Becoming an Elementary School Principal: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of an elementary school principal career? Get real job descriptions, career outlooks and salary info to see if becoming an elementary school principal is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being an Elementary School Principal

As an elementary school principal, you'll have the opportunity to manage an entire elementary school, which includes everyone from the teachers to students and office staff. Check out these pros and cons to see if being an elementary school principal is a good fit for you.

Pros of Being an Elementary School Principal
Chance to be a good role model for young kids*
Promote academic, emotional and social development*
Well-paying career (around $91,000 on average in May 2014)*
Opportunity to gain leadership and management skills*

Cons of Being an Elementary School Principal
Need for a good amount of schooling (undergraduate and graduate studies, plus licensure)*
Pressure to make sure kids are learning and remain safe*
Long work hours that go beyond the school day are common*
No summers off, unlike other careers in education*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

An elementary school principal is in charge of managing a public or private school by making sure the academic, social and emotional needs of students are met. Elementary school principals are required to have a deep understanding of education policy and guidelines. They'll be in charge of disciplining students, monitoring attendance and organizing meetings with parents and the community to keep them informed on school programs and activities.

As a principal, your job will involve managing and hiring teachers, as well as overseeing the curricula they develop. You'll also direct the school's support staff, which can include secretaries, custodians and counselors. Part of your responsibilities may include managing the school's budget and monitoring the school facilities to make sure they are safe and well kept. As a whole, being an elementary school principal means you'll set the goals and standards for the entire school. You will also develop strategies to make sure students achieve.

Career Growth and Salary Stats

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field is expected to grow by six percent from 2012-2022. The projected growth comes from the increasing number of students and the need to create more schools. The BLS indicates that your job prospects may be better in southern and western states given the increases in student enrollment in those regions. In May 2014, the BLS reported that elementary school administrators earned a mean income of about $91,000 annually.

Education Requirements

In general, school principals need to hold a master's degree in order to be hired by a school district. Your undergraduate studies can relate to early childhood or elementary education as a way to give you a foundation in how children think and learn. For public schools, it's common for principals to earn a master's degree that relates to education leadership or education administration.

These graduate degree programs, which can last about two years, are likely to build on your undergraduate education skills and teach you how to manage a school setting. These curricula cover topics that include working with teachers to effectively teach students, develop curriculum for all elementary school grades and evaluate school employees. A graduate degree may also help you learn how to manage staff, serve as a school leader and understand school budgets.

Licensure and Credentials

Aside from the education requirements, many principals start in the classroom as teachers before moving up to become assistant principals and eventually, school principals. Licensure as a teacher may be required in order for you to become licensed as principal or school administrator. A certain number of years teaching may be required as well. The licensure requirements will vary depending on which state you want to work, but for the most part, you'll need to earn a master's degree and pass an examination, like the School Leaders Licensure Assessment. The licensure process for principals at private elementary schools can be different. In many cases, a license or certificate is not required.

Job Postings from Real Employers

No matter the location, the job requirements are often similar: candidates need to be licensed, have a master's degree and experience within a school setting. Check out these job openings from real employers posted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in April 2012:

  • A public elementary school in California is looking for a full-time principal who can serve as the chief executive of the school. Your duties will cover a wide range from managing staff, overseeing the academic program for students and meeting with the school community regularly. The job requires a master's degree, school administrator credentials as well as classroom and management experience.
  • A private school in Missouri is hiring a principal/headmaster who can lead the Christian school that serves students in grades preschool through eighth grade. You'll need a graduate degree and must meet certification guidelines set by the state of Missouri.
  • A public school in Oregon seeks an elementary school principal to provide educational leadership, meet with parents and the community and manage teachers. The school is looking for job candidates with a master's degree, past experience working within a school and school administrator licenses.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

There are professional development options for principals. You may attend conferences and workshops organized by the National Association of Elementary School Principals as a way to network with fellow school principals and improve your job skills. Online seminars and mentoring programs are also available for you to improve specific skills related to your career.

Alternative Career Paths


If you aren't ready to become an elementary school principal, think about a career as a librarian. You'll be able to work at a school or community library and help students and adults find the right resources and books. This position often requires a master's degree in library science or a related major. In May 2011, the BLS indicated that Librarians earned a median annual salary of around $55,000. However, the projected job outlook for librarians is just seven percent from 2010-2020.

School and Career Counselors

Another option is to become a school and career counselor. In this role, you'll be able to work with school-aged children and mentor them as they look for career paths and overcome academic or personal challenges. Becoming a school and career counselor means you'll need to earn at least a master's degree and have some experience working with children. The BLS projects an employment increase of about 19% from 2010 to 2020.

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