Tertullian Goes to School

mhASdBeOn Tuesday morning, Amy’s writing career took us to another elementary school in our district. For two assemblies, she sang the virtues of literature and bestowed medals on kids who’ve read their eyes out this academic year. On a side note, I couldn’t believe it, but this school had a fourth grader who had read 4 million words since August.

Four. Million. Words. A fourth grader.

Anyhow, during the course of the morning, we encountered that school’s principal. Wow was she impressive. On the ball. Good with the kids. A schmoozer with the parents. All things you’d want for someone in that difficult job.

But amongst all those qualities, one thing in particular caught my attention: the woman was in control. I mean, if one kid was squirmy during the presentation, they got called out. Clapping out of turn called for silence. On the mic, she would wait, (im)patiently, until every one of the 300 children were “criss-cross-applesauce” before she’d utter another word.

Basically, you didn’t mess with that principal.

Later in the day, when I got back to our campus, I mentioned our visit to our principal, and I specifically talked about how tight a ship she was ran during the morning’s assembly.

His reply went something like this: “Of course she has to be strict. In fact, women principals have to be twice as strict. It’s the only way for them to gain respect.”

Well, hello there Tertullian.

By and large, the world of education is a “woman’s world.” For instance, we’ve now had 16 different teachers instruct our kids and only 3 of them have been men. Nationwide, according to this site, 76% of teachers in 2011 were women. In other words, in today’s educational landscape, you’re three times more likely to have a woman stand up in front of your kids every morning.

The situation is a bit different down the hall in the administration building. In 2009, the percentages were roughly equal. For the most part, you are just as likely to have a woman principal as you are to have a man.

And yet even though the numbers are roughly equal, when it comes to authoritative school leadership, men still enjoy the privilege of assumed and easier authority. What I mean is that men have to do less to earn respect. Authority is, for the most part, freely given. Friends, that’s privilege.

Being a principal is a tough job. Every day the “bad kids” end up across the desk from you. Regularly, you have to deal with school politics. When parents have a beef, it’s coming your way. For anyone, male or female, leadership in the principal’s position is a high and difficult calling.

But, here’s hoping that someday it will not be twice as tough for women.

One response to “Tertullian Goes to School”

  1. Una says :

    Rob, have you read to the part in Lean In where she talks about how women in leadership are judged differently/more harshly than men? In the case of this woman principal, she might query whether her behavior seemed out of character for women and so is viewed as more strict. She is acting outside our perceptions of how women should behave. The same behavior in a man wouldn’t seem as strict. It’s an interesting twist on all of this and has me wondering a lot more about perceptions of behavior than actual behavior. What do you think?

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