The Long Road to Administration

(left) Mary Tuck, Head of Lower and Middle School. (right) Gary Baldwin, Director of Upper School

By Olivia Q.
November 1, 2018

The road to administration is often paved with good teaching. For many passionate teachers, the transition from educator to administrator is bittersweet but ultimately necessary. Whether in pursuance of increased pay or a wish to influence school policy, teachers choose to step outside of the classroom and join the administrative ranks.   


This is the first year that Gary Baldwin, Director of Upper School since 2015, has not taught a class. For Baldwin, not teaching has been a painful experience, a decision that has been somber for him as well as students. “The sad thing about being an administrator is that you don’t get to spend that much time in the classroom. I used to spend all day with the students; now I get to spend some time. That’s what it comes down to, and it was a deeply painful thing for me to make that decision.”


While the majority of educators love their job, due to low pay, sometimes it is difficult to support themselves as well as their family. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for high school teachers was $58,030 in 2016, whereas the median salary for education administrators was $94,390. For many, the $36,360 difference is an influential sum that could go into supporting their families and paying for their own child’s education (that $36,360 can almost cover the entirety of the Westridge upper schooler’s tuition of $36,470). Passionate teachers are often faced with a difficult choice: to remain in a job they love or pursue more financial opportunities for themselves and their family. Although Baldwin emphatically insists that he loves administration, he admits that he often yearns to be back in the classroom. “I miss teaching. If it were just me in the world, if I didn't have a family, if I didn't have kids, if I didn't have a life trajectory, there's no doubt about it. I would find the classroom someplace, lock the door and stay in there and teach for the rest of my life. But as it stands, there isn't the time to do that.”


Financial gain is only one reason teachers pursue administration. Amber Arbet, a lower school teacher, is currently enrolled in a 15-month credentialing program at USC. As a woman of color and a former student at Westridge, her motivations for being an administrator are slightly different from Baldwin’s.“I want students to see and experience more women of color in educational leadership roles. I never had the benefit of seeing myself reflected in administration when I was a Westridge student, and I understand what it’s like to have that missing from your day-to-day experience. I hope to be a mirror image for girls, especially girls who look like me. Diversity in education is definitely a huge passion of mine.”


Regardless of the reasons a teacher might pursue administrations, the job itself demands a commitment to and a passion for education. Mary Tuck, head of lower and middle school, has been in administration for 19 years. She plans to retire at the end of this school year. Before she came to Westridge in 2000 as Head of Lower School, she was a teacher at Polytechnic for 22 years.  Looking back on her career has been nostalgic for Ms.Tuck, both the administrative and teaching aspects. “I'm a teacher at my core,” says Tuck, “My favorite thing to do is to teach and connect with kids.”


As one who is well versed in the daily tasks of an administrator, Tuck says that the majority of the job has to do with communicating with staff, parents, and students. She says to be a successful administrator it’s all about “knowing who you are, knowing the business, and knowing that the three parts of the business are most importantly our students, their connection with their teachers and the quality of teaching, and then the communication with the parents. You can't be a successful division director if you don't honor all three groups.”


After 19 years, Tuck is a pro, but the transition from teacher to administrator can be challenging.  It’s true; the majority of an administrator’s time is consumed with putting out fires. Though teaching and administration exist and function in the same field, they are vastly different roles. In Baldwin’s opinion, one of the biggest distinctions between teaching and administration is the amount of responsibility. “What you get when you are a division director is that you come into work each day, you've got a calendar, you've got a schedule, and within 15 minutes it's all blown to heck because 10,000 things have gone wrong and you've got to deal with them right now.”

It’s because of these 15 minutes of heck that higher compensation for administrators is expected and even needed. Teachers are often apprehensive of pursuing administration because of the strenuous demands on time and the shift in responsibilities. Unfortunately, for good teachers, even great teachers, the administration is often the only opportunity for upward mobility, leadership opportunities, and, yes, a higher salary.


Despite the monetary motivations for administration, administrators with teaching backgrounds are necessary for the successful cultivation of a school community. To have great administrators, you need great teachers, and to have great teachers, you need individuals who share a common passion for working with kids. Luckily, Westridge has plenty of those individuals that truly take heart in their work. As educators like Amber Arbet, Gary Baldwin, and Mary Tuck transition in and out of their administrative roles, schools will likely be certain that their communities are in good, and even great hands.