How to Go From Teacher to School Principal (2023)

How to Go From Teacher to School Principal (1)

Written by Matt Cates

Published on March 4, 2023 · Updated on March 4, 2023

Written by Matt Cates

Published on March 4, 2023 · Updated on March 4, 2023

If you’re a teacher looking to take on greater responsibilities and make a larger impact, you’ve probably considered becoming a school principal. But how exactly does one move from the world of teaching to running an entire school? The path from teacher to principal isn’t as complicated as you might think!

If you’re ready to switch tracks and kickstart your new career adventure, this guide will help you navigate the process smoothly. Let’s first take a look at the biggest reasons for starting the journey from teacher to principal!

Why Become a School Principal?

Every educator has their own motivations for wanting to transition from teacher to principal. A few of the most common include:

  • The desire to make a broader impact on students’ lives
  • Being able to create positive change
  • Ambition to move up and implement their ideas at a larger scale
  • Still haveing a beat on what it takes to teach students while also being a school leader
  • Increased pay, community exposure, and responsibilities

School Principal Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), American principals earn amedian annual salaryof $98,490 (as of May 2020 with the top 10% making over $152,500 per year). Many variables account for this wide disparity, including geographic location, years of experience, academic backgrounds, and whether one works for a public or private school.

The BLS projects job growth to remain steady at 8% over the coming decade, which tracks with the average for all industries. However, that’s no guarantee of job security! There are a limited number of schools needing principals, so those entering this field can increase their chances of finding a position by knocking out some advanced academic education and training.

Steps to Go From Teacher to School Principal

Let’s dig into the exact steps of how to become a principal, starting with work experience.

Practical hands-on teaching experience is very important. Typically principals have at least five years of teaching experience under their belts, so the more you can get, the more competitive you’ll be as a candidate. You can also dedicate yourself to taking on more tasks or becoming a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA).

(Video) The journey from teacher to Catholic school principal

School principals should hold a graduate degree, such as amaster’s in educational leadershipor amaster’s in educational administration. Coursework covers day-to-day tasks like:

  • Creating a master schedule
  • Managing staff and evaluating teachers
  • Overseeing budgets tied to categorical funds
  • Goal setting
  • Community relationship-building
  • School safety procedures

When it comes to certification and licensure, every state has its own requirements. Most states demand that principals complete their master’s then pass a certification process to ensure they possess sufficient skills and knowledge to do the job.

Once you pass your exam and background check, you’ll be certified and able toapply for licensureif needed for the state you want to work in. Private schools may not require licensure.

*Note, in some cases, candidates with a master’s outside of educational leadership or educational administration may apply via alternate state programs.

Tips for Teachers Who Want to Become Principals

The above are the minimum requirements, but as we mentioned, it’s a competitive field with limited numbers of openings. To distinguish yourself, it pays to go above and beyond, so here are a few tips to help you stand out!

Join (or ideally, lead) committees and participate in professional learning communities.

(Video) What Does A School Principal ACTUALLY Do?

Work on your public speaking and writing skills. Every communication you deliver should be clear, concise, and add value.

Show management what you’re made of by displaying outstanding judgment and well-considered decisions that lead to positive impacts.

To lead the team and maintain rapport with parents and students, principals must be persuasive. This requires a grasp of psychology and the motivational factors that drive behavior. Commit to understanding the problems of those you intend to serve.

When you’re sitting in the big chair, you’ll be expected to have solutions ready on day one. Problem-solving is a systematic process requiring specific ways of thinking. Many colleges offer courses or even certifications for this specialized training.

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Parents trust schools with their children, and principals bear the most responsibility for maintaining a safe and secure environment.

Many principals start as vice or assistant principals or even instructional coordinators. Don’t be afraid to pay your dues in these stepping stone roles.

How Long Does it Take to Go From Teacher to School Principal?

When it comes to timelines, there are many variables to consider and no one-size-fits-all approach. A big variable is how many years of teaching experience are required for a specific position. Another variable—how many of your academic requirements have you completed already?

Generally speaking, it takes at least four years to complete a bachelor’s degree if attending full-time. Assuming you’re doing a bachelor’s to become a teacher, you’ll also have to pass a certification exam. While the exam itself only takes a few hours, some people like to take a few weeks to study.

At this point, many reach a crossroads. Do they go straight into teaching or keep going to finish their master’s? Typically, a master’s program takes another two years, though there are exceptions. If you are working full-time, you might only be able to attend classes part-time, thus extending the timeline.

