In response to ‘The Principal’s Dilemma’
By Barry Ferguson
NAESP Member
Principal, South Lebanon Elementary

This blog post was written in response to The Principal’s Dilemma, an editorial published in The Huffington Post on November 8, 2010, and presented in NAESP’s news summary, Before the Bell. NAESP does not endorse the views expressed in articles that appear in Before the Bell, but instead offers its members a diversity of perspectives about education and the principalship as a means to enhance awareness.

I am rarely stirred by an editorial, but the ‘The Principal’s Dilemma’ necessitates a response from a working principal. The author, a teacher by profession, describes a school that in no way resembles the ones that I and my colleagues in Pennsylvania work in everyday. She makes sweeping generalizations about the principalship without citing sources or justifying her arguments. At a time when the United States’ education system is receiving attention from federal policymakers, documentary filmmakers, and members of the media, it is imperative to separate fact from fiction and ensure the voices of principals are being heard.

My professional situation is completely different from the one the author describes in the editorial, in which her principal rarely appears in her classroom. My school district requires me to sit in the classroom of a new teacher at least four times a year for the first three years. I am required to meet with new teachers in pre and post-class observations and discuss teaching methodology and pedagogy. In addition to these meetings, I sit-down with new teachers at the midpoint of the school year and at the end of the year to review the four areas designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as focal points of the teaching profession. I also perform walkthroughs and informal observations of classrooms on a regular basis and meet with teachers privately to help them deal with discipline issues and parental concerns. I estimate I make  82 separate contacts with new teachers in their first three years on the job.

Principals understand that it is impossible to put a price tag on the investment in a new teacher. Teachers that stay with a district for their entire career provide substantial value to that district, and the impact a teacher makes on his or her students is priceless. The 82 formal interactions I make with new teachers are not enough, which is why I make it a point to be in classrooms more than I am required. In each meeting, I try to engage new teachers and encourage them to share their concerns and practices with me.

Unless you are principal, you do not understand the job, and comparisons to the corporate world are not accurate or relevant. I supervise over 40 professional educators at my school. This does not include the café workers, bus drivers, custodians, and paraprofessionals who also work in my building. More than 100 people call me boss. Considering that the average level middle manager in a corporation only supervises 5 people, it is unrealistic to make comparisons between the management styles of principals and corporate managers.

At a school, a principal is the manager, the instructional leader, and the supervisor. These titles do not include other roles—such as disciplinarian, public relations coordinator, police and community liaison—that don’t fit into pre-defined categories. Principals must work long hours and make personal sacrifices to ensure students come to a safe school and achieve benchmarks on their test scores. We must also create a learning environment that makes teachers say, “I love to come to work!”

If you think you can do my job then do it, but don’t try to speak with authority on something you don’t really know or understand.

What sources does the author cite to back of her claims and arguments? The author writes as if she knows principals who don’t spend time in classrooms.  If this is true, provide some tangible examples. Cite your sources. Journalistic excellence demands it.

I love being the principal of an elementary school. During my career, I’ve spoken with many principals across the nation and found that they share many of my opinions about his challenging and rewarding profession. The author of ‘The Principal’s Dilemma’ does not understand my job, and should not write as if she does.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Leave a comment below. 

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Mr. Ferguson's post

Yes! I agree with you, Mr. Ferguson. Until policy makers and naysayers spend quality time in our classrooms and schools before they write their policies and articles, real change can not take place. Some of these people haven't been in a classroom since they graduated from highschool, yet they have all sorts of opinions. The teachers and principals that I work with everyday are hardworking, dedicated, and professional people. They love children and work very hard to give the children in their care their best everyday. Thank you so much for your article.

In response to ‘The

In response to ‘The Principal’s Dilemma’By Barry Ferguson.

Barry, I just happened to read your response so I was compelled to read "The Principal's Dilemma." I think that the author's point was that she isn't hearing any principal's voices in the current debate of what is wrong with our educational system. The author mentions a couple times about the belief that the fear of losing jobs/retaliation may be the reason principals haven't joined in the debate.

All the other stuff, accurate or not, is the author's perception.

There is a lot of finger pointing going on here. Until we can get past this, we will not be able to improve our industry. First, we are doing a good job but it is not good enough. Second, why is it not good enough? We have too many children who aren't making it, every one of them is precious and they deserve a better system. A system that crossess many lines-class, socio-economic, race, culture, politics, families, parents, teachers, adminstrators, and students. EVERYONE needs to be a part of the solution.

Lastly, most industries have overhauled their systems to meet the 21st Century demand..Rip woke up and the only thing that he recognized was our school system. Why? because we haven't changed. We aren't making widgets here. When there is a flaw inj a widget (business term) you go back to the assembly line and improve the process. Widgets aren't children with feelings and emotions who are influenced by many factors outside the factory walls. Children are products of their environments and until the whole village comes together to address the issues that confront education today we will continue to finger point and go in circles.

The whole system needs an overhaul and all voices need to be heard!
Principal Dan

Barry, Thank you for your

Barry,
Thank you for your well-thought out response, and I agree with everything you have written. We principals have a job like no other in education or in the work force. We are forever stuck between school issues and district-level issues, with the pressure to do what is right for kids always at the forefront.

I have been a teacher so I know what the demands of that job are. However, most teachers do not really understand the demands of the principalship because they have never walked in our shoes. The pressures are great on us, and I think we do a terrific job under the circumstances.

Unfortunately, we often are usually portrayed in the media in a negative light, and it is our responsibility to change the stereotypes of principals.

From one elementary school

From one elementary school principal to another, I want to thank you for expressing the thoughts of many of us so eloquently. Unfortunately, we live during a time of sound-bites and the promotion of fiction over fact. If people want to understand the complexity of our jobs, then they would spend time in our schools, dialogue with us and observe what we do each and every day.

Huffington Post

As an award-winning elementry principal with more than 30 years of service, your response is right on target. Keep up the good work for kids!!

In response to "The Principal's Dilemma

Amen to all the above. I am principal of a very small school (Pre-K through 3 with only 200 students) and I still supervise 37 individuals.

We have all faced the fact that many people feel that they know all about school because they used to go to one as a student. Those of us in the principalship realize that the perspective changes with each role change (student-parent-teacher-administrator). Each stakeholder views schools differently and you can't really understand the role of another person until you have been in that place yourself.

It is unfortunate that some folks who don't know how much they don't know feel compelled to share their ignorance with a voice of authority.

Huffington Post Editorial

Well said Mr. Ferguson. I have been an educator for 10 years and have been in every role, teacher, assistant principal, and now principal, and I have worked/interned on every level (elementary, middle, and high school) and in five different schools; I can honestly say that I haven't met this 'principal' that is described in the original post 'The Principal's Dilemma'. I'm fairly young in this new job as principal (2nd year), but I was well-prepared to do this job by not only my higher education institution (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) but also by the principals with whom I worked. And never, not once, have I been encouraged to accept the status quo nor have I witnessed principals that have little contact with teachers or aren't in their classrooms daily. I appreciate your response and hope that many other educational leaders take the post 'The Principal's Dilemma' as seriously as I have.

Huffington Post Editorial

Not much more to say. Very good response. Don't you love it when folks talk about running a school as a 'business' even though they have no clue what it entails. I have 90+ I supervise, 1700 parents to please, and 635 precious cargo I serve. UPS can lose a package now and again...we cannot lose any!

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