My mother, who was a high school teacher, told me to judge a school by its leadership and the way the teachers felt about the principal and vice principals. It's the reason I'm at the school where I teach. I subbed there first and noticed how beloved and respected the management was. I student taught at this school, and found the principal approachable; in addition, when he observed me, his comments were trenchant, and above all, useful.
We had a new principal last year, but before I could develop an opinion of her, she resigned for health reasons.
And now we have a new principal. I can't give his name, because I don't write about people in this column without their permission. But let me say a couple of things. First of all, he's a good listener and communicator (incipient teachers: look for both of these things!). Secondly, I can pay him the compliment we used to pay the very best editors at CMP Publishing: "He can really move the paper off his desk."
Now this may sound like damning with faint praise, but let me tell you something: if you've ever worked for someone who doesn't move the paper off their desk, you will know that this is high praise indeed. Your memos, emails, phone calls, purchase orders, and requests for equipment and permission are your top priority. Some managers do not make these their top priority. There is a name for this kind of management: bad.
Thirdly, the new principal gets around. He visits classes, he patrols the yard. Since he's in his first year at our school, I can't make a firm judgment, but so far I like what I see.
And, you first-year teachers who Googled your way here: my mother was right. Judge a school by its leadership, because everything else comes and goes but leaders (usually) stick around, and while bad ones sometimes get better, good ones rarely get worse (and if they're asked to get worse, they usually leave).