When I was 8, I wanted to be a police officer like in the show “CHiP’s”. I made my sister craft a badge and used it as a permit to solve make-believe mysteries with my dog Scruffy.
In 8th grade, I saw my brother go off to medical school, and decided that I also wanted to be a doctor to help people. Once my sister went off to law school, I thought that maybe that was also the route for me, and I would be able to speak in front of a large crowd to convince them of something.
At some point, I scraped all those ideas and thought my calling was to just make people laugh and feel good. I wasn’t sure what career that would be and I knew that I would make a great character on Saturday Night Live, but that was not in my life plan.
I needed a career that would give me the opportunity to problem solve, help others, speak to large crowds, and make others laugh and feel good. I have definitely found that in what I do as a School Administrator. This was a process though, and like everything else in life, there was much reflection, questioning of “why?”, and setting attainable goals.
I remember my first role as a Middle School Assistant Principal–10 years ago. I was asked to present at a staff meeting as to “why” I became a School Administrator. Simply put, I did not become a School Administrator, but I evolved into this role.
As a teacher, I was seeking out more responsibilities than were given within the four walls of my classroom. I always strived to be a teacher-leader and gravitated towards duties like:
- Volunteering with the PTA
- Attending school board meetings
- Becoming an active member on school committees
- Organizing community fundraisers
These were all things that I wanted to do, and it led me to meet mentors in the field that pushed me to pursue more education and believe in me to become a School Administrator.
What Steps Did I Take To Become A School Administrator?
The trajectory of my career was not linear. After graduating from Occidental College, I found that many recent graduates would gravitate towards the field of education. In the early 2000s, there was a teacher shortage and Emergency Teaching Credentials were fairly easy to come by and it offered stability — particularly a good salary and health insurance.
Many of my friends, classmates, and even family took this route as they waited for “better” things to come their way–higher-paying jobs, LSAT or MCAT scores, saving money to travel and live abroad over the summer, etc. They had “fallen” into teaching.
Some eventually did go to law school or followed their true passions; those that stayed with teaching as a secondary career ended up making little impact at their school sites, eventually leading to teacher burnout from the demands of working at a school. After college, I knew that I did not want to settle for a career that I had “fallen into.”
So, I took several career paths:
- Assistant Director of Development for a non-profit
- Study Abroad Development Intern in Chicago and later in Spain
- A graduate program at Columbia University, Teachers College (ironically did not get my teacher credential here)
At Columbia, I obtained a Master of Arts in Comparative and International Education with an emphasis in Economics. From New York City, I moved to San Francisco to start my new career as an International Student Advisor at a small private college. I felt like a big fish in an even bigger pond. I was proud of what I had accomplished, though all my accolades and merits did not matter anymore in my new career–a career I had not fallen into.
Fast forward three years into my role, I had taken my two weeks vacation and decided to go to Australia and New Zealand. While backpacking there, I had decided that I needed a career where I felt there was a bigger purpose, a calling to my soul, a chance to restart every year, and an opportunity to travel.
After dedicating three years at the small college as an International Student Advisor, I resigned from my position and enrolled at San Francisco State University and obtained a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential with a bilingual emphasis.
After eight years of teaching, I enrolled in San Francisco State’s Master of Arts in Educational Administration program.This led me to a role as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) as an instructional coach, and eventually led to making a switch entirely into School Administration.
I write all this to express that there is really no clear path that people take in their journey. And sometimes, the people you meet along the way help shape you in what you want and are truly passionate about. Without all of these experiences, I would not be where I am today, and I no longer have the curiosity to ask “What if?”, but rather “What’s next?”
Isn’t College Expensive?
Yes, no one can afford it.
It may seem like money was no object to me and this is a faulty assumption. I grew up as a first generation college student to two Cuban Immigrants who worked multiple jobs to give me and my siblings the best possible life. My brother and sister paved the way, but their paths were also filled with Student Loan Debt.
I am still paying off student loans, but they are more manageable than when I started out in teaching. There are ways to fund your education, through:
- Work study programs
- School grants
- Loan forgiveness. If you work at a Title 1 school, for instance, there are loan forgiveness programs that will pay a percentage of your student loan debt.
All that aside, money should not be a barrier to pursue education. Because of student loans, I had the opportunity to experience so much more. It was an investment in myself, and if you choose what you’re passionate about, that investment will pay itself off in the long run.
What Unique Skills Do School Administrators Possess?
If you are looking for a career where you can open your office door, sit down, check emails, drink your morning coffee, chit-chat with colleagues by the water cooler, and calmly begin work, then school administration will disappoint you.
