What kind of experience should a school administrator have? For example, should a person who taught physical education for three years be considered qualified as an instructional leader for experienced teachers of core subjects?
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My concern is less with the P.E. teachers than the amount of experience these people have. I do have some resentment when someone who never really taught school tries to tell me what I'm doing wrong (not that it happens often because I produce good test scores for my building, knock on wood). I used the P.E. teachers as an example, because a friend of mine worked for a guy who had taught P.E. for three years, became a principal, piddled around with that for a few years, and moved to the central office, where he is now in charge of Human Resources. He's a nice guy, but if he weren't doing this, he would be selling cars somewhere. As a principal, he tried to tell his teachers how to teach reading, when he could barely read himself, and as the HR guy, he's determining what makes a quality teaching candidate. Meanwhile, my friend with 15 years of teaching experience, a track record of students who year after year score better than average on standardized tests, a business degree, and a former career in management cannot get so much as an interview. In nearly 20 years of teaching, I have worked for a handful of quality administrators, and without exception, they are the ones who taught the longest (various subjects, even P.E.). When I think about the HR guy who can barely read, I also find myself asking why, when people are criticizing American education, they always target the teachers and NEVER mention the administrators that hired them? But again, that is a different issue for another discussion.
I have been a history teacher for years, and have had good and bad principals. I think that many on here are seriously underestimating health and PE teachers. I never made the mistake of assuming that I was any more important than anyone else because I taught an "academic subject." There is no reason a PE teacher can't be a good principal, though I suspect the snobbishness of many in the faculty might present them with an additional barrier to success. I also coached for years, and am mystified as to why poster number 7 would like to see fewer coaches as principals. The silly politics of the high school campus is one reason I left to return to grad school.
The whole "PE teacher turned to principal" thing I think was an initiative done once because in the South I see way too many principals who once had been coaches. Unfortunately, none of them were worth a cent, and none of them had every taught in the regular classroom. For this reason, none of them knew how to properly evaluate teachers and, what is worse, they still thought they were running a baseball team and not a learning organization. I personally detested them as well as any other former teacher with a Principal's credential who is made principal only because his or her ethnicity helps fulfill EEO quotas. That has been my sad experience. The best Principal I ever had was a male, non-micromanaging, funny and stern guy who simply declared how much he wanted to serve the kids well. The rest, to him, was unnecessary and driveling drama. Man, I miss him!
The best principal I ever worked for had been a PE teacher, and he went on to be knighted and to run the top performing comprehensive school in the UK. He had a talent for selecting a team of people who shared his vision, and he never lost contact with the students. He had a monthly lunch with a random selection of students and major developments for the school were run past them as well as staff and senior management and staff.
He understood what it meant to be a teacher, a learner and a parent. These were his best qualifications in my mind.
Personally, I think that a principal needs to spend a few years in the classroom in order to truly understand what teachers and students face within the walls. I have to agree that one cannot pinpoint specific education and experience which a principal must have in order to be good.
Since the principal of a school is more the business and personnel manager than is the vice-principal, it seems that there would be fewer politics and nepotism and more competency involved if the chief administrator had a business or management major rather than being a former teacher. Certainly, these people are also educated in public relations, so they could much better bring expertise to the job than a friend or relative of the school superintendent (who should have a degree in Finances rather than a PhD in Education). Their lack of connection to others in the teaching field could bring more objectivity to the tables of discussion.
It matters not that principals have education experience because after only three years in the trenches, they know little anyway. Besides, whatever they have learned is forgotten after they go to an office position as removal from the trenches removes memory in almost every job.
An administrator who is not a "micro manager" can be successful in this circumstance if he surrounds himself with others who have more experience in specific content areas. Good leaders often succeed because they have good people working for them and they know how to motivate and organize them for greatest effect. So, if, as an administrator, you are weak in science, you might have an assistant principal who is strong in that area working with the science department.
You would also want to establish a very good working relationship with your department chairpeople.
Three years as a PE teacher does seem to be a bit paltry in terms of experience for a principal. However, it's going to be pretty hard for any principal to really lead all teachers no matter what. After all, teaching science is a very different thing (for example) than teaching history. We teachers are fairly likely to resent anyone (particularly if they're younger and less experienced than we are) trying to tell us what to do. But I don't think that it's really possible to set some absolute limit on what experience an administrator has to have.
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