Leadership Opinions Staffroom Politics

Should Principals Teach?

Until now, principals have been expected to teach in South African schools. The Personnel Administrative Measures (PAM), which, amongst others, set out the job descriptions of principals, state that principals are required to ‘engage in class teaching as per the workload of the relevant post level and the needs of the school’.

Should Principals Teach? 30 Sep 2020

Mikhail is the Co-Editor of Teacher's Monthly. He has a passion for digital education and online learning.

The education authorities have, however, not enforced this, leaving it to individual schools and principals to decide whether the principal teaches or not. The only time that the issue becomes relevant is for performance appraisal, which includes a criterion which deals with teaching. It is, however, possible for principals to achieve at least a ‘satisfactory’ evaluation despite receiving a 0 for this criterion – and that is all that is needed for the annual progression in salary.

It is now being proposed that principals should not be required to teach.  This raises the question: Is this a good idea?

I think not.


I believe that principals who do not teach lose touch with the following:

The children in the school: Principals who teach have regular contact with learners in class. This means that they also keep up personally with the changes in the youth in term of attitudes and interests, as well as disciplinary trends.

The curriculum: Principals who want to be effective instructional leaders need to know how the curriculum works and to keep up to date with changes, both in terms of their own subjects and in terms of the general characteristics of the curriculum.  This means that they are able to provide guidance on teaching methods and implementation of the curriculum.

The teachers: Principals who do not teach lose out on contact with teachers at an academic level. It also means that they do not understand the frustrations of teachers in terms of disciplinary issues and the excessive demands of the curriculum.

The evaluation system: When non-teaching principals do evaluations, they do not have the credibility of those who do teach. Their teachers are wont to ask, ‘What does he/she know?  He/she hasn’t been in the classroom for years!’

The parent community: By teaching, the principal has – as do other teachers – direct contact with parents about their children’s progress.  Their image in the community is also enhanced if they are known to be effective teachers themselves and are able to understand more fully the concerns which parents may raise about their children or about their children’s teachers.

From a personal point of view, I always felt that I would not be fulfilled in my job if I did not continue to teach – so I did so throughout my 22 years as a principal, mostly teaching English to Grades 11 and 12. I entered the teaching profession to teach. I always felt, however, that I did not ‘just want to remain a teacher’, as I had a great interest in management and leadership.  However, I also believed that I never wanted to be ‘just a principal’. I looked for a combination of both.

I can understand the argument that, because the job of the principal has become more and more demanding in recent years, the requirement that he/she should also teach is demanding much of the principal. But an effective principal should be able to organise his/her school and delegate jobs in order to be able to continue to teach.

So: Should principals teach?  I say yes – definitely. I like to remember that the term ‘principal’ is actually a shortened version of the original term ‘principal teacher’ – known as ‘head teacher’ in the UK. I believe that the principal should be the ‘principal’ or ‘main’ teacher in his/her school.

By doing so, I believe that a principal who continues to teach will not only get more job satisfaction but also be able to be a more effective leader in his/her school.

Mikhail is the Co-Editor of Teacher's Monthly. He has a passion for digital education and online learning.