This is December 21, 1989. I'm at the offices of the Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Public Schools, interviewing Mrs. Berniece Benedict, former principal from this district.
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Q: Ms. Benedict, I wonder if you could begin by telling us something about your family background and your childhood interests and development, perhaps something about your birthplace and the schools you went to and the characteristics of your family.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I have real happy memories of the early childhood days. I was born on a farm in a small town of Darlington, Darlington, Wisconsin, of about 2,000 people. And I was a member of a family with seven children. I was the sixth in line, and we had a very wonderful homelife. I suppose one of the characteristics of my dad would be that he stressed education. In fact, he went to the university himself, and I think that from childhood up, we, all of us, appreciated the value of getting a good education; and we all did go to college. I think it's rather interesting [that] we all went except my youngest sister. I'm next to the youngest, and she would have no part of going to college. She went to business college instead. But, I think that one of the happiest memories in those days were when we went back to the rural school. That's what I attended was a rural school. Shall I go on and tell you about my old school?
Q: Yes. How big a family? How many brothers and sisters?
A: Seven. Four brothers and three sisters. And so we went to school, probably about a mile from my home. We were only two miles out from town, and it was a country school with eight grades to it. And the one thing I remember about it mostly was my brother in the wintertime, running across the snowbanks. I can hear him say to me, "Did you leave any books in the library at all?" Because he thought--well, he packed no books. He was in eighth grade, and I carried home the entire library according to him. And then, I went to high school in Darlington. We had a small high school. I think it was probably 35 in my graduating class. And then, I went to college, finished the two year course at (Plattville?), Wisconsin, which then was (Plattville?) Normal. Now it's (Plattville?) teacher's college. Now that's down in the southwestern corner of the state, and I finished those two years; and then I taught. The rest of my education I got all through summer schools, so I had--in all, I think it was 15 summer schools. And I would save my money during the year, to be able to get your education, we each with our family, the older one started out, and he went to (Bloit?) College and to Wisconsin. Then, he helped the next, and the next one helped the next one; and that's the way we got our education, so we appreciated it. Then, after teaching for many years, I went into--I came to (Manatua?) as a teacher.
Q: How many years was that that you put in?
A: I had taught before I came to--all put together, I taught 15 years as a teacher, and then, I was 28 years as a principal. Then, after I received my job as being principal, I realized I had to get my Master's degree. At least I wanted to get my Master's degree, and I was expected to, I'm sure. And went to Northwestern University in ( ?), Illinois and received my Master's degree in administration there.
Q: Could you tell me the dates on when you got these various degrees?
A: Yes. Let's see. You're going to find out how old I am. (Laughter). Okay. I'm 79. I finished the two year course in 1930, and then, I got my degree in 1940 and my Master's in 1948.
Q: So you taught right through the war, World War II.
A: Yes. Yes.
Q: Let's see. We've got the number of years. I wonder if I could get you to talk a little about the kinds of events and experiences that were, what you might call, decision points or career points and maybe the things that helped you decide to move into education as a profession, as a way to spend your life.
A: Well, I guess I could answer that best by telling you what my dad once said. I never played house. I played school. And I remember we built our home out in the country, and the bathroom was built, but we didn't get the fixtures right away. It was some time right in there that we couldn't get them. So that was my school room, what was to be the bathroom. And I think one of the greatest thrills and greatest Christmas' of my life was when my grandfather made me a blackboard, and I had a desk in there, and I had--all of my dolls were the students, and I recall that someone remarked to my dad--when the superintendent said something about her being a good teacher. Dad said, "Well, she sure ought to be. She's been doing it since she was five years old." So there never was a time when I questioned what I would do, because I was just going to teach school; and I just loved it. As I said, I played school instead of playing house. And would you like to--are you ready to hear how I went into principalship?
Q: Yes, please.
A: Okay. I was on the playground. I had never thought of being a principal. That was the farthest--I can truthfully say it never entered my head. And I was on the playground supervising the kids at recess, when my principal came out and said that Mr. (Lamb?), who was superintendent at that time--now that would be in 1945--he was superintendent, and she came out and said, "Would you come in, and I'll supervise the playground. He wants to see you." And I thought, "Oh dear, what's happened now?" And so he asked me to take over the principalship of the (Garfield?) School. Now at that time, that was half day administration. I taught half a day, and I had administration duties the other half. And to be frank, I had to do an awful lot of deciding if I wanted to principal or not. I loved teaching, and I loved the contacts with kids. And then the other thing that was a big thing was, by that time, both my dad and mother were in very poor health, and we were having great troubles trying to find adequate help in the home. Of course, back then you didn't have the nursing homes that you have now. And I said to Mr. Lamb, "I don't think I want to go into the principalship, because, if I did and I have to leave to go home, I couldn't. If I were a teacher and I felt I had to go take care of my parents, I could step out and you'd hire a replacement easily. But that wouldn't be just the same if you were a principal." And he said, and I remember his answer so well, he said, "Give us a chance to prove to you what we would do." And so I thought, "Well, with that, I have assurance I could meet the personal needs that I had." He said, "I'll give you a week, and you think it over; and next Friday you come back and let me know." And so I decided to take it. So that's how I went in. It wasn't any forethought ahead. It wasn't any planning. It just happened.
Q: I was wondering if you had any kind of a vision or set of dreams about the principalship when you entered it. How did you go about deciding what you wanted to do with your building once you got the job? How long did it take you to get together you plan or approach?
A: Well, probably the greatest part of my planning approach came in 1952. Now, I was half-time principal, as I said, from 1945. That was until 1952, and then, in 1952 we opened a new school; and that was quite a thrill when the Superintendent (Rothwell?) came to me and said, "Would you like to be the principal at the Franklin School?" Now that was a new school with about 500 to 600 (students?), and you would have the job of setting it up and organizing it all. And of course, we all had been so curious. Who will be asked to be principal at that new school? (Laughing). And I knew it wouldn't be myself. I guess I thought maybe it wouldn't be a woman. I have to admit that. So I was very, very thrilled. So I had the opportunity of starting from grassroots and building the school, with getting your supplies, from the bottom up. And we moved in when we were about 3/4 done, and we had many, many experiences during that time. But that was probably the biggest thrill that I had, was organizing and setting up, and starting--now, when we started the Franklin School in September, I believe we were in four different buildings. It wasn't quite finished, so we were located in four different buildings; and I ran from one to the other. And then, as one section would get finished, we'd move those grades in, then when another section got finished, we'd move those grades in. So that was the big point.
Q: And this was right here in town?
A: Yes. (Franklin?) in (Manatua?).
Q: Maybe, since we're on the (Franklin?) School, maybe I can get you, if you would, just sort of walk us through the building and describe it as you go. Maybe, you know, just start at the front door and sort of say, "Now, here we are, and here's what you'll see if you look to the left and to the right," and just kind of take us on a sentimental journey through the building.
A: Okay. Would you like to know a really funny thing that happened on a journey through a building?
A: The building really wasn't hardly done, and we started--then I'll come back to the building part--to go through it, and Mr. (Rothwell?) called. He was going to bring the board of education to go through the building during this time. It was in June, and I was leaving in two weeks for our trip to Europe. I'd had it, and I was ready to get out for awhile. So the janitor said, "How can you do that? You can't go without leaving us our supply of beer and whatnot." And of course, you don't take beer into the schools. That wasn't being done. (Laughing). And so I just took him up on it, never thinking I'd get caught. Can you imagine anything more embarrassing than Mr. (Rothwell?) going through--and I don't know how he'd opened the door to the refrigerator, but here it was filled with beer. And so all he said was, "Well that's just Bene." (Laughter). And I don't drink a thing, you know. I don't drink anything, so we had lots of fun over that. We came into our building, and we had, I think, from the very beginning, you feel a hominess about it. I insisted on some wallpaper. That I wanted to have. I'm that way in my home. I like wallpaper. And so the office and the foyers and those places were with wallpaper. We had our rooms--I think we had--well, yes. At different times, sometimes it was two kindergartens. Sometimes it was three kindergartens. And usually two or three first grades. Two of each of the other grade through--of course it varied from year to year. But that was about the general setup. It was around--I believe it was 18 rooms. And probably one of the features of the school that I was mostly thrilled on and I'd say here I had disagreed with the administration that didn't want to put a learning room, a learning center. They wanted to put just a small room, and I just couldn't see it; and I insisted and caused a little opposition, but I have my way anyway. And we put a big learning center in the basement, and that proved to be one of our big features of the school. It just seemed as though we all got together on that, and we made a great big learning center of our basement, and that was probably one of the things. We also had a good sized auditorium, and two teacher's lounges, and a few little. . . , a nursing room and things such as that. So it was all on one floor.
