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If You Had a Choice,
Would You Still Be a Principal?

From time to time, Education World updates and reposts a previously published article that we think might be of interest to administrators. We hope you find this recently updated article to be of value.

What draws some educators to become school principals? What keeps them on the job? That's the question Education World asked our Principal Files principals this month. Perhaps some of what they have to say will inspire you as you go about your daily routine.

You've been a school administrator for a few years now. You've experienced all the politics, the night meetings, and the parent issues. Is being a school principal still the perfect job, a job you wouldn't trade? Or would you love to be able to tell your school board to -- in the immortal words of Johnny Paycheck -- "take this job and shove it"?

That's the question Education World put this month to our Principal Files principals. We didn't hear from a single principal who would give up his or her job!

Gary Cardwell has been a principal for more than 20 years, and he'd do it again if he had to choose! "Very few people are lucky enough to be in the position of principal," says Cardwell, principal at Crockett Elementary School in Wichita Falls, Texas. "Even though it is not always easy, it is a position to enjoy."

"...[T]hat I continue to carry out my duties as a school administrator -- the 16-hour days, the disciplinary issues, special education, student/teacher relations, curriculum evaluation, school improvement planning, community relations, scheduling, facilities management -- answers your question," says Jerry Boyd, vice principal at Upperman High School in Baxter, Tennessee. "If I would not do it again, why would I continue doing it at all?"

VARIETY: THE SPICE OF (A PRINCIPAL'S) LIFE

"Being a principal is not one job; it is a hundred jobs wrapped up into one," adds Gary Cardwell. "Some days I am a shoe cobbler, and other days I am a computer-system installer for a teacher. In other words, there is tremendous variety in the job."

"Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I would definitely accept my position as a vice principal again." says Bonita Henderson of Pleasant Ridge School in Cincinnati, Ohio. "I thrive on the variety of the jobs I perform and the challenge of solving problems. Each situation I face is different, and I have to think quickly to solve problems while keeping the students as the primary focus."

Steven Podd is in his second year as principal at Islip (New York) Middle School. "I love the job," says Podd. "It is the best job I've had in 24 years in education. It is challenging, fun, pressure-filled, and exciting -- never a dull moment!"

MAKING DECISIONS THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Being in the position to influence the direction of school curriculum and set the tone for a positive learning environment keeps many principals coming back for more.

"The most compelling reason that I would choose to be a principal again is to be able to work with teachers who feel they can make a difference and to work with kids who love to learn," says Gary Cardwell.

"Being a principal is not about money or being the boss; it is about using one's unique skills and personality to help kids and teachers achieve," Cardwell adds.

"This position continues to be the focal point of decision-making, especially in a site-base managed school," says Alan Rummel, principal at Delahunty Middle School in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. "Even though the role of the principal continues to grow and social issues become more complex every day, technology has given us the tools to communicate with parents, students, and staff in a more effective manner. If one is willing to change with changing times, the principal's position is still an exciting role to play."

Pat Bentley has years of experience "seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly in administration," although he didn't take on the top job at Ward Middle School in Ordway, Colorado, until late in his career. "I wishI hadbecome an administrator a few years earlier. I really enjoy the administrative relationship that I have with my students and the staff."

Sylvia Hooker, principal at Farimount Alternative School in Newnan, Georgia, echoes those sentiments. Being a principal "gives me the ability to impact the lives of a wide range of students and teachers. It also gives me the opportunity to work with colleagues not only in my county but also around the nation, improving the lives of all children and returning integrity to this field."

THE KIDS!

Running a school isn't the easiest job around, but "the students are the reason I [can handle] all the headaches that go along with being a principal," says Dave Younger, principal at Halstead (Kansas) Middle School.

The kids are what it's all about, agrees Gary Cardwell. "Being a principal means wearing an ugly tie that a child has given you, hugging a kid who hasn't had a bath in a week, or feigning delight at a silly valentine and loving every minute of it!"

"The most rewarding aspect of my position is that I get a chance to see and interact with all the children in the school," says Bonita Henderson. "That is my greatest joy each day. The children make me want to come back tomorrow. I tend to take school politics, discipline issues, and accountability in stride because, no matter what, they come with the territory, but the children must come first.

"Money is not a real issue with me," Henderson adds, "or I would have gone into business, law, or medicine, [professions] my mother suggested many, many years ago!"

OTHER STORIES FROM THE "PRINCIPAL FILES" SERIES

Tenure or a Higher Salary -- Which Would You Take?
Principals in New York City were recently offered $25,000 pay raises --- in exchange for concessions, including giving up tenure. Given such a choice, what would you do? Education World's Principal Files" principals add their thoughts to the debate.

What Do Principals Do?
Students at Orangewood Elementary School (Phoenix, Arizona) share their unique perspectives on what their principal -- Dr. Peggy George - does. Out of the mouths of babes!

Principals Search for Words to Rally the Troops
Want to get the year off to a good start? Looking for the words to motivate your staff? Here are the messages a few of your colleagues plan to pass along to "the troops" at the start of the new school year.

What Qualities Do Principals Look for in a New Teacher?
What will school principals be looking for in the new teachers they hire in the weeks ahead? That's what Education World asked a group of school principals. The principals' responses might help others -- principals and candidates for teaching jobs -- as they focus their thoughts on the interviews ahead.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 03/01/1999
Last updated 02/22/2010

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