An assistant principal is a school leader and supportive team player. Elementary school assistant principals’ duties will most likely differ from that of a middle or high school assistant principal. In elementary schools, assistant principals act more as instructional leaders, helping to guide teachers and shape curriculum.
They are involved with student assessments and help to manage their accommodations. In middle or high school, many assistant principals act as disciplinarians. Although they still work as instructional leaders and student advocates, the populations’ needs are different and must be recognized.
Assistant principals typically have several years’ teaching experience, which is necessary because assistant principals work directly with students, parents, and other teachers. This role requires a deep knowledge of human development, pedagogy, leadership, and school management. Although the work days are long and inflexible, many assistant principals find that this position meets their talents and passion for educational leadership.
While this entry-level leadership position is an important step toward more advanced leadership roles, many can make a difference in children’s and teachers’ lives as assistant principal.
Common traits of assistant principals include:
Excellent communication skills
Critical thinking and problem solving skills
Respectful of diversity
Committed to students, staff, district, and community
Capable of applying rules while respecting autonomy
Assistant Principal Work Environment
The work environment does not vary much for assistant principals, as they work in schools (public, private, or parochial). However, assistant principals may find themselves in many different locations, as their job is to keep students safe, support staff, and represent the school in the community. Therefore, assistant principals can be found on buses, at sporting events, at administrative functions, on field trips, outside (playgrounds, bus pick up, etc.), parent-teacher meetings, and classrooms. Their main work environment is in a private office, most likely in the main office.
This job is demanding and stressful. Unlike teachers and other staff, assistant principals do not have summer months off and often have to report during snow days. They work full time and typically work overtime. They are not only responsible for what happens during the school day, but they are responsible for being present during many after school functions. They have meetings with students, parents, and teachers that may deal with difficult or sensitive issues. Although they have many duties regarding paperwork and other management roles, their top priority is the students. Because of this, assistant principals need to be flexible with their own schedule and prepared for any issues that may arise throughout the day.
Assistant Principal Salary
The salary of an assistant principal varies among geographical region, and public, private, and parochial schools may pay differently, depending on funding. The highest salaries can be found in the far western part of the United States, the Mid-East, and New England. The Southeast, Southwest, and Rocky Mountains region typically pay the least.
Competition is strong for a job as an assistant principal, mostly because many positions have been eliminated due to budgetary cuts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for this occupation between 2012 and 2022 is only expected to grow at 6 percent. That is half of the national average for all occupations.
There are two reasons for this: local, state, and federal budgets are tighter, so fewer positions exist; and some geographical locations have less student enrollment due to a decrease in population. Two regions where population is supposed to increase are in the South and West. The Northeast will most likely see population decreases in the next decade.
Assistant Principal Degree
At minimum, assistant principals must have a master’s degree, although a doctoral degree may be the desired path of some individuals. In addition, many states require several years’ teaching experience and a license to practice as a school administrator.
Step 1: Complete an undergraduate program. Typically obtaining a bachelor’s degree in either education or school counseling is acceptable. Some states do not have degrees specifically for education; individuals earn degrees in subject areas and go on to receive teacher licensure either through examinations or a master’s degree in teaching. Regardless of an individual’s path, it is important for aspiring assistant principals to have teaching experience.
Step 2: Gain teaching experience. Without teaching experience, it is difficult (maybe impossible) to find employment as an assistant principal. Paths to teacher certification vary by state and program (B.A. vs. B.S.). Check each state’s board of education for more information.
Step 3: Complete a graduate program. The majority of assistant principals have a master’s degree in some form of educational leadership or administration. The following are applicable degrees to hold for a career as an assistant principal:
Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Teacher Leadership
Master of Arts (M.A.) in Organizational Leadership
Master of Arts in Teaching
Master of Arts in Education (Administration and Supervision)
Some individuals choose to earn their doctoral degree, in hopes of becoming a building principal, superintendent, or other educational leader.
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
Doctor of Education Leadership
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Education
Those seeking any graduate degree can seek programs that offer an emphasis, concentration, or specialty depending on an individual’s strengths and goals.
Step 4: Obtain a license. Although private schools do not require licensure, it is an important step for any assistant principal to obtain a license to become a school administrator. For public assistance principals, this step is a requirement in almost every state. Candidates must pass an examination to obtain this license, and continuing education is required to maintain the license throughout a career.