Q: Total population of the school population?
A: Well, when we went in, it was about 550. It centered right around 500 all the time I was there.
Q: How many teachers?
A: Well now, let's see. We had about--let's see. Kindergarten would be--well, it would have to be about 16, I would think.
Q: Okay. Nice--
A: That's not including the special teachers. Then, we would have art and music and (phi-ed?) and all the different specialities.
Q: Did you have a full-time librarian?
A: After we had our learning center, then an aide who was qualified, well not really certified, but she was qualified but not certified, as a librarian. And then, that's where I used parents. We had a parent's, mother's club, and they came in and helped catalogue books and just did a tremendous job, of course, in establishing a big library and a big learning center. And our parents were very, very active.
Q: Well anyway, go back and take us through the building and--
A: Oh yes. And then, you'd come in. As you came in first, there were the upper grade unit, and then, coming toward the center of the building it went from the sixth ( ?), the fifth and on, and at the extreme other end, were two very large kindergartens. The office was located in the center of the building. And the auditorium was directly across from the office.
Q: Any kinds of display cases or places like that?
A: Oh yes. We had lots of display cases in the hall, and the teachers took their turns. They signed up by the month and took turns providing lots of show cases. And we also used the halls in many ways to, oh, put projects on the floor, things of that sort. And we had drapes, very nice drapes, that the children made with their crayons and pressed the crayons, so the drapes were done by the youngsters. They were very attractive.
Q: How big a custodial staff did you have?
Q: And they were there all the time or--?
A: Yes. Full-time.
Q: Let's see. I wonder if you would talk a little about your personal philosophy of education and maybe comment on how it started out and may how it's evolved over the years.
A: Well, I don't if it's changed much. I think that I've always felt that every child was entitled to a good education and that we must recognize their limitations, and also we've got to challenge them to do their very best. I think it needs to be a very happy experience and one where the children are free to express themselves and follow their interests and desires. And I wouldn't say it changed much.
Q: I assume this ties right into your instructional philosophy also, where you hope to guide--
A: Yes, it's the same thing. Yes.
Q: Were there any outstanding experiences and events in your life that helped to mold your management philosophy, the way that you went about handling teachers and other professional employees and non-professional employees too? And if so, could you talk about them a little bit?
A: Well, I was very near to my teachers. I don't know whether--I don't think that's true today. We had a very, very good rapport, and I think that maybe one thing that, even one teacher said to me not too long ago. Something came up. She says, "Yes, but you know, you always--you had everything organized, and you knew--you could see the whole plan, and we never could see through that, and we thought it was our idea." And so, I guess maybe that was my philosophy. I'm a tremendous organizer. I'll admit it. Even today, in my retirement, when I have my breakfast coffee, I sit down and jot down the things that have to be done during the day. And I am--that's just been that way, and you can't change me. And I think the teachers felt that organization, and they felt that you knew where you were going and what you wanted, and it just seemed as though they would just fit in together. The things--the problems that I had with staff were not the instructional problems; it was their own personal problems. I had two teachers certainly at my house, but they had huge personal problems. I guess probably that was one of my faults, that I took it on too much, because my door was open. As far as having instructional problems, it didn't seem to me as though we clashed. Well, I suppose that comes in when we talk later, when I stopped administration. I could feel there was a strike in the air. Teachers were going on strike. The union was getting much more powerful. I just couldn't see myself working with teachers under that condition, because I worked too near to them and I enjoyed them too much; and I couldn't see that. So when I retired early--I retired at 63, when I was 63, two years before I needed to. I wanted to retire when I was happy and could look back at the days as good days. Then after the strike, I said to one of the fellows, who was one of the leaders of the strike, I said, "See why I retired early? I couldn't have taken that. I couldn't have let you treat me the way that you treated that principal in there." They all called me Benne. That's my only name, but they all knew, and so I was Miss Benne in school. And he said, "Miss Benne, we wouldn't have been that way if you had been in there. It would have never been that way, and I can guarantee you that." I said, "You can just toss that right to the wind." I said, "When you strike, you strike." And I said, "All of our good times would be gone." He said, "I can't believe it." I said, "Well, I do. I think that." I said, "At least I wasn't going to run the chances." So I retired happy on the job, and it practically killed me. I drove out, leaving, we were driving to California. I was with my brother-in-law, and after Christmas, he said, "Do you want to go past the Franklin School?" I knew they were striking. I said, "No." Then I said, "Yes. I guess I will." And I went back and saw that strike at the school, and I knew that I had quit at a time when it was good for me, because I have such nice memories of it; and I don't think I would have had if we'd gone through that.
Q: That was in what year now, did this happen?
A: That was in 1973.
Q: [It was] 1973.
A: That's right, 1973.
Q: Was that the only strike they've had or have there been others?
A: Yes. Only one. The only one.
Q: That's interesting the way that worked out for you. I wonder if I could get you to talk a little bit about the climate for learning in the building and how you, consciously or maybe intuitively, set that. You know, they say that the most import instructional person in the building is the principal, and I'm curious as to how you went about molding the instructional process to fit your philosophy of education.
A: Well, we held our teacher's meetings, and we had our committees that worked on a problem. If a problem came up we usually would, a committe would work on it, and we would come up with suggestions. And I think that we took kids in a lot. We had a very active student council, and we paid attention to what the kids said. And I think all of that entered a lot in the philosophy of the school. It was a--and we had a good parent organization. And so, it was a closely knit group with parents and students and staff and faculty and principal. And I would say probably our organization--we had monthly things that we worked on. Sometimes we'd have a theme for the month that we would try to specialize on some improvement we felt we needed. But I think that as a whole it was just a completely unified effort that we had.
Q: I'm wondering what kinds of things you view as the--the kinds of things you felt the teachers expected you to be able to do and what kinds of expectations they placed on you as the building principal.
A: I'd say, number one, I think a teacher expected support. For instance, the traveling teachers--I mean those that taught the special groups, (phi-ed?), music and so forth--would give me the feeling that the thing that they lacked in so many of the places was the fact that they didn't have enough support from the principal. So I would say, number one, the teacher expects you to support her. Now, that wasn't always easy, because sometimes, she did things that weren't what you'd call professional and done right. But I do think you have to support the teacher at that, in front of the child, and then, have your conference with the teacher afterwards and discuss with her where she failed on it. Then I think they expect you to be creative and to have ideas and to understand--I think most of all they want to know that you know that they're a person, and a personality is so important in dealing with them. I'll bet, probably only had--though of the dozens and dozens I've had, probably only two that I had real personality problems, but everybody else did too with them. And I think that they want a principal to stand back of them and know that she's going to, and they want her to see the good that they do. I think that I was terribly careful and held conferences with them, that I always started with something that they had done that was good first, and then, come with my suggestions on how I think that they could have improved it. Then, I think they want you to be able to step into the classroom if you--I think that--I feel that you need to have a teaching background, so that you can step into the classroom and take over if she is sick or something. You could just run in and let her go to the bathroom and things of that sort. I think they want an opendoor policy, where they don't have to knock to come in. They can just come into your office. Our office was set up that you entered from the outside into the secretaries office, and from the secretary's office, you entered the principal's office. That was the setup. So it was the--they didn't come--my secretary would never come and announce that so and so wanted to see you. That wasn't the kind of a formal school that we had. If they wanted to see you, they would stick their head around the corner and say, "Are you busy?" And so, does that explain to you the--?
Q: That helps. That helps, yes. And of course, the follow up to that--and you've already begun it--is the issue of what it takes to be an effective principal, and there may be some additional comments you'd like to make about that.
A: I think that a teaching spirit is invaluable. I think every principal should have to be a teacher.
