“Is it worth going from teacher to administrator?” I get asked this question often, usually for two distinct reasons.
The first is someone who sees the miserable parts of the job and is making a statement disguised as a question. They’ve already chosen an answer.
The second type is genuinely curious. Most often, this is a teacher who is considering climbing the career ladder or recognizes the need for good, dedicated, school principals. Sometimes, it’s even an individual asking the question directly – “Should I become a school principal?”
Today’s post is targeted to those asking the question authentically. I never provide a yes/no answer, no matter how well I know the person or even if I have a strong opinion. Instead, I provide a framework of thinking, share my experience of the pros and cons, and leave them to decide. I’ll do the same for you today.
(Note: Last week I explored the financial impacts in Teacher Vs. Administrator. This post is about the career choice.)
Is It Worth Going From Teacher To Administrator For the Money?
I need to get this one out of the way first. If the only reason you’re asking about becoming an administrator is to make more money, then my clear answer is no. Hell no. It’s not worth it for you or anyone else.
If you enjoy teaching and just want to make more money, there are better ways to do it. Trust me.
You’ll be miserable and the people you serve will be miserable. Also, when you factor in time worked and early career administrator salaries, the income gap isn’t quite as big as you think.
Now that I’ve gotten that rant out of the way…
Should I Become An Administrator If It’s About More Than Money?
Let’s look at some factors to consider. I’ll frame them as questions to answer and share some of my thoughts under each. Towards the end, I share some thoughts on steps to make the decision.
Do You Feel Passionate About The Job?
Do you feel pulled towards school leadership? Maybe it’s about having greater impact. Perhaps you want more control in day-to-day decision making.
You may have experienced too many bad leaders and are ready to do better for yourself and others. You may believe, as do I, that great school leadership is required to change the system to benefit ALL kids.
School administration is not a job where the financial rewards balance out the negatives. You need to be driven to do the job for other reasons. If you’re passionate about making positive change in the system, then it might be for you.
Are You a Good Teacher?
Not all good teachers will make good administrators. Yet, 100% of bad teachers will fail as administrators.
An administrator must know how to teach effectively. You’ll be required to select, develop, support, and evaluate teachers. You’ll have to make decisions that will benefit the instructional program.
You cannot do those things if you do not know the craft.
Are You Committed to Improving Student Outcomes?
Our education system exists to educate students. Too often it fails. Too many times the emphasis is on protecting adults, political choices, or preserving the status quo.
If you are considering entering administration, you must be committed to doing what it takes to improve student outcomes. If you are not – you are signing up for the wrong job.
Focusing on student outcomes won’t insulate you from the pressures of the system – but it will help you make the right choices as you navigate it.
Can You Productively Resolve Conflict?
We all think we are great problem solvers. Then, you end up in a situation where neither party actually wants to resolve the problem. At that moment, they just want to be mad. Resolution may come later.
As an administrator, a huge portion of your job is resolving conflicts. Some are logistical. Others are communication-based. Many are just personal.
The conflict can be among students, adult to student, and among adults. Each brings their own challenges.
Are you ready to stand in the middle and use every strategy available to help navigate others through conflict?
…while maintaining personal equilibrium?
There are few people able to stand in swirling constant conflict and not be phased. For most, it comes at a cost. It’s important to consider if you’re willing to pay that cost, and fine to decide you aren’t.
You have to be able to do so without destroying yourself. Can you live with the fact that people will often be unhappy with you? That sometimes you’ll have to simply build systems to keep interactions functional rather than optimal?
Will you be able to sleep at night when those things are true? This isn’t easy at first, but it becomes easier with experience. Just know that it’s important for you to find ways to keep yourself balanced.
Are You Willing / Able to Dedicate More Time?
Virtually all administrative jobs take more time. Being a good administrator takes even more. You’ll work more days, have a reduced summer break, and work evenings and weekends.
You’re compensated for these things and if you’re passionate about the job that extra time is worth it. Just know you’ll have less time for other pursuits, hobbies, and sometimes even your family.
Do You Feel Passionate About Supporting Others?
The entire point of the school administrator job is to support others to be successful. It’s not about you.
Ultimately, students need to experience the best possible education they can under your leadership. In order to do that, teachers and paraeducators need to be supported.
A principal isn’t successful unless the staff and students are successful. Sometimes, you’ll have to pay a personal cost, with little reward, in order to make that happen.
In our society, so much is built around the concept of hero leaders. The best administrators are those who remain focused on servant leadership.
Can You Work In Isolation?
School administration is simultaneously both highly social and highly isolating. A huge portion of your work will be interacting with staff, students, and families. For an introvert, this portion can be draining.
However, in all those interactions you will be asked to solve problems, held responsible for outcomes, and required to make difficult decisions. Often, this part is very lonely.
You can, and should, build networks of people you can trust and interact with about professional topics – but it won’t be in the school you supervise. I’ve seen new administrators fail because they aren’t getting the social support they need, or because they try to interact at a friend level with those they supervise.
You have to get your social needs met somewhere other than work.
Could You Use Extra Income?
Look, I said above that you shouldn’t become an administrator just for the money. It’s okay to factor income into your decision-making. If you’re still teetering in your decision after answering everything above, extra income might help you decide.
Honestly, if you aren’t sure and you don’t need the money – I say don’t do it. Enjoy teaching. It’s important and we need good teachers as badly as we need good administrators.
That said, if extra income is appealing, or needed, factor it in. You can always save the extra to accelerate your path to financial independence and then make a different choice later.
Steps to Take
Take the time to think through these questions. Really think through them.
I’ve got a strong bias for action, so I build systems to slow me down on important decisions. This is one. I’d actually journal through each of the questions and check the boxes. Some would be quick – yes, I’ve got an absolute passion for the job. Others, well let’s just say you should really think through managing conflict.
You’re considering a major life decision – take the time to get it right.
Talk With an Administrator You Respect
I’m just some random person on the internet. I try to be thoughtful, honest, and let you lean on your own thinking. I think I do an okay job.
That said, nothing can replace a real personal conversation. Most good administrators will be willing to give time for those considering moving from teaching to administration. (Remember – they’re probably passionate about supporting others!) These are some of my favorite conversations, even though they aren’t always easy.
Ask for some time. Buy them a cup of coffee. Prepare a few questions, including “Is it worth going from teacher to administrator?”
Then listen. They’ll give you a different perspective. It may be more relevant to you, more specific to your context, or completely different than what I’ve told you.
I had three such conversations when making my decision. Two led me to “yes”, one led me to “no way!” All were valuable and helped me be more prepared when I ultimately decided to become a school principal.
Is It Worth Going From Teacher To Administrator?
Yes. It’s been worth it for me, though I sometimes question the decision. Some aspects of the jobs are wearing, but I love the impact on students and supporting staff. I have amazing colleagues who love every aspect of the job.
It’s a personal choice each of us needs to make. We need amazing administrators in the profession. Principals who are dedicated to supporting others, focused on students, and able to lead productively are critical to our education system.
If that’s you – go for it. Let me know what I can do to help.