Most teachers do not understand what makes their principal tick, or why so much of what he does comes across as stupid or without reason. They often wonder what planet he is from, why he constantly assigns extra work to them, why he is always on their back, what possesses him to make asinine decisions, and the list goes on and on. However, contrary to popular teacher beliefs, principals are just as human as teachers. Sometimes they may not act it, but they are indeed human, and as such, they feel many of the same frustrations teachers feel. Although their actions may sometimes appear desperate, stupid, insensitive, or outright incompetent, there is usually some rhyme or reason to their madness. But, teachers often fail to understand the madness due to not comprehending how the principalship works, and/or due to misconceptions about principals that have been engrained in the teaching profession for decades.
A major misconception of many teachers is that principals sit around inventing crappy useless time consuming things for teachers to do. The truth, however, is that most principals do not have time to sit down much less think about inventing crappy useless time consuming tasks. When they do sit, it is often with their face in their hands wondering how they are going to find time during the school day to meet with five irate parents, two bickering teachers, visit at least ten classrooms, attend a meeting at central office with the assistant superintendent and food services director on the nutritional value of serving SPAM burgers over hamburgers in the school cafeteria, complete a mega data report due to central office by 3:00 p.m., meet with the superintendent over a disciplinary issue that has the community up in arms, meet with a fuming bus driver who doesn’t think the assistant principal is supporting her when she tells kids they cannot read a book on her bus, meet with a couple of fired-up club sponsors to explain for the second time why they cannot conduct candy sales during breakfast and lunch, make phone calls to local pastors apologizing for the football team practicing late Wednesday evening, meet after school with the counselors to discuss course offerings for the next school year, supervise the junior varsity football game that night, and before going to bed at one or two in the morning complete a crappy useless time consuming report that must be on the superintendent’s desk no later than 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Another common teacher misconception is the principal and sometimes even the school board is out to get them. Unless the teacher lives in Oxford, Mississippi and his name is Dan Jones, this is not something teachers need to worry about. Principals do not have time to plot against anyone. They do not want to get rid of teachers unless they are not doing their job. One of the happiest times of a principal’s professional life is when he doesn’t have to conduct interviews to fill teaching vacancies for the coming school year. That rarely happens, but when it does, no one is happier than the principal. Principals are usually so thankful they have found enough teachers crazy enough to sign a contract that plotting to get rid of one of them rarely crosses their mind. The only plotting most principals are guilty of is scheming to find a week to get away during the summer.
The bottom line for principals is they, like teachers, are simply trying to survive. Why should they invent conflict when the very nature of their job tends to attract more conflict than they ever bargained for? Teachers understand stress and conflict as much as anyone, so why they often believe school administrators are sheltered from or immune to conflict is baffling. Maybe the problem is that unlike the principal who has served as a classroom teacher, teachers do not have a reference point to help them make a connection between the job they do and the job a principal does. In the eyes of many teachers, the principal’s job is to make sure there is toilet paper in the teacher lounge restrooms, keeping troublesome students out of their hair, and staying out of their way so they can teach. They simply do not understand what a principal does all day other than sit in his office and think of more useless crap for them to do. Therefore, it stands to reason that if they had a better understanding of the role of the principal, they might better understand that the roles of a teacher and principal are extensions of each other – each needs the other to have a successful school as well as to survive.
What Every Teacher Needs To Know About The Principal
- The principal was once a teacher too. It is doubtful that he has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher:
- It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he was one of those principals who spent less than five years as a classroom teacher. To expect a person to be an effective administrator without adequate time in the classroom is laughable. Without a solid base of five or more years in the classroom, it is a rare principal or assistant principal who truly understands the role of the teacher and has the knowledge and tools to provide the administrative support expected by the teachers;
- It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he was socially promoted (Yes, it happens with students, and it happens with teachers). Sometimes an inept or marginal teacher is promoted to an administrative position because he is a hometown boy, goes to the right church, travels in the right circles, or at one time was a damn good coach, so when the day comes the district can no longer prop him up as a teacher or his coaching candle dims, he is promoted to assistant principal or principal as the lesser of evils;
- It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he is just an outright A__hole, and unfortunately, just like with teachers, there are sometimes a few of these hanging around;
- Principals, like teachers, want to be left alone! Like teachers, they would like to be able to do their job without constant interruptions from central office, angry or needy parents, bickering teachers, gossip generated by teachers, and vendors peddling their wares;
- Principals hate paperwork, evaluations, and testing as much as teachers . . . .