A: Because I don't think they can understand the problems and the situation unless you've actually been a teacher, so I would say that they need that. You know, I think maybe I got my most help as a principal from observing other principals, seeing the things that they did that I didn't like, seeing things that they did that I did like. And I know it mentions in here, did you have a mentor? Do you believe in that? And no, I didn't in any way, and I would say, do I believe in it? It would sure depend on who the mentor was, if they were good or if they weren't good. I could see value in it, and I can see lots of harm in it, too. I think maybe it would stop some of your creativity, if you were trying to follow another model. But I was, oh, assistant principal, and you didn't call yourself that. You were just called the head teacher before, in the school I was teaching in, before I went in administration. And, oh dear, when you got the keys to the supply cupboard, and the principal was gone that day, did they ever flock to me to get supplies out and so forth. So you could see the things that irked them about the present principal, and I think I profited a lot from seeing things and also by being near to the teachers, you knew what their gripes and unhappiness was.
Q: Well, that's an interesting point right there. The teachers obviously had expectations for you, things they wanted you to be able to do for them. At the same time, you were also, I'm sure, under pressures from downtown at the central office and from the parents in the community and the school board to behave in certain ways. Could you talk about that dynamic tension and how you handled it?
A: I was very happy, fortunately, to have good superintendents. I'm not one, if I think I'm right, I can't give in very easily. I have to try to convince them that I am right. I can give one good example of that. The very first year, the superintendent was difficult. Everyone knew that. He was only here two years, and he was difficult. You couldn't depend upon his mood. He'd just as soon fire you as to keep you, and the man who was assistant to him came to the school and said that they were going to send, to transfer a certain teacher in my building. And I said, "You know, I can't take that." She happened to be a person whom I had lived with, and after I went into administration, it had been a very rugged experience. She was very anti-administration, and no principal would have her; and they had said, "Well, you had lived with her. You can get along with her," and they're going to send her to me. And I said, "No, I'm not foolish enough to try that." I said, "Life is too dear to me." And I said, "He has a perfect right to send to my, to this building. But I also want him to know that he sends her--along with it was my resignation," because I said, "I can't put in a year of unhappiness such as that would be." And I said, "I wouldn't be foolish to try it," but I said, "He has a right, but I also want him to know what I would do if he sends her." So I do feel that you have rights to stand up for. And we were having then--in those days, we had sixth grade graduation, and we were up in the third floor in an old auditorium. I told my secretary, "Don't call me for anything, no matter what," because I was giving a little graduation speech. And I said, "Don't you call me for anything," so she came and said, "Well, you'll have to come," that, "the superintendent insists that you come to the phone." This was just after he'd gotten word of what I'd said. So I walked down, expecting to probably be fired. I didn't know, but I might be. And when I walked in he said, "I know that you didn't want to be called, but if you feel that sincerely about anything, I don't want you to be unhappy one more minute. We will not send her." So I think one of the big things you have to do is be fair. I was fair with him, but I also told him what would happen if he did it. And so, that was one of my experiences as--
Q: That's great.
A: Well, we were discussing getting along with administration.
A: I have another interesting episode. When we were building the building, of course, we didn't all agree, and it so happened that the school board was there too. And I told them I wanted a playground, not playground, I mean a parking space next to the playground, and the superintendent couldn't go along with me. He didn't think we needed it that big, and that wasn't necessary. And I said, "I just think you're wrong." So anyway, it happened the school board went along with me, and we got this large parking lot, which proved to be even small in the end. But what a big administrator. On one real rainy morning he called up and said, "You know, Benne, I thought this morning, you aren't going to have to walk very far. You've got a nice parking lot." So that's what I call getting along with an administration, that he had lost out, but he called up and joked about it. And so that was the kind of rapport we had, just that we gave and took; and if he'd said, "No," I'd smile and say, "Okay, that's it." But I'd fight to the bitter end if I thought it was worth fighting for.
Q: What kinds of pressures or expectations were placed on you by the community, members of the community not associated with the schools, parents and others?
A: I notice you use the word pressures. You know, at that time, I didn't think we really considered them pressures, but they would today. They would today. We expected to do those things. You expect to be called upon to talk at the AAUW and be on the radio, and to do those things, and we didn't consider them pressures. And then we went camping, and the administrators would stay out overnight. For a whole week, we'd stay with the kids, with no extra pay. We taught school during the day. We went out to the camp at night, and we just accepted it, which is not true at all nowadays. They don't do that. So today, it would be presssures, and there we just took it as part of our job; and it didn't give you any concern. And so I--in fact, I enjoyed the community. I was part of AAUW, and I worked on the board for the--well organized, setup the first day care here; and so I did. I have always been very involved in the community work, but the things that I enjoy, it's just been a part of my life.
Q: Were there instances in which, for instance, parents came in and saw favors for their children or different, preferential treatment?
A: Oh yes. I would say that that was the--I would say it was three parents that gave me considerable tension, and that one was over--when the new school was built, we had to change the boundary line, and some children had to go to the old school, and some got to come to the new school. And that caused one parent to practically take my telephone off the wall, and so boundary lines were the things that cause the greatest trouble to me. And then, we had a child that was diabetic, and he had to have a certain diet; and he was going to be bused. And the mother objected terribly, because he needed to get home for a warm lunch; and I could see that, and I made the exception and let that child remain. But he also had another member of the family in the same situation. Only this child was healthy and fine, and when I tried to get that child to go, which he did, to the school that he was assigned to, then the parent was very, very angry about it; because if one went to that school, I could let the second too. Well I had a reason for letting one, but I didn't have for the second one. And so, I would say that most of my parent problems came through boundary lines. That's the only real headache that stands out today.
Q: One of the things that you often here--
Q: Busing? Oh okay.
A: Because some of those children had to be bused, and very few of mine were bused, because we had a large district there. But the busing problems and the assigned children to areas that are not in the same district.
Q: One of the things that you sometimes hear about is a principal who has a child who's [a child of] one of the school board members, and sometimes the school board members will come in and ask hard questions or make suggestions about the way things should be done. And I was wondering if anything like that ever happened to you.
A: Not with a school board member, but a lawyer, an attorney. And he had a child that it was about like today, about 20 degrees below zero, and I said that no one could go out on the playground that did not put on their boots and scarves. You had to be completely dressed, or you couldn't go; and this youngster went out with his tennies on and nothing else. And there was lots of snow there, and so, I sent for the youngster to come in, which he wouldn't do. And so, it was during the noon hour. I called the day when he was home, and I said, "We have a little problem. Would you stop in as you go back to the office?" When the father came in and kid gave him a kick, right to his body, then he began to see that there was a problem; but up until then I'd had problems with that father. So I never had a school board member of a person in the community that tried to use their influence at all.
Q: How did the father resolve that particular instance that you were talking about there?
A: He didn't get very far, I'll admit, but the youngster didn't go out on the playground anymore with his tennies on anyway.
Q: Good. There's a lot of talk right now about personal leadership on the part of principals and other kinds of leaders. I'm wondering if you could talk a little about your personal approach to leadership, how you (deployed?) yourself, and describe some of the techniques that worked for you in leading teachers and others; and maybe if there are any instances where you were not successful in leadership, you could describe some of that too.
A: Well, I think that that almost goes in with the other question upon your organizing. Do you lead them through your organization and through your contacts? And another thing I think is very important in that is that you recognize your teacher's abilities and limitations, and you have to be very cognizent of how one teacher can do this and another teacher can't do that. So I think that maybe one of the biggest things that I did was to evaluate the faculty and study their strengths and study their weaknesses, and try to fit them into the place where they could best serve. And I would say then that it didn't always work. You didn't always assess the same strengths and weaknesses that they did, but as a whole I would say that that is one of the organizational tactics that I used, trying to find out what that teacher, just as you would try to find out with a child, what they can offer, the teacher has the same thing, that she can offer--that she has limitations and she has abilities, and you have to tap in on both of them.
Q: There are some who argue that it's not possible to change folks, but that you simply (redeploy?) them, and plug them into places where they can be successful. Then, there are others who say that you can train them and make them do better.
A: No. I've got two that I had, that I say you couldn't. Now, this one girl taught the--always wanted to teach the lower level, and they were quite insistant from the board that we switch around. I tried to get her an accelerated class, and it was the biggest flop that I ever did. She was unhappy. The kids were a wreck, and it just doesn't work. There are some people that you might just as well admit that you take me as I am and do the best that I can. And then, I had another girl. She was an art specialist, and she finally went into art, simply because I just couldn't keep her in the classroom. She just didn't have the right approach for the kids, and for one teacher to have that group of kids all day was bad. And so, she was very talented in art, and so, I made a suggestion that she go into as an art, work with the art, and that way I suppose was a little crazy way of doing it, but at least she had a different bunch of kids every hour. And it worked out better.
