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Principals’ Perfect Storm of Challenges

A principal’s job is only getting harder, according to the latest MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. A whopping 75 percent of principals feel the job has become too complex, and job satisfaction rates decreased nine percentage points in less than five years, to just 59 percent. And seven in 10 principals say their job responsibilities are very different from what they were five years ago.

“Right now, we have the perfect storm of implementation: the Common Core State Standards, new teacher evaluations, and new accountability systems,” says Mel Riddile, associate director for high school services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Today, principals have to motivate and re-train teachers while transitioning schools to these new standards and systems, he adds, with fewer resources due to budget constraints. “It’s dramatically changed their role. Instead of being an inspector of effective teaching, they are now a builder of teacher capacity.”

The annual survey, released in February, focused this year on “Challenges for School Leadership.” It includes the views of 1,000 K12 public school teachers and 500 principals on the responsibilities and issues facing school leaders.

One such issue is the happiness of teachers, whose job satisfaction levels are at the lowest level in 25 years, the survey found. Only 39 percent of teachers report being very satisfied, and more than half report feeling under great stress several days per week. “Teachers with lower job satisfaction are more likely to say that professional development opportunities have decreased, and time to collaborate with other teachers has decreased,” says Dana Markow, vice president of youth and education research at Harris Interactive, which oversees the survey. “The relationship may give us some food for thought on how this area can be improved.”

Another major challenge principals face is managing the school budget, which has decreased in the past year for more than half of schools, the survey found. And only four in 10 principals say they have a great deal of control over curriculum and instruction, or over deciding when to remove teachers.

“The worst time to be a principal is during a bad budget year, and we’ve had four or five in a row in most districts,” Riddile says. Yet 85 percent of teachers rate their principal as doing an excellent or pretty good job. “Principals and teachers are working together, which needs to happen to reach the new standards,” he adds. “We’ve essentially hit the reset button, and are having to retool our education system.”

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