The “Tripod” of the Public Education System



Happy Teacher Appreciation Week 🙂 Thank a teacher who supported you!

Now on to a less happy topic…

There’s this lovely “tripod” that’s supposed to be a thing in the teaching field: the students, the parents, and the teachers/administration. I remember sitting in grad school, listening to this tripod explanation, and thinking Yup, I got it, that makes sense, if we all just work together, we’ll have the perfect system!

I was teaching 7th grade English at the time, in Aiea, Hawaii, and I was struggling. The added stress of my masters program, my Teach For America responsibilities, and the craziness of uprooting from Texas was definitely weighing on me. I kept thinking Well, my end of the tripod is steady, for sure. I figured my kids’ third of the creation was probably sturdy as well. So I mostly blamed parents. Why don’t they check grades online? Why don’t they check their kids’ backpacks, planners, folders? Why don’t they show up to meetings or buy their kids supplies or make their kids read at night? Why aren’t they like MY parents, or like ME? It’s easy to blame.


But as the years went on, and I moved back to Texas, I realized a much bigger problem: WHY is the teacher end of the tripod combined with admin? Shouldn’t they be on their own, a fourth leg? There’s a disconnect between educators and their bosses–a gap that’s growing and growing. To casually throw a backslash in between teachers and admin is ridiculous. Teachers/admin. As if we’re the same, as if we have the same job, make the same salary, deal with the same daily ups and downs…HA!

I’ve tried hopelessly to get to the bottom of why this disconnect exists and how it started. The only conclusion that really makes sense is lack of respect. We don’t feel trusted by our principals or assistant principals or curriculum specialists or whoever we’re “reporting to” on any given day…and I don’t think they feel trusted by us either. Respect, open communication, team building…all of those buzzwords that are major duhs in well-run companies are merely pipe dreams in the public education system.

We are told that it’s our fault if kids fail–by people who, five years ago, were (shockingly) teachers themselves, dealing with failure rates themselves. It’s kind of insane.

We ask for behavior help, classroom resources, parent or community relationship assistance–until eventually we stop asking. Because that’s usually what people do after so long of asking and not receiving–they stop asking entirely.

We fill out all the required busy work and attend all the unhelpful, mandatory trainings and simultaneously sew our lips together.

I’m only in my fourth year of teaching and I’m guilty of this. I start off the year strong, passionate. I begin fizzling and fading fast. So much time and effort…for what seems like nothing most of the time. I care about my students as if they are my own flesh and blood–I pour my heart into this job–and the “tripod” still topples. Every year.

Admin seem to blame teachers, teachers blame parents and admin, students blame no one because usually they don’t even see the real problem…

I think it’s pretty clear that this “tripod” is wobbly on EVERY end. There’s no 100% strong, healthy leg of the public education system. It’s not one group’s fault. I don’t even think one group is a little more to blame than another. Everyone knows we have a flawed system. Large strides are needed–from everyone.

But I do think that the first step in solving this massive nationwide issue is to close that disconnect between teachers and admin, so that maybe we CAN one day be teachers/admin.

I mean, if we can’t receive the support that we deserve from our superiors…how are we supposed to function effectively in the trickle-down of disrespect?

13 responses »

  1. Alysha, A well-thought out article. This has been a problem for a long time. If there is a solution, I hope it’s soon in coming. Teachers are the one in the trenches with the students. Their feedback should be the most important, but many times it’s overlooked. From one retired teacher to one who’s just starting – Hang in there! Sounds like we need more teachers like you.

  2. I am permanently amazed by the system in the USA, with teachers here and admin over there. Don’t the ‘admin’ people teach any classes at all, don’t you have subject specialists, don’t you have heads of departments, all of whom should be doing some teaching. In the UK the principal is called the Head Teacher, and finds a little time to teach. The term Admin is reserved for secretaries and the bursar (money person). Ah well !

  3. Hi, Alysha. I am not a teacher but I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for some very wonderful,dedicated teachers in my early years; and I agree with you. The shaky ‘tripod’ model is faulty. If anything it should be one with four legs like a table from which proper education is served. My son-in-law is a teacher in a Texas ISD and faces the same challenges as you. My granddaughter (in the same ISD as her father) has some wonderful teachers and they work tirelessly for the students but they are under paid, over worked, and under appreciated by many (not all) of the administrators and especially some parents. The UK system outlined by howardat58 in comments above seems far superior to the US system. I hope you hang in there, Alysha, and don’t give up or get burned out. As old as I am I can still remember my favorite teachers and the lessons they taught me. You just never know how much a positive, motivated teacher can influence a child to pursue their dreams. On a personal note: I used to also live in Aiea Hawaii in the mid to late 1960s.

  4. GREAT POST !!!! I’ve always felt the very best situation was adequate communication between parent and teacher. My parents loved us enough to make us work–I mean really work. We had homework given by the teacher THEN, homework given by our parents. They never missed a parent/teacher meeting. i’m 72 years old and I can still remember the names of most of my teachers. They meant that much to our family. I think, other than parents, teachers represent front-line leadership in our country. They do the “heavy lifting” for our society. Again, great post.

  5. My little family was military when we lived in Hawaii for four years in the ’80s (I came to know Aiea well), so my eldest son started out in the school on base. He had lots of homework, beginning in kindergarten, which I think was a very good thing. I did have to re-educate his kindergarten teacher, however, about relying too heavily on some kinds of assessment materials. She had become concerned because when the activity paper of line drawings instructed children to “circle all the red things,” my son did not circle the apple. I explained that he had never eaten a red apple: I had only ever bought and served green ones.

  6. I had this same thought yesterday. I came to the conclusion that is lack of leadership among the teachers themselves. The admin has a job of administering…not royalty. If the teachers themselves were stronger as a group we might see less of this.

    • I definitely see your point. I think most teachers have given up on taking initiative and really showing their leadership abilities because when they or others have tried that in the past, it failed to get them anywhere. I agree though, that there needs to be more banding together–strength in numbers. How to motivate teachers who have completely burned out…is the question.

  7. Great post. I was a teacher and then a librarian in a Texas public school practically forever. One of my former high school teachers (she did 52 years) told me the principal’s job is to make teachers’ jobs as easy as possible, and that for many years, that’s what they did. Now, even though there’s a lot of emphasis on teamwork,” an adversarial relationship seems to be the norm. It’s difficult to do a good job when you feel administrators don’t respect you and aren’t on your side.

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