“Do you like your job?” That’s a question I’ve been asked several times by students and even teachers over the course of my nine years as a secondary school principal. It’s a valid question and one that people who are contemplating their position in life probably think about more than say out loud, but it’s one I shouldn’t have to answer.
It likely does not come as a shock to anyone leading a school to hear that many principals left their jobs during the pandemic and that we are seeing fewer step into the role of secondary school principal. Not only are many of our colleagues reaching the age of retirement, but the demands of being a building principal have increased significantly in the past five years for myriad reasons. Not only are some education leaders choosing to leave the profession before retirement, but countless others are deciding that school administration is just simply not for them.
I’ve been in several meetings where policymakers and education leaders have brainstormed ways to increase the number of candidates for the principalship. I have heard wonderful ideas about training, incentivizing, and preparing capable candidates so that schools can have the best leaders possible. I have never, however, heard anyone discuss how our own attitudes about our jobs as individual principals affect the leadership pipeline. Well, I’ve got news for you, principals. It does.
When someone asks me, “Do you like your job?”, I don’t answer immediately. Instead, I say, “What do you think?”
How would you expect the students at your school to answer that question? How would the teachers you work with answer that question? If it’s anything but an affirmative response, then you might want to consider how your attitude is affecting the climate of your school. I want to be clear: Being a principal is hard, and I haven’t met a principal who hasn’t gone through difficult times. But I also haven’t met a principal who doesn’t light up when I ask about their students, or some of their stellar teachers, or some of the good things happening at their school. Principals actually have some of the highest job satisfaction numbers than any profession out there.
So why are you acting like the job is too much for you? Do you think you can inspire your stakeholders by showing them just how worn out you are? Are you trying to justify your paycheck by showing how many challenges you must deal with? Are you trying to gain sympathy by showing misery? Newsflash: Negativity, self-pity, and a dramatic display of exhaustion and busyness does not inspire anybody.
You are the boss of an entire school! Hold your head up and smile. When a teacher says, “Oh I could never do your job,” let them know that they are missing out because the positives far outweigh the negatives. When parents ask, “How do you deal with teenagers all day?”, tell them how fun it is. When you are dealing with something hard, talk to other principals because they are too…and I bet they will have a hilarious story to share. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I promise that after you read this post, you will have the opportunity to express to someone within the week how you feel about your job. I challenge you to ask them what they think you will say. Then, make sure that you reach down to the part of you that loves making a difference in people’s lives and tell them how you really feel. Word of mouth is still the best form of advertisement, and it’s no different when it comes to the principal pipeline. Just this week, our student body president from two years ago came by my office and asked me for advice because he wants to be a high school principal. And you know what? He never asked me if I liked my job. He already knows.
For more on principals’ perspectives regarding their jobs, see NASSP’s “Survey of America’s School Leaders and High School Students.”