How To Become An Assistant Principal

So you want to become an assistant principal. Whether you feel it's a natural progression of a strong teaching career or just a stepping stone on your way to becoming a full on principal, here is some general information about typical assistant principal requirements and prerequisites.

What do assistant principals do?

Unless you were homeschooled as a child (and even if you were homeschooled), you probably have a general idea about what an assistant principal does. Or at least you think you do. And you still want to become one? More power to you. The world needs strong educators.

Just like being a student from kindergarten through twelfth grade does not prepare you to be a teacher, or even give you an accurate view of what the job of teaching entails, getting sent to the assistant principal’s office frequently as a child won’t give you an entirely accurate portrait of the full scope of the assistant principal’s duties. A career in school administration can seem daunting but there are so many rewards to been reaped!

Sure, an assistant principal often takes a leading role in student discipline, but that is far from an assistant principal’s primary duty. A 2016 article on the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) website highlights that nowadays assistant principals take on many leadership duties within their schools. Such leadership duties can be wide-ranging enough to include duties such as helping to develop the school curriculum to being involved in monitoring and correcting student behavior.

You may be wondering if you have what it takes to work in school administration. As an assistant principal you may have slightly different roles depending on the school you choose to work at. At some schools your role may be exactly what it sounds like - to assist the principal in running a well-maintained institute of education. Other schools, often larger ones, can have more than one assistant principal, each assigned to specific departments or functions. For instance, at a school consisting of a combined middle and high school, one assistant principal primarily focuses on issues pertaining to the high school while the other devotes the bulk of his or her time to the middle school.

Here are the basic responsibilities that can fall under the purview of a dedicated assistant principal, including but not limited to the following. This is by no means a comprehensive list.

  • Participating in the hiring and evaluation of teacher performance
  • Organizing school events and activities
  • Helping teachers and other administrative officials develop a relevant and rigorous curriculum
  • Creating and enforcing a positive school culture and student standards of behavior
  • Conferencing with parents or guardians regarding student behavior, performance, or needs
  • Ensuring school compliance with local, state, and federal laws

In some schools, an assistant principal may take on many more administrative duties. In a small school, it might not be unusual for the assistant principal to plunge the toilets when the janitor’s away and there is pressing need. The assistant principal does what he or she needs to do to keep the school going, even if it isn’t glamorous.

Skills an assistant principal should possess

Just like a squeamish doctor probably won’t be a very good or happy one, there are certain attributes and skills that can potentially make your performance as assistant principal a more successful and happy one. Despite the title including the word “assistant”, the position is inherently that of a leader. To be a good assistant principal, therefore, it will prove quite helpful if you are a confident person and above all, comfortable as a leader.

As someone who will liaison frequently with parents, teachers, and students, good communication skills definitely won’t go amiss. And in a position as a leader and administrator, good organizational skills are a must. If you’re not a people person or you find first graders annoying, it might be best for you to go into another line of work.

How to become an assistant principal

The qualifications for becoming an assistant principal (also referred to as a vice principal) differ from state to state. However, in most states an assistant principal is classified as a school administrator and must possess, at the very least, the following qualifications in order to receive a school administrator license:

  • A bachelor’s degree, usually in an education or related field
  • A state teaching certification, followed by several years of experience as a classroom teacher
  • A master’s degree or higher in a field like educational leadership or school administration

Of particular importance is that you do spend time working in the classroom prior to going on to pursue the career path of assistant principal.

Having classroom experience has more than one benefit. It will provide you with a better perspective of the consequences of the administrative policies you help create and dictate during your tenure as assistant principal. It will also lend you an air of legitimacy. The teachers who work with you will appreciate that you have stood where they stand. You know the joys and struggles they face because of your own experience teaching.

Being an assistant principal, after all, is not just a title. An assistant principal stands at the helm of an educational institution, and therefore must be someone who not only values the concept of education but knows how to administer it. There is an old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” An upper level school administrator who has never been on the frontlines of the classroom could be deceived into believing such a patently false statement, and his administration would suffer as a result. Just as in the army, a general who has fought on the frontlines with his troops is respected and trusted, an assistant principal who makes decisions based on experience is one whose leadership will be relied upon.

An organization is only as good as its leaders, and if the faculty in your school senses that you haven’t “walked the walk”, then your ability to lead could suffer accordingly. Quite apart from affecting morale and your credibility, if you have never gotten stuck creating a curriculum only to have to change your lesson on a dime, if you haven’t ever taught a class where the absence of one particular student somehow made the whole day flow like a dream, if you’ve never faced the issues the teachers under you face every day, day in and day out, then how can you expect to be a truly effective school assistant or vice principal. Sure, it’s possible; anything’s possible. But is it probable?

