As spring officially begins within a week, so begins the hiring season for many schools. Budgets are being put in place, and staffing plans for 2011-12 are being organized. For many teachers, this is also the time when they consider making the move from the classroom to a position in school administration. Please read on for insights from current school principals on what to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to leave the classroom and what to look for in that first administrative position.
Rarely does an educator go straight to an administrative position without spending time working directly with students as a teacher. Teaching is a challenging and rewarding profession, and it’s not usually an easy decision to step away from the classroom to take an administrative position. For some people, it is part of a career plan. For others, like Jay Posick, an intermediate school principal in Merton, WI, becoming an admin was a gradual move.
“I wanted to be a teacher first and foremost. I had aspirations of being an athletic director and went into a Masters program for an administrative degree. While taking admin classes I was asked to fill in for the building administrators if they were out of the building. I got to know students and staff in different ways because of these opportunities. I saw an opportunity to reach more than just those students in my classes, as well as an opportunity to work with staff to improve instruction and classroom management.”
While becoming a school administrator was part of Jay’s eventual plan, Jessica Johnson, elementary principal in Juneau, WI, didn’t initially plan on being a principal.
“I actually had no intentions of moving into administration. I wanted to get my masters and joined some colleagues that were going into admin. During this time my principal convinced me to become an instructional coach. I enjoyed my role as an instructional coach, because I was able to impact learning for more than just the 30 students in my class.”
Curt Rees, elementary principal in Onalaska, WI, always enjoyed the challenges of problem solving and leadership, and saw his principals deal with some interesting and important issues frequently.
“I started my Master’s program in my mid 20’s, hoping to eventually move into a building admin job within 10 years. Things happened quicker than I planned due to a few retirements and resignations, so I found myself teaching 6th grade in the mornings and then taking care of associate principal duties in the afternoon. It was a great job to get a feel for the world of a school administrator.”
No matter your reason for wanting to move on from full-time teaching duties, landing that first admin job is not necessarily an easy task. There are many administrative jobs posted each year, and potential candidates should look for the right fit between the needs of the schools and the skills and interests of the candidates. Being a school administrator is not an easy job, so make sure what you can provide meets the needs of the school. Find our whether your disposition, experience, passion, and goals line up with what the school needs. They will certainly interview you, but be sure to interview them at the same time. All three of these authors began their administrative careers as associate principals. They were good situations in which to get started, but all have since moved on to positions that better match their professional skills, family life, and current philosophies.
Once you move full-time into the world of administration, there are experiences from the classroom that you might miss. It is not as easy to see that daily progress that students make and you aren’t a part of that close-knit atmosphere that develops among students and their teacher.
Rees describes it this way:
“It is like a family and you all really get to know one another quite well. There is good and bad to it, but that intimacy is more positive than negative. You see a lot in the course of a day. A kid might be driving you nuts at 9 a.m., but by 2:30, they’ve done so many other great things that you hardly remember what irked you earlier. As a teacher you really notice the relationships that develop among the students. As an admin, you certainly notice (or are informed of) the negative relationships, but don’t often have the opportunity to see those healthy interactions among kids.”
But as an admin, it’s crucial to stay connected to the learning of students. Johnson still works with a 3rd grade math intervention group, and Posick makes time to be a tutor, yearbook advisor, and dissection assistant among other things for his students.
On the plus side of the responsibilities of being an administrator, the schedule can be more flexible to allow you to go into several classrooms each day to see the great work of teachers and students. You can talk about learning with the kids during their classes and then have even better discussions with teachers after watching them interact with their students. These conversations with teachers serve as reflection and positive analysis for both the administrator and teacher. Spending time in classrooms with master teachers will enlighten you more about quality instruction than you could imagine. While you might miss out on the daily successes of kids in the classroom, you have the opportunity to develop relationships that span the several years a student and their family are in your school. It is enjoyable to see all the positive changes that happen in those years and you develop a great sense of trust and understanding with the family, especially if they have multiple children in the school.
Just like for teachers and other school staff members, the future for school administration looks to be a time of uncertainty. Funding for schools across the country is being cut (drastically in many states), but expectations for student success never get any lower. Administrators need to be creative to be able to do more with less, just like their staff members. There is no opportunity to coast in the principal’s office. Positive leadership and creativity will be key in order to meet the needs of students in these frequently turbulent and unpredictable times. All of that being said, it’s an exciting time to be a school administrator. Public schooling will have to change to meet all of these realities, and administrators will (and should be!) be right in the middle of all it.
A question that curious candidates frequently ask is, “When is the time right to make the move from my classroom?” If you are already taking on leadership roles in your school (committees, mentoring, leading staff development, etc.) and you enjoy seeing the positive impact it has on the staff and students, you might be ready. Take advantage of opportunities your school/district might have for you in an admin internship program or as a substitute for admins away from the building. Take advantage of any “aspiring administrator” programs your state administrators association may offer. Don’t try to make the decision on your own and be sure to discuss your thoughts, questions, and concerns with your friends, colleagues, and mentors. Also be sure to think about how the new job, complete with additional time and stressors, might impact your spouse and children.
Great school administrators are retiring every year and they need to be replaced by equally skilled leaders. Will you be one of them?
Jessica Johnson is an elementary school principal in Juneau, WI. This is her 3rd year as a principal. She began her teaching career in Minnesota, but then moved to Arizona where she continued to teach in the classroom, moved into the instructional coach role and then as a middle school Assistant Principal for one year.
Jay Posick is an intermediate principal in Merton, WI. This is his 9th year as an administrator. He began his teaching career in Waukesha, WI before becoming an assistant principal in the Elmbrook School District for five years. He is completing his 4th year as principal in Merton.
Curt Rees is an elementary school principal in Onalaska, WI. This is his 10th year as an administrator after being an elementary classroom teacher in New Mexico and Illinois.