By Stephanie Young ’99, M.Ed.
My favorite part of being an elementary school principal is that no two days are ever the same. Some days I accomplish many things that are on my ever-evolving, ever-revolving list, and other days I feel like I barely get started before it ends. Those are the days I look at the clock and say, “How is it already 3:00 in the afternoon?” The good news is that education is all about picking up exactly where you left off the day before, so what doesn’t get done today will still be there to accomplish tomorrow.
I began my career in school leadership as a classroom teacher, as all principals do. My desire to serve as a school leader dates back to my days in junior high, when I had a wonderfully inspiring school principal. Maybe it was her impeccable sense of fashion or her perfectly shaped hair, but I wanted to be just like her in every way. In the most perfect twist of fate, after I graduated from Drury, I ended up teaching at her school, and my childhood mentor became my career mentor as well.
I taught for several years and loved each and every minute with my students. I attended graduate school while I was teaching, and one year I was given the opportunity to serve as an elementary assistant principal split between two of the larger elementary schools in Springfield. I was a little nervous to make this leap, but I was assured two things; first, this would be a great way to help me decide if school leadership really was for me, and second, if I did not like school administration, I could easily go back to the classroom.
As it turns out, I loved administration as much as I loved teaching. I was still teaching, but now my job was to work with adults rather than children. It was a great year of personal and professional growth, and I learned the art of tactful and diplomatic decision-making. With students, my answer could be “no,” simply because I was the teacher and because I said “no.” With adults, I have to provide rational and sensible justifications if I want others to provide rational and sensible justifications to me as well. During my time as assistant principal, I had two of the most exceptional principal mentors that any aspiring administrator could ask for. They provided a foundation that sustains me to this day.
I’ll never forget the day I received the phone call. I found a note on my desk to call the associate superintendent, whose number was scrawled onto the bottom of the paper. I immediately feared that I had not completed this position in the way that was expected, and I was being told that at the end of the year, I would return to the classroom. As I picked up the phone and reluctantly dialed the number, my stomach was churning and my heart was pounding. I didn’t like to fail at anything and I had placed a lot of pressure on myself to be successful.
During the brief call, the associate superintendent shared that she would be asking the school board for approval to place me as the principal at Truman Elementary for the fall. This was the best news of my career up to that point. After serving as principal for Truman Elementary, I began my current position as the principal of Delaware Elementary.
Drury taught me the skills I needed to be successful in a school leadership position. I learned that in the field of education, service and support can mean the difference between a child who graduates from high school versus one who drops out before graduation. Drury taught me acceptance and tolerance for those around me who aren’t just like me—that embracing our differences means honoring others for exactly who they are. But most of all, Drury gave me the rock-solid foundation to serve as an educator, and then a passion to follow my dreams to the next steps of my career. While my initial sights were set on teaching, my professors and mentors challenged me to think beyond my classroom—what it might mean to lead an entire school rather than an entire class.
I may not be impeccably dressed or have perfectly shaped hair like my junior high principal. In fact, I often leave school with ketchup stains on my shirt from the hugs during lunch duty or marker stains on my hands from visiting classrooms and sitting down next to students to look at their work. Education is an amazing career, and while I cannot predict what any one day will bring, I would not trade it for anything.