Career Advice

Thinking of Becoming an Administrator? First, Consider These 4 Things

By Elizabeth Heubeck — June 22, 2021 5 min read
A woman thinks about a choice between 2 options.
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Jonathan Juravich, in his 16th year as an elementary school art teacher, is quick to recognize the rewards of his job.

“I have this unique role that I get to work with every student in my building,” said Juravich, who teaches at Liberty Tree Elementary School in Powell, Ohio. “It is so much fun.”

But he also acknowledges that the job is not without its challenges. “It’s hard work,” he said. “People do have burnout. They ask: ‘Is this one classroom where I will be forever?’”

Whether it’s burnout, better pay, the desire to take on a new challenge, or some other motivating factor, teachers may be drawn to the lure of career advancement. But, as is the case in many other professions, the roles and responsibilities of K-12 administrators—while they generally support the same goals as in their previous job—may look a lot different and require a whole new set of skills.

So, what does it take to make the switch from teacher to administrator, and is the payoff worth the effort? Educational professionals who’ve stayed in the classroom and those who’ve left share their perspective on making the career move from teaching to administration.

Know your strengths and passions

Deciding whether or not to make the leap from the classroom into administration can be the most daunting part of the process. It requires, first and foremost, recognizing your skills and passion— recognition that sometimes comes from others.

Jennifer Halter, the newly-appointed principal of Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, Fla., recalls the encouragement she received as a teacher from her principal.

“He kept saying: ‘You have a way of leading people, motivating people,” Halter said. “He really encouraged me [to pursue a career in administration].”

The support went beyond encouraging words. During her tenure as a teacher, Halter’s principal allowed her to act on her growing interest in developing and executing targeted interventions that ultimately resulted in school-wide changes. For instance, Halter developed small-group strategies to help struggling readers, then led professional development on the tactic—first with the language arts department and, eventually, school-wide.

“I love big systems,” said Halter, who learned fairly early in her career that she would be best able to make a broader impact on students as an administrator. This past year, the Florida Department of Education named Halter the state’s 2021 Principal of the Year. Her former principal, in attendance at the celebration, told her: “I saw it in you from day one.”

But not everyone’s career trajectory is as clear cut. Juravich recalls several years ago when an administrator he admired suggested that he would make an excellent principal. That inspired him to explore master’s degree programs in administration. He even went so far as to fill out the requisite paperwork.

“Then I thought about it and asked myself: Is this something I really want to do, and why?” Juravich said.

Finding leadership opportunities while continuing to teach

“I was looking for leadership opportunities, but I wanted to be in the classroom, being creative with kids,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to give that up.”

Juravich continued to teach while taking on various leadership roles.

He became the district’s department chair for elementary visual art. In 2018, he was selected Ohio’s Teacher of the Year, an honor that came with new opportunities including a one-year sabbatical that included speaking engagements, school visits, and the creation of a teacher fellowship program.

Now, in addition to teaching six classes each day, Juravich holds a school-wide leadership position overseeing building culture and environment. Without leaving the classroom, he’s been able to take on increasing responsibilities and opportunities for growth.

Getting on the path to administration

While teachers like Juravich show it’s possible to take on leadership roles without moving out of the classroom, the opposite generally doesn’t happen: once teachers become administrators, they usually relinquish entirely their role as classroom teacher.

But the route to becoming an administrator tends to involve a gradual increase in responsibilities while still teaching—such as overseeing extracurricular activities, leading academic departments, or sitting on school site councils—explains David Robertson, the director of human resources for the Twin Rivers Unified School District in McClellan Park, Calif.

In addition to practical leadership experience, most states require public school K-12 administrators to possess a master’s degree in a related discipline such as administrative leadership or curriculum. Obtaining an advanced degree while teaching can present challenges, from both a time and financial perspective, warn experts.

“It paid off [for me], but it doesn’t always,” said Halter, who explains that getting an advanced degree doesn’t guarantee a job offer.

Nor does appearing too eager about a potential salary increase during an interview. Robertson says that interviewees who inquire about the salary schedule early in the interview process raise a red flag.

“It makes me wonder: Are you making this change because of money, or because you want to make a difference in students’ lives?” he said.

Know the realities of being in administration

Most job seekers enter teaching because they want to make a difference in students’ lives. Not all administrators are prepared to move away from the direct impact they have as teachers on individual students.

“It really pulled me away from students more than I anticipated,” said Chase Christensen, the principal of Torrington High School in Torrington, Wyo.

That wasn’t the only thing that surprised Christensen when he went from teaching to administration. So too, it seems, did the sheer magnitude of responsibilities that principals shoulder: student discipline, teacher leadership and, as Christensen noted, “the politics game between parents, students, the community, and the board.”

“I don’t know if there is preparation for this job. It’s a lot,” he said. “But it hasn’t kept me from doing the job, and doing it well.”

Christensen says support from colleagues has been key to navigating the challenges he faces as a principal. He’s found that support as an active member in his state’s chapter of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “Having 162 principals across the state to bounce ideas off and visit with has been more helpful than anything,” Christensen said.

He’s also benefited from learning to develop a work-life balance. He recalls working up to 15-hour days, six days a week, as a new administrator. “It can consume your life,” Christensen said.

Halter knows the feeling all too well. “There’s no ‘off’ switch as a principal,” she said. Laughing, she adds: “My husband loves cruises, because I can’t work.”

Halter may not get cell phone reception on a boat in the Caribbean, but that doesn’t stop her from thinking about work. “Even then I panic,” she said. “I still want to be able to respond if something goes wrong.”

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