The Silent Shortage: Why Are Principals Leaving? 

As U.S. schools struggle to find a new normal after the disruptions caused by pandemic closures and upheaval, school leaders are faced with some daunting challenges. At a time when schools need strong, effective leaders, they’re leaving. 

Leading a school post-pandemic is proving to be very stressful. Formal and informal polls of school administrators show that more than half of school administrators report that they are planning to leave the profession due to high-stress levels. In fact, according to a survey released by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, 14% of principals surveyed are planning to leave within a year, 24% are planning to leave in the next two to three years, and 38% say they’re leaving in three years. Let’s look at the reasons principals are considering walking away from the profession. 

1. Working conditions

Being a principal means long hours and extra activities on nights and weekends. Most principals know when they take over the leadership of a school that their job won’t be strictly 7 to 3. Running a school is not for the faint of heart or those looking for summers off. Principals must form relationships with teachers, staff, parents and students, build a positive culture, and maintain appropriate discipline. At the same time, they’re responsible for ensuring the facility is safe and properly maintained. It is often a 24-hour 7 days a week job and this often drives principals to seek less stressful, traditional jobs that don’t require so much.

2. Inadequate preparation

Just like teachers, principals should be highly trained and provided with opportunities for professional development. The demands of on campus duties often hinder school leaders from attending professional development and keep them from collaborating with colleagues or mentors. This can cause principals to feel isolated and hinder their ability to lead successfully.

3. Salary

Although most K-12 school principals are generally satisfied with their jobs, 25% of K-12 school principals agreed that if they could get a higher paying job they would leave as soon as possible.

4. Personal safety

70% of school leaders report being personally attacked either physically or verbally during the school year. Principals report student behavior is worse than it was before the pandemic. The rise of online bullying, on campus bullying, and drug use is concerning and often contributes to an unsafe environment for everyone.

5. Staffing shortages

Staffing shortages force principals to take on teacher roles and other duties outside their normal job roles, such as serving food in the cafeteria. This extra layer of responsibility takes away from time spent in classrooms with teachers and students. It also cuts into time spent on required paperwork, classroom observations, and teacher and student interactions.

6. Decision-making authority

When principals have no say or control over their campus, they don’t feel ownership or loyalty. This leads them to seek new positions in other schools or districts where they can give their input.

7. High-stakes accountability policies

The expectations placed on a principal’s shoulders for school performance on high-stakes tests can be enormous. The stress and pressure can be intense, especially when tied to compensation or even the possibility of job loss.

There’s no doubt that anyone who chooses to be a school leader has a passion for making a difference in the lives of children. Principals play a critical role in defining the campus culture and their leadership is the catalyst for positive growth and success for teachers and students. When principals leave, there is a negative ripple effect throughout the campus and community. Next week we’ll look at ways to keep them, support them and encourage others to join them.

Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.

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