Another factor is that some institutions offer combined degree options that allow you to work on credits for your undergraduate and graduate degrees simultaneously. These accelerated programs, sometimes called 4+1 programs, can shave off a few months or more.

So far, we’re looking at an average of six years worth of full-time education requirements, unless you opt for an accelerated bachelor’s-master’s combo package.

But most undergrads enter the job market instead of going after their master’s degree right away, which brings us to the question—how many years does a teacher need to work before applying for a principal position?

This is the most significant variable when it comes to mapping out a timeline, and there is no hard rule on how much experience one needs. According to theBLS, principals need “several years of teaching experience.” However, that is certainly not always the case.

Like teachers, principals must also pass a certification exam. Once that is done, teachers can become principals with only a year or two years of experience, providing their other qualifications push them over the top (or if the school has no other applicants holding better credentials).

Once your academics are done and you’ve had sufficient work history for the positions you want to apply to, next comes applying and interviewing! As you might expect, this process can take a few months, especially if you’re holding out for a specific school or position. However, it can pay to take a principal job at a smaller school for a few years and move on later versus waiting for your dream job to open.

As you can see, there are many factors that influence the path from teacher to principal, but here’s a common route:

(Video) Teacher Stories - Why my School Principal hated me

  • Gain teaching experience after finishing a bachelor’s degree
  • Attend college part-time while working
  • Finish your master’s degree and principal certification in 3-4 years
  • Start applying to principal positions!

How to Become a Principal Without Being a Teacher

While most schools might hesitate to hire someone with no teaching experience, it isn’t unheard of, either. Some schools want principals with more in-depth management backgrounds, and they simply aren’t as interested in their teaching past.

There are even cases where principals don’t have a master’s in educational leadership or educational administration. In those cases, though, they may have instead gone through a principal training program.

Principal training programs can supplement your master’s and qualify you for jobs, but they extend your timeline a bit. Depending on the program, they might take weeks, months, or even a year, but they almost certainly bolster your resume!

Of course, many principals come from a background in education as a teacher. By skipping teaching experience, you could jeopardize your own credibility to teachers at your school. In the vast majority of cases, principals benefit from having professional teaching experience.

Best Degrees to Become a School Principal

Obtaining a great degree helps you stand out from the crowd, so we’ve put together a few tips as you search for the right schools. Most opt for either a master’s in educational leadership or educational administration, but what’s the difference?

Adegree in educational administrationis heavy on day-to-day management operations related to the school and even the building itself. Students may learn the following:

  • Policy
  • Hiring, managing, and evaluating staff and teachers
  • Finances and budgets
  • Relationships with staff, studnets, parents, community members, and all stakeholders

This degree is for those ready to immerse themselves in a K-12 setting.

In comparison, adegree in educational leadershiptakes a broader approach. This degree prepares visionary principals to leverage skills that strategically transform schools into successful institutions. Course material involves:

  • Objective critical analysis
  • Troubleshooting
  • Change implementation

Since change can be hard to manage, leadership skills and communication are even more vital to modernize schools, improve school climate, and boost teacher, staff, and student performance.

This degree is suitable for both principals as well as district-level leadership professionals who are responsible for enhancing and maintaining the overall reputation and clout of their schools.

There will be similar courses in both degrees, such as law, finance, and community relations. Leadership paths have an additional focus on organizational culture, coaching, and mentorship. Students can expect both degree types to feature:

  • Internships
  • Capstones or thesis projects
  • Potential practicums’s 10 Best Schools for School Principals showcasesmany outstanding schoolsthat offer administration colleges in the U.S. An applicable degree from any of these highly-ranked schools will help pave the career route from teacher to principal!

  1. Texas Christian University
  2. Boston College
  3. University of Georgia
  4. University of Florida
  5. University of Washington – Seattle Campus
  6. Saint Joseph’s University
  7. University of Maryland – College Park
  8. University of Hawaii at Manoa
  9. New York University
  10. Salisbury University

If you’re looking for other schools that offer administration programs to help you level up your career, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find theperfect school for you!

Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a School Principal?

Want to learn more about how to become a school principal? Check out these professional organizations:

  • National Education Association– NEA brings “the expertise, drive, and dedication of 3 million educators and allies to advancing justice and excellence in public education.” A treasure trove of resources!

Teacher to School Principal FAQs

  • Can a teacher become a principal?

    • Yes, most principals start their careers as teachers, working for a few years before finishing a master’s and a principal certification.
  • Is it worth going from teacher to administrator?

    • It is worth it for teachers ready for a change of pace, a better salary, more responsibility, and an opportunity to make an impact on a broader scale.
  • How long should you teach before becoming a principal?

