Get ready to think about hugging your principal. No seriously. It’s big, fat, bear-hug time for person who sits behind the biggest desk on campus. Why? Well, buckle up.
See, as the school year gets ready to blast off across the country, there are many things one can look forward to. Semi-cuckoo moms, semi-cuckoo colleagues, and semi-cuckoo mandates handed down from above by semi-cuckoo people who don’t actually have to enforce and/or implement any of the semi-cuckoo ideas that they are shipping downstream.
Ah, back-to-school. Who doesn’t love it?
One of the most exciting parts about this time of year, however, is the clockwork-like release of new surveys that give us some “state of the union” insights into the universe of American public education. Probably one of the biggest, most exhaustive and comprehensive of these comes from The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher. It’s a doozy and if you have a little free time to tackle the immense amount of information they cover, it’s always an interesting read.
Metlife, to their credit, surveys a lot of people in the profession before they publish a lick of information. Additionally, Metlife, seeks, at least in my opinion, to offer a fair, in-depth, and wide-ranging look at the big picture, covering issues that range from inside our classrooms to outside the schoolhouse walls. In fact, as the survey directly states as its first major discovery:
“Among responsibilities that school leaders face, those that teachers and principals identify as most challenging result from conditions that originate beyond school doors.”
Hmm, does that feel true? Are the most challenging issues we collectively face most often a result of conditions that originate from beyond our school doors?
Yep, feels on point to me. Score one for Metlife.
The next “big” finding, however, reminds me of an old joke:
“Come on, it’s time for school, Jeffrey,” a mother calls out to her son who’s still in bed under his sheets.
“But I don’t want to go,” Jeff answers. "The kids hate me. The teachers hate me. And they give me way, way, way, too much work."
“I don’t care, you’re still going,” replies his mother. “For goodness sakes, you’re the principal!”
What the Metlife survey actually found is that:
Three-quarters of all principals say that the job has become too complex, and nearly half report feeling under great stress several days a week or more.
Again I ask, “Does this feel true?” The answer seems to be a resounding yes.
But what are some of the reasons for this? Well, as the survey goes on to illuminate:
- While most principals report having a great deal of control in hiring teachers and making decisions about teachers’ schedules, fewer than half have great control over removing teachers or over curriculum and instruction.
- A majority of teachers and principals report that their school’s budget has decreased in the last 12 months.
- Principals’ satisfaction with their jobs in the public schools has decreased nine percentage points since it was last measured in 2008. (In that same period, teacher satisfaction has dropped precipitously by 23 percentage points, including a five-point decrease in the last year, to the lowest level it has been in the survey in 25 years.)
- Principals say they have the least control in making decisions about school finances.
Okay, so what the survey is telling us is that the job of being a modern day school principal is complex, stressful, and filled with people above you making decisions that will impact your campus without giving the boots-on-the-ground worker bee principals the necessary power they feel they need to actually remediate and address challenges on their campus as they arise.
“Hey, go fix these problems. But no, you won’t get any of the tools you say you need, and yes, if you can’t fix them (even if many of them are being caused by factors outside the boundaries of your school) we are still holding you responsible.”
Can we all take a moment to concede that this is a tough place to be? And if we can, since it’s just the start of the year, perhaps we can also realize now is a very good time to go give your local principal a nice big hug.
Because, as we all can clearly see, the pitchforks are already being sharpened behind the scenes.