I have an electric toothbrush. It’s one of the ones you stand in a charger and a little light blinks at you to tell you it is charging. Every now and again you replace the head. It’s a nice little contraption and usually does a good job of cleaning my teeth, as long as it’s properly charged.
Trouble is, I always forget to charge it. Or rather, I have to make a conscious effort to remember to charge. It’s a small thing, I know, but it’s a metaphor. You see, I know that charging the toothbrush is what makes an electric toothbrush work: I can tell you now that an uncharged electric toothbrush is not a good toothbrush. I know this: in fact, it niggles me when the battery is flat, and yet I still don’t remember to charge it. I’ll put it on to charge later, I think, after I’ve been to the loo. Next morning, the toothbrush is still sitting there immobile and rather pointless.
And so it is with admin. I know how to fill in forms, make calls, operate electronic MIS systems, get students enrolled, keep records, write things up, and generally do that side of the job. It’s not a case of knowing : I truly can do all those things, although none of my colleagues (Hi!) would ever believe me. I have a sneaking suspicion that if put my mind to it, I can do most of these things in no time at all. I also know how important these things are, but somehow, like the electric toothbrush, it doesn’t happen. I can’t even pin down what it is: bad prioritising, perhaps, a little bit of nerves about confrontations (which, ironically, is actually worsened as the inevitable fallout of some administrative errors makes for more uncomfortable confrontations) and a little bit of procrastination over something that is less appealing.
I want to draw a line here between administrative responsibilities of a teacher and ILPs, mind you. If targets are delayed, or offset, or attended to in a fairly token way, this is a fairly principled point: it is a genuine case of not doing them because I don’t think they have value. The admin I mean is the stuff that ensures that handy stuff like funding happens, that students are taking the right exam and are getting a useful and valuable experience out of things. Yet somehow it all falls into a psychological blind spot.
I’ve tried things. I’ve tried using “tasks” in Outlook with no success, because it’s all too easy to click “dismiss”. I’ve had some success with a notebook and a long list of jobs, through which I have forced myself to work, but even there, I’ve too often ended up just shunting things onto tomorrow’s list, and then they get forced to the day after, then the next, and the next, and the next… I’ve made checklists of key jobs, and then ignored them, or forgotten them until it was too late. It would be fine if it was just about me. But it never is. In order that a student’s experience be as positive as possible, people around you work hard to make up for these failings, creating a ring of spreading ripples of annoyance and frustration.
Coaching and mentoring is part of my role at college but at times I wonder if we forget that some of the administrative duties teachers hold are actually complex skills in themselves. To say “it’s just admin” and to assume that a teacher should somehow just know how to do it is quite dismissive of some skilled professionals who “only” do admin. Administrative work is a skillset to be developed, and requires a degree of coaching and guidance in order for a new or even an experienced teacher to learn. It occurs to me as well that these things rarely, if ever, arise on teacher development programmes. Yet to do these things badly can have as negative an impact on student experiences as poor teaching. I suspect that the memory of the negative impact of bad admin stays with a learner longer than the memory of a bunch of lessons, good or bad.
Yes, our primary role is making learning happen in the classroom, and I’m mostly OK at that bit. But time management and administrative duties are things I need to learn to do better at. Although it may take a massive improvement to become good at the administrative side of things, I reckon I can aim to become a little bit less shit at them. In a year on year development sense, I’ve done better this year than last, although that’s not exactly a grand achievement. As a start, I’m in the process of writing down all the things I’ve neglected to do, or done badly, and then I’m going to make posters or guides or something to stick on the wall above my desk. Possibly also tattoo it to the inside of my eyelids.
I’ll make one for my bathroom as well.