Search form

Marriage, Family, and the Principalship: Making It All Work -- Part 2


Did you read part 1 of this article?

It is easy to get caught up in the demands of the principal's job.


It is easy to get overwhelmed, too.

Several members of Education World's "Principal Files" team took time to point out how grateful they are that their spouses are educators, too. At least they can understand what the "principal" spouse is going through. But others say they have benefited many times from the perspectives of their non-educator spouses.


"One huge advantage I have is that my wife is a non-educator," said Jim Pastore. "That helps me to unplug from school when I am at home. Unlike many administrators who are married to fellow educators, we socialize with normal people, not just other educators. Thats a bonus because it takes me out of my education shell."

Pastore also finds it beneficial that his wife is a businesswoman. "When I go on and on about something happening at school, she has a way of getting right to the heart of the issue from an objective, non-educator perspective.

"I do not know how many times she has helped me to look at a school issue from a completely different point of view."


In This Article
  • A Spouse's Perspective Is Often Helpful
  • Can Districts Chip In to Support Principals?
  • Live in the Same Town Where You Work?
  • Handling Criticism Is Part of the Job
  • A Single Perspective
  • Something's Gotta Give

    Read more in part 1 of this article
  • The Hours Are Unforgiving
  • To Be (a Principal) or Not To Be?
  • It's a Team Effort
  • Making Time for Family
  • The Family Calendar
  • Families Chip In to Chip Away

Principal LaKeldra Pride admits that, early on, her spouse had some difficulties with all the requirements that came with her job. One day he even pointed out how the majority of administrators in her district were either single or divorced. His question was Why?" Pride recalled.

Together, they came to the conclusion that one of the big reasons is the long hours principals spend on the job. As a result, Pride has worked hard to ensure that the job doesn't consume her.

"While a principal's work is truly never complete, boundaries must be set and maintained, because life does go on beyond the job," said Pride. "It is inevitable that there will be times I have to work extended hours, but that should not be a daily issue."

Brenda Hedden says that her husband's perspective has often been helpful even though "sometimes he feels I should be more vocal and call a spade a spade. He feels I tolerate more than I should, but I feel the need to remain the utmost professional, even when others are not.

"That can be a very difficult thing to do when co-workers, parents, and students challenge your decisions. It is especially difficult when another administrator stoops to criticism, but I have found that focusing on facts, setting opinions and emotions aside, and remaining focused on what is best for kids always guides me in the best direction."

And of course her husband is always there with the valuable perspective of a non-educator, added Hedden.


One day early in her admin career, one of our "Principal Files" principals happened to mention the long hours she was putting in to her district's assistant superintendent. "Welcome to administration," he said to her. "Your job begins at 3:00 p.m. when the students leave."

Not much sympathy there, she thought.

And so it is with the principal's job.

"I dont know if any Board truly understands how much we do that they don't hear about," that principal said.

And shrinking tax bases and budget cuts have a way of exacerbating that issue. "I have worked in five districts, and not one alleviated any workload," she told Education World. "Just the opposite happened. The job intensified and became even more demanding when budget cuts were faced, construction projects were initiated, or programs were studied, modified, or cut."

Another principal agreed that districts' hands are often tied when it comes to what they can do to support their administrators' families. "They expect us to be available, and they pay us well for doing that," he said.

Principal KathiSue Summers has a somewhat different perspective. Her district is aware of the issue, and they try to support principals in ways they can. "I work with a super management team," she said. "We cover for one another when we need to."

"Once I worked in the same town in which I lived, and that was a mistake. Now I drive 20 miles to my school. It protects my family and my privacy."

Doing that helps spouses be more understanding when the "principal" member of the family has to be away, said Summers. In addition, her district even encourages principals to include their spouses in district-sponsored travel. Maybe that kind of inclusion is one of the reasons her husband even goes to school board meetings to support her job efforts.


One question many principals must face when it comes time to move into a principalship is whether to live in the same district where they work. The principals we talked with offered opinions on both sides of that issue.

One principal, who prefers not to be identified, said that she has learned never to live in the district where she works. "Even running to the grocery store feels like parent-teacher conference day," she explained.

Another principal concurred. "Once I worked in the same town in which I lived, and that was a mistake," he said. "Now I drive 20 miles to my school. It protects my family and my privacy."

For some principals, unlisted phone numbers, answering machines, and caller ID are tools of the trade. Eating at out-of-the-way restaurants and shopping at off-times are other methods employed by principals who live in or near the districts where they work. Doing those things helps avoid disgruntled parents during "personal time."

"Living and working in the same community can be a mixed blessing," admitted principal Les Potter, who has done both. "I prefer to live in the community where I work. Living nearby enables me to go home between the end of the school day and evening obligations."

"If you live far away from your school, then sometimes parents don't believe you are part of the community. They don't believe you really understand their problems."

Living in the community is also a great way to keep in touch with former students. "I'm always running into parents who tell me how their kids are doing in high school and college," he said.

But living in the same community does require having a thick skin, added Potter. People can make critical comments about you and your decisions, and those comments can be hurtful to you and your spouse, he added.

