Anyone who’s been sent to the principal’s office may think that the job is all about punishing bad student behavior. That’s only the tip of the iceberg though. School principals play many pivotal roles in establishing a safe, nurturing academic community where students prosper. Whether at the elementary, middle, or high school level, principals establish high standards for improving student achievement. Principals are multi-tasking leaders who ensure daily school activities both inside and outside the classroom follow state or federal laws. Principals act as spokespeople for their PreK-12 schools when meeting with parents, board members, superintendents, legislators, and the greater public. Larger districts will hire assistant or vice principals to oversee certain subjects, such as English or science.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 235,110 school principals employed in the United States earn an average yearly salary of $92,940. Principals in elementary and secondary schools bring home $93,120 each year on average. However, the top-paid principals work for colleges, universities, and professional schools at $101,610 annually. School principals employed by local governments earn an average $96,810.
Newly hired school principals can expect to land in the bottom 10th percentile of earnings with a yearly income around $59,070. As their experience and time of service grows, school principals can eventually make upwards of $131,310. Those who advance into their district’s head leadership role of school superintendent earn a mean annual wage of $148,616.
School principals have the primary responsibility of properly allocating resources to coordinate the overall operation of successful school communities. Principals handle many HR-related tasks, including hiring school staff, evaluating teachers, organizing professional development, and developing work schedules. School principals must order textbooks, purchase supplies, and schedule building upkeep while sticking to a budget. With help from instructional coordinators, principals will analyze test scores to develop and change curriculum guidelines. Other typical duties include disciplining students, discussing students’ progress with parents, creating safety protocols, coordinating buses, hosting student assemblies, and overseeing education programs. School principals often attend board meetings with other district leaders to cultivate more efficient learning climates.
Becoming a school principal requires having strong leadership skills to motivate teachers and support staff to meet established goals. Interpersonal skills are a must for principals to clearly communicate with all school community members. Principals need to have great decision-making and problem-solving skills to implement appropriate solutions that work. Analytical abilities are important for school principals to measure student achievement and find creative strategies for improvement. Being detail-oriented with good organizational skills helps principals keep meticulous progress reports, budgets, and records. Even outside the classroom, teaching skills are critical for principals to mentor educators in workshops. School principals should also be congenial, compassionate, and confident for positive working relationships.
Degree and Education Requirements
Most school districts only hire principals who are educated with a master’s degree from an accredited graduate school. Aspiring principals can begin by earning an undergraduate major in elementary, secondary, bilingual, or special education based on their interests. After earning teaching licensure, you can pursue a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree. Principals benefit the most from specializing in educational leadership or school administration. Master’s programs typically require two years of post-graduate study in school law, finance, curriculum design, teacher supervision, and administrative leadership. Although not required, going the extra step for an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) can aid in advancement.
Pros and Cons of the Position
Leaving behind your teaching job for becoming a school principal is a decision with benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side, school principals earn an above-average salary that drastically improves on a teacher’s modest income. Extroverted individuals enjoy becoming principals to collaborate with many different people, from young children to government officials. School principals reap the reward of being role models and positively impacting hundreds to thousands of growing pupils. Principals have the ability to gain leadership skills for advancement into school superintendence and education policy. However, school principals deal with the stressful responsibility of keeping students learning and safe. Principals work beyond the six-hour school day to hold meetings before and after students’ arrival. Unlike teachers, principals can’t enjoy a summer vacation in their year-round role. School principals must invest heavily in their education and licensure. Competition for opening principal positions is also usually intense.
Once you earn a bachelor’s in education, pursue your state’s licensing credentials to become a classroom teacher. Most states require passing a student teaching semester, several Praxis exams, and a criminal background check. If desired, apply for board certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). You can now begin applying for open teaching positions at public or private schools. Most principals need at least three to five years of classroom experience before promotion. Attending graduate school either part-time during evenings or online for your master’s degree will help accelerate your career. The majority of states require principals to earn a school administrator license by passing an exam. For instance, New York has a School Administrator and Supervisor (SAS) certificate. You’ll then have the credentials to interview for principal jobs in your state’s school districts.
Schools across the United States are seeing a steady increase in pupils. The NCES reports that public school enrollment grew by 2.6 million students from 2000 to 2013, thus reaching a total of 49.8 million. Additional schools have been opening to accommodate the growing student body. Therefore, more principals have been hired to manage these schools’ operations. Many current principals from the baby boomer age are also reaching retirement age. Yet tighter budget constraints may temper job growth when school districts are forced to consolidate buildings. The BLS predicts that the employment of school principals will grow by 6 percent to create 14,000 new jobs by 2024. Principals can work in public, private, charter, and parochial schools. Some may also be employed by colleges, trade schools, and the government.
School principals, sometimes called head teachers, juggle many responsibilities in managing the smooth functioning of learning communities. Principals select and retain qualified school staff to ensure student achievement is made paramount. They’ll carefully monitor their PreK-12 school’s performance and implement value-added improvements to positively shape scholastic success. Deciding to becoming a school principal will provide powerful influence over the academic, social, emotional, and vocational development of America’s youth.