Vice Principal: Job Description & Career Info

Learn how to become a vice principal. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements to find out how to start a career as a vice principal.

Should I Become a Vice Principal?

Vice principals, also known as assistant principals, work alongside school principals to manage the administrative and educational components of an elementary, middle or secondary school. They regularly interact with teachers, students and members of the community so they need excellent communications and interpersonal skills. Vice principals also need leadership and negotiation skills to deal with student discipline issues. They must be adept in motivating students to turn negative behaviors into positive actions. Most assistant principals will need to have school budgeting and finance knowledge as well.

Most vice principals start out as teachers and then complete master's degree programs in education administration or educational leadership. Aspiring vice principals usually have a bachelor's degree and teacher certification prior to applying to these grad programs, unless they enter a program specifically designed for individuals with a bachelor's degree in another field.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Educational leadership or education administration
Licensure Vice principal/education administration licensure usually required to work at public schools
Experience Many employers require prior experience as a teacher
Key Skills Leadership, communication and interpersonal skills, organizational skills, ability to effectively evaluate teachers and staff
Salary (2014)$91,780 (Annual mean salary for all elementary and secondary school education administrators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), O*NET Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Because vice principals normally start their careers as teachers, they must hold bachelor's degrees and state teaching credentials. Many colleges and universities provide bachelor's degree programs in elementary or secondary school education, which include classes in educational philosophy, classroom management and student diversity. These programs usually take 4-5 years to finish. Education majors are also normally expected to fulfill a student teaching internship during the course of their program.

Step 2: Obtain a Teaching Certificate

Every state requires licensure for public school teachers before they can start teaching. Licensing standards differ by state, but most licensing boards expect candidates to earn a bachelor's degree and complete a supervised internship that includes classroom teaching. Candidates must pass a state licensing exam that tests literacy, subject knowledge and teaching ability. Those who teach at the elementary level must pass a general teaching exam. Secondary school instructors usually need to pass both a general exam and a single subject test focused on the topics they wish to teach.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Before moving into school administration positions, many vice principals must gain important communication and leadership skills by working as teachers. Teachers are responsible for developing curricula, evaluating students' work and creating a safe learning environment. Acquiring work experience as an educator can supply prospective vice principals with the basis to understand the teaching field, instructor responsibilities and classroom practices. It is also typical for states to require a couple years of teaching experience in order for applicants to gain assistant principal licensure.

Step 4: Complete a Graduate Program

Teachers can prepare for advancement into vice principal positions by earning a master's degree in educational leadership or education administration. In certain states, professionals might also be able to enroll in a graduate certificate program for principals if they have a master's degree in another subject. Graduate programs in education administration typically take two years to complete and may expect students to hold teaching licenses and have prior teaching experience before enrollment. Courses in these types of programs may include curriculum development, administrative leadership, school law and school finance. Students may also have to fulfill internships and capstone projects to graduate.

Step 5: Pursue an Administrator or Assistant Principal License

The majority of U.S. states require public school vice principals to have a school administrator or assistant principal license. To be eligible for licensure, most states mandate that applicants earn a graduate degree. Candidates are often expected to complete a state licensing exam and may need to satisfy a practicum requirement under the supervision of a mentor. Specifications vary by location, but states usually permit individuals to add a vice principal endorsement to their current teaching license. Many states require individuals to obtain a certain score on the Praxis II exam after completing a master's degree program and securing a minimum amount of teaching experience. Those who wish to work at a private school may not need to earn licensure.

Step 6: Join a Professional Organization

Associations created for both school principals and vice principals are available. Individuals can turn to the National Assistant Principal Leadership Center within the National Association of Secondary School Principals to learn about opportunities for professional development and to keep their credentials current.

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