By Andrew Hawk
I have told many people (and I wrote in a previous blog post) that the first year of teaching is the best and worst year of a teacher’s life. Now that I am several weeks into my first year as a principal, I am thankful that I have that experience from which to draw strength.
When I compare the two, I would say without a doubt that transitioning from college to teaching is far more challenging than transitioning from teaching to being a principal. Here are a few things I have learned so far.
Multitasking Is on a Whole New Level
Working as a classroom teacher and special education teacher, I thought I had learned to multitask. Working as a principal takes things to a whole new level. This is because the entities that want your attention more than double in number.
Teachers usually are juggling working with students, colleagues, and parents. As a principal, you still have contact with all these people, but now you have to add your secretaries, people from the central office, food service staff, janitorial staff, and vendors. Things will feel very calm and then get very busy in a short period of time. When faced with many tasks to do at one time, you must be able to prioritize immediately.
Things Move Quickly
One day I was called to a classroom to assist with a discipline issue. When I returned to my desk, I found a blank sticky note by my phone. Uh-oh! I had been in the middle of writing myself a note and now I had no idea what the note should have been about. Since this incident, I have not remembered what the note should have said. But now, I make sure to move more quickly when I am writing lists and notes.
Schools Have Challenges Other Than Academics
Having worked in food service during college, I had a general idea about that area of a school. However, the maintenance and operation of a large building takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work that really only maintenance staff and administrators know about.
I am lucky to have an experienced staff to help guide me through a lot of the challenges that have popped up. For example, right before school started, our air conditioner stopped working. Our director of grounds was able to have this fixed for the cheapest amount possible.
Teachers Are Not the Only Leaders
Before becoming a principal, when I thought of leaders at a school, I would picture the administrators and the experienced teachers. However, when you view the entire school as an organization, not just the academic side, you can see that there are lots of leaders outside the classrooms. I know that I have come to depend heavily on my head custodian.
People React to Your Position
One of the first things I noticed as a new principal is that when I introduce myself on a phone call, people react differently. What the difference is depends on the situation. Parents are more guarded than they were when I called as a teacher. Business representatives are much friendlier. Phone calls aside, if students think they are in trouble, they are usually frightened when I talk to them. In the beginning, I still felt like a teacher, so these new reactions took me by surprise.
Measuring Your Personal Success Is Hard
When I was a teacher, I always knew how to measure my success. This is a lot trickier as a principal. If the staff is happy, does that mean I am doing a good job? This will not always work as a measuring stick because sometimes I will have to ask staff to do things they do not want to do.
In these cases, am I doing a good job if I get everyone to do the undesired task? What about the academic success of the school? Should I look at mastery of skills or growth toward mastery? Measuring the success of an administrator is much more complex than I realized.
In the end, I think overall success depends on whether a principal is helping the people in the building reach their full potential as students and as educators.
You Get Used to Public Speaking
I have always felt pretty neutral about public speaking. I would not say it bothers me, but I would not say I enjoy it either. The principal does some regular public speaking at school board meetings, staff meetings, and convocations. The next speaking engagement is always right around the corner. I’ve gotten used to it pretty quickly.
You Will Know Some Difficult Things
One of the hardest things about being a teacher, in my opinion, is living with the personal details you learn about students and their family lives. You find out terrible things that have happened to your students, and you have to put your reactions to these things aside so that they do not get in the way of your teaching.
When you are a principal, you are now exposed to these things for an entire student body, not just one classroom. Now every Department of Child Services report comes through your office. Every custody dispute is brought to your attention. You are often notified if a family member passes away. I am sure everyone handles this a little differently. It is one of the hardest parts of being a principal.
You Will Hurt People’s Feelings
Telling people that they did something wrong is just part of being a supervisor at any level. Even if you are considerate of a person’s feelings, some people react strongly to constructive criticism. It is best to just speak honestly. Too much sugarcoating will dilute your message, while speaking too strongly is unnecessary in almost all cases.
Most Parents Only Want to Be Heard
Parents call about big things and little things. Sometimes they want to talk for a minute, and sometimes they want to talk for an hour. The thing that I have learned is that almost all of them just want to be heard. They are not even going to necessarily ask you to do anything. I say hear them out, be honest and transparent, and make time to have these conversations.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for eighteen years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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