I Loved Being a Principal — But My Heart Is In the ClassroomNovember 9, 2022
Like many Milken Educators, Brian Allman (WV ’19) left the classroom to become a principal — but now he’s back to teaching. “My time as a principal made me a better teacher and a stronger leader,” he told us during an interview about his decision process.
Brian’s current role teaching social studies at Buckhannon-Upshur High School has turned out to be a full-circle experience. Some of his ninth graders were among the students who witnessed his Milken Award surprise several years ago as middle schoolers!
Milken Family Foundation: Let’s go back. Why did you originally decide to leave the classroom to become a principal?
Brian Allman (WV '19): Leaving Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School in 2021 to become the principal at Rock Cave Elementary School (RCES) was a very tough decision to make from a professional standpoint. I had worked at the middle school for 13 years, and it was the only home I had known as a teacher. I had the opportunity to teach nearly 1,700 of the best students you could possibly ask for in that role. It’s a school that will always have a special place in my heart.
But sometimes you get to a point where you are ready for a new a challenge. I had been certified as an administrator for seven years before I even thought about leaving the classroom. I always knew I wanted to explore being a school principal. I couldn’t get to the end of my career and then wonder “what if.” It’s something I needed to do, but I also knew that I was going to wait for the right opportunity. Without a doubt, I can confidently say that Rock Cave Elementary was the right “fit” for me as a principal and I’ll always look fondly on the time I spent there as their leader.
MFF: What did you like, and not like, about the principal’s role?
Brian: Principals, like all other individuals in a school, are critically important to the overall success of a school. Educational initiatives are great, but at the end of the day, the quality of the staff is very indicative of the overall success of the school. This starts with administration. As a teacher, you can build relationships that go deep, but as an administrator, you can make decisions and establish relationships that are wide and far-reaching. You can positively influence everyone that is a part of the school community. As a principal, that was a part of the job that I truly enjoyed. As was the case with being a teacher, the best part of the job is the interaction with students. Great educators change lives and I’ve found that to be true as a teacher and school administrator. Being an instructional leader, mentor, and the “face” of the school were all roles that I enjoyed and didn’t take for granted.
There isn’t an easy job in education. It’s hard work, yet so rewarding when done the right way. While I enjoyed my time at RCES, the role of principal also requires you to be out of the office frequently. While these meetings and trainings are necessary, they also pulled me away from the part of the job about which I’m the most passionate — the day-to-day interaction with students. I made sure to maximize the time I spent with students, but it wasn’t enough for me.
MFF: Were you thinking about returning to the classroom anyway, or did you only consider it when the opportunity arose?
Brian: As was the case when I left Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, leaving RCES wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t a decision that was made quickly. Sadly, West Virginia hasn’t been immune to the challenges facing our profession regarding recruitment and retention. Several teaching opportunities had come up prior to the one I eventually took.
At the end of the day, it really came down to what was going to bring me the most fulfillment as an educator. I need to be in a classroom. Once I realized that, I decided that I didn’t want to wait to make it happen. I have too many years left in education, and I want to spend them doing a job that best aligns with my passion as an educator.
MFF: When and how did the new classroom opportunity come up?
Brian: I didn’t apply for my current job at Buckhannon-Upshur High School the first time that it was posted. It presented itself at a time when I was still trying to determine the best fit for me moving forward. There were no certified applicants the first time, so when it was reposted, I saw it as a sign to explore the opportunity to return to the classroom.
MFF: How long did it take to make the decision? What was your thought process like?
Brian: I thought about it for several weeks, weighing the pros and cons. I knew that leaving Rock Cave meant leaving a rock star staff and amazing students. They made the choice difficult. I couldn’t have asked for a better school, and it was the right fit at the right time for me. Stepping away from that was extraordinarily difficult.
I also feel like I was excelling at being a school administrator. It’s tough to step away from a job you are doing well. It’s tough to tell others that you want to step away from a job you are doing well. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was leaving the job because I couldn’t do it or because of the students and staff. For that reason alone, I made sure to be transparent from the very beginning. My staff knew that I was considering this move from the moment I submitted the application.
MFF: How did you say goodbye to your students and staff?
Brian: Saying goodbye is never easy and this was certainly no exception. I was fortunate to have several weeks before leaving for my new position. I told all the students as they gathered in the gym to wait for the evening buses. I explained that above all else I’m a teacher first and foremost. The prospect of having Rock Cave students again someday, once they get to high school, is very exciting. They are wonderful kids and I’ll be excited to continue to play a role on their educational path when they get to high school.
My staff knew about the decision as soon as I made it. Being transparent and timely with communication is important. While they were disappointed that I would be leaving, they also understood and wished me nothing but the best.
MFF: You’re teaching high school now. What’s the same? What’s different?
Brian: Regardless of students’ age, I think the key to success in relationships. The students I am teaching this year are the same students I was teaching at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School when I won the Milken Award in 2019. While they have grown, having a pre-existing relationship with more than half of my current students has really been beneficial during this transition. Students at the secondary level need support, care, and guidance just as much as those at the elementary level — although they are usually less vocal in asking for it.
I’ve spent my entire career teaching students in a transition year. Middle school isn’t easy for a variety of reasons, and I thrived on building relationships that would allow me to help them navigate it. I’m confident that I’ll be able to accomplish the same at the high school level. This group of students, in particular, has missed out on a lot. Not a single year of their middle school experience was “normal” due to the pandemic. I want to be a constant source of support for my students, someone they know they can count on at any time. I want them to leave my classroom a better person than they were when they entered it. If they learn a little bit of social studies in the process, even better.
MFF: Are you carrying over anything from your principal stint?
Brian: I’m a strong believer that you can learn something from everyone you meet in life. My time at Rock Cave made me a better teacher and an even stronger leader. It sharpened my communication abilities and strengthened my ability to building meaningful partnerships with all school stakeholders. I’ve always held school and district leadership in high regard and that has only increased because of the time I spent at Rock Cave. I hope I can partner with district and state leaders to explore ways in which our best teachers can explore expanded leadership roles, without necessarily leaving the classroom. This is an area of needed growth, and I’m confident that the teachers currently serving our students can be part of the solution. [Read about Brian's work with West Virginia Milken Educators as they tackle the state's teacher shortage.]
MFF: Do you see yourself in administration again in the future?
Brian: Education is a wonderful investment because it is something that can’t ever be taken away from you. I’ll always have my principal, supervisor of general instruction, and superintendent certifications. I’ve proven to myself that I can be an effective and successful principal, and I know I could do it again in the future should I choose to do so. I won’t necessarily rule it out, but it just isn’t on my radar now. I’m a teacher. I’m proud to be a teacher and look forward to being the best one that I can possibly be for the foreseeable future.
Being a Milken Educator has really pushed me to be 10 percent bolder in my professional decisions. In addition to teaching, I’m passionate about training future teachers, celebrating current ones, and working with educational leaders to address issues that impact our profession. I also enjoy history, traveling, and telling the stories of those that come before us. Teaching is a priority, but you never know what the future may hold. Someday I’d love to combine all my passions and figure out a way to continue to leave a lasting impact on the teaching field in West Virginia and across the nation. Becoming a Milken Educator has been a blessing as it unexpectedly elevated my profile in the profession. I’m confident that the best is yet to come.
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