    • The longer you teach, the more experience you can add to your resume. There is no hard number, but most principals have at least five years of teaching background.
  • Do principals make more money than teachers?

    (Video) How Teachers Switch Up Once The Principal Comes In The Class 😂

    • Yes, the median annual wage for principals is $98,490 compared to $62,870 for high school teachers.


How do you transition from teacher to principal? ›

Making the Switch: How to Successfully Transition from Teaching to Administration
  1. Listen and Learn. Effective leaders are great listeners. ...
  2. Empathize with Faculty and Staff. ...
  3. Develop Your Decision-Making Skills. ...
  4. Communicate with Your Team. ...
  5. Work on Your Conflict Management Skills. ...
  6. Apply Your Teaching Skills to Administration.
Oct 17, 2019

Why do you want to be a principal answer? ›

"The main reason I want to become a principal is to mentor faculty so students learn from teachers and other staff who feel supported. I want to help them follow best practices that positively impact learning outcomes. I want to use my administrative and educational experience to train new leaders.

How do you win a principal interview? ›

5 Tips to Interview to Be a Principal
  1. Be confident and prepared the next time you face the hiring committee. ...
  2. Do your homework. ...
  3. Say more with less. ...
  4. Purpose over chronology. ...
  5. Think from different perspectives. ...
  6. If you don't get it, start preparing for the next one. ...
  7. Start Now.
Jun 20, 2019

Is being a principal harder than a teacher? ›

Responsibility. Principals have a greater workload than teachers do. They are no longer responsible for only a few subjects with a handful of students. Instead, a principal is responsible for every student, every teacher/coach, every supporting member, and every program in their building.

How long should you teach before becoming a principal? ›

On average, the amount of teaching experience needed to become a principal is usually between 1-5 years. After you possess the benefit of classroom experience, you'll become eligible for programs like the Educational Leadership degree, which generally requires at least two years of teaching experience for admission.

What qualities should a principal have? ›

What Makes a Great Principal
  • The ability to establish and share a vision of academic success.
  • Encouraging cooperation and collaboration among teachers, staff, and students.
  • Developing leadership skills in school staff.
  • Helping teachers and students reach their fullest potential through continuous learning opportunities.
Feb 23, 2022

What makes someone a good principal? ›

Being good at building and maintaining relationships, as well as having strong communication skills, is a non-negotiable for a principal to possess. Principals work with other administrators, staff, teachers, students, community members, and parents.

How do I prepare to be a principal? ›

How to Become a Principal—A Step-by-Step Guide
  1. Graduate with a bachelor's degree. ...
  2. Earn your teaching certificate. ...
  3. Gain professional experience in educational settings. ...
  4. Pursue a master's degree in education. ...
  5. Diversify your skills and experience. ...
  6. Understand your state's requirements. ...
  7. Apply for a position.

What are 5 qualities that a principal of any school should have? ›

What skills are required to be a successful principal?
  • 1- Leadership skills. ...
  • 2- An ability to adapt and innovate. ...
  • 3- IT skills. ...
  • 4- Communication skills. ...
  • 5- An ability to delegate. ...
  • 6- Be decisive. ...
  • 7- Problem-solving skills. ...
  • 8- An ability to prioritize.
May 26, 2021

How can I impress my school principal? ›

Take pictures and share them with your principal for the school newsletter or web site. Frequently in education, we are too humble or modest and don't do enough to showcase the great things taking place. Principals are always looking for good material to share with the school board and community.

What month do most new teachers get hired? ›


This is one of the best times to apply for teaching jobs, as many openings are posted during the spring. Job fairs are often held during this time, which are a great opportunity to network and learn more about schools you might like to teach at.

What do principals want to hear in an interview? ›

They want to hear that you love your students.

Principals want to hear that you are giving every student a chance and a fresh start in your classroom every, day. They want to know that you have high expectations for each students and that you personally believe that each one can—and will—succeed this year.

What are principals looking for from a teacher interview? ›

Principals look for people that motivate their staff. They also look for someone who's a good communicator and have a positive impact on their staff teams. They want teachers who come in every day excited about their job. And they definitely don't want any problems in the teacher lounge.

What should I say in a principal interview? ›

General questions
  • What is your educational background?
  • Can you provide some information about your job history and experience?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • What motivates you?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • Why do you feel you are a good candidate for this role?
Feb 16, 2023

What age are most principals? ›

Percent of principals by
StateAverage age of principals55 years or more
United States4827.1
65 more rows

What are the disadvantages of being a principal? ›

Principals often work under pressure because they handle things like managing the school's budget and making sure students succeed at standardized tests. Making important decisions and taking accountability for missteps can be taxing.

