Job Title: Department Head For Social Studies, English, Phys. Ed. & Health
Type of Company: I work for the Connecticut Technical High School System. It is a state-run system of regional schools providing a high-school diploma and entry-level skills needed to enter a specific trade.
Education: BA, History, Salem State College MA, Education, Eastern Connecticut State University
Previous Experience: I was a Social Studies and English instructor for over a dozen years before becoming the department head. For two years before that I was a district scout executive for the Boy Scouts of America.
Job Tasks: I am a middle manager between the school administrators and the teachers. My job is to help the teachers accomplish their task of instruction and assist the administrators in running the school on a day-to-day basis. I also teach my own classes. I meet once a week with instructors in the same subject to pass along information and to solicit input from them on how to better support them and ideas for improving the school. I process orders for the 14 people in my department, handle requests for information from central office consultants and administrators. I work on teacher evaluation and provide assistance with instructional or discipline issues. I meet weekly with administrators to review ongoing initiatives, plan for future events, give input onto school-wide decisions and pass on concerns from the instructional staff.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of the job are providing materials and assistance to instructors to make their jobs easier. For example, getting copies of the district-wide trimester tests photocopied (10,000+ pages) for the academic staff saves them time.
I enjoy showing people how to use the resources of the school and finding resources for people. Examples are the Scantron electronic scoring machine, mobile projector carts for showing DVD's on the large screen. I do this to assist instructors and administrators. My personal teaching experience is richly rewarding and I continue as department head instead of being an administrator so I will continue to have classroom time with students.
The worst part of the job is having to enforce policies that are not well-thought out and will have unintended consequences. It is stressful as these decisions are often from our central office and we do not have input. Last minute requests bring everything to a halt and cause stress as we are reacting not planning.
Job Tips: Read autobiographies and biographies of great leaders for insight on what should be done. Consider the mission, school, and student outcomes as more important than personal desires when making a decision. Read Tom Peters books on "management by wandering around" and "The One Minute Manager". Set up a file system within your computer to file e-mails by folder and documents by folder. Ask people what they would like and why prior to making decisions. Even if they do not get everything they want, they know you asked them and considered that information. With your staff, or on your own, do "after action reports", or "orchids and onions", discuss what was bad about an event and how to improve the next time.
Be truthful in your dealings. If you disagree, say so politely to the person so they know where you stand. Don't re-invent the wheel. Look at past programs and recommendations. Consider what reaction you want from your audience, and then prepare the talk/letter/e-mail in a way to get that reaction. Insulting a person will not make them likely to want to do anything you want. Don't use e-mail do deal with discipline or personnel issues, accept as a follow-up to indicate the outcome of your face-to-face meeting. Don't write letters or e-mails while angry. Write them to cool off, but don't send for two weeks. Label all photos immediately, or delete from your electronic files, then save so you can find them.
Additional Thoughts: The amount of time outside of school to correct papers and plan lessons is quite a lot. The job doesn't end at 2:45pm. A real benefit is having most weekends and the summer to spend with your own children while they grow up. You can be involved in sports and Scouting, and school band and plays.
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