A common question I get is what’s the difference between being a teacher and being a principal. My response is always, “Have you seen The Green Mile?”
The Green Mile centers on death row inmate John Coffey. John is sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two children. Over the course of the movie we learn that John is not a monster, he is a miracle worker. He uses his gift to remove pain from those who are suffering.
In this scene, prison guard Paul Edgecomb is in unbearable pain because of a bladder infection. John calls Paul over to his cell. John grabs Paul, pulling him closely and initially causing him to fear for his life. However, Paul soon realizes that John is not trying to hurt him, he is trying to help him. The scene ends with Paul asking, “What did you just do to me?” John answers, “I helped it. Didn’t I help it?”
By the end of the film John has impacted everyone around him. However, the many years of John using his power to take away pain has taken a tremendous toll on him.
John is unable to continue absorbing the pain and ugliness of the world. “I’m tired, boss,” he confesses. John shares with Paul that by carrying out the death sentence, Paul is putting an end to John’s constant suffering.
Let me start off by saying that in no way do I feel the job of a principal is equivalent to that of a miracle worker. But used as hyperbole, I do believe John Coffey’s character does a nice job of encompassing some of the emotions that come with the job.
As a former professor once told me, the job of a principal is “mess management.” These messes take many shapes; a student mess looks entirely different from a teacher mess.
It is difficult enough to try to control everything that happens within the school walls, but unfortunately there are also situations outside of the school walls that impact students. Educators can all attest to the heart breaking stories we discover about the students we serve. As a principal, it is my responsibility to know my students, which includes the unpleasantness of hearing the terrible struggles that many students face on a daily basis. Like John Coffey, principals are asked to absorb these horrific situations we know our students face and do whatever we can to mitigate them. But, at the end of the day we can never do enough to stop the pain outside the school walls.
Being a principal means ensuring the staff feel heard, loved, and cared for. A consequence of that is everyone comes to you to help manage their mess. Sometimes that means dealing with a colleague dispute. Other times it is a problem outside the building. Having an open door policy means be willing to support the educators in your building with whatever they might bring to you. Part of the job is that everyone’s problems become your problems. Just as John Coffey tried to help Paul, principals do their best to help alleviate as much stress and pain from teachers as possible.
This post is an explanation of the emotional weight that principals carry from day to day. It is not an outlet to vent. I believe that I am a great listener, genuinely care about others, and will do whatever is necessary to help those around me take as much joy in their lives as I do. But sometimes when I get a call from my boss, the superintendent, and he asks me how I am doing, I feel like saying, “I’m tired, boss.”