Is it worth becoming a principal? ›

If you enjoy helping others, mentoring students and providing guidance for educational programs, you might consider becoming a principal. Many individuals pursue this career to make a positive difference in the quality of education that students receive.

Who is the youngest principal? ›

As the youngest principal in Movement's history, Kenneth Gorham broke the mold of what many think a principal should look like.

When can a teacher become a principal? ›

Eligibility to become School Principal

Candidates who have passed Diploma in Elementary Education (D. Ed) are eligible to become school principal for primary section. Apart from the above qualification, the candidates must have at least 5-10 years of experience in teaching.

How long do most principals last? ›

But new reports show that over half of all school principals leave their jobs within three years. That raises the tough question of why this is happening. Many people wonder if it really matters that principals are leaving their jobs. The fact is that principals and teachers have a strong impact on student achievement.

What are the 5 duties of a principal? ›

  • Oversee day-to-day school operations.
  • Manage school logistics and budgets.
  • Set learning goals for students and teachers based on national curricula.
  • Monitor and report on teacher performance.
  • Present data from school performance to board members.
  • Research new resources and techniques to improve teaching.

What is the most challenging part of being a principal? ›

Recruiting and retaining good teachers is an important part of the process and one that demands time and commitment to forming positive relationships. Dealing with frustrated or unhappy teachers and other employees who may try to undermine principal leadership is another big issue that consumes time and energy.

What does a school principal do all day? ›

Elementary, middle, and high school principals oversee all school operations, including daily school activities. They coordinate curriculums, manage staff, and provide a safe and productive learning environment for students.

What principal job is most important? ›

A school principal leads the whole school community, including students, teachers, staff, parents and community partners. They are the liaison between the school and the district leadership. School principals manage the administration of all work related to students, teachers and staff.

What are the four duties of a principal? ›

The role of a principal is to provide strategic direction in the school system. Principals develop standardized curricula, assess teaching methods, monitor student achievement, encourage parent involvement, revise policies and procedures, administer the budget, hire and evaluate staff and oversee facilities.

What values should a school principal have? ›

Positive contributions included: engendering a sense of confidence; providing a positive direction through 380 D. Gurr et al. Page 11 their vision and enthusiasm; holding high expectations of staff and students; focusing on students and families; empowering staff; aligning the community, staff and school goals; ...

How stressful is it to be a school principal? ›

A recent survey found 85 percent of school principals are experiencing job-related stress and 48 percent are dealing with burnout.

What should a new principal do first? ›

Advice for New Principals: The 4 Things to Focus on First
  • Learn your job. First-time principals likely have experience as assistant principals, but taking over a campus amid a pandemic comes with a significant learning curve. ...
  • Learn your school. ...
  • Learn your district. ...
  • Learn your community.
Sep 20, 2022

Do principals like jobs? ›

While the vast majority of public school principals said they were satisfied at their school, about 35 percent said they weren't as excited as when they'd first started their job. About a quarter said they'd leave if another higher-paying opportunity popped up.

How can I be more respected at school? ›

The best way to earn the respect of your peers is to show respect and kindness to everyone you meet. You should also show others that you are open-minded, trustworthy, and mature. Be true to yourself, and showcase your smarts and skills.

How do you introduce yourself in front of principal? ›

Include both professional information and personal information so your staff gets to see both sides of you right from the start. Include a picture of yourself so staff can connect a name and face, and you can include a picture of your family if it feels appropriate.

What year do most teachers quit? ›

44% of teachers leave within the first five years in the profession. (That's well over a third of new teachers.) In general, newer teachers are 2 ½ times more likely to quit than those who are tenured. Regardless, an astounding 8% of teachers start over with a new career each year.

What is the average age of a new teacher? ›

StateAverage age of teachersMedian age of teachers
United States42.441.0
63 more rows

How often do new teachers quit? ›

Overall, more than 44 percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years.

What do principals look for in a classroom? ›

Administrators will look to see if students are engaged with the material and the instruction going on. If students are playing on their phones, doing homework for another subject, talking about things unrelated to class, or have their heads down, then you need to rethink your approach.

What are the three P's to the perfect interview? ›

The 3 P's for interview success
  • Prepare: Like any exam, the more prepared you are, the less nervous you will be and a more relaxed disposition with ensure a more controlled and confident delivery. ...
  • Practice: Practice the delivery of your prepared answers. ...
  • Presentation:

What do principals look for when hiring assistant principals? ›

In the case of an assistant principal, those criteria include appropriate certification, previous leadership experience, prior work with curriculum, testing, student achievement, discipline, activities, facilities, budget, dealing with diverse student populations, parent and community relations, and personnel ...