Q: One of the topics that has been of great interest in recent years is whole are of cultural diversity, and I wondered if you could talk a little about the nature of your student body or bodies, because you were in more than one school, and maybe comment on any problems or challenges or triumphs in which you participated in while you were principal.
A: I had a very average--and I know there's no such thing as an average community, but it's true. But low economically, on, I would say, 75 percent were blue collar workers. And as it progressed through the years, many, many more mothers, of course, were working, which became a great problem. But the parents were very interested in what was best for their child, and if you could let them see what you were trying to do, culturally and what not, "I'm trying to help your youngster," they would go along with it. I had very few, probably no more than a handful of college dads and mothers, college graduates, but as a whole, they were just a very average group that wanted to see the thing that was best for their kids; and so culturally, they were deprived in a way, and yet, enriched in another way, in that what they missed out, and perphaps they were the kind that were given the dance lessons and not going to the things of that cultural events, yet at the time, most of them had a good homelife. So there was no problem as far as. . . . I think that the thing that--my parents were so understanding that culturally, they could--we had trouble, if I had a youngster at school, before he got home, I was always on the phone and would call the dad, maybe at the office or someplace else, and said, "You and I have got to work something out together." And so you always had them with you. And so they were, while not highly educated, they were ones that were very practical and understanding.
Q: What was the--I guess you would call it the ethnic makeup of the different kinds of groups that fit into your school?
A: We were all--I had a few--I think maybe two or three ( ?) youngsters that came at the end. Otherwise they were all the American youngsters. They were no race problem whatsoever.
Q: Oh, I see. I was going to ask you about that too. Did you have different groups, like the Germans versus the Sovaks, versus the Italians, or any of that sort of thing?
A: No. There was no feeling at all that way. I would say ours was very mixed, but nothing of that sort that was obvious at all.
Q: I see. Well, then this business of civil rights really didn't have a whole lot of impact on your school?
A: Didn't. Not at all. Not at all. But I introduced--I used a little black doll in my kindergarten, because I was conscious of it; but they weren't. And that little doll every morning--the teachers--I don't know what happens. At night I can never find that doll. The next day it appears. And she says, "I've looked everywhere." And here, we had a little youngster that was taking that and just loved it so, and took that doll and hid it every night, so that she'd know where it was the next day and she could get that doll. So we had no racial problems. We had problems such as a mother coming, and she wanted to--she had twins, and she wanted to enroll them in the same kindergarten. And I said that I really wish that she wouldn't. I could see immediately when she brought them that one was a leader and one was a follower. And she was very bitter with me, and I said, "Well, I'll go along with you. Let's just take the first week. Will you give me the first week, and then, if you want to at the end of that week, I'll give you the second week; and we'll work it out. We'll see how you like it." And at the end of the first week, she came and she said, "Well, thank you. This is the first time I've had two children." And she said, "You keep them apart, just as you did this week." So I always tried to make a parent feel she was having her way, yet I kind of one out myself. But they were quite aware of the fact that they were giving in to me.
Q: They say that in recent years the curriculum in the public schools has become a whole lot more complex than it was, say in earlier years, 20 or 30 years ago. I was wondering if you could comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were the principal and make any observations you might like to about how the situation compares with today's school, and maybe cite some positive and negative aspects of the situation, as you perceive it.
A: Well, I think that we did a lot more--this sounds really like I'm an old stick, but straight teaching. The complaint the teachers have nowadays is that they never have their kids. They're always gone. They're here and they're there. You can never get class together to teach something. So all of those new programs that they have nowadays--I was trying to think where I listed some of them, but we didn't have then. I think that today's curriculum has added so much, and yet, we haven't taken out. We've been piling on, and we haven't been taking out. So where I feel that--now, we didn't have computers and all those things, and I'm not against it at all, but I can also see the problems of today in trying to add all that and yet keep our standards as high as we want them. So I think it's a problem of values. We've got to see what we consider as the most valuable thing, and weigh our values.
Q: I've heard some folks complain that parents expect the schools to be all things to all people and to do everything, sometimes with nothing. How do you come down on that argument, on which side of that argument?
A: It all depends on the parents. I certainly agree that some do, and some expect the impossible; and then, there are the parents who are willing to take their share. But more and more, I think the problems are left to the school, and that, I think is because the mother is not available. And I know from an economic standpoint it can't be helped, but there was such a thrill with the youngster as Mom came to work at school and be a part of the tours and the trips and those things. And I'm sure that much of that, as the teachers have explained today, is not possible because the mothers aren't available. They're just working and can't. So I'm sure that many of the new programs we have are excellent and should be done--and I don't have an answer as to how you're going to get all the academic teaching done that you want to, because our days are full, and yet, incorporate all the other things which are being added today. And I think that must be a real challenge to the principal today, is to try to arrange a program that is going to meet those needs.
Q: While we're on it, you're talking about parent volunteering and being around the building. Could you talk a little bit about how you organized your parent volunteer program and what impact, if any, it had on the academics of the building?
A: Well, much of that started from our parent-teacher's organization. I was very fortunate in having real strong leaders as the head of our parents group, and so, as we would have our parent-teacher meetings, I'd present the problems that we had and the needs that we had. And then, parents would either sign up to fill in different places, or they would stop at the office and say, "I could do this," or,"I could do that." So it was probably one of our strongest help that we had and needed was in organizing our learning center, because it was all so much and there was so much to do. And so, there's where the parents were the most helpful. Then, our parents were very helpful in our tours and our trips, and I sent home a sheet often, telling the parents about our program, explaining it and saying that we would need helpers in certain areas; and if they would feel they could sign up in any one of them, and if they didn't, just to--but in order to know that the slip got to them, I would always insist the child bring the slip back, so I would know it had gotten to the parent. And they were not--they did not feel pressure, but if they wanted to help, they were all given an opportunity, not just a certain little class or group.
Q: ( ?). Was there any kind of recognition program that you ran for your volunteers at the end of the year, or what?
A: We did have once. We had a tea for the mothers, and I always wrote a letter at the end of the year. I had kept track, and so, I'd send a letter at the end of the year telling them I appreciated what they had done; and so they were recognized that way.
Q: Sounds great. I'm wondering if you could discuss your experience with the standardized testing program and maybe comment on your view concerning its effect on the quality of the instructional program, pro or con.
A: Well, I think it is one factor of many that can be used to enrich the teaching experience. I think it can be very detrimental if it is used wrong and you use it to compare a teacher, one against the other, because they have decidedly different groups. And so, I think that it can be overdone, but I do think it has a place, if the results are used to advance the learning experiences rather than just used to sort of judge one teacher against another. And that's what, many times in the beginning, was the problem. And the teachers were frustrated by it. And I don't think you should be teaching for standardized tests, and I think you have to recognize that different groups are going to respond differently. And so, I say it has a place, but it is only one of many factors that should be used in evaluating the child and the teacher.
Q: Could you talk a little about what tests were in place and being used when you were--?
A: Yes, we had tests that were made up by the grade teacher, grade level, and those were given. I think the danger then was the teachers knew what was coming. They taught for the test. I was against that. Then, we used--I can't--I think it was the Iowa test that was used at the end when I was--
Q: Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
Q: I guess that's probably still in place now.
A: Is it?
Q: As far as you know--I haven't taught tests and measures.
A: I haven't any idea, but that's what we used, the Iowa Basic Test of Skills.
Q: Here's a fun question. I wonder if you'd talk a little bit about your work day and sort of tell me how you spent your time, and then, the number of hours a week you put in and that sort of thing.
A: I figured that out, because it sounds crazy. I was at school at 7:30, and seldom I ever got home before 5 o'clock. If I got home by five it was good. I was one that often worked Saturday morning at the office. And then, at night, there were lots of things you did at night along with your job, like there are teacher's meetings and conferences and things of that sort. But I think that--I know I spent more than 50 hours a week. That would be putting it mild. And then, that wouldn't include all the contacts that you have when you're having problems with teachers that would come to the house and so forth.
Q: Did they feel free about calling you in the evenings and so forth?