"We and our spouses do get snubbed from time to time," said Potter, "but that is no different for local police, lawyers, and politicians."


Criticism is unavoidable when it comes to the principal's job. "I've never had my husband feel hurt because of my job or comments about me," one principal told Education World, "but he certainly has felt my pain and hurt when angry parents or difficult staff issues weigh heavy on my heart."

"And my sons both took advantage of and hated the fact that their mom was an administrator in their school system," she added. "They took some barbed comments from time to time during middle school and high school."

Another principal said his wife finds the spotlight to be wearing. "She refers to school as my other wife," he said. "Most difficult of all are the comments she overhears about the school or me. People are often oblivious to the fact that she is married to the guy and the criticism might be hurtful."


While we posed our questions to married "Principal Files" principals, Joan Pinkerton wanted to chime in on this topic. "I can't imagine how a married principal -- male or female -- does the job," she said. "I like to be in classrooms during the day, so I save all of my work for after school. My work day typically ends between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m."

"Luckily, there is no one who waits at the other end except my dog with his legs crossed.

"But I can say that my position has put an end to relationships when people can't understand that crises can crop up, I need to go to evening meetings, and I never know in advance how long my day will be.

"As one member of my family put it: for the amount of hours you put in, you just might as well put on a uniform and work at BK."

One thing that Pinkerton does do is treat her weekends as sacrosanct. "I tell my students' parents that I give them all I have during the week, but the weekends are mine," she said. Parents are very respectful of that, she added, probably because she is always available during the week.

"But if I was married, I am not sure how my kind of schedule would fly."


When it comes to being a school leader, most principals would agree that "something's gotta give." Principals and their families use a wide variety of tools to keep their lives on course. To make it all work, they set priorities; use a calendar to plan, plan, plan; and have cell-phone calling plans with lots of minutes!

But since being a principal seems to be a calling for most, they work around the job's demands on time, families, and emotions. "I keep coming back because I know I make a difference every day for children, teachers, and parents at my school," said principal Lolli Haws. "Since making a difference is my life passion, some of the other is acceptable and even understood by those who love me."

And if you are having a tough day, imagine being in Patrice DeMartino's shoes. In addition to being a principal, she is a doctoral candidate at Seton Hall University. Given such a full plate, something had to give, said DeMartino, and one of the things that had to give was housekeeping.

"I've had to subscribe to the Lily Munster method of housekeeping," DeMartino explained. "If you are unfamiliar with that method, it includes cobwebs, dust thick enough to write in, dead plants, backed-up laundry, and dirty dishes in the sink.

"You might say hire a housekeeper, but I would have to clean the house first, and I don't see that happening before the year 2010!"

One thing no principal can afford to give up is a good sense of humor!

One of the great payoffs to being in education is the downtime that is built into the schedule at Christmas, Easter, and during the summer. "I try to remind myself and my wife of that great payoff," said principal Brian Hazeltine. "We have always made the most of those times by planning family trips all across North America and lots of fun and games at home. Those are the things that have helped build a strong, united family."

When the demands of his principalship start overwhelming Hazeltine, he reminds himself why he got into the "principal business" in the first place. "We have the awesome privilege of leading a team of people who are impacting lives and, perhaps indirectly, changing the world," he said.

"Hard work?" he added. "Absolutely!"

"Worthwhile? Definitely!"

"Even my wife would agree," he concluded, "but maybe without the exclamation points."

"Principal" Contributors to This Article

Some school leaders who contributed to this article elected to remain anonymous. The following contributors, all members of Education Worlds "Principal Files" team, have been identified in this article:

Patrice DeMartino, principal, Sacred Heart/St. Isidore Regional Grammar School, Vineland, New Jersey

Shari Farris, principal assistant, Regal Elementary School, Spokane Washington

Dr. Lolli Haws, principal, Oakridge Elementary School, Arlington, Virginia

Brian Hazeltine, principal, Airdrie Koinonia Christian School, Airdrie, Alberta (Canada)

Brenda Hedden, principal, Park City Learning Center, Park City, Utah

Bonita Henderson, assistant principal, Parham School, Cincinnati, Ohio

Marguerite McNeely, principal, Hayden R. Lawrence Middle School, Deville, Louisiana

Bridget Morisseau, principal, William Winsor School, Greenville, Rhode Island

Tony Pallija, principal, North Canton Hoover High School, North Canton, Ohio

James Pastore, Jr., director, International School of Trieste, Italy

Joan Pinkerton, principal, Kent Primary School, Carmel, New York

Dr. Les Potter, principal, Silver Sands Middle School, Port Orange, Florida

La'Keldra N. Pride, principal, Green Hill Elementary School, Sardis, Mississippi

Roy A. Sprinkle, principal, Bay Haven School of Basics Plus [Magnet School], Sarasota, Florida

To explore other practical articles from the Principal Files series, go to our Principal Files Archive.
Click here to learn how you might contribute to a future "Principal Files" article.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Originally published 03/06/2007
Updated 12/01/2009