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What? Principals Are in It for the Money?

Principal vs teacher infographic final.png

Today's guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.


"I love our principal." The first time I uttered those words was thirteen years ago. At the time, I was joking around with my teammates- I had just married my building's principal (no impropriety here, we were both teachers when we met, dated, and got engaged). But, as I have progressed in my career, I have continued to say the same thing, "I love my principal" as I have been very fortunate to work for some exceptional instructional leaders.

With this bit of personal background, it may come as no surprise to you that two recent EdWeek articles have left me scratching my head.

The first article, "Principals Work 60-Hour Weeks, Study Finds" explains the findings of a recent study of the workload of school principals. As the title suggests, the study found that, nation-wide, principals average 60-hour workweeks. While no two principals account for their 60-hours in the same way (some cite managerial tasks and others cite paperwork or parent meetings as taking up the bulk of their time) the study found that to perform the role of principal in a meaningful way, principals are looking at 20+ hours of "overtime" per week.

Frankly, I found this average to be quite conservative. Thinking back on my days as the wife of a principal (meet my husband, Keith Westman), 60-hours would have been a light week. In addition to the school day, we could consistently count on school-related functions that required the presence of "the principal" several nights each week and on many weekends.  

With this first-hand experience, I was shocked when I read Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers blog post Teachers' Views of Leaders: Feedback From Our Readers in EdWeek which was a follow-up post on their post "Boss and Buddy: Can A Leader Be Both?" Jill and Ann had a similar reaction to some of the responses they received as the response from some readers was disheartening.

Many teachers painted their principals as egotistical, money-hungry, micro-managers who couldn't hack it in the classroom. Reading these comments was like driving a stake through my heart. On one hand, I felt terribly that so many teachers have not had the invaluable opportunity to work with inspirational, transformational leaders. Yet, on the other hand, these comments made me angry. Because some of the claims were just plain wrong.

You may not like your principal, but do you really know why?
In any industry, there are professionals that are "good" at their job and others that are lackluster or downright incompetent at their job. Education is not immune to "bad" employees. Fortunately, we have ways to remedy these situations. We have evaluation systems, accountability measures, and if all else fails, we can litigate.

However, a recurring theme in Berkowicz and Myers' post is that teachers believe their principals went into administration for the money and this financial goal accounts for their leaders' perceived lack of leadership.

"Few teachers get into education for the pay. But there's a subset of teachers who go into education not to teach, but to climb the ladder. In my thirty years, I've seen one physical education or special education teacher after another teach for five to seven years, go get an M.S. in administration, and then start climbing. One made it as far as regional superintendent. In my experience, that particular subset was never really good at teaching. As a consequence they were mediocre (at best) administrators. The goal was money and a career-climb, not young people."

As we all know, the vast majority of school administrators- good, bad and otherwise- started their career in education as teachers. And, since we know teachers surely don't enter into the profession for the money, how can we conclude that money become a significant motivating factor for one to become a principal?

If the goal of teachers who aspire to be administrators is to climb the "lucrative corporate ladder", as some respondents to Berkowicz and Myers insisted, there are surely industries that allow for much quicker ladder climbs and ones that lead to much more lucrative heights.In addition to the hefty expense of  the additional education to acquire administrative credentials; being a principal simply does not pay a lot when we consider some facts.

After doing the math, the national average salary for a principal breaks down to $34.88 an hour (60 hours a week, 48 weeks a year). (EdWeek, Glassdoor). The average teacher salary breaks down to $26.56 an hour (53 hours a week, 40 weeks a year) (Washington Post). For basis of comparison, equivalent positions to principals (advanced degrees + internships + experience) make an hourly rate that is substantially higher.

So, why, then, do principals Become principals?
In the summer of 2014, ASCD reported the results from a survey of over 20,000 teachers conducted by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In answer to the question, "why did you become a teacher?" 85% of teachers surveyed said they chose teaching "to make a difference in the lives of children." Only 4% of teachers surveyed said answered, "for the earning potential."

As stated earlier, most administrators started as teachers. So, if the vast majority of teachers became a teacher to positively impact students, can it be true that those same individuals suddenly changed their professional motivation to swap making a difference with making a buck?

In The Roles and Responsibilities of the Principal as Perceived by Illinois K-8 Principals Who Belong to Generation X, my husband found that the majority of principals do, in fact, become principals to make a positive difference in the lives of students and their staff. After surveying hundreds of principals, he found that 97.6% of principals said their motivation for entering administration was their passion for student learning.  Additionally, almost all of the principals surveyed cited the most rewarding aspects of the principalship that fell into one of two categories, being witness to the growth and development of students and being witness to the growth and development of adults, including parents, teachers, and community members.

In short, administrators choose administration for the same reasons teachers decide to become teachers. Sure, less than 5% of principals may have ulterior motives, but these are likely not financially inspired. If a principal lacks some of the qualities his or her staff deem desirable, perhaps these perceived deficits are due to years of working 60-hours a week and being pulled in many different directions.

New evaluation measures, standardized testing, and a shift in the way teachers instruct and assess have all increased the stress and workload associated with being a teacher in the year 2017. Teachers are not the only educators affected by these changes. Remember, principals feel these demands, too.

Being a principal is not an easy job; neither is being a teacher. But, we (teachers and principals) choose this line of work because of the impact we can make. And, when we make this impact, this is inarguably the best form of compensation.

Questions or comments about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

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