A: Yes. Well, not all of them. I would say that I just, as I think back, I just had really two that really monopolized my time; and it was difficult to handle those. Those were challenges. But--and I probably today, as I look back, I'd be a little--I wouln't be as generous with my time as I was. I was a lot younger then. (Laughter).
A: But parents did not call you alot at home. I didn't have that problem. And then, well sometimes you had real interesting calls at home. I remember a music teacher that called me one night about 10:30, and she said, "I just bought a new pantsuit." And she said, "I'd love to wear it tomorrow." Now, teachers weren't wearing pantsuits, and can you imagine that anyone was concerned enough about wanting to fit into a principal's philosophy of dress code that she'd call. I said, "Well, sure. I'd love to see it." And she said, "Okay, but I didn't want to do, if it in anyway would make you unhappy." Now, you wouldn't find that today. They wouldn't be--of course, now they all wear them. But I mean, I'm just using it as an example. She was the first one that ever wore a pantsuit, but she didn't do that without calling me up and saying, "Is it okay?" And so, that's the difference in the relationships then and now, I think, and how times have changed.
Q: She showed real sensitivity.
A: Very, yes. And she didn't want to go down, in my opinion, because she was wearing a pantsuit. She wanted to hold that position that she knew she held.
Q: You bet. You talked a minute ago about a couple of teachers who may have caused you a little pain and strain on occasion, and I wonder if you could maybe follow along with that and talk about the biggest headaches or concerns that you have about the job, maybe describe one or more of the tough decisions you had to make when you were (principal?).
A: Well, I would say the toughest ones were the ones we mentioned about ( ?). Those were the ones that were really cutting. Then, I had to dismiss two teachers that simply were not qualified, and that also was done more easily back in my day than today. This one man teacher, just simply, it was sad that he'd gotten through and gone through college and then have it stopped here. And he just didn't have it. That was just all. You could work and work and work, and you would get nowhere. And so, by sitting down with him and showing him, and asking him to resign on his own, so that he wouldn't have to be fired, it worked out. He did that. The same thing was true with both. And I think the greatest satisfaction as a principal was that those two teachers kept in touch with me after they were gone. So it was handled. Those were the toughest decisions probably I made, was that they could not be rehired. And that was done, of course, by the central office observing too, that you were working together in that, so that you didn't have to make the decision alone.
Q: And they were what we'd call probationary teachers. They didn't have any kind of continuing contract or tenure.
A: No. Not at all. No.
Q: Is it possible to earn tenure, or was it there at the time?
A: Yes, at the end of my time it was. But they didn't have it. But now, you're teacher's union would fight so if you tried to dismiss a teacher that it would be a very much more complicated affair than it was then. Fifteen years ago you could sit down--well, it was more than 15, because it was about my second year as principal; so it would be 25 years ago. And they were willing to step out. One got a job in his own home district afterwards in a country school, and then, he went on. But those were difficult times. And then, I had probably, oh, four to six cases of where you have that problems with teachers, as far as moral things were concerned, of things that they did. And usually there, your complaint came from the superintendent, because a complaint of that type, nature often went to the superintendent, not to you, as far as their personal behavior.
Q: Yes. Here's a sort of wide ranging question. Now, just kind of a--you handle it the way that you feel comfortable, and talk about what you consider to be the key to success, your success as a principal. What were some of the things that made it possible for you to do as well as you did?
A: Number one is to like people, enjoy people, and enjoy your job. I think that nowadays, from the complaints that I get from the principal, that, "Oh dear, can't wait to get out," and that was never a thought that I had. So I would say that the success came through enjoyment, also through feeling comfortable in your job. I didn't feel that it was more than you could stand and the problems were too great. The problems were a challenge to settle, not something that was disturbing to you. And probably one of the biggest things that helped me was that it comes natural for me to organize.
Q: Did you have any additional comments you wanted to make along that line?
A: Well, it wasn't hard for me to accept a new program. I found it challenging, and instead of feeling that something was being pushed onto you, I enjoyed being responsible. For instance, I gave a radio skit in the morning, just a chit chat to mothers on the radio, and they called it The Coffee Clutch; and I would just tell interesting things that happened in the school and things that we were doing and what was going on, and that was over WOMT. We used that in the local, and I was on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings. That was something then, that some people wouldn't be very happy doing, and I found it very enjoyable and very comfortable doing it. The man who was in charge came out to my office, and we'd tape it; and then, I was on the air for five minutes. You could get a great deal across to parents what the school was trying to do. It was a real good way of public relations. I found it real challenging to see what you could get in five minutes that you thought would be informational and yet would help them understand what we were doing as a public school.
Q: Just as a follow on that, did you organize back to school nights and opportunities to invite the community to come in and see the building?
A: Well yes, we had back to school nights, and we had the parents come in; and we had grandparents day, and the grandparents would come. We had them visiting regular classes. One time, we had regular night classes for youngsters, but that wasn't used too often. However, they sometimes did come and went from room to room as youngsters would if they were in the upper grades where they were having several teachers, so they'd know how the program was carried on as a team, as it was sometimes done.
Q: That's a good idea. I wonder if you could talk for a couple of minutes about your professional code of ethics and give any examples you're willing to about how you applied those ethics during your career of over 40 years.
A: That's right. (Laughter). Well, I'm sure today that I would be considered rather a hard principal. Maybe I was then. I feel that right is right, and I'm willing to do anything to make it that way; and yet I tried to make youngsters have respect for you, as far as feeling that you really stood for what was right. You're code of ethics was high. The example of that would be a little boy who was down at the store, and he'd stolen something from the neighborhood grocery store, and the little kid said when he said, "Well, I'm going to call the police," "Well okay, you can call the police, but please don't call Ms. Benedict. Please don't." They were perfectly willing that the police be notified, but the youngster didn't want to go down in your estimation. I felt that that was the thing that was perhaps one of the easiest things as far as your, how they regarded your--they wanted to, in your eyes, be up where you wanted them to be. So I would say that I'm very, very strong in what was right was right and what was wrong was wrong, and they all knew that. And teachers did not regard me as an easy principal. I was often told that I expected more than anybody else, but that they were willing to, happy to give it. So I wasn't regarded as being too easy. And I don't think, as I look back now, I think that there were little things that I could have ignored that I didn't then, but you look back on it now, and probably. . . . But to me, if it was right, it was worth working to bring out the best.
Q: Changing the topic now for just minute, I wonder if you could talk just a little about those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you to become a principal and which experiences that you went through were least useful to you in getting ready for the principalship, although I realize you weren't ( ?) about that.
A: I wasn't really thinking about getting ready for it, except when I was working in my Master's, I was; because I was already a principal. I can't really say that I felt that the courses I took as far as getting ready for the principalship were really that strong. I think I had a very good basic training in the beginning days to be a teacher, and in practically all cases, that carries over. If you're a good teacher, I think you can be a good principal, because I think you understand the problems that the teacher has and you see it from their eyes; and unless you put yourself in that same position that the teacher is in, you aren't going to be able to be affective at all. So I can't think of any courses. I think I got more, as I perhaps mentioned before, from watching other administrators do things that I thought weren't good and things that I thought were good. I truly can't name a course that I felt--I think a lot of them were beneficial, but as to try to provide ideas to the curriculum, I was lost on that. I can't think of anything that I would suggest. So much of it has got to be the person and common sense. If you could instill within the person just to use good common sense and understanding, I think you can get along.
Q: Just as a follow onto that, knowing what you know now, how would you describe your feelings about entering the principalship again in 1989? Supposing you were starting out fresh and had five years of teaching experience?
A: Am I going to be my age that I am now, or am I going to go back to age 30?
Q: No. Pretend that you're 30 years old, 25 years old, something like that.
A: I can't think that I would get as excited about being a principal today, as I was when I went back there. I loved it, and I loved getting up every morning and going to it; and I don't believe that today I would. Perhaps that's because I hear too many complaints from the present principals on things that they don't like. They aren't given enough time nowadays, to be an administrator, to be a local principal. Too much time is out of the building, and too much is expected of them outside, that I think that we were more a part of the school back in 1945 than the principal of 1985 is. I think that I really think that we knew more and understood more of what was going on in the classroom. I planned to spend a part of each day, some part if I could--I couldn't always do it, but I tried to spend a part of each day in some classroom. I also tried to be very careful that I didn't walk out and not tell the kids something that I saw that was good or maybe something that I saw that I thought they could improve. I never left the teacher wondering whether or not I was happy or unhappy of things that I saw when I was in there. They knew where I stood and recognized that.