What do principals look for on a teacher resume? ›

Principals will be most interested in your teaching experience; however, you may include skills obtained for another industry that are transferable to a classroom. For example, training, collaborating or mentoring. These elements are important to include on your counseling resume.

What questions should I ask at the end of a principal interview? ›

You may ask how the faculty interacts with each other and with the students. Ask about the goals of the school and the challenges it faces. You may also prompt the interviewer to describe a typical day in the school or some special events that are held throughout the year.

What motivates you to become a principal? ›

"The main reason I want to become a principal is to mentor faculty so students learn from teachers and other staff who feel supported. I want to help them follow best practices that positively impact learning outcomes. I want to use my administrative and educational experience to train new leaders.

How do I ace a school principal interview? ›

5 Tips to Interview to Be a Principal
  1. Be confident and prepared the next time you face the hiring committee. ...
  2. Do your homework. ...
  3. Say more with less. ...
  4. Purpose over chronology. ...
  5. Think from different perspectives. ...
  6. If you don't get it, start preparing for the next one. ...
  7. Start Now.
Jun 20, 2019

What should I wear to a school principal interview? ›

To make the best impression, however, you want to dress conservatively and professionally – dressier than everyday attire for the position. Take into account what the interviewer is likely to be wearing. In educational settings, your interviewer will usually be wearing business attire, and so should you.

How do you transition out of teaching? ›

6 New Careers For Teachers To Transition Into
  1. Instructional Design. If you like creating learning material that caters to the learner's specific needs, then this is a great career choice for you. ...
  2. Corporate Training. ...
  3. Business And Educational Consultancy. ...
  4. Human Resources. ...
  5. Editing And Copywriting. ...
  6. UX/LX Design.
Dec 3, 2022

What can teachers transition to? ›

  • Educational sales representative.
  • Realtor.
  • Educational consultant.
  • Grant writer.
  • Standardized test developer.
  • Human resources (HR) manager.
  • Learning specialist.
  • Curriculum developer.
Jul 28, 2022

What do you need to become a school principal? ›

For Principal, the educational qualification should be Ph. D. in relevant discipline (Polymer/Plastics/Manufacturing/Material Science etc.)

How old is the youngest school principal? ›

At just 25-years-old, Kenneth Gorham is the youngest principal at Movement School. I'd be lying if I said this truly didn't feel like a dream.

What does teacher burnout feel like? ›

“Signs you might be experiencing teacher burnout might include stress or feeling irritable or tired all the time. You also might be having sleep issues, like sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia from worry. You might be sad or overwhelmed when you think about teaching, or maybe you just don't enjoy it anymore.

How long do teachers teach before quitting? ›

Nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years.

How do I leave gracefully as a teacher? ›

Give Proper Notice

Don't put off telling your principal the news of your departure. By giving as much notice as possible (never provide less than two weeks' notice), you will help your students and your principal transition from your absence more easily.

What do most teachers do after teaching? ›

You can find roles as a guidance counsellor, A-Level or GCSE advisor, university support staff[ii], or as a special education teacher.

What kind of job can a former teacher get? ›

Here are our picks for the top 10 jobs for former teachers.
  • Education Administrator. Median Annual Salary (May 2021) ...
  • Training and Development Manager. ...
  • Education Consultant. ...
  • Postsecondary Education Administrator. ...
  • Museum Director. ...
  • Human Resources Manager. ...
  • Instructional Coordinator. ...
  • Education Policy Analyst.

Where are teachers going after they quit? ›

Leadership roles in community service are often a good fit for people who've left the teaching profession. Many youth organizations and retirement communities have positions for people skilled at planning, coordinating, and leading fun recreational or educational activities.

Is becoming a principal hard? ›

It is very hard to become a principal.

Education is a highly rewarding career, but it is often considered an extremely high-stress one as well, so along with education requirements, one must be able to handle a high degree of stress.

Is it hard being a school principal? ›

Principals often work under pressure because they handle things like managing the school's budget and making sure students succeed at standardized tests. Making important decisions and taking accountability for missteps can be taxing. However, many people enjoy being in charge of high-stakes matters.

Is it worth it to become a principal? ›

If you enjoy helping others, mentoring students and providing guidance for educational programs, you might consider becoming a principal. Many individuals pursue this career to make a positive difference in the quality of education that students receive.


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