An Administrative Career

If you want to faithfully educate all of the children in your district; if you want to support your district's hardworking, heroic teachers with all your heart; if humility, honesty, open-mindedness, and integrity are character traits instilled in you by years of valuable experience; and if you want to listen to teachers and kids and learn from their remarkable wisdom you should seriously consider becoming a principal.

Psychoanalysts Bruce Sklarew, Stuart Twemlow, and Sallye Wilkinson lament in their 2004 book Analysts in the Trenches: Streets, Schools, War Zones: “Some principals seem … to operate as dukes and duchesses, conscious of their absolute power and demanding complete loyalty and obedience from their subordinates. … Such persons appear to be overburdened by the demands of their positions, and, like others so over-involved in the minutiae of their jobs, they are not truly in control. They are critical, judgmental, and regarded coldly by their staffs.”

In virtually all U.S. public schools, the principal denotes a school's primary educator and financial manager. However, in many independent schools in the United States, the principal is called the head of school. In Great Britain, principals are referred to as headmasters, headmistresses, or head teachers. In Scotland, in particular, principals are often called rectors.

These incisive authors are reminding you that principals exist to wholeheartedly support teachers and kids, not vice versa. If you don't plan on supplying teachers with the funds, equipment, materials, facilities, training, and support they require to do their all-important jobs, then you shouldn't plan on becoming a principal.

“Good principals … realize that retaining good teachers is essential because experience counts. … Research demonstrates that teachers with more experience plan better, apply a range of teaching strategies, understand students' learning needs, and better organize instruction. Good principals understand this research,” says educator Jeffrey Ganz in his 2005 book What Every Principal Should Know About Instructional Leadership. In other words, for schools to serve children, principals must serve teachers. Principals must encourage, nurture, treasure, and respect their teachers so teachers can teach.

Good principals realize that good teachers are the school. Poor principals delude themselves into thinking they are the school. When self-centered, self-serving principals are absent for a day, many teachers and students in his school are apt to remark, “So what?” But when teachers are absent, the kids and staff notice and wait expectantly for the teacher's return.

A 2007 study by the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force of South Carolina reported that many teachers leave the profession because of adverse working conditions which include:

  • Unsupportive administration

  • Lack of empowerment by administration

  • Expectations by district or school administrators to work days off contract without pay

All of these factors are well within the purview of a caring, sincere principal. If you're ready to address these types of issues and make certain you serve teachers by giving them everything they need to do their jobs, then here's how you can become a principal.

First, you've already done the really hard work. You've earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited university in a field that you love, and as you already know, that field doesn't necessarily have to be education. You've also earned a teaching credential or teaching license, a certificate from the state authorizing you to teach. Moreover, you've taught full time for at least three consecutive years.

Next, re-enroll at your alma mater or gain acceptance to some other fine university to begin your post-graduate studies in educational administration. If you choose a new university, make certain its college of education is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) as well as by your state's teacher-credentialing agency.

Finally, when you've completed your courses, earned your degree, and passed the required state examination to earn your administrative credential, you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of becoming a dedicated, compassionate principal.

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