The only reason I like folding laundry is because I use it as an excuse to get hooked on a TV show. Lately, that show’s been Season 6 of Parenthood. I’m enjoying it, but I feel extremely distracted by a question nobody else on the internet seems to be asking: what in the world qualifies Kristina Braverman to be a school principal?
I suppose I can get past the fact that she and her husband singlehandedly founded their own charter school, with very little money, in just a few months. I can do a little suspension of disbelief. But come on! This is a woman who, as far as I know (and yes, I know she’s a fictional character, but bear with me), has never worked in a school. She’s never been a teacher. There’s no evidence that she has any kind of degree in educational administration. The only experiences she’s had with school are these: she was once a student in a school, and she is now a parent of a child who attends school. She may very well have a lot of ideas about school, but the fact is, she has no idea what it’s like to work in one.
Nevertheless, she has suddenly transitioned to leading a school, eliciting no surprise from any of the show’s characters or critics. This makes me worry that people somehow find her “qualifications” actually adequate for the job. Her position must be socially acceptable enough for it to make it into the show’s script without any skeptical murmurs. But why? Most people have visited a doctor’s office or sat on jury duty, but they don’t seem to think one can become a doctor or lawyer simply by hanging a sign out front and taking on clients.
I get that Kristina was inspired by her son Max’s negative experiences to create a school that would better serve students like him. That’s noble, but I still think she should have hired an experienced educator for the job (what happened to Mr. Knight anyway?). I mean, what if she had been inspired by the treatment she received during her medical scare a few seasons ago, and decided to become a surgeon instead? Wouldn’t we have at least seen her sweating over the MCATs? To be a principal, it seems like all she had to do was walk into the school. And so far, we haven’t even seen any actual teachers or support staff; there’s no sense of the many interlocking pieces that actually make a school.
Parenthood’s whole charter school storyline plays into the idea that all schools need is a passionate idea and good intentions. But good teaching and school leadership is much more than that. Take my husband for example. He’s a principal (one of those amazing “teaching principals” who has chosen to take on two classes that he teaches every day– just because he loves teaching and students that much). Frankly, he worked his tail off to become a principal. He spent eleven years teaching kids from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, in every kind of class from basic technology to A.P. English, in public and private schools on four continents. He earned three graduate degrees while working full time. He has developed fantastically innovative ideas and practices when it comes to curriculum, pedagogy, and collegiality. And all he can talk about is how much he still has to learn.
I know Parenthood is just a television show. But shows sometimes inadvertently tell us a lot about where we are as a society. Which, I guess, is how I find myself following a plot line about a school governed completely by people who have no actual experience in education. This might be socially acceptable, but in suggesting that you don’t need qualifications or experience to run a school, the show sells the education profession short. It’s also totally unrealistic.
The fact is, most people who have never taught a class would absolutely crumple after even a day of teaching. It’s hard work. And being a principal is not easier. Kristina, for example, has already flubbed a few situations, totally blowing up (in public) at the lunch vendor and escalating the defensiveness of a recalcitrant new student. Rookie mistakes! Too bad my husband wasn’t there to give her a few pointers. She could’ve used them.