October is National Principals Month! To celebrate our schools’ leaders and find out what it’s like to be a principal today Today’s Modern Educator is talking to principals across the country this month. This week, we talked with Joyce Sanders, Principal of Rena Elementary School, which is part of the Van Buren School District in Van Buren, Arkansas.
Here’s what Sanders had to say:
Today’s Modern Educator (TME): Can you tell us about yourself and how long you’ve been the principal of Rena Elementary School?
Joyce Sanders (JS): I started my career as a 4th grade teacher. While teaching, I started taking on more and more leadership roles and extra responsibilities. After 18 years in the classroom, I became a Master Teacher in the Teacher Advancement Program through a partnership with the Milken Foundation and Van Buren School District.
I never really thought about leaving the classroom, because I loved it. However, when I got the position as Master Teacher, I was encouraged to seek an advanced degree. I decided to get a degree in educational administration. Through the class work on my administrative degree, I saw ways I could work with more students and more teachers and make a bigger difference. As soon as I finished my degree, I got a position as an assistant principal, and, after one year, I moved to the principalship at Rena Elementary in Van Buren. I have been serving as the principal at Rena for 13 years.
TME: What made you choose a career in education?
JS: I chose a career in education, because I loved working with children. Even when I was a child, I worked with the younger children in my church. I think I wanted the children to think about me the way I felt about most of my teachers. I thought they were very special. Teachers had made a difference in my life. I wanted in turn to make a difference in others’ lives.
TME: How have schools and education changed since you started teaching?
JS: Education has changed since I started, but not really the children. Society has changed; therefore, the things we deal with have changed. The number of regulations has increased, the amount of paperwork has increased, and so has the pressure placed on educators. Children are still the same. They want someone to care about them, and they respond to that caring relationship. They are proud of themselves when they accomplish something. They want to do well, and they are frustrated when they can’t.
TME: What is the most rewarding part of leading a school?
JS: The most rewarding part of leading a school, for me, is still the interaction I have with the students and the difference I am making in their lives. I greet students every morning as they get out of their cars or off of their buses. I tell them goodbye every afternoon after school. I want the kids to know they are loved, and they are important. I want them to know education will make a difference for them.
TME: What advice would you share with the next generation of school leaders?
JS: I would tell the next generation of school leaders to work hard and let your moral purpose lead you. In the midst of paperwork and pressure, don’t lose sight of what is best for children. Think about the whole child, not just academics. Finally, take care of yourself. It is easy to be consumed with the job.