Interview with Charlotte Beamer, former principal at Margaret Beeks Elementary School in Blacksburg, Virginia in her home in Blacksburg, Virginia.
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Q: Mrs. Beamer, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, your birthplace, elementary and secondary education, family characteristics.
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A: I was born in Charlotte County but left there as an infant and got my education in Alexandria, Virginia and was raised there. My Mother was a teacher. She ran a kindergarten in our home in Alexandria. And I'm certain it was through her influence that I became a teacher. She came from a family of Ministers and teachers. It was that background her real interest in education that I became a teacher.
Q: So, she taught right at home where you were?
Q: Your secondary education?
A: My secondary education was just in a small high school in Charlotte County. As I said, I was raised in Alexandria and was entering high school in Alexandria and that was during the depression years. My father was a railroad man and during that time, of course, work wasn't regular so he had his home in Charlotte County that had been his parents. He though it was better to raise his family in the country where we would have plenty of fresh vegetables and food rather than being in the city. So I went back to Charlotte County when I was a high school girl and graduated in a very small high school, but an excellent high school. There were only 13 in my graduating class and we got lots of individual attention and I would put my high school education there up against any I have seen today.
Q: That sounds wonderful. What about your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How long did you serve as a teacher and as a principal?
A: I got my college education at Radford college. My mother felt that I should be that distant from home. I was on the doorstep of Farmville College, but she preferred sending me to Radford as she had friends who had attended there. I did my undergraduate work at Radford then was in Tennessee some years later and started my Master's degree at the University of Tennessee, but in the meantime my husband accepted a position here at VPI in 1962 so I gave up