BY SHAHÉ MANKERIAN
I don’t wait for the iPhone alarm. It’s 4:53 a.m., and I’m in the kitchen with the percolating coffee, facing the computer no longer in sleep mode. The mailbox shows a dozen or so work-related emails. I’m not obligated to answer them; the workday hasn’t officially started. Yet, in an act of penance, I’m checking and answering emails written by my triad of terrors and triumphs—students, teachers, and parents.
Who said being a principal is not a rewarding profession? I believe the job provides moments of success fueled with unfiltered exhilaration and unmedicated rush. It ignites that unkempt force that blasts boredom into smithereens. The prerequisite of the profession is an MA in Multitasking and a recommended PhD in the following areas: Listening, Counseling, Nursing, Scheduling and/or a degree in a number of other action verbs. Celebrations are aplenty; for example, when Armenian takes precedence over English on the playground, or when the PTO raises enough funds for new library books, or when teachers remember the principal on Boss’s Day. Gratifications are boundless—that unexpected complimentary email, or that revitalizing thankful text, or the phone call that sends the receiver over the moon.
If you have aspirations of becoming an Armenian school principal, read this paragraph at your discretion. Being a workaholic is not a compliment; it is the undisclosed requirement of the job. It is the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not enjoy weekends, national holidays, and summer breaks. Those are for the feebleminded. The chosen few will forgo family functions—baptisms, Thanksgiving dinners, funerals. Others will sacrifice their children’s birthdays and wedding anniversaries—simply put, their families. It helps if a principal is blessed with a saint for a spouse. “Sleep” is underrated. Family vacations are overrated. Losing z’s over school budget, WASC accreditation, assimilation of a culture, shortage of qualified teachers (particularly in science and math) are the acceptable norm. Remember, the stale brew in the coffee mug or the whistling teapot will be your soulmate; take good care of it. It will save you during difficult times like those board meetings that last longer than triathlons.
I digress. I believe being a principal could become a lonely existence. If not careful, mundane administrative mandates could isolate the headmaster into that seductive quicksand, the Office. Behind closed doors, directives are spoken through memos and evaluations are spewed through computer screens. Bilingual speechwriting requirements for every other gobbledygook event, coupled with other senseless chores, choke the superhuman principal like the kryptonite. Never mind the fact that the children become marginalized because of managerial duties. The lucky ones, the veterans, know how to discern the good from the abyss of helicopter parents, the twilight zone of hypersensitive teachers, and the vortex of students suffering from entitlement. Every leader knows the secret dictum: Only a handful suffer from neediness yet cause great distress. Therefore, going home bruised and broken like Jake LaMotta from the Raging Bull is a temporary setback, a tarnished badge of honor for every principal.
That is why, I believe, the principals of Armenian schools in California deserved the short, 24-hour getaway at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu. It was time to recharge, reconnect, and return to the core values of being leaders. It was time to hear from experts like Dr. Lisa Manuelian, Mrs. Nora Chitilian, MS, LMFT, and Dr. Manuella Abrahamaian about the common challenges and victories of serving the community. It was time to distance ourselves from the duality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and connect with everything that is good and noble. Ms. Sanan Shirinian, the Principal of Ari Guiragos Minassian School in Santa Ana, wrote, “There is something oddly comforting hearing about the nearly identical challenges we all face. It has me feeling somewhat hopeful that there is a new dawn approaching and our schools will come out stronger for it.” In times of introspection, we were able to draw strength from one another and delve within the core of our passion, the children.
Do I love being the principal of an Armenian school? Love is an understatement. I believe every Armenian school principal has responded to a calling, to serve unconditionally and passionately the children of our community. Like undulating vessels on the vast sea of diaspora, we are at the helm of carrying the children to the uncharted shores of the 21st century. We want them to possess the scholarly advantage over their counterparts and maintain their cultural leverage over a wonderfully diverse planet. Never mind the discouraging few, we are grateful for all the sacrificial steps our parents and teachers have taken to nurture this sacred journey. We are energized by the silent majority. We hear you loud and clear through your sporadic emails, text messages, and phone calls.