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Day in the Life of a secondary school principal: Keeping everyone satisfied

A principal’s job is no walk in the park. Wired868 spoke with a teacher of mathematics and additional maths for more than 17 years, who eventually became the principal of a secondary school in East Trinidad. She finds it taxing but would do it all again if she had to, she said.

Here is a closer look:

Photo: Being a principal can be lonely work…

Wired868: How long have you been a principal?

SSP: Well, after 17 years of teaching, I became a principal in 2010, and I didn’t have the best of starts too. At that time, the country’s teachers were negotiating for an increase in pay, so there were a lot of sick-outs.

Wired868: How do you deal with sickouts by teachers and what repercussions are there for the curriculum?

SSP: As I said, I’ve been a teacher. I have been where they are and I spoke to all them in a staff meeting, sympathising with their situation but at the same time explaining that their actions don’t make myself or the higher authorities suffer; the students ultimately suffer. They fall behind as a result of this. Most of these teachers take days that they are entitled to, so the majority of the time, as principal, there is nothing I can do.

Wired868: What are your day-to-day duties as a principal?

SSP: As principal, I have many duties. My main duty, however, is ensuring students at the school learn the work that is given to them. To do that, I have to ensure two things: that I have a great teaching faculty and that the faculty knows how to teach the curriculum provided.

Wired868: You said you have many duties. Can you elaborate more on that?

SSP: Well, students in the last few years have been engaging in a lot of fights in school. I have to discipline them accordingly. I have to ensure nothing illegal comes within the school, like weapons or drugs, to harm my students. I have to settle disputes between teachers as well.

Photo: A tense scene in a Trinidad and Tobago school.

Wired868: What steps do you take to stop weapons or drugs from coming into your school?

SSP: We can only do so much. We have procedures in place, such as random bag searches. I can only speak for myself and my teachers, [when I say] we have an idea who are the students with the highest probability of doing such a heinous thing as bringing weapons in school, and we keep a particular eye on those students.

Wired868: Can you tell us two examples of disputes you may have had to deal with?

SSP: One of the biggest problems is teachers in the same department having to cover for the other because they may not be coming to school often. Teachers complain that their workload is increased unfairly as a result.

The teachers tend to come into work late as well. Some teachers come from a good distance and argue that it is hard to get to work from where they are. They tell me that they were placed at the school by the ministry, [but] that they didn’t want to be placed so far away from their homes.

Usually, when that happens I recommend they put in documents for a transfer, but it takes a while for ministry to process those documents for them. Until then, I usually organise their class schedules to suit until they get it.

Wired868: What time do you get up for work?

SSP: I wake up at 4am every morning. I live in the West and the school is in the East. So I wake up at that time to get to school on time every day. After all, I speak to my students about punctuality, so I must set an example.

Photo: A schoolboy running down a hallway (by Caleb Oquendo from Pexels)

Wired868: Apart from the obvious things, what do you do between the time you wake up and the time you leave for work?

SSP: Well, every day is assembly at my school. We have assembly, which I lead, say the national anthem and the school’s prayer. Once the children are dismissed, every month I request progress reports from my faculty, explaining where they have reached with their classes [and] if their students understand the work.

At the beginning of the term, though, I look at the grades in each class and each subject. Teachers whose students have a passing average under 60% need to explain why their students aren’t grasping what they’re teaching.

In the final term, like the one we’re heading into now, I deal with many things: ensuring students who are doing CAPE, CXC or NCSE are all prepared for their exams [and] that the teachers have taught every possible topic to their students.

In between all that, if there are any issues that urgently need my attention, I must deal with them.

Wired868: A very smart man once said: “In Trinidad (not so much in Tobago), getting to work is work.” Is that true for you?

 SSP: Every morning I wake up at 4 and I and my two children are ready to leave home by 5.45 for the latest. I drop them off to school and head to work. I don’t really encounter much traffic at that time in the morning, so it isn’t that much of a hassle or a job for me.

Photo: Teachers too sometimes have difficulty determining what is the correct answer…
Wired868: Does your job generally allow you time for a proper lunch, or do you often have to have lunch on the hoof?

SSP: I take my lunch at 1pm. Students have their lunch from 12-1 so I’m around if anything happens during the lunch period. As a result, I tend to get a full hour’s lunch; I believe only a handful of times was I interrupted.

Wired868: If I asked you for a single adjective to describe your job, what would that be?

SSP: Challenging. No doubt. It isn’t easy being a principal, but I love what I do.

Wired868: Another smart man once said that people at the end of their lives never say they wish they had spent more time at the office. Does work get in the way of your family life, or are you able to compartmentalise the two?

SSP: I try for it to not get into the way of my family time. My husband and children know that the end and beginning of the semester require me to get a lot of work done, but I always make time for them when they need me.

Wired868: Will you share with our readers something truly memorable that happened to you at work?

SSP: In 2013, 80 out the 96 students passed all their subjects in CXC—something that has never happened at this school—and it happened under my tenure as principal.

Photo: School children pose for the camera.

Wired868: If you had to do it all again, would you choose the same career path? Why or why not?

SSP: Absolutely. Because nothing brings a person more joy than doing what they love.

About Nicholas Brathwaite

Nicholas Brathwaite is a journalism student at COSTAATT and a big sports fan. He says he's quite sure he got his passion for sport from his family but he’s not 100% certain that the discipline, determination and capacity for hardwuk that feed it all come from the same source.

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