10 Pros and Cons of Being a School Principal

School principal talking to a student in the hallway.

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There are many pros and cons that come with being a principal. It can be a rewarding job, and it can also be an extremely stressful job. Not everyone is cut out to be a principal. There are certain defining characteristics that a good principal will possess.

If you are thinking of becoming a principal, it is crucial that you weigh all the pros and cons that come with the job. Take all factors of both sides into consideration before making your final decision. If you do not feel you can handle the cons, stay away from this profession. If you believe that the cons are only roadblocks, and the pros are well worth it, then go for it. Being a principal can be a terrific career option for the right person.

Pros of Being a School Principal

Salary. The median expected annual salary of a principal is over $100,000, while the median expected annual salary for a teacher is under $60,000. That is a significant increase in salary and can have a substantial impact on your family’s financial status, as well as on your retirement. That increase in salary is well-earned, as you will see when we look at the cons. There is no denying that a significant increase in salary makes it appealing to a lot of people to make that jump from teacher to principal. However, it is essential that you do not make that decision based on salary alone.

Variety. Redundancy is never an issue when you are a school principal. No two days are ever alike. Each day brings new challenges, new problems, and new adventures. This can be exciting and keeps things fresh. You can go into a day with a solid plan of things to do and fail to accomplish a single thing that you expected. You never know what will await you on any particular day. Being a principal is never boring. As a teacher, you establish a routine and mostly teach the same concepts each year. As a principal, there is never an established routine. Each day has its own unique routine that dictates itself as time passes.

Control. As the school leader, you will have more control over virtually every aspect of your building. You will often be the lead decision-maker. You will typically have at least some control over key decisions, such as hiring a new teacher, changing curriculum and programs, and scheduling. This control allows you to put your stamp on what your building does. It provides you with the opportunity to implement the vision that you have for your school. You will also have total control over daily decisions, including student discipline, teacher evaluations, professional development, and so on.

Success. As the building principal, you will also get credit when credit is due. When an individual student, teacher, coach, or team succeeds, you also succeed. You get to celebrate in those successes because a decision you made somewhere along the line likely helped lead to that success. When someone associated with the school is recognized for outstanding achievement in some area, it typically means that the right decisions have been made. This can often be traced back to a principal’s leadership. It may be as straightforward as hiring the right teacher or coach, implementing and supporting a new program, or offering a particular student the right motivation.

Impact. As a teacher, you often only have an impact on the students you teach. Make no mistake that this impact is significant and direct. As a principal, you can have a larger, indirect impact on students, teachers, and support personnel. The decisions you make can affect everyone. For example, working closely with a young teacher who needs some direction and guidance has a tremendous impact on both the teacher and every student they will ever teach. As a principal, your impact is not limited to a single classroom. A single decision can be transcendent throughout the entire school.

School Principal Cons

Time. Effective teachers spend a lot of extra time in their classrooms and at home. However, principals spend a much greater amount of time doing their jobs. Principals are often the first one to school and the last one to leave. In general, they are on a 12-month contract, getting only two to four weeks of vacation time during the summer. They also have several conferences and professional development duties they are required to attend.

  • Principals are usually expected to attend almost every extra-curricular event. In many cases, this can mean attending events three to four nights a week during the school year. Principals spend a lot of time away from their homes and their families throughout the school year.

Responsibility. Principals have a greater workload than teachers do. They are no longer responsible for only a few subjects with a handful of students. Instead, a principal is responsible for every student, every teacher/coach, every supporting member, and every program in their building. A principal’s responsibility footprint is enormous. You have your hand in everything, and this can be overwhelming.

  • You have to be organized, self-aware, and confident to keep up with all of those responsibilities. Student discipline issues arise every day. Teachers require assistance on a daily basis. Parents request meetings to voice concerns regularly. You are the one responsible for handling each of these, as well as a plethora of other issues that occur within your school every day.

Negativity. As a principal, you deal with many more negatives than you will positives. The only time you typically deal with students face-to-face is because of a discipline issue. Each case is different, but they are all negative. You also get to handle teachers complaining about students, parents, and other teachers. When parents request a meeting, it is almost always because they want to complain about a teacher or another student.

  • These constant dealings with all things negative can become overwhelming. There will be times you will need to shut your office door or go observe an extraordinary teacher’s classroom just to escape all the negativity for a few minutes. However, handling all of these negative complaints and issues is a substantial part of your job. You must effectively address each issue, or you will not be a principal for long.

Failures. As discussed earlier, you will receive credit for successes. It is also crucial to note that you will also be responsible for failures. This is especially true if your building is a low-performing school based on standardized test performance. As the leader of the building, it is your responsibility to have programs in place to assist in maximizing student performance. When your school fails, someone has to be the scapegoat, and that could fall on your shoulders.

  • There are many other ways to fail as a principal that could jeopardize your job. Some of those include making a series of damaging hires, failing to protect a student who has been bullied, and keeping a teacher who is known to be ineffective. Many of these failures are avoidable with hard work and dedication. However, some failures will occur no matter what you do, and you will be linked to them because of your position in the building.

Politics. Unfortunately, there is a political component to being a principal. You have to be diplomatic in your approach with students, teachers, and parents. You cannot always say what you want to say. You have to remain professional at all times. There are also occasions where you may be pressured into making a decision that makes you uncomfortable. This pressure may come from a prominent community member, school board member, or your district superintendent.

  • This political game could be as straightforward as two parents wanting their children to be in the same class. It may also become complicated in a situation where a school board member approaches you to request that a football player who is failing a class is allowed to play. There are times like this when you must make an ethical stand even if you know it may cost you. The political game can be hard to play. However, when you are in a position of leadership, you can bet that there will be some politics involved.

Sources

"Public School Teacher Salary in the United States." Salary.com, 2019. 

"School Principal Salary in the United States." Salary.com, 2019.