On the last day of school in the second grade we found
out who we would have as a teacher in the Fall. I was to be in Mrs. McKinley’s
class. I spent the entire summer dreading the first day of school.
Mrs. McKinley was “the tough one.” Everybody knew that she brooked no
nonsense and that you would have to work really hard in her class. It sounded
On the first day of school in the fall we all formed up on the playground by
classes. The teachers came out to get their classes and walk them to their new
classrooms. Mrs. McKinley paired us up by height and marched us to our new class
room where we found little nameplates on each desk identifying who would sit
Once we were seated, Mrs. McKinley told us the rules and the consequences for
breaking them. When she was done, she gave us a quiz on the rules. Those who
passed were sent to special recess. Those who didn’t heard the rules again and
took another quiz.
That was a model for the year. Mrs. McKinley always told us what she expected
and we learned that she meant what she said. She gave us a test after she
presented new material to us and tested us again the next morning. She gave
homework when none of the other third grade teachers did, usually studying
something you had failed a quiz on.
I don’t remember a lot of details from that year, but I remember how unfair I
though her system of teaching multiplication was. We learned the multiplication
tables and there was only one passing grade: 100 percent. When my mother asked
about that, Mrs. McKinley told her that the standard is “to know the
multiplication tables” not to “know them some of the time.” “We might as well,”
she said, “just decide which tables the children don’t need to know.”
I’ve been thinking about Mrs. McKinley since the Tiger Mom controversies have
been blowing through the media and the blogosphere. Mrs. McKinley was indeed a
kind of “Tiger Teacher.” She was a great teacher and a tough teacher and her
toughness worked because it was based in love. She also did some things that
every boss can learn from.
You always knew what was expected. There were no surprises and no “I’m the
teacher and I’m in charge” power trips.
Standards were clear and enforced. Violators of the rules suffered the
consequences and those consequences were as inevitable as nature.
She had a reason for everything she did and she was willing to explain it,
patiently, if asked about it.
Boss’s Bottom Line
Much like a teacher or parent, your job is to share expectations, enforce
standards, and care for the people in your charge.