An Open Letter to Superintendents

This post was inspired by a few recent conversations I’ve had with some friends who are principals and an informal poll I ran asking principals about the stress of their jobs. I surveyed over 250 principals and asked them to rate the stress of the principalship as highly stressful, moderately stressful, or rarely stressful.

84%  rated it as highly stressful.

Dear Superintendent,

I am writing to you today on behalf of all of the principals who lead your schools. They are stressed beyond measure and dealing with new and complex problems. The job of the principalship has changed tremendously over the last twenty years.

Are you aware of how much time your principals spend trying to find ways to solve or assistance to tackle mental health issues of students and or their parents?

Do you realize how the success of their leadership is defined by a once a year series of high stakes tests? If students perform poorly, so does your principal. What a pressurized environment!

Do you realize how difficult it has become to find teachers because there is a nationwide shortage and then the challenge in retaining those new to the profession because they didn’t realize how difficult it would be to teach 26 different children on different reading levels, math levels, some with social emotional needs beyond their expertise, some with mental health challenges they didn’t learn how to deal with in their ed prep programs, and some with severe behavior challenges that make learning difficult for all the other children and teaching nearly a miracle some days?

Are you aware that your principals are now working 24 hours a day, nearly seven days a week? I mean, yes there’s the school day, but there’s the quiet of the morning before everyone arrives to get things prepared for the parent conference you have coming up or for the mental preparation for the irate, rude, and threatening parent that you weren’t expecting. Then there’s all the wonderful after school opportunities we have for children and the sporting events until late evening to attend so that your leadership and commitment to the school isn’t questioned even though your own family hasn’t seen you at the dinner table before 8 in weeks, maybe months.

Let’s not forget the weekends you spend writing lesson plans for the long term substitute in the math class for which your principal has not been able to find a teacher. Or the phone calls from parents who need your help with raising their kids, who don’t know what to do about their child’s refusal to listen or oppositional defiant disorder. Of course, the occasional alarm call in the middle of the night that requires your principal to go check on the school and interrupts their already disrupted sleep pattern because they go to bed with numerous problems on their minds that need to be solved but are becoming more complex year to year.

Do you know the stress of restraining a student whose mental state is questionable, but who must be kept from attacking others or the teacher? Do you recognize that you can’t schedule those sorts of things?

Are you aware of how much time your principals spend listening to stressed out teachers whose anxieties are sky high because last year their students didn’t do well on the math test and the last parent conference they had was one in which the parent was downright rude and disrespectful, not to mention the divorce that the teacher is currently going through that isn’t going so smoothly?

Do you know what it’s like to be in a constant state of multiple things coming at you, none of which you were expecting, and still trying to complete the paperwork for the Title I needs assessment, the PowerPoint for the staff meeting, analyze MAP scores to take a look at how kids are performing and make instructional leadership decisions to help improve their academic performance for the next testing session, prep the agenda and preparation for the department meeting, and prepare for the data presentation with the central office folks, while preparing for a meeting with the parent who is concerned that their child is abusing social media, or reviewing IEPs, after you do lunch duty?

Are you sure your principals are ok? Do you recognize how lonely they feel? Is stress getting the best of them? Do you ever ask them about how their quality of life is and if they are maintaining a healthy work-life balance? Have you stopped by just to ask:

How are you doing?

I think you should.

A former principal,


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