Good school principals are underrepresented in TV and movies (unless their name is Dumbledore). But, maybe you’re into elementary school pranks, like a couple of kids—BUELLER!—calling you and pretending to be a grief-stricken parent. If you can handle an inordinate amount of nonsense and a whole staff of school employees, you might want to consider the career path to becoming a principal.
The students in part-time and full-time education policy master’s programs are optimists who believe they can make education better on a grand scale. They acknowledge the current education system in the United States is fraught with problems, but they don’t view any of those problems as insurmountable. They’re pursuing master’s degrees in education policy because they’ve dreamed of transforming their districts, improving on the ways students are taught across the entire state, or even driving sweeping education reform at the federal level. (
Universities offer so many degrees fitting for this category. At some universities, a Master of Education Policy or Master of Education Leadership program covers all the same subject matter as an M.Ed in Education Policy and Leadership. Others call this degree a Master of Education in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies; Master’s in Educational Leadership & Policy; Master of Education in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership; or a Master of Arts in Education Policy and Leadership. The only way to know whether the leadership and policy master’s program at a particular school is worth it is to look at the curriculum and the school’s job placement data. Make sure the curriculum supports your unique career goals and that the degree sufficiently impresses employers. ( )
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Every principal’s job is to facilitate student achievement, at least during the school year, but the way that happens differs between the elementary, middle, and high school levels. This doesn’t mean that you’ll start out as the principal for your school district’s elementary school, and graduating to running the high school. They are all distinct jobs.
Elementary school principals interact more with parents than secondary school principals. They also have more of a role in the actual education process, such as through teacher supervision. In addition to focusing more on literal school administration, secondary school principals have to deal with more truancy violations—meaning, when students skip school—than their counterparts.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS for short) public school principals actually make a higher median salary than those at private schools.
According to Zippia, the lowest ten percent in the field earned less than $39,000 in salary, while the top 10 percent of earners pull in more than $157,000.
There is a pretty substantial educational commitment involved in becoming a principal. Having a master’s degree in education administration or leadership is your end goal. Before that, it’s helpful to have a bachelor’s degree in education.
The time commitment involved in getting your degree varies. After budgeting four years for your bachelor’s degree, you will be faced with options. These are just a few:
Going straight into a full-time master’s program after undergrad and finishing your degree in one to two years.
Gaining experience in a classroom setting (which is possible with just an associate’s degree in education), then pursuing a master’s degree.
Becoming a teacher, Praxis test and all, before making the switch to principal. Depending on your state, this could require you to have a master’s degree in education. With a graduate degree at the ready, you’ll only need a few years of teaching experience to advance your career.
Teaching in a state that only requires you to have a bachelor’s degree? Consider pursuing a part-time or online master’s degree program, especially one that offers higheducation rankings in selectivity and accreditation. With your own classroom to manage and graduate-level coursework calling, this path creates a pretty hectic schedule. Then again, effective principals are good at managing their time, so why not start now?
So, you polished up your resume and are all set to ask that superintendent for a job, right? Not so fast. Consider certification, which in addition to licensure, can be thought of as a way to prove your potential for leadership and growth in a school setting. Principal certification candidates are commonly tested on their organizational and leadership skills, instructional knowledge, and their understanding of school operations.
This is where teaching experience may again be a benefit, since the majority of statesrequire school leader certification candidates to hold a master’s degree and have at least three years’ teaching experience.
When it comes to licensure, things get very state-specific. In some cases, a school leader, educational leadership or related certification is required. In most cases, candidates must pass a licensure exam on administrative and instructional practice. Once employed, candidates can also complete a pre-approved mentoring program chosen by their employer.
You teach because you love it—hopefully—but if you’re trying to find some ways to cut the cost of graduate school on your path to becoming a school principal, there are some scholarship opportunities. Some scholarships for master’s degree programs are available only to teachers who are trying to go back to school in order to become principals. It is a whole Russian nesting doll scenario of teachers teaching teachers how to teach other teachers.
If you are a principal, and are looking to sharpen your leadership skills or increase your general knowledge of the position, you might want to start reading some educational leadership blogs. These are written by principals who are looking to share their secrets and help increase the knowledge of others. How nice.
There are also a number of conferences and organizations that help school principals become more effective leaders and stay on top of the current industry trends and requirements. Don’t just become a principal. Become an effective principal.
Given all the time and effort you’ll spend leading faculty, staff, and students, it’s possible that you may look for ways to connect with school administrators without having to leave your office—or couch. Twitter, in particular, offers an amazing network to connect with education leaders around the world through something as simple as a hashtag.
The turnover rate is extremely high among principals. School leaders deal with a lot and student achievement, or a lack of it often contributes to principals leaving their jobs after just five years, especially those who work at schools where a large number of students perform below grade level. While some principals leave the profession entirely others change schools in the hopes of finding a better district or more supportive school board.
If you find success in your career, however, and want to take the next logical step, you may consider becoming a school district superintendent. This position usually requires between two and five years of experience as, say a high school principal, so you will be well prepared. Plus, you already have a master’s degree, which is another requirement for the job.
Alternative careers include curriculum design or course development. You could also seek out roles in corporate education, which includes coaching or mentoring employees in weakness areas, or running courses on company software or tools.
The hard part is (partly) over. You are a high school principal, and clean eggs off your car during spirit week. It’s awesome. You love educational administration and have been in the position for five years. You even quote panelists from the Economist Higher Education Forum to unsuspecting people at parties.
Now it’s time to renew your license.
Principals must renew the licenses every five or six years, depending on their state. This usually means completing 50 hours of professional development through an accredited program that has been approved by the state. But that’s ok. You love higher education and charting the professional development of your staff. School bake sales don’t hurt, either.
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