Q: I'm wondering, would you have any suggestions to offer universities, you know, as a way of helping them to do a better job of preparing people for the principalship? I sort of sense that maybe you weren't totally enthralled with the training that you had, and there are some criticisms that some people have made in recent years.
A: Well, I don't know as I could suggest a course, unless I'd say a course in common sense. (Laughter). But I really don't know what I would suggest, as to the course, because I don't have one that I think was especially helpful to me. As I mentioned before, I'd certainly like to insist that a principal had had some time teaching in a classroom. I'm very much against this taking a football coach and making him an elementary principal, and that's been done much too much in the past. Somebody that was a good football coach and getting older did not coach, then they'd make him elementary principal; and I think that's just tragic, because they don't have the understanding and the background.
Q: There are those people who argue that, on some occasions at least, the central office policies from downtown hinder rather that help building level administrators in getting their jobs done or carrying on their responsibilites. I wonder if you could give your views on that issue, and then, if you were the queen or the king, what changes would you make in system wide organization arrangements, maybe in (Manatua?) or anyplace else you choose to talk about?
A: Well, I did not buy into that central administration was anything that stopped one, that hindered me. Of course, administrators knew that I was a person that would stick with what I thought was right and would make suggestions, and I felt very free to be critical of the suggestions, not critical but I mean to give my opinion on it; and I didn't have any opposition that way. I think that the only thing now that I would say is that it seems that the principals complain so tragically about is that there are so many meetings called and so many demands made of them by the central office that they are not given enough time to meet the school, the problems within their own local school. So I would feel that that's what the administration needs to be aware, of the value and be a little more sacred of the hour, of the time I mean, so the principal is allowed to be in the building, not off all the time. One teacher said to me, "Well, I don't know." I said, "Who's your principal?" "Well, I don't know. We never see her." And that's the remark. She's always gone. I think that a teacher needs to feel that the principal is there and concerned about what they're doing, and so I would say the thing the central administration needs to be careful of is that they aren't making outside demands that take the principal away from the actual responsibility of being in charge of the school.
Q: Just a follow on there, there's a lot of folks who argue--and this is a continuing debate--that the principal should be an instructional leader. Then, there are those who argue that, you know, realistically this person has to be a good manager. Where do you come down on that argument? What are your views?
A: I think it's a 50/50 [percent]. You can't give one without the other. You certainly need to be an instructional leader. You're not going to get teachers who are going to be inspired and challenged and thrilled over their job if you aren't. And they've got to see enthusiasm on your part and excitement, that it's a great job that you're doing and that you're happy doing it. But if you don't organize it, if you don't manage it in the way that makes that possible--so I say it's 50/50 [percent for each]. You can't give one without the other, and of course, part of each day has to be spent in that. You have to spend part of your day in the management part and part in your instructional part.
Q: I know earlier you talked about an opendoor policy, basically that teachers had pretty much total access to you during the instructional day.
A: Right. Right.
Q: How did you get your paperwork done then?
A: After they went home. (Laughter). And sometimes at nights. There were always a few teachers that would monopolize your time. That's true--that would try to. But there were times where you had to say when you'd be on the telephone and so on and so forth. But a lot of mine was done early and late.
Q: What percentage of your time would you spend in the office, as opposed to out in the building moving around?
A: Well, it varied greatly during the day, but I don't suppose that in the classroom if you took everyday, I don't imagine that you were in the classroom--that's what you mean, in the classroom proper?
A: Well, on the long average I don't suppose that you've spent more than a fourth of the day, because there'd be lots of days that you'd be at meetings and everything, but you wouldn't be there at all. So if I were to balance it, because there were some days that I'd spend half a day. But another thing that I found very successful was that teachers would invite you in. They knew I was interested in something that was going on, and so, I received many invitations from teachers. "We're doing such and such at such a time. Can you stop? Can you come in?" And so, that was one of the nice challenges, and that was frequent, that they would invite you. Many times it was a kid that would come down, a youngster, who would come down and say, "Can you come right now?" Something has been spontaneous and exciting, and they knew that you were interested; and they knew that you would react, that you weren't going to just be, you know, not see something exciting about it. So teacher invitation was one of my main ways of entering the classroom.
Q: How often were you required to evaluate?
A: As I recall, it was once every--oh, I guess we had to send in--it varied under superintendents. Sometimes we had to send one in each year. Well, after a classroom visit, you had to send an evaluation. Yes, and you had to--oh dear, what was that? So many per year, and I can't remember exactly how many; but you had to get in a certain number of visitations per year, classroom visitations. Then, that was sent to the director of curriculum. I always held my evaluations with the teacher. It was a two-way conference. The teacher saw what you wrote and what you gave, and as I said, even though it killed me, I found something constructive to start with before I criticized. We did it together, so those evaluations were a joint affair. I also always ended with, "Now, tell me what I should be doing that would help you more," or, "What do I do [that] you don't like," or, "How do you want to change me?" And that was the way the conference ended. And I got some sometimes.
Q: They would--
A: Sure. (Laughter).
Q: They would level with you.
Q: Interesting. If you were thinking about, from your perspective, screening people who were interested in becoming principals, what kinds of procedures would you see as appropriate for selection and what kinds of educational requirements would you impose on folks who want to be principals?
A: Well, I would look to see how they'd gotten along with people in the past. I would try to look back into experiences that they had had in meeting problems and being a part of the community and that they would understand the problems that would arise. I also would want them to have a good personality, and I would want them to be, oh, easy and comfortable, somebody that you'd be comfortable with. If a teacher isn't comfortable with the principal, or if a parent isn't, you're not going to get anywhere, if they feel they're aloof; so you've got to be down on the same ground with them and be accepted. A person that you could see that people would accept as being fair and concerned. I remember one parent said to me, "You're really sincere, aren't you?" And I thought that was quite a compliment, because I'd never thought before that anyone might think I wasn't. So they've got to see that basically you're a person that likes people, will try--and I think it's so important to understand their personal problems and what is affecting the teacher that time. If there is a death in the family and you're aloof from it--I'm probably foolish now, but I still, all those parents who were so good to me, when I was in the job and their husband or wife dies, I always see that I get the family flowers. Just this week I did. This woman, she just cried and cried, and [she said], "Why did you come?" And I said, "You were so good to me when I was a principal." I said, "You just did everything for me," and I said, "I remember that." And so, I think you've got to be down just as a human being. I think that's probably one of the most basic things. You can't be somebody up on a pole, up on a post, if you're going to get along with people and kids.
Q: Well, you could argue that that's a tough thing to assess in an interview--
A: Yes. Yes, it is. Yet, I think that you could almost tell. You can be fooled too. I know that's true. But that's what I would look for though, a kind of a personality that I think would be able to handle a problem without getting all angry and upset. And I'm fortunate in that I don't have a problem with anger, and I don't have to fight that, because it's just not a part of me. For some people it is.
Q: That's right.
A: And I'm very lucky that it isn't with me. I think my outlook is different than looking for troubles.
Q: Different topic. There's been a lot of attention paid in recent years to what they call career ladders and differential pay plans and merit pay and things like that. And I wondered if you could give your views on those issues, as you've had a chance to observe. I don't know if you were involved with them or not, but any comments you'd be willing to make on that?
A: I'm against merit pay. I just feel that there isn't any earthly way that you can judge it. What one person sees as somebody else's strength another person might view as a weakness, and I don't think that any person, human being, is able to say that this person is worth so much and the other person is worth that; because you just--they have different strengths and different weaknesses, and it's just. . . . I'm against it, and we didn't have it, though it did come up. I also live through the time as a teacher when we fought desparately to get equal pay for women. I was a ring leader in it. So that type of a thing we went through, but not as a principal. I don't not believe that as a principal we were paid different, because we were a woman, but that type of a thing I'm very much against. There's another part that I question. I don't know what it was though. Oh, about the ladder, climbing up--
Q: Career ladders.
