By Tonya Harrison

G.T. Norman Elementary School Principal

“Mrs. Principal, guess what I have in my backpack today?” “Mrs. Harris, do you know what my kitten did to my mom?” “Mrs. Harrison, I saw my sister throw up on my dad last night.” Not once in my fourteen years, as a secondary educator, did I hear my name said as many times I as I do in a fifteen minute period (I answer to about anything now), heard more details about what happened the night before, or more stories that most parents hope stay at home than I do in one day as an elementary principal. I also was never hugged, smiled at, or given more treats than in the two short months that I have been as the principal of G.T. Norman Elementary School.

I was a history teacher, turned assistant principal and testing coordinator. Reading curriculum, studying special education, and reviewing data were the regular aspects of my job. I met with high school students, who brought problems and concerns about growing up. We had, what I thought, were real conversations. I liked my job and felt valuable to the kids and the staff. I was nervous to move out of my comfort zone. Could I really adapt to running noses, backpack stories, and opening milk cartons in the cafeteria?

Although I value the lessons I learned at the secondary level and miss the students terribly, I have learned that the word “I” is not heard much at the elementary level. Teachers give time, money, and energy beyond belief every day in an elementary classroom. All teachers care about kids and content areas, but elementary teachers take this to a new level. Students come with new issues that many times they can’t handle on their own, and adults have to step in to really take care of them. Elementary staff, from para pros to secretaries to teachers, care for “their kids” in a way I have never seen. I am exhausted at the end of the day, and I see staff perform like the Energizer Bunny every day. Students know their “grown-ups” in this building care about them. My eyes, as an administrator and educator, have been opened to a new type of education.

I have been spit on, kicked, and yelled at this year, but I have also been hugged and told I am loved this year. I even made the “favorite principal” list, as I was introduced to a parent in Meijer, by a student. Being an elementary principal means drying tears, tying shoes, answering to names that are not mine, listening to crazy stories, and coming in on the weekend to get work done that I cannot seem to complete during the regular work day. It also means I leave the day knowing what it means to be needed and valued on a whole new level. I am learning that school is more than curriculum and data, despite what the state says, but that it is about the important things like what a first grader had for breakfast this morning.