Having been the principal of Pinelands North for more than twenty years this year, and realizing that I only have about seven years to retirement, has made me reflect on my appointment and on the teaching fraternity’s view of principalship as a whole.
Few teachers aspire to be principals in the current education climate in South Africa. The wide area of responsibility, little support from education officials and the low salaries compared with other positions in education means that most people who have reached deputy principal level would prefer to stay in that position rather than move up.
They say that a principal’s job is a lonely one. It certainly is as principals often fall into the middle ground between the pupils and the teachers, the parents and education officials, and between the education department and the school community.
The requirements of the job at a school like ours currently means that the principal needs to still be a teacher, but must also be a counsellor of children and adults, a finance and debt collecting whizzkid, a negotiator, a maintenance advisor and project manager, and a human resource manager. Most of those skills are not taught! Certainly not taught while the future principal is a deputy principal and ‘principal in waiting’!
I have also been reflecting on the confidence the Governing Body of this school put in me when they appointed me! I was a woman and very few women had been principals of co-ed schools in 1997, and Pinelands North had had four men over the forty something years up until then. I was also only thirty-seven years of age, had only officially been a deputy for eighteen months, and I wore short skirts and had spiky hair!
Principals who will lead schools into the future will need even more skill than I currently need. They will lead the school to a destination that is currently not known, using skills that are currently not available and they will still need to walk into the future, bravely and confidently!
Apparently in Finland currently, those people who become principals are usually History or Maths teachers, or they teach Physical Education! In his book “Top Class” Ari Pokka suggests reasons for this: organizing timetables requires logical mathematical thinking, managing, analyzing and interpreting is an historical skill, and organizing large groups of people is often done by physical education teachers!
So, while I am still fit and agile (and not yet 65), we should grow our own ‘timber’- we have seven years to recruit an amazing human being who can lead this wonderful school towards it’s hundredth birthday!