- Principals rarely require extra paperwork of their teachers unless by directive from central office or the state department of education. When it comes to paperwork, ninety-nine percent of the time the principal is simply the messenger;
- Principals don’t like being judged/evaluated, and they dislike judging/evaluating others even more. This is especially true when the evaluation process and evaluation tool is little more than an “I gottcha” process or a checklist to document the principal went through the motions of conducting a teacher evaluation. These types of evaluations are a waste of time for both the principal and the teacher; and
- Most principals understand that accountability is important, but when state testing eats up a quarter of the instruction time allotted for the school year, the school ceases to exist as a place of learning. It is transformed into a data collection venue for data that has little relevancy for the students or teachers by the time it is processed and sent back to the school several months later;
- Principals make decisions based on the following priorities . . . .
- First, the safety of the students, faculty, support staff, and uncertified personnel;
- Second, what is best for students;
- Third, what is best for the faculty;
- Fourth, what is best for the support staff;
- Fifth, what is best for individual certified personnel;
- Sixth, what is best for the community;
- Seventh, what is best for non-certified personnel; and
- Finally, what is best for the administrative staff can only be considered after all other considerations have been evaluated;
- Principals and teachers are both human, and as such, they are not always right. The difference is that teachers expect to be forgiven for their faults or mistakes, but they are often reluctant to extend forgiveness to an administrator for his faults or mistakes;
- It is not personal on the principal’s part if he forgets something he was told outside his office. More than likely, a principal will be stopped several times in the hall by teachers, students, custodians, etc., so the odds of his remembering all the important things he was told in the hallway when he gets back to his office are very slim at best;
- Teachers do not have a monopoly on stress! Principals deal with stress from home, students, parents, colleagues, central office, the state department, federal guidelines, community, church, Walmart, the mall, etc. Principals are confronted by school stress no matter where they go! Principals are on stress call 24/7.
- Like teachers, principals like to hear they are appreciated for the job they do. Constant negatives tend to raise stress levels and make both teachers and principals a little less human;
- Principals welcome constructive feedback. If something is not working, teachers should talk to their principal about it, but they should never talk to him without a solution in mind. The solution should be well thought out and even backed by research when possible. Principals value the perspective of teachers who share ideas and concerns with them. They may not always agree, and sometimes the meeting accomplishes little more than an agreement to disagree, but by initiating a conversation with the principal, the teacher has planted the seed for possible change in the future. Teachers must also understand that principals cannot make every brilliant idea happen that teachers approach them with even when the principal would like to do so. Sometimes, days or even months pass before a spark the teacher generated in an earlier meeting with the principal leads to a resolution that neither the teacher nor the principal had previously considered;
- Principals are put off by faculty or staff who appear to be slackers or clock watchers;
- Principals expect follow through when they ask a teacher to do something. Unfortunately, some teachers think ignoring this expectation and begging for forgiveness later is cute and acceptable; however, it is often a sure way for the teacher to get his name on the “poop list.” When the principal asks a teacher to do something, he expects it to be done whether the teacher agrees or not. The only exception to following a principal’s directive is if his request is unethical or morally wrong; then the teacher has every right to balk;
- Principals expect teachers to handle the majority of the discipline issues in their classroom. Unfortunately, some teachers see this as the principal trying to avoid doing his job. However, any teacher worth his salt knows classroom management is the responsibility of the teacher. If kids were robots, teaching would be easy, but when the robots are programed with personalities and brain waves, the difficulty of the teaching task changes dramatically. Learning to manage personalities and focus the brain on learning is the teacher’s responsibility, administrators are there to support teachers with interruptions they cannot handle on their own, but they are not there to take over the daily classroom management for the teacher;
- Sometimes it is hard for principals to have empathy for teachers who moan about long hours, especially when the principal logged eighty hours Monday through Saturday of the previous week working at the school and supervising extra-curricular activities. It is exhausting and unfortunate, but working long hours goes with the territory for all educators!
- Principals create new programs and policies each year not to make things harder or give teachers more to do, but because they understand there is always room for improvement. One of the worst things that can happen to a school is for the actions of the faculty, support staff, and even the administration to become stale or complacent; and
- Principals care about kids just as much as teachers do!
This list of 15 is only scratching the surface, but regardless of what is said in support of principals, some teachers will never change their perceptions of them. Nonetheless, principals do far more than drink coffee all day, take two hour lunch breaks, and sit around and think of ways to make teachers miserable just as teachers do a whole lot more than talk to kids or watch them color all day, and then go home and count their money. As a former principal, I will not hesitate to say that other than the students, the teachers are the most important people in the school. But, as a former teacher, I must admit that until I walked in the shoes of a principal, I had no idea how valuable the principal was to the overall success of the school and to my success as a teacher. There are three roles schools depend on more than any other for success: the role of the student, the role of the teacher, and the role of the principal. Without students there is no school; without teachers there is no learning; without principals there is no order.
©Jack Linton, April 6, 2015