them from your building.

I know a woman who was an amazing educator. She’d worked her way from teacher to principal of a Catholic elementary school in Wisconsin. Because she was so effective, she was asked to take on more responsibilities. Parents loved her, so she became the face of the organization. It wasn’t long before she was working 14-hour days while spending less and less time on her principal duties. She was relied on and she knew it. Her effectiveness became part of her identity, so much so that instead of admitting that she was overwhelmed and asking her boss for fewer responsibilities, she quit. Today, this talented educator works in a bank.

Combatting Present Bias

People have limits. That includes the most effective teachers. To keep them around for many years so they can help many students, principals should remember to fight present bias. They should hold off for the greater reward.

There are three ways they can do so. One study in Chile found that it wasn’t interest rates that worked best to compel people to save but peer groups and reminders. Those who announced their savings targets to others and set up text message reminders deposited money in their savings accounts 3.5 more often than those who were simply offered a higher interest rate. Principals who want to avoid overworking their best teachers can do likewise. Talk with other principals about what you’re intentionally doing to preserve your best teachers’ energy and set up frequent reminders or schedules so that you don’t return to the same people every time you have a problem that needs solving.

Forced commitments also work. One way to avoid giving in to present bias is to deny yourself the ability to act in the present. This is the concept behind automatic deposits and Christmas clubs. When the money isn’t there, you can’t spend it. By making it hard to access, you force yourself to delay gratification. Principals can force themselves to focus on the long-term wellness of their teachers instead of the short-term problems they want to solve by establishing rules for asking their teachers to do more. Keep a list of teachers who are already doing extra and forbid yourself from asking them to do more.

A third method is to imagine the future. In one experiment,  the faces of the participants were digitally scanned and altered to create a realistically aged version. Researches presented subjects with a hypothetical choice about their preferred retirement allocation. Those who saw the aged images of themselves chose to save more for their golden years. When tempted to approach your go-to teacher with a new problem for her to solve, stop and imagine your school without that teacher in five years. Picture yourself older. Envision a new batch of students.  Consider the problems that you’ll have to face and the very real possibility that there will be different people to solve them if you keep asking your best teachers to do more today.


Image source: Pixabay


Till the Heels Fall Off

The following is a guest article by Anthony Meals, an 8-12 grade agricultural educator from Kansas. He’s in his fifth year of teaching and blogs at  You can also find him on Twitter here: @Mr_Meals. This article was originally published on Anthony’s site. It’s republished here with permission. 

Personal fashion isn’t a strong suit of mine. Typically, I don’t buy my next pair of black dress shoes till I’ve gotten as much mileage out of them as possible. I vividly remember walking with students at a National FFA Convention a few years back beneath the bridge between Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center in Indianapolis. Suddenly, on my next step and without warning, my foot dropped hard. I looked back and saw that my right shoe heel had ripped off completely. The timing couldn’t have been better, though! We were walking to the charter bus and it was our last evening in Indy…so I didn’t have to try thinking of how I’d need to patch my heel for a few more days of walking! 😉

Then there was my students’ favorite shoe incident my first year teaching. We got to work on landscaping projects around our community and I was shoveling up old landscapes in my dress shoes, competing with a group of boys to clear a section out the fastest, when my right heel got stuck on the shovel. We got some great laughs and figured out an epic story for the Payless ShoeSource salesman.

Though these shoe incidents bring back great memories and joys, the metaphor speaks to a lie…a lie that was destroying my passion for working with young people, a lie that almost destroyed my marriage, a lie being widely peddled by society.

This lie: It is a badge of honor to work yourself till the heels of life fall off. 

It earns no badges to be burned out. It earns no badges to neglect the most precious relationships of your life. Yet, what do societal pressures say? MORE. MORE. We don’t remove spinning plates. Instead, we try to find ways to balance them all and then maybe add a few more.

I won’t mislead you. I’ve been a very slow learner of this and there are times even now that I am struggling. This year has been a hard reality check; I cannot be it all for all people. Though I thrive off my current schedule, it is by no means healthy for me or my young family, notwithstanding that it is in no way sustainable. I’m wearing out the heels of my life much too fast and I’m only 27.

All of us need to be strong, healthy models for those newly entering our teaching profession. We need to be teaching them how to be strategic in saying ‘Yes.’ We need to provide opportunities for personal reflection and growth.

I’m blessed that my school administration has allowed me to come down to San Antonio this whole week for the National Association of Agricultural Educators Conference. It has recharged my battery and equipped me with tools to enhance my teaching, but above all, it’s expanded my support network in the profession. This week is shaping up to be a game-changer, but the goals I’m developing for myself look different than ever before.

I’m looking at strategically scaling back in different facets of my work life, starting this spring semester. Putting First Things First at home, so Annelle stops getting the leftover pieces of me…

The following observation will come off as harsh…please be aware it is for me not my readers…

What did I do with the shoes I wore out? Did I idolize them? Hang them on a plaque?

