Springtime: “It’s the most miserable time of the year” for admins

Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and nearly everyone is enjoying the lovely feeling of spring-time in the air;  nearly everyone, that is, except for educational administrators, for whom spring is the most miserable time of the year.

John Pedicone, Ph.D.

Dr. John Pedicone is the new Superintendent of Tucson Unified School District, where my (independent) school is located; today I had the pleasure of hearing this highly accomplished and impressive educational administrator speak.  His talk, entitled the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, addressed the many serious challenges the district faces.

What struck me hardest and most personally was his observation about how very hard springtime is in the life of educational administrators.  I have been a school-leader for fifteen years, and every spring I am reminded that while April may indeed be “the cruelest month,” as TS Eliot wrote in The Wasteland, March comes in a very close second.

Every year, right around March 1, the pressure seems to intensify sharply, and I struggle to manage my stress through these two months.  Superintendent Pedicone explained the causes he believes most significant:

  • the very difficult personnel decisions which have to be made each spring, especially who to hire and who to fire;
  • the struggle to balance budgets for the coming fiscal year;
  • and all the work-load inherent in scheduling planning the details of school-opening in the coming fall.

As a school principal I also find great challenges each spring in

  • recruiting and retaining students,
  • administering financial aid to what seems like an ever-rising number of families needing tuition support,
  • the frayed nerves, strain, and exhaustion of our fine, but hard-working, faculty members,
  • and the pressures of selective college and university admissions– because not all of our students will be admitted to Princeton and Stanford.

Each year, I remind myself, I find that come mid-May, the pressure does diminish, and like most of my readers,  I find great joy and satisfaction in graduation and the other ceremonies and rituals which conclude our school year on a high note of pride, appreciation, and accomplishment.

I appreciate greatly the opportunity to hear Dr. Pedicone publicly acknowledge the misery of spring-time for ed. admins; it is reassuring to know it is not just me.   Many a spring I find myself doubting my career choice, a doubt I almost never feel in the other seasons.   The pressure really weighs on me: it manifests itself in less healthy eating, shallower breathing, and a problematic interpersonal withdrawal.  Under stress, my natural introversion intensifies, and in some reptilian brain protective measures I withdraw, like a turtle, less friendly, less warm, less available to the people around me.   It’s not good.

In springtime, under the pressure of this season,  I also find that I blog much less frequently.   Coming home after work (I usually blog in the evening after dinner),  I find myself in spring that much more burned out, that much less energetic, that much more inclined to seek out dumb comedy on TV.  What’s more, for me, publishing on-line my ideas and opinions requires a reasonably high level of confidence, a level which, in the day-to-day stress of March and April, wanes.

The irony is, of course, that all of these stress-induced bad habits don’t make the problems diminish; most of them worsen the problems in some way or another.   Eating well, breathing deeply, going out of my way to connect with others, and writing reflectively, all make me feel better and make me more effective– which ultimately reduces the pressure.

Dr. Pedicone didn’t discuss his own stress management techniques: I would have loved to have had the benefit of his wisdom on this topic.  Today I spent two class periods bicycling with my middle school students as part of their PE-class bicycling unit (isn’t that cool?), and it felt great (picture above).

Getting out of my office, getting into the sun and fresh air, being active, interacting with students: all help, and I need to make .

I’d be delighted if you readers, most of you my fellow educational administrators, would share your thoughts: do you also find spring “miserable,” and how do you manage the pressure?

3 Comments

  1. Payton Hobbs said:

    Jonathan,

    You are definitely not alone in feeling the March Madness!

    One way I try to manage my own stress level during the day is to take what I call a “Mini Vacation.” I wrote a short post about it ( http://bit.ly/gwS6hj), but basically it is about taking 10-15 minutes for ME each day. This can be a short walk around campus, a break in my office listening to music, a phone call to a friend, or even sitting down with a student for a casual conversation.

    We spend most of our day taking care of other people’s wants and needs that we often forget how important it is to take care of ourselves. Some people may think it is selfish, but I don’t think you can effectively help support other people if you yourself are not 100%.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Payton

    March 24, 2011
    • Jason Leslie said:

      Jonathan,

      Your post rings very true for me. I actually find February and March a little tougher that March and April, likely due to the weather and length of days (February is so dark, while March/April we get some more daylight due to Daylight Savings-that may not be the case for you in Arizona). Either way, Spring is a tough time of year for many of the reasons you list.

      How do I combat the inevitable “blahs”? I maintain an excercise routine, and make an effort to recognize the good that is happening in life/school, as a reminder that things are not as negative as it may sometimes feel. I also remind myself that, “this, too, shall pass”. We have made it through difficult days before, and will again. We get through not without struggling, but when making tough decisions, people may be upset, but if we have been honest with them and ourselves, at least they will understand why.

      I also try to remember that everyone else is feeling similar to me, and this often becomes, as I call it, “the silly season”. People may over-react, complain about small issues, and generally view things differently from how they would when feeling better. To get through that, I take a more active listening role, allowing people to vent, getting what they have to off their chest, and then carrying on without the need for much action.

      Your post is a helpful reminder that we are in the crazy time of year, and need to slow down, listen and appreciate all that is good, not just focus on the negatives that can come with Spring.

      Thanks.

      Jason

      March 24, 2011
  2. Mark Linton said:

    You are not alone! Reading the thoughts and experiences of colleagues is one way that I deal with the stress. I also remind myself that I have a great faculty who will work through these annual antagonists with me. This helps me feel like I’m not in it alone. This is my 10th year as an educational administrator and these stressors are there every year. This too shall pass and May will be here before we know it!

    April 18, 2011

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