A: Career ladder, yes. It can be encouraging to a teacher to know that they're being recognized, but I wouldn't do it in a way of doing it, having a pay attached to that and so forth. I think that--I know teachers, some teachers are worth more than others. There's no question about it, financially. They do give more, but as far as trying to merit a teacher as an "A" teacher and put them on a certain ladder, I couldn't do it and work with the teacher. I think there is nothing that causes such a line of unhappiness as thinking that you aren't as good as somebody else, because I think it showed--they would feel teacher favoritism. That was one thing I worked terribly hard against. I just would--did not want anybody to ever feel that you favored one teacher over another. I think you have to be cognicent of that and watch out so that, even though you aren't doing it, you've got to see that you don't give the impression you are in the way that something is handled.
Q: I see. That would be worrisome. You said something about differential pay for men and women. Could you describe the situation as it was when you campaigning against it?
A: Yes. That was when I was a teacher, not a principal. We were--I was president at the time of the teacher's organization, and we fought very, very much. I remember going to the school board, and we went to the meeting, the school board meeting, and when the one man was arguing that it shouldn't be and I was arguing that it should be equal, and this fellow turned to the man, and he said, "How do you two people get along?" It happened to be the same fellow who was doing the taping, that I was doing the--no it couldn't have been. But I was doing work with him as a teacher. That's right. And he says, "What? Tomorrow morning, I'll call up Benne, and we're just good friends. We don't agree on everything, but we're awfully good friends." And so, I think that I worked with committees, and we got through. We got equal pay for equal work.
Q: How big a differential was there in the old days?
A: Oh, several hundred. Maybe $400, $500 at least.
Q: I see.
A: At least. When I came here that was true, $400, $500 difference.
Q: Did they have any kind of a particular justification for this, maybe what--?
A: Yes, he was a man and you were a woman. That was there justification. And we went through a lot of fighting on it. But that was all taken care of before I became administrator. But I do remember people saying to me, when the first job was open--now, that wasn't the Franklin School. I was principal at the Garfield School for seven years, then went to Franklin. When the job opened at Franklin, at Garfield School, I remember one person saying to me, "Well, I'll bet you $1,000 it won't be a woman who will get that job." And at the time, I knew I had it, but it wasn't being announced, because the other person was leaving on to get their position. Another school announced for the time that was being announced, but that was the feeling that favortism would be definitely would shown to the men. So it was a surprise that a woman was appointed to the administrative job.
Q: Who was the superintendent at that time?
A: Mr. Lamb.
Q: Lamb, L-A-M-B?
Q: I wonder if I could get you to talk a little about the teacher grievance procedure as it was developed in this division or district and maybe give your views on the utility, desirability or undesirability of the grievance procedure, as a way of handling teacher disatisfaction.
A: Well, I used, which I don't know that it was very effective, but I used the same method that everybody else does too. You have a box in which they put in their grievances and put in their suggestions and the things that they don't like, and they did not have to be signed. We would take them out. Now, with a faculty of 18, you could easily handle it as a group together. You didn't have to have a lot of committee work with that small of a group. We did it that way, and I think most of all, (very little?) grievances came, because we had an opendoor policy, that they come in and not like something. They felt free. It's whether or not a teacher is free to let you know what's irking them, and if they will let you know--and of course, I know that they fool you often, that they don't really tell you. We aren't that stupid to think that they really did, but we tried to let them know that they could come in with anything that they didn't like or any suggestions that they had. If they--and I had the box and the . . . but we got some nasty things in it sometimes. I remember one time. I can't remember what it was now. I said, "Is that really true? Am I like that?" You know, and of course, everybody laughed. You'd hear, "No!" (Sarcastically). (Laughter). It was one teacher who had a pet pieve about something. So I'd just make a joke out of it and say, "Am I really like that? Boy, I didn't know myself!" And that's the way we'd go at it, as a humorous experience that, "I guess we don't know ourselves, and if I'm like that, I'm sure glad you told me so," and just make a--instead of getting angry about it, just bring it out. That was the way we handled grievances, trying so well to be open about it, and I think, usually, it succeeded; because this one that was the, and still is, assistant--you had to fight her on everything--was the one that said, "If I'd only been there when they had the strike, it wouldn't have been like that, because teachers didn't work that way with me." Well, I said, "They would have at the strike," and I said, "I know they would have." But I think the teachers felt--and I've had such very nice relations with the teachers since I left, with that--that you feel that. . . . One thing that a person said, a principal, superintendent said to me that I think was very valuable, "Remember when troubles come up, it's the position and not the person that's being attacked." That I found very useful to me. If there would be some problem, I'd have to keep saying to myself, "Now, they aren't against you. They're against you, because they're against the principal." So I like that expression that a superintendent gave me, "Remember that they aren't attacking you. They're attacking the principal." I found that helpful in throwing off criticism.
Q: Did you all have a written grievance procedure in those days, or was that something that came along later on in your career track?
A: That was later. I just--that was later. But no, I don't know. I'm not sure I'm right there. I believe they did have opportunities to send their grievances to the central office. Yes, I think they did. I believe so, but I never happened to experience it. But I believe they did.
Q: I guess you had a union contract during some of the years when you were working?
A: Oh yes. Yes.
Q: Did you find, or what impact did you find that that contract had on how you did business in the building?
A: It wasn't strong like it is now. You didn't feel all the time that that was a teacher's union. And now, you do. So the strength was not great enough that you felt restricted by it.
A: You didn't feel that you couldn't ask a teacher to do something without they're feeling that that wasn't part of their job, and now you don't--they do. A good example is our camping experience. We just had such a good time camping and gave all of our time. Now, if they're out there, they have to be paid so much per hour, and all those things that have come up through the union. That wasn't--it wasn't obvious in our days. We knew that the teacher's we really stronger, but as a group, as an organization, but you didn't feel you can't ask this or that because the teachers would object to it.
Q: The union that you have now, is this the Wiscon Education Association, or some other organization?
A: Right. No, Wisconsin Education Association.
A: WEA, yes. And your own local group, of course, have their own--but I mean, they're with it in that state.
Q: And that's called what--the (Manatua?) Teacher's Association or something?
A: That's correct. (Manatua?) Education Association.
Q: Interesting. In the last four or five years, there's been a lot of talk about effective schools, and I guess you've been observing this and watching it from the sidelines. I'm wondering if you could give some comments on what you feel, what features you feel characterize effective schools, as opposed to less effective schools. And has that changed since you were in harness?
A: Well, if a school's going to be effective, you've got to be teaching in such a way that you're preparing children to be a part of today's world, and that isn't any little job. And I'm sure that the effectiveness--we have a drug program and all such programs as that--play a great part in the elementary school. I think that it isn't the--we've changed a lot from our days of memorizing things. I still love to think about, that I had to memorize those poems that I still like, and they certainly abhore that now. Seems like youngsters just don't want to memorize things. So we have changed. I think that we've got to prepare, so that they can get along with people; and a big thing now in most schools is to accept youngsters of other cultures, and that wasn't a great problem--it wasn't any problem with me at all. Surely is now, as now the ( ?) youngsters have moved in so greatly in our schools and are such a real concern. So we have to have, try to teach children to get along with one another, I think is one great lesson, for as a world, we're still struggling so hard on that. They also need to know, have the basics. I still want my kids to learn the multiplication tables. I'm not going to just give them, not a computer, a--
A: Calculator. I'm kind of an old fashioned gal, and I'd like to have them have a basic [knowledge]. I think we can't stress too much the need for understanding good English, and above all, try to, youngsters, give them a great desire to learn to read with just an endless curiousity and a thrill that comes out of reading. I want to stimulate the kids to do greater things as they go on and not have them think school's blah. We've got to have fun and excitement and happiness, and I know that's quite a little order when you're going to have to have them learn the multiplication tables, as I just said. But at the same time, I think that you can do it, and it's so important that you get the right teacher that's going to instill within the youngster, a desire for climbing the ladder.
Q: Okay. So you're saying that schools should have teachers who deploy themselves that way and leaders that do that sort of thing are likely to be more effective than others?
A: So much more so. And in every school, we're going to have some that do and some that don't. We just--we're dealing with humanity and that's the way it's going to be. (Laughter).
Q: In the past decade, schools have become a lot larger. I think you said yours was around 500 most of the time.
A: Five hundred, right.
Q: What are your views on the ideal size for an elementary school in terms of delivering good instruction and good administrative services?
