Teacher-Turned-Principal: Pros & Cons

.If you’ve worked with a teaching colleague who later became your Principal, you know such a promotion can mean positive changes to the teaching staff. Considering that a teacher-turned-Principal has experience with the rigors and demands of the classroom, who else could be better qualified to work with and support their colleagues?

Having personally worked with teachers who went on to become outstanding administrators, the idea that a teacher-turned-Principal is a plus for the teaching staff, rings true for me. Apparently, however, this is not always true…

Based on teachers’ Comments found in ISR School Reviews, some newly crowned Principals have been guilty of setting their sights on climbing the admin ladder at the expense of their teachers. Other newcomers are reported to have become subject to the whims of greedy school owners who use them as not much more than their mouthpiece. Self-preservation and survival on the job can override administrators with even the best of intentions.

ISR Asks: Have you worked with a teacher-turned-Principal who became a champion for the teaching staff? Or, was your experience one in which this individual turned his/her back on former colleagues, all with an eye on a future directorship?

In the Words of ISR Members:

To be fair to admin, I’ve found the number one determinant to how they behave is how they, themselves, are treated in the school. If owners are money-grabbing control freaks, then they will either toe the line or end up leaving within three or so years. They might even try battling against the system for a while before realizing that it’s hopeless and therefore pick their battles. Some will try to shield their faculty as best they can, but most soon understand their role. 

Most administrators I’ve worked with had a single-point agenda of moving up the career ladder, bashing anything getting in their way.

I had a colleague that later became my principal. I know she found it difficult to suddenly be in a position of authority, with the final word. I feel like she always tried to weigh teachers’ comments  before making a final decision. Some of us continued to like her and others came to despise her. I guess you can’t please everyone. Maybe that’s why they say it’s lonely at the top.

My experience was good and continues to be so. I’m working with an excellent principal who was previously a colleague. He goes to bat for with us with the parents of over-privileged kids who complain we assign too much home work, or the test was too hard. He also acts as a buffer between our unrealistic director and us. So far so good! I hope this principal’s principles don’t preclude a long career. We need people like him!

Have you worked with a teacher-turned-Principal? How was the experience? What tips or Comments do you have for teachers on the path to becoming administrators?

Please scroll down to participate in this Discussion Board




8 Responses to Teacher-Turned-Principal: Pros & Cons

  1. Anonymous says:

    Different countries have different ways of certifying an administrator. From what I have seen, the US has the most inconsistent system, and in many states a principal doesn’t have to be a certified teacher first. That right there causes some concern for me.

    Where did you think your administrators were coming from, if it wasn’t from the ranks of a teacher? In the case of this specific issue, it seems the issue isn’t whether you are capable or have the necessary training, but rather those who are promoted in-house and then step all over people to get ahead.

    I can tell you as someone who was promoted in-house, I did get a lot of comments that I was “using people to get ahead” or that I was “looking to be the boss”, however those comments came of jealousy and a lack of understanding about my own goals, education, certification, and the work I had put into getting into administration. I have always been fair – as a teacher, as a department head and as an administrator. Communication is key, and knowing who might be problematic and dealing with their concerns is also important. When one moves from the ranks into administration, you moved from being a colleague on the same level to one who is now in charge of those same colleagues. For some teachers, that is hard to handle. Those administrators who abuse their power when they are promoted are bad apples, and the bigger question is usually: “Why were they promoted?” A lot of shady things can happen in international schools. I think the process being as transparent as possible is key.

    Good luck to those who have teachers get promoted who weren’t ready or didn’t have the necessary training.


  2. janet says:

    Good administrators have management skills and formal training and also should have teaching experience. I have worked for some appalling principals – usually former PE teachers as they are the only ones with the time to take admin exams. The best principals however, are qualified in management and teaching.


  3. Vurtle Okada says:

    Just like the role of the teacher who needs to be properly trained to get the skill sets and understand the responsibilities as well as the ethical choice they have to make in their career, adminstrative role would demand threefold or more of the responsibilities in each action and decision that is made. Teachers who accept the leadership role without this understanding and awareness of their responsibilities for the all sorts of staff, students and parents are unfortunately not following what they teach the students to be well-rounded.

    There are many international schools around the world that would simply promote a teacher to the adminstrative level because they think alike. The most malicious cyclical situation is where only male teachers get a head-jump in the adminstrative role and the announcement is made very unexpectedly to the staff and later to the whole school like a forceful typhoon passing through.


  4. Caleb Moyo says:

    I think sometimes these teachers are thrown at the deep end with little understanding of leadership forms, advantages and disadvantages and how to overcome the pitfalls by mixing these forms and become pragmatists. There is a lack of prior exposure and sometimes its a promotion from primary to secondary which affects one side. Its not a problem as long as one has an open mind, delegates and supports and is willing to learn. I guess it should be less of politics and more if professionalism that will see them through.


  5. Gerard O'Keeffe says:

    Teacher turned Principal eh? Symptomatic of a much deeper malaise I believe. I have been teaching since 1997 and have observed the slow but inexorable erosion of my profession both here in the UK and overseas. Twenty years ago, the very idea of someone masquerading as a qualified graduate teacher or a similarly qualified Headteacher/manager would have been risible. Today however, the teaching profession is stock full of charlatans and half-educated narcissistic simpletons whose very presence lowers the standards in education. I’ve worked under some amazing Headteachers but increasingly over the years, the majority of others who I wouldn’t trust to run a welk stall. I am currently looking for a change of direction out of teaching. I have had enough of the egomaniacs and the accompanying petty politics and insidious subversion that plagues our working lives. It’s just worth it anymore.


  6. Rupert de Smidt says:

    It still baffles me that some school administrators / leaders act as imposters – they make it to that level when clearly they do not have the skill set needed to be successful as an educational leader. How do they manage it?? I have seen several imposter / make believe leaders in my international career. Moving up from the ranks gives a better insight into what teachers fronting up in classrooms actually feel and experience in the real world.


  7. Good and bad from every category. Skill set is the same, whether you are an ex teacher, or professional leader.


  8. The Moff says:

    The best administrators are those that are often reluctant to be one because they are aware of their own frailties. The ones that will happily climb over their colleagues dead bodies to move up the ladder tend to be lesser able – very much examples of the Peter Principle.


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