Principals are teachers by definition. They are the best premier teachers, may be first among the equals. Therefore, they are quintessentially teachers, first and last. This is true for both school and college principals.
The sad fact, however, is that many principals do not teach. Some of the best teachers are lost to the profession by making them principals. This is a paradox in itself. They are chosen in most cases because they are very good teachers. Then they cease to teach. When they stop teaching, they become a spent force and do not inspire their fellow teachers as much as they would if they continued to teach.
We found that some of the reasons given by principals themselves are not based on any professional imperatives. There are personal choices in many cases. For instance, some principals choose not to teach on the plea that they have other chores to attend. This is a totally untenable pretext.
For some, not having to teach is an assertion of their own importance. A false sense of superiority gives them the impression that they should be a cut above teachers by not being one of them.
A dubious complacency or a false sense of self-importance creeps in, whose real name is ‘inertia’ associated with sinecure jobs. There are principals who do not like to teach because they may not do as well as other better-known teachers in the same subject. So not to teach is a diplomatic withdrawal from the scene to salvage their reputation.
There are people who feel that you need to keep off the work that others do, in order to establish your own credentials to judge others. This, of course, is a highly mistaken notion of the very foundation of any supervisory job.
Then there are some employers who want the principals to manage the school all the time. They, perhaps, do not know that the principal’s leadership which is his/her avowed mission can be realised only in the classrooms, the hallways and the playgrounds.
We should also know that managing is a non-academic activity that requires a manager with certain other skills. Principals are supposed to be academic leaders with a vision who can share their vision with their teachers, for the larger good of the school and students.
Now, to the reasons why principals should actually teach. First and foremost, a principal gets to know his/her school well only by teaching. Teaching gives the principal a deeper sense of empathy and better understanding of the classroom challenges. To be able to monitor the teachers’ work and to motivate them to do better, the principal himself/herself should be a practitioner. A principal who teaches can establish an effective connection with the teaching and learning process in the school.
A teaching principal gets a clear idea about what a teacher is going through. If a principal never teaches, he/she loses the much-needed credibility to correct the teachers. You can never ask someone to do something that you do not do yourself.
Principals who teach will have an all-pervasive, over-arching influence in relation to students, teachers and parents.
Such principals will share their teaching expertise with other teachers, and in that process they themselves will learn many new skills from their fellow-teachers. It is a collective learning exercise.
During the present COVID crisis, principals have an added responsibility to go the extra mile and show how to be an effective teacher even in a virtual mode. A crisis throws up an opportunity for leaders to prove their mettle and imagination.
Effective leadership of a school calls for both instructional leadership and human relationship. True relationship is nurtured in the classrooms and during activities, where teachers interact with students. Like teachers, principals should also be a part of this ever-exciting journey of school life.
The overall school climate is envisioned by a principal and that vision is shared by teachers, and then by students and parents. The chief architect of this school climate is the principal and the best means for him to influence the whole school is being an active participant in the teaching-learning process. Once principals start teaching, they will realise that the imagined glamour of administration can’t hold a candle to the thrill and excitement of teaching a live class of young students. Soon they will realise that the most fulfilling part of their job is teaching time.