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From the Principal Files: The Principal Shortage -- Why Doesn't Anybody Want the Job?

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"I wouldn't want your job!" School principals hear that remark all the time. Is it any wonder? The day doesn't include enough hours to accomplish half of what most principals must do. Paperwork mounts. The stresses of accountability pervade. Support from above and respect from the community border on nonexistent. Finally, considering that most principals work long days and year-round, the pay stinks! Included: Today, Education World's "Principal Files" principals share their thoughts about why our nation is on the brink of a severe principal shortage. Tomorrow, they share their ideas for alleviating that shortage.

"When I encourage teachers in my school to pursue an administrative certificate, the first thing they say is 'I wouldn't want your job ...'" principal Lucie Boyadjian told Education World. Boyadjian, principal at Glen Oaks School in Hickory Hills, Illinois, is not alone. Almost every principal has heard the same thing!

The job is just too big. There's too much paperwork and too many mandates. And the pay stinks! According to the Education World Principal Files principals, those are just some reasons for the principal shortage that many school districts face and many others will face in the next decade.

"Many expert teachers who might make excellent principals are deciding that it is just not worth it, because of the extra hours required, low pay in terms of the hours spent, and increasing demands," said principal Helene Dykes, of Tijeras Creek Elementary in Rancho Santa Margarita, California.

Because of problems with discipline, increased regulation at the state and national levels, and the affect court rulings have on school environments, many principals are just walking out, said Jed Landsman-Yakin, of Belfry (Montana) High School. "The phrase 'It just isn't worth it anymore' reverberates today in more school hallways than ever before."

A few weeks ago, Education World asked the P-Files principals to comment on the causes of the current principal shortage. We also asked them to share their ideas about how to reverse the shortage. Although few principals we talked with voiced regret about their career choice -- and many find the job very satisfying -- the principals offered many sensible and provocative thoughts!

Today, in Part 1 of "The Principal Shortage," principals discuss the scarcity of strong school leaders.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, principals offer suggestions for reversing the current crisis!


"I have so little time to focus on education because of the reports, forms, surveys, and general paperwork the federal and state governments generate," said one principal, who asked to remain anonymous.

"To be fair, I am in a small school system and I have to wear a lot of different hats," that principal told Education World. "Although my job is never dull or boring, it's also never finished. I feel like I am spread much too thin."

Whether they work in small towns or big school systems, the Education World P-Files principals repeatedly voiced the idea that the principal's job is just too big.

Job descriptions are written in such a way that a principal needs to be a superhero, said Tim Messick. "A principal needs to have the power and strength of Superman, the intelligence of Albert Einstein, the popularity of Princess Diana, the political savvy of a presidential candidate, the care and compassion of Mother Teresa," Messick told Education World.

Principals such as Norma Chevevert do it all! Chenevert told Education World, "As a principal in a small K-12 school, I have nobody else to delegate to -- no department heads, no assistant principals. This year, out of necessity, I am also co-athletic director and co-adviser for the eighth-grade class."

"I have no job description," added Chenevert. "I guess that means that if it comes up, it's mine!"

Principals' plates are full and, as principal Bill Myers told Education World, "Most of the problems a principal must mange have little to do with educating or helping children."

"Principals must handle discipline, IEP issues, enrollment, ordering and purchasing, hiring and evaluating teachers, building maintenance, the needs of parents ..." said Lolli Haws, principal at Avery Elementary School in Webster Groves, Missouri. " Then, we're also supposed to be instructional leaders totally familiar with, and expert in leading discussions about, curriculum and teaching practices, knowledgeable about what's best in technology ..."

"If we are to be about ensuring quality education for students, if we are to provide programs in which every student experiences success, then principals have to get out of the office," added Messick. "Priorities and demands have to change from hours of meetings and piles of papers to 'walking the talk.'"

In spite of all the job's drawbacks, most principals we talked to can't see themselves anyplace else!


No discussion of the principal shortage can be complete if it avoids the question of salary. Larry Green, assistant principal at Crystal Lakes Elementary School in Stuart, Florida, summed up the thoughts of many of his colleagues: "As an administrator, I am making less money per hour than if I was on the teacher's salary schedule."

Although most administrators readily admit that the job is not about money, in most communities principal salaries have not kept pace with teacher salaries.

"My friends who started teaching in the district at the same time I did are now making about $2,000 more than me and working 20 fewer days than I am working," said Nancy Ondrasik, principal at Jefferson Elementary School, in Warren, Pennsylvania.


"I don't think there are many administrators not willing to spend the long hours, not willing to fill out the tedious forms and endless supply of paper-work, not willing to experience the fragmentation of our days and our lives, but there are few administrators who are willing to accept the trials of our profession without a good side to the job," added Landsman-Yakin. "I look for respect and admiration from both my students and their parents."

"Esteem needs are near the top of Maslow's pyramid of human needs," Bill Myers told Education World. "People want to feel valued and confident. People, including principals, want and need respect from others.

"When I carried the title of coach, I was respected and treated almost as a star," Myers added. "As an administrator, I have been physically threatened by adults and students. I have been called numerous names, including liar.

"I currently work in a building where parents, students, and staff respect and believe in my leadership," Myers continued, "but retirement is looking better with each passing day."

"I've always maintained that people will remain in a district for lower pay than they could make in surrounding districts if they feel valued," said another principal. "My experience is that folks who go into education have an intrinsic need to make a difference. If they feel that they are making a difference and feel valued by superiors, they not only make a difference in the lives of students but they will also raise test scores."

Boards and elected officials must take a proactive role in promoting respect for the contributions that all school personnel make -- including bus drivers, central office personnel, cafeteria workers, and others, that principal added.

Click here for part two: The Principal Shortage: What Can Schools Do to Attract a New Generation of School Leaders?

Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 10/31/2000
Last updated 05/19/2003