Survey: 50% of principals are stressed out to the point of quitting

Principals want better work-life balance, higher salaries and more respect to keep them in the profession..

With the updates to COVID guidelines, schools are still holding out hope for a return to normalcy this school year. Yet, one in two principals is considering a career change or retirement, according to a recent survey from the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Heavy workloads, administrative tasks, little time for instructional leadership, and other issues are taking a toll on school principals. Teachers are also asking for better treatment, higher salaries and emotional support.

Here are the key findings:

School leaders

Those who consider leaving the profession say they’ll leave:

  • In the next year: 14%
  • In 2-3 years: 24%
  • In 4-5 years: 25%
  • In 6-9 years: 24%
  • In more than 10 years: 11%

They were also asked what changes need to be made to keep them in the profession. The top three responses were:

  • Better work-life balance: 28%
  • Higher salary: 21%
  • More societal respect: 15%

Principals say they want more time to spend with students and supporting teachers, but too much time is spent doing paperwork. These are their responses to the following questions:

“How do you currently spend more than six hours a week?”

  • Administrative paperwork: 70%
  • Time with students: 64%
  • Administrative meetings: 52%

“How do you want to spend more than six hours a week?”

  • Time with students: 72%
  • Supporting teachers: 69%
  • Observing classrooms: 60%

Student experience

Students report high satisfaction in their school’s ability to support their learning, but nearly 40% say their school’s curriculum doesn’t prepare them. Additionally, most students say their opinions aren’t represented in their school’s policy considerations. They were asked, “As a student, do you feel your opinion is represented ‘a great deal’ in major decisions and policy considerations?”

  • In your schools: 28%
  • In your district: 13%
  • In your state: 14%
  • At the federal level: 11%

More from DA: Report: Censorship in K-21 and higher ed has rapidly grown

Mental health

Nearly 75% of school leaders and students say they felt they needed mental or emotional support last year. Additionally, 64% of students say their school values mental health and self-care. Mental health was also the highest priority for federal spending for school leaders, with high-dose tutoring ranking last.

School safety

70% of leaders say they were threatened or attacked either physically or verbally last year, yet only 19% say student behavior issues got “much worse” after the pandemic.

According to students, drug use is their biggest concern in their school (63%). For principals, online bullying is their top concern (85%).

Only 2% of principals say their schools are not “very safe” and 1% say they’re “not at all safe.”

Student equity

Overall, both leaders and students agree there’s room for improvement regarding school equity. Both groups ranked low-income students, LGBTQ+ students and non-native English speakers as the least supported populations.

Pandemic impact

While the pandemic has provided certain benefits for student learning, most respondents favor in-person learning: 72% leaders vs. 65% students.

However, there are some practices used throughout the pandemic that leaders say they will permanently implement:

  • Attend virtual meetings with staff: 62%
  • Greater use of technology: 60%
  • More frequent wellness checks: 60%
Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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