“Do You Like Your Job?”

Peter Glahn, the principal of American Fork High School, says school leaders’ attitudes affect the principal pipeline. PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER GLAHN

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.

“What Do You Think?”

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.

If that sounds too good to be true, I encourage you to reach out to principals and former principals whom you admire in your network and ask them what they love or miss about the job. Two of my esteemed colleagues who were in district leadership recently chose to return to the principalship. One of them, Principal Theron Murphy at Timpanogos High School in Orem, UT, told me that he “missed the ability to influence the conditions where students and staff could thrive and to use love unconditionally to help people feel like they belong and that they matter.” He added that being back in the principalship has reminded him that there is nothing like being a high school principal. What currency is more valuable than being able to influence lives for good?

So, why are you acting like the job is too much for you? Did you think you could 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.

Fill Your Bucket

There are actionable steps you can take if you feel drained by the stresses of the job. If I fail to purposely fill my bucket regularly, my attitude starts to wane. Positive exposure sounds like a term taken from the pandemic, but for me, it is an attempt to experience the good things that are happening in my school so I can get an occasional brush of the warm and fuzzies. For me, that could be visiting a music class, observing an amazing teacher, or meeting with an exceptional student. So much of your time is spent on fixing, solving, and troubleshooting problems that if you are not seeing the fruits of your labors, you will soon wither as a plant without water or sun.

My other go-to strategy is to reach in my drawer of nice words. If you don’t have a space where you keep kind letters and emails that have been written to you, I suggest you start. Opening that drawer and reading words of appreciation is always a reminder of the amazing impact you have with your position. If you want to take it a step further, get out a pen and paper and add to someone else’s drawer of nice words. The action of writing your gratitude will lift your mood.

I promise that after you read this article 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.

Recently, 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.

Peter Glahn is the principal of American Fork High School in American Fork, UT.


CareerExplorer. (2023). Are school principals happy? careerexplorer.com/careers/school-principal/satisfaction/

Shah, N. (2023, July 31). Many school principals left their jobs during the pandemic. How are students affected? USA Today. usatoday.com/story/news/education/2023/07/28/principal-turnover-high-student-effect/70485285007/