NO, THEY GOT THROWN IN THE DUMP…IN TATTERED PIECES! They served only a fleeting purpose…

ouch…this cannot be my life!

We must start talking about teaching differently because it is unlike any vocation. Our goal should not be to seek balancing competing silos. This compartmentalizing is wrong. We need a holistic view of an educator. Many of us find our life’s mission in this field, so how do we harmonize that with our desires and need for family and personal development?

I don’t have the answers. I’m a young pup, but I know that I need to be better. I know that I can be better! It starts with the first step in harmonizing my schedule to reflect the values of my life.

I’ll finish with a final anecdote:

My wife loves her pairs of boots. One pair in particular she has taken great care of and has taken to be resoled over the past ten years close to three times. They are still functioning like new and show little wear. Yet, she uses them constantly!

I’m not disposable. It’s not a badge to view my life as disposable, even if my time seems to be filled with worthy work…I need to be resoled. Lord give me the resolve, strength, and courage to do so!


Original Article: Till the Heels Fall Off

Autocomplete, Buffets, and How Schools Are Set Up to Fail

There are all sorts of fun things you can do with Google’s autocomplete function. You can start typing strings of words and see what pops up. (I just tried “what do people” and Google suggested “see in Birdbox?”) You can play Google Feud, which is more fun than you might expect.  You can also read this:

But if you hate fun and would rather be frustrated, then start a query with the words, “Schools should teach” and be prepared to be blown away by the sheer number of problems people think schools should attempt to fix (which is weird, considering how many of those same people seem to have little faith in schools’ ability to teach anything).

If you follow “Schools should teach” with every letter of the alphabet, you will soon understand exactly how schools are set up to fail and why teachers feel like pulling their hair out trying to keep up with the expectations.

To save you the trouble, here is what Google “suggests” schools teach:

cursive writing skills


life skills



sex education

character education

home economics

religious education

reading with only digital materials (I didn’t make that up)

students how to fail

students to protect the environment

classes on friendship

you how to be happy

intelligent design

emotional intelligence

practical skills

world religions

abstinence-only education

a second language


sign language


foreign languages

financial skills

good behavior

gun safety




how to cook


conflict resolution



mental health


media literacy

At least there’s nothing that starts with ‘q’ or ‘z’.


More is not better

You may have noticed that reading, writing, math, social studies, spelling, and science do not appear. I didn’t omit them. Google did. Which says something, though I’m not sure what.

You may have also noticed that a lot of what people want schools to teach are important things. In fact, you may have agreed with many of the items on the list above. If so, you can understand why legislators, school board members, and superintendents eagerly accept responsibility for so many subjects and skills. It’s hard to be against teaching kids manners, or conflict resolution, or handwriting.

The problem isn’t any one thing on the list. The problem is the list in its entirety. It’s like my diet. No one food is making me fat, but when you put them altogether … well, let’s just say I need to reread my own book.

While most schools don’t try to teach everything, they also don’t do a very good job of drawing some firm lines about what they will and will not teach. My guess is that most schools take a stab at about 80% of the items above and many others that aren’t included (it doesn’t take much effort to come up with things not suggested by Google).

Schools suffer from the same fallacy that buffets and genre-mashing movies do: They believe that more is better. Click To Tweet

A larger variety of food will appeal to more diners. Offering crab legs, lasagna, and sirloin steak pretty much covers everyone, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t love a buffet?

Mixing genres will attract more moviegoers. Because if you like buddy movies,  comedies, and mysteries, then why wouldn’t you want to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Will Ferrell and that other guy?

Offering more to students will make more of them (and their parents) happy. We’ve got something for everyone! Latin, cooking classes, mental health screening, boater’s safety, and AP Chemistry!

The problem with that kind of thinking is that when you do more things you invariably sacrifice quality.

If you want a good steak (or good crab legs or lasagna), you don’t go to a buffet. Buffets offer a lot of food, but none of it’s the kind of thing that’s going to impress a date.

If you want a good movie, you don’t watch Netflix’s genre-mashing Brightwhich Rotten Tomatoes said, “tries to blend fantasy, hard-hitting cop drama, and social commentary — and ends up failing painfully on all three fronts.”

Critic Brian Lowry called the movie a “bloated, expensive mess.” The New York Times called it “a loud, ungainly hybrid that does not serve police procedurals or fantasy spectaculars very well.”

One can easily imagine a similar review for the many public schools that make the same mistake of trying to please too many people:

“The school tries to blend rigorous academics with conflict resolution and proper etiquette, along with a focus on life skills such as tax preparation and gun safety — and ends up failing painfully short of the mark on all six hundred fronts. Three thumbs down.”

Our public school system might aptly be described as a “bloated, expensive mess” that doesn’t serve its students, their parents, or the people working inside of it very well.

When you try to do too much, you end up doing very little well.

We should stop asking schools to solve every societal problem. Until we do, we shouldn’t expect any more from them than we do from a buffet dinner or the latest Hollywood mash-up. Schools won’t get much better until Google completes the phrase “Schools should teach” with the word “less.”


Schools Should Do Less