A: I thought that that was a nice sized school. Now, the first school I was in, Garfield, where I went as a half-time principal, we had probably around 250 or 300. I did see a great deal of difference in that school, as far as being just a little family all in one, tucked carefully away. I also found a school of 500, to a principal, much more challenging, because you were able to do so much more. You had so many more personalities and children to work with and problems and circumstances, that I sort of liked around 500 children to a school. You're going to have enough that you can do things and a large enough faculty that can keep you on your toes. (Laughter). That's important too, to keep the principal on her toes. (Laughter).
Q: (Laughing). In recent years, they've talked a lot about it and a lot more programs have been added to schools, so that we no longer have what you'd call a bare bones curriculum. I wondered if you could talk about your experiences with things like gifted and talented, maybe not English speaking and learning disabled, and so forth, and your views on the desirability of the trends in this regard.
A: I expect all of today's programs are good, and in themselves, I'm sure it has real value. I don't know much about them. There's the CAST program and (DOSO?) program and Odyssey of the month, but all of those, which I'm not too familiar with, I know they're using now. I know that teachers like them, and they also find it frustrating in trying to keep up with them all. We didn't have a lot of programs. We were just coming into the use of tapes and use of. . . . I'm just trying to think now, what some of the new things were that we were starting to add to the new learning center. But I know they'e good. They have to be valued. We've got to study the child and just see what is the child doing today. I think we've got to look at the individual youngster and try to see how he's being programmed, and try to live through the live--and I think it might be a little bit rugged in some cases--that we have added so much and we've taken away so little. I think that sometimes--I fear that we are confusing those little youngsters. Now, the gifted can probably take it. We had a gifted program, and we divided our youngsters according to ability in math and in reading, in different classes. I found that helpful. It utilized the teacher's time advantageously, I think, in that we are also not holding back some child who should go on, and I think that's important. So we were challenging them by having levels. I don't think we had too many other programs, except that each teacher was encouraged within each area to try to add to what the requirement was; so if the youngster could go on and do more, they were given the opportunity to do so, to work on there. Then, I think our teachers spent lots of time after school with remedial work, and that isn't the case nowadays. Teachers are out of the building much earlier than they used to be. I had some teachers that were still there working when you would and would be. . . . And so, teachers have always, I think, been very concerned about individual differences; and I hope that these programs which are being designed for that are really meeting the needs of the children and not just adding without giving them a chance to be on the basic level, too. I mean it's--I think we have to be careful we aren't frustrating the kids by adding so much, which in itself, each program is good, I'm sure. But we add and yet expect the teacher to do all that basic teaching that they did before, and you can't do it. There aren't that many hours in the day.
Q: For sure. Your buildings had--did you have kindergarten programs in those days?
Q: So went what--K to 6?
A: K to 6.
Q: K to 6, in both buildings?
Q: Garfield and Franklin?
A: Yes, right. Then, when I started at Franklin, we ran--I think I had. . . . Let's see we had six kindergartens. We taught another kindergarten group from, when they went home at 11:30, then we took another group and taught them from 11:30 until 1 [o'clock], and of course, because we were just so crowded in the beginning, even when we were building this new building. Then, the enrollment went down. But at that time, we even ran noon sessions through. And before we got into the building, we had--as I said, we scattered throughout the whole building, the whole city--and I always said I had the office in the car. Well, to me it was a challenge. Now, I think, "How could you stand it?" But it was good.
Q: I wonder if I could get you to comment just for a minute on your relationship with the various superintendents that you served under and the with the school boards, any comments you'd like to make, pro or con about those relationships.
A: I think that the school boards back 25 years ago did not feel the pressures from the community that they feel now. I think that they were more interested in you as a principal. I think they were more interested in--perhaps I'm not being fair to them today. But our school boards were good friends, and they would come into the school. I remember once the time that we invited them, a special time that we invited the school board in to visit us. And as far as the superintendent was concerned, I never was one that--I can remember back when I was a teacher, that we had a book that we'd pass around, in case the superintendent was in the building. That book went around, and you knew then the superintendent was there. This is when I was teaching. Now, I never had that feeling at all with the superintendent coming into the building, and--well, Vern even says now, "I never go to Franklin that I don't think of Bene." So we had a very good working relationship with the superintendent. So it was never one of fear, except my first experience was, because the superintendent was a person who was not always the same. He was up and down, and you didn't know the mood, but that was my only experience in it. So it was a good relationship, and I felt very free to call up and give your problems and ask for help; and it would be forthcoming. I was one who believed if you had a serious problem, you should report it to a superintendent, so that if he got called upon it, he had a background on what was happening. So I was not one that felt frightened or weakened by being able to admit that you had a problem. I think it was important that the superintendent knew that if you had a problem, you were going to come to him, so that if he were faced by it--which was possible and which was done--he knew what was happening, just the same as you contacted the parents before the child got home, so that they knew what the problem was.
Q: I wonder if I could get you to describe the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire when you did. You mentioned earlier on that you retired a little early than you had to. What were the reasons and the mental processes you went through in making the decision to go ahead and--?
A: Well, one was the feeling of teachers--I thought teachers were going to have a strike. I just couldn't live through working with a faculty that, when you weren't with them, when you weren't all on the same level and on the same floor. That was a big thing. And it happened the fall after I retired, so I timed it right. The other was probably laziness on my part. They were going to make changes in the administration, and different principals were going to be shifted from building to building. I guess I wasn't quite willing to admit that I wasn't willing to go someplace and make a change, but I truly wasn't. I only had two years left, and I couldn't see going into a school and reorganizing everything, like you probably would want to, and then just be teaching for two years. So I thought, "Before they announce a change of principalship," because it was rumored that they were all going to be shifted, and I thought, "just bow out gracefully," and that's what I did.
Q: Do you have any overall comments about the desirability of administrative service in 1989? If you were going to give advice to somebody who wants to join the administrative ranks, what would you say to them, and how would you advise them?
A: I'd say, do they have a tough skin? (Laughter). I think that I would say, "Are you really willing to take the grief that goes along with it, because I think that there's a lot more grief today than there was in my time." I remember one parent saying to me, "Well, that's it. That's it. You know, if we had a paper out there that was white, and you said it was black, we'd all agree with you." Now, that was the type of cooperation. Now, that was the exact words that that parent said to me, and that was the type of cooperation that I felt, that you had a district, that you were a new district, you organized your new school, and they were just with you. And I don't think that is as common today. I think that there is a tendency worldwide to be more critical, to--I don't think that a principal is looked upon with the same degree of--what do I want to say, respect;maybe it's respect--than it was then. I just don't believe it's true today that--and I'm not sure that kids do. They were--well, one big thing when we'd go to camp. Before we'd go off to camp, I had several kids come in to me and say, "Can we call you Ms. Benne at camp?" Now, see they wanted--it was informal at camp, but they came and asked me if they could call me. Instead of saying Ms. Benedict, could they call me Ms. Benne at camp. So I would tell that principal who was thinking about it today, "Are you willing to take--are your shoulders broad enough to accept the responsibilities that's going to be yours and the grief that's going to be yours," because I think they're more critical today. I think they are less desirous of--well, they don't have the time to work with you like they used to. I think that's some of it. We're living in a different world of busy, rushy times. Though many parents are certainly giving just as much time to their children now as they did then, it isn't as obvious as it was then, when your parents were in--well, when they had more time.
A: We're living in a faster world, a different world, and that has a bearing on the principalship. So I think that you have to be one who can accept the problems that are going to come without them frustrating you, and each person knows their own makeup; and if you aren't made up in a way that you can accept that, then don't go into the job.
Q: Well now, despite my best efforts to be as comprehensive as I can, I'm sure that I have probably forgotten to ask you something that I should have. So what have I not asked that I should have asked?
A: I can't think of anything. (Laughter).
A: I think you covered it well. (Laughing).
Q: ( ?). (Laughing).
A: I don't think there's anything. I've enjoyed discussing it. I think it was valuable to me that I look back upon my years, and I sort of realized how much I enjoyed them, that I hadn't had time to think about. And yet, I have no desire to go back, and I don't regret any day that I spent in it; but I think that maybe the advice to you would be quit when you still are on top.
Q: Quit while you're ahead. Right. Well, I want to thank you, Ms. Benedict, for sharing this information with the students and with the researchers who will come after us who will be interested in hearing about your many years of experience in the principalship. But it's been a delightful opportunity for me to visit with you too.
A: Well, it was very nice.
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