Oftentimes, I do not know what to expect when I enter my school site. It’s sort of the thrill of the unknown meets a dash of anxiety, and a little bit of bring it on. Here are some issues that I have personally experienced upon entering the Main Office of a school:
- Parent eager waiting to speak with you
- Technology not working in classrooms
- Fire Alarm has been pulled
- Teacher out sick and no substitutes on hand
- Custodian is out sick and no substitutes on hand
- Toilet overflowing
- Cancelled or relocated assembly
- Addressing student behaviors in playard or cafeteria
- District Office needs
- Teachers’ needs
Of course, not all of these occur at once, but just one is enough to throw a wrench into your day. Being a school Administrator means troubleshooting, making quick decisions, knowing who you can rely on to support you, and being student centered. If you are grounded in this, then you will be able to tackle everything that comes your way.
Do You Plan On Becoming A Principal?
I was a middle school teacher for 10 years and later became a School Administrator, now going on 10 years. I often get the “You’re ready to be a Principal!” And even though that may be the case, the one downside of School Administration in the Elementary School level is that it can get lonely.
Working at a larger Elementary school that has an Assistant Principal allows me the opportunity to bounce ideas off another person on my Administrative team or with a Principal. It can be isolating, but if you surround yourself with the right supports, anything is possible. I am not ruling out the possibility of having my own school site as a Principal one day, however, I do not want this decision to be made out of pressure. I am still learning, growing, and being challenged, and to me, that is the most important part of my career.
What Does A School Administrator Do?
A school administrator’s many responsibilities include:
- Evaluate and supervise teachers and staff
- Create systems to enhance learning and social interactions between students and teachers
- Attend MANY meetings
- Create school improvement plans
- Follow District Academic Vision
- Balance School Budget
- Provide Improvement plans for staff needing additional assistance
- Hire new staff yearly
- Build relationship with community and educational organizations
- Supervise school dances, evening events, and sporting events
Educational Requirements To Become A School Administrator
To become a school administrator, I would advise that in college you begin taking courses in education to get exposure to the curriculum. Many students decide to major in other areas they are interested in because the teaching credential cannot be obtained until you have a Bachelor of Arts degree. The more units of coursework a student has, the higher they will be on the pay scale, so attending a school that guarantees a BA and Teaching credential in four years is often not worth it because you need the credits to make more money.
Starting off at the bottom of the pay scale versus units in a teaching credential program will get you to 3-4 steps above the salary range. Sometimes school districts include a stipend if you are getting a teaching credential and a Master of Arts degree.
After you have five years of teaching experience, and if you have found yourself to be a teacher leader, you should consider yourself a great candidate for an Administrative Credential program, which also grants you a Masters of Arts, and more money down the road.
Applying To Graduate School
Many schools of education do not require the GRE, but it is highly recommended that you take the exam. I have found that schools tend to look at the following, in order of importance:
- Relevance and years of experience in the field (teaching, volunteering at a school, afterschool programs, coursework)
- Letters of recommendation from professors and employers related your field of study
- School based research or research ideas (consider reaching out to faculty to see if a study matches your research interests)
- GRE (graduate record examination) scores
In college I majored in Sociology, but took several courses in the Education Department at Occidental College. If you can minor in education, that would be the best route. I minored in Spanish and was not able to add more to my coursework to minor in Education.
My junior year I volunteered as a tutor at the neighboring high school and coordinated a weekend program from students in the area to help with advancing their education and social emotional skills. While studying abroad my senior year of college, I sought out the Education Department at the local university and received an internship working with a middle school teacher.
What Is One Thing You Wish You Knew Before I Started Your Educational Administration Degree?
The first five years of teaching can be a make or break year. Depending on your school site, salary schedule, and where you live, you may find that you do not have enough to make ends meet. I would often tutor on the side in order to supplement my income.
Once I rounded year five of teaching, the pay picked up and I was able to look into other options such as:
- Teacher on Special Assignments
- Instructional Coaching
- Continuing with a Master’s Degree
I wish I knew that this is not a competition, but that it really depends on your needs and who you find as mentors along the way. Because School Administration can be isolating, sometimes the position can feel lonely. You are not in the “in crowd”, but rather “the dark side”. The focus needs to remain on the why, and if your first thought isn’t related to improving the educational experiences of children, then you may need to revisit this as a career.
You are basically the CEO of a school, and there are times where conversations with staff members may get tricky as to their job performance.
Is there a Doctor in the House? Yes, and my name is EdD
This is where I had to draw the line. I know I wanted practical experience of being at a school site. Because of this, I do not see the need to obtain an EdD. If you want to do research and perhaps see yourself at the County Office of Education an EdD can come in handy, but there are many that do not go this route and they turn out just fine in their careers.
If there is a position you are eyeing, I would contact that person and find out how they got to where they are now. You may find that the common thread is mentorship and experience. Ask your Human Resources Department if your school district will compensate you for joining Educational Leadership Associations. This is a great way to network and be part of a broader system of Educators. It’s a great way to network and get your feelers out there.