In most cases, there is little difference between the requirements of a middle school and high school principal. In this post, we look at some of the similarities and differences in job and education requirements, as well as what these two levels of education require of the principal.

The path to becoming a principal at any level in the public school system is the same. You earn a bachelor’s degree in education or related discipline, followed by a teaching certificate or state license. The bachelor’s degree typically includes a major in the subject to be taught — for example, mathematics, science, music, or English literature. By middle school, teachers reach the level of specialization.

Teacher licensing requirements differ by state. They generally involve an examination that demonstrates teaching skills and proficiency in the subject to be taught. Some bachelor’s degrees incorporate the teaching certificate into the program. You must also receive your degree from an accredited college or university. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is responsible for accrediting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

The educational process is the same for middle school and high school teachers. An undergraduate degree will suffice. However, if you aspire to progress to an assistant principal or principal, you will need a master’s degree. The standard degrees at this administrative position are a master’s in education (M.Ed.), Master of Science in Education, or Master of Arts in Teaching. In the latter, you can opt for a concentration in Middle Grades or Secondary Education. Anticipate the master’s degree taking up to two years to complete. There are online accelerated programs that reduce time.

As stated, both middle schools and high school teachers specialize in a subject. To meet this requirement, you may choose a Master of Arts in Mathematics with a Secondary School or Middle Grades Teaching Emphasis. The University of Northern Iowa is one example whose curriculum in either specialty includes a load of math courses. In addition, the program focuses on the development of teachers as leaders and practitioners.

Another commonality for the two education levels of principal is the requirement to gain leadership experience. Job postings for principals stress the years of experience needed and leadership skills. The latter can be difficult for a teacher. Your primary purpose is to impart knowledge of the subject via a creative atmosphere that inspires students to learn. However, you will need to seek opportunities to express supervisory skills and initiative. Some of these can be found in the following roles.

Mentoring: Volunteer to be a mentor for new teachers. Introduce them to school staff and help them prepare lessons as they embark on their teaching career. You can act as a confidant for experienced teachers new to the school. Educate them on the politics of the community and the school district.

Organizations:  Participate in local clubs, such as the National Honor Society, extra-curricular clubs within the school.

Curriculum:  Confer with colleagues to develop new teaching strategies to increase student success. Propose changes in the curriculum to the principal where improvements can be made. Teachers have more latitude in charter schools to tweak the curriculum.

Community Events:  Become involved in community activities that include parents. Strive for a role in which you are the steward for an event. The requirement to collaborate with community leaders is beneficial in an administrative position, such as a principal.

The job requirements and responsibilities for middle and high school principals mirror one another. If you review online job postings for principals, the duties are mostly identical, regardless of the education level.

There is one difference. Teachers at the upper end of the middle grades (grade 8) may encounter discipline problems. During middle school, issues with self-esteem, rejection, bullying, and academic pressures become evident in grade eight. Students may flex their independence with drugs and alcohol. The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2016 that 20.8% of students were victims of bullying. Most middle school bullying occurred off the premises while traveling on a school bus. Surveys showed that middle school students, mainly grade six, have more physical bullying that results in injury. Unfortunately, many incidents of violence go unreported.

Crime, drugs, alcohol, bullying, and cyber-bullying exist in middle and high school populations. Therefore, principals at both levels require training in dealing with a host of issues. In the U.S., 7% of students ages 12-13 took an illicit substance in the past year (2014 data). High school students engage in binge drinking. In Iowa, 23% of high schoolers reported binge drinking. Marijuana and cocaine also reach alarming rates. For example, 32.2% of Washington, D.C. high school students use marijuana. Accessibility exacerbates the problem.

Additional Resources:

If I want to become a superintendent, is a Master’s Degree enough, or do I need a Ph.D.? 

Does becoming a Middle School principal have different requirements from a High School principal? 

What are the differences between a certificate and a Master’s Degree in Child Development?

What does a school superintendent do? 

What is No Child Left Behind?

I hear students are more likely to cheat in their online Master’s courses. Is that true?

What is the Difference between a Degree in Psychology and Psychological Science?

What is a postdoctoral research position in the field of psychology?

Do I need a Ph.D. to be a school Principal?