how to become a principal without being a teacher

how to become a principal without being a teacher
how to become a principal without being a teacher

Can you become a school principal without ever being a teacher?

It’s like comparing apples to oranges just because they both grow on trees. Teaching and leadership are only tangentially related.

That being said, the answer is: main. In the past, I have been forced to go into a major training program and my answer was an emphatic “no”. Why? Because my time is more valuable to me than what principals pay here… and principals pay very well around here.

Most of the principals I’ve met over the years have either been older empty nesters, never laid, or people with a stay-at-home partner. Being a director requires a lot of time, especially in the evenings. People who also need to worry about their children during these hours don’t like it.

Being a director also requires a certain amount of tact that I would struggle with if I had to do it on a regular basis. I can type a tactful email to my parents from time to time, but have dozens of contacts with my parents every day, each of which can be used against me in the future. No, thanks.

One of the advantages of being a teacher as opposed to a principal is the ability to delegate uncomfortable but necessary conversations with parents to the principal. About twice a year I run into a situation with a student that requires parents to be notified, but it’s so serious that I just turn it over to the principal and let them handle it. Like when a casual search of the history of a student’s Chromebook at school reveals that they watched porn on it at home. I’ll just pass it on to the principal and have them tell the parents.

The school principal is one of the most important positions in education administration. Principals are responsible for overseeing the operation of primary, secondary and tertiary schools.  They also play an integral role in helping teachers become better educators and in guiding students.

Although most school principals start out as teachers before moving into administrative positions, this is not the only route you can take.

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree.

The first step to becoming a school principal is to complete a bachelor’s degree.1 A bachelor’s degree in education is the most common degree people earn in preparation for careers as teachers and eventually school principals or administrators. Alternatively, you can get a degree in English, Maths or another subject that interests you.

Most people spend several years teaching, and some states require candidates to have a minimum amount of teaching experience before moving into administrative roles. However, learning isn’t the only way to gain the experience you need to become a principal. School counseling and other similar roles in the educational environment can also equip you with the necessary skills. The key is to choose a college degree program that suits your abilities and the position you hope to achieve upon graduation.

  1. Get your teaching certificate.

All states mandate that every public school teacher hold a certificate, sometimes called a license, but specific requirements vary from state to state.2 If you plan to apply for teaching positions in multiple states, it may be best to apply for employment first and then complete any requirements for obtaining a license in the state where you are hired. Most certificates will not be transferred to other states.

Some states offer teacher certification reciprocity—a term that can be misleading because it does not mean that certification from one state will automatically be valid in another state; most often you must meet additional requirements to become certified in a new state. The Education Commission of States has information on teacher certification reciprocity, as well as links to individual state commissions and answers to questions about state licensure.3

  1. Gain professional experience in an educational setting.

Not every state requires teaching experience to become a principal, but even in states where it is not required, it can be a good idea. Many states allow you to work as a substitute teacher during your bachelor’s program to gain additional experience before entering a teaching career. If you can’t find a teaching job immediately after graduation, substitute teaching can give you post-graduate experience and build your skills in areas such as classroom management, communication and organisation.

  1. Continue with a master’s degree in pedagogy.

Most public and private schools in the US require or strongly prefer that every principal and administrator have a graduate degree.

A master’s degree in education builds skills in:

  • Evaluating the skills of other instructors
  • We help educators improve classroom instruction
  • School leadership and management
  • Communication with students and parents
  • Dealing with legal matters
  • Budget management and finding financing options
  • Hiring and managing staff and teachers
  • Developing intercultural skills for teaching in diverse settings

Master’s programs can take two to three years, depending on the program and how quickly each student progresses through it. Online master’s programs allow students to expand their teaching experience and learn to become principals while continuing in their current professional roles. As part of your degree requirements, you will complete classroom instruction in person or online. Many programs also require you to complete an internship where you will work with administrators to learn about the director’s areas of responsibility

  1. Diversify your skills and experience.

Teaching experience can help you succeed as a principal, but it’s certainly not the only thing you need. Headteachers play many different roles in a school,

so it is essential to find ways to develop:

  • A student-oriented view
  • Knowledge of current and anticipated future trends in education
  • Desire for lifelong learning
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Ability to solve problems, lead and organize

To gain real-world experience in these areas, join committees or take on leadership roles during your time as a teacher. If you’re not yet ready to become a principal, consider applying for an assistant principal position. To expand your knowledge and experience, look for courses and events through state and national school administrator organizations, including:

  • National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)
  • American Association of School Superintendents (AASA)
  1. Understand your state’s requirements.

To be hired as a principal, you need a current teaching license and certification, and some states require principals to maintain current teaching licenses throughout their directorship. Before you start submitting applications, check state guidelines4 and make sure all your licenses and certifications are current.

  1. Apply for a seat.

Once you have completed your master’s degree and have the right experience, apply to the directorate and demonstrate your qualifications. At the end of 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found 283,200 jobs for elementary, middle, and high school principals in the U.S. with an average salary of $96,400 per year.5 It’s a relatively small job field compared to most, meaning that education and experience can distinguish you from other applicants.


how to become a principal without being a teacher
how to become a principal without being a teacher


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