“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?