Besides, if you’re serious about becoming an assistant principal, hopefully it’s accurate to say that you’re someone who places a high value on education and you want to transform lives. In that case, admonishing you to hold your own as a teacher before jumping into the administrative swimming pool is surely preaching to the choir. You’re either chomping at the bit to get your own classroom or else you’re already a master teacher, and think it might be time to take your skills to the next level. You can go from teaching just one classroom, even if it consists of forty plus students, to making a positive difference in the lives of an entire student body.

So whether you’ve already put in your time or you’ve yet to enter the classroom, teaching as a prerequisite for becoming an assistant principal has a logical basis. Once you’ve taught for a few years you can start putting in the work to get your master’s degree in a related field, and after that apply for and attain your state license as a school administrator. It is obviously important that you carefully research and follow your individual state licensing guidelines and assistant principal requirements so your application is approved by the education agency of the state in which you wish to work.

Once your license is in hand, you will be a qualified and reasonably attractive candidate for an assistant principal position. You can then sit back and wait for the offers to come flooding in, or more likely, begin hustling in your job search for assistant principal openings. Craigslist is probably not the best place to start looking, but you never know.

Types of assistant principal work environments

Armed with your school administrator/assistant principal credentials, you can either take the first job you’re offered, or you can be a little more discriminating and look for a position at a school that complements your personality, values, educational philosophy and style.

For instance, if your time in the classroom was spent as a wildly popular kindergarten teacher, a high school assistant principal job is unlikely to be the best fit for you. If you have a phobia of runny noses and previously acted as a high school AP Calculus teacher, you might want to avoid an elementary school assistant principal position. Even if it’s in your daily commute range and has an attractive salary attached to it.

As with anything else in life, there are many different types of schools you can choose to work at or might wind up at once you become a fully accredited assistant principal. If you belong to an organized religious faith, you might consider working at a parochial or private religious school that shares that faith and is willing to consider you. An added bonus of working at a private school is that while many prefer it, not all private schools require state licensing. So if you’re burned out of taking educational courses, don’t want to shell out the money for a master’s program, or simply don’t feel like jumping through the hoops required to maintain your accreditation, a private school willing to look the other way could be the way for you to go.

If you are a vocal proponent of public education but have some visionary ideas and don’t like to be too constrained, you might want to find a like-minded charter school program to adopt. If you prefer a warmer school atmosphere and want to be able to personally get to know all of the students and staff you will be interacting with, you should look into smaller schools with student bodies so small an average extended family is larger. If you’re power hungry, like to have as many people as possible under your thumb, or, all kidding aside, be in a position where you can positively influence as many students as you can at one time, a large school of several thousand students might be a better fit for you.

Assistant principal average salary

Because of the many factors to be considered, there really is no one size fits all accurate way to ballpark the average assistant principal salary. A high school assistant principal salary can differ from the average take home pay of an elementary school assistant principal or a middle school V.P. A public school assistant principal may make a non-comparable amount to an assistant principal employed by a private school - and the salary difference won’t necessarily work out in the private school’s favor. A lot can depend on the school district size, economic demographics, and even the part of the country in which the school is located. As an assistant principal you can therefore expect to earn a salary of anywhere from about $60,000 dollars to slightly over $100,000, and it all depends on where you end up working.

Why become an assistant principal?

After all this, you should understand that becoming an assistant principal is the easy part. It’s being an assistant principal that’s the hard part. Assistant principals have to balance many different responsibilities to help keep their schools not just functioning but fulfilling the fundamental purpose of a school: providing students with a strong education. Assistant principals are not just assistants but are leaders in their own right, educators who help shape the mission of their schools. And as you contemplate your next steps, perhaps moving on to being a full-on principal will be in your future.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself why you want to become an assistant principal. If the answer to this question is in order to bully and intimidate the younger generation, then please do the younger generation a favor and find something else to do with your time. Chances are, however, that if you’ve come this far, your motives for becoming one are pure. You want to have an impact on education, to be a source of good in the world. That’s an admirable ambition.

Works Cited

Assistant Principal: Duties, Salary, Employment Outlook. (2017, November 14). Retrieved January 15, 2018, from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/teaching-careers/assistant-principal/

National Association of Elementary School Principals: Serving all elementary and middle-level principals. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2018, from https://www.naesp.org/communicator-november-2016/best-practices-supporting-assistant-principals

Vice Principal | Requirements | Salary | Jobs. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2018, from https://www.teacher.org/career/vice-principal/

Summary. (n.d.). Retrieved February 05, 2018, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm#tab-2

Nedda
Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.