Principal Hotline: When One of Your Best Teachers Is Always Late to School

Can’t we treat teachers like adult professionals?

illustration of rose gardener being stared at by angry teachers over a bush

We’re pleased to introduce a new weekly advice column at School Leaders Now. Each week, our brave school leadership expert will answer your toughest questions about the daily adventures and challenges we all face as we strive to make our schools great places for kids to learn. Have a question? Email it to principalhotline@schoolleadersnow.com.

Dear Principal Hotline,

I have a teacher who is an exemplar by every stretch of the imagination, except for coming to school on time. He isn’t late for any class because he isn’t scheduled to teach until second period. He’s a master gardener and says that his roses do best when cared for in the morning. This teacher is kind to every student he interacts with and his students thrive and make great growth quarter after quarter. He is also the first to cover anyone’s duties when they have appointments. The other teachers have been grumbling about how he is allowed to be late, and I understand their issue, but isn’t this too black and white? He isn’t hurting anyone and he loves our school. Any advice on how to manage this situation would be most appreciated.

Sincerely,

A Rose Aficionado

Dear ARA,

Roses, much like your predicament, come in many shades, pigments, shapes and sizes. Fairness is one of the most fundamental and complex issues a workplace leader will navigate. Setting a professional standard for teachers may not be as black and white as you might think.

Start with your teacher’s contract

Perhaps the best place to start is your teacher’s contract. There should be clearly defined hours, or numbers of hours, your teacher is expected to work. Consideration of everyone’s human needs is a sign of a great leader, but you do need to make sure your solution isn’t leading you to an unemployment check.

Brainstorm with the teacher in question

After you’ve thought about it, have a conversation with Mr. Greenthumb. Tell him you’re having trouble explaining to the other staff why he’s being provided additional flexibility. Tell him how much you appreciate him. Then, ask if he’ll help you find a solution. Maybe he can limit his lateness to one day per week. Perhaps he could recreate his garden somewhere on school grounds and, if he wants, can share his passion with some of your students. This would let him cultivate his passion without overt special treatment.

Consider switching up the schedule

If your school is one that provides teachers a contractual lunch as well as a prep, you could switch your teacher’s schedule around so, on paper, his lunch is first period. If they ask, tell his coworkers he’s an ocelot and his biological mealtime is approximately dawn.

Be honest with your staff

Honesty is also an option. Chances are, people he’s covered for or helped in the past will be as aware as you are that he is not only good at his job but is more than willing to help whenever (or wherever) is needed. Some people have families, others have flowers. Teachers understand better than anyone what it means to work with many different needs, personalities, and behaviors within a structured environment.  As a bonus, working with your staff in this way can model the attitude you’d like them to take when working with their students.

Be fair, but firm

Whatever your solution, be fair, but also be sure that everyone is aware of firm boundaries. Reasonable accommodation without clear limits can quickly become a nightmare – and always make sure your solution is neither violating union contracts nor district policies.

Weeds sprout in every garden; Bugs eat petals and leaves. It’s important to consider the health of all your plants while you’re finding ways to keep destructive forces away so you can continue enriching their growth.

You got this.

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Posted by Amy Lynn Tompkins

Writer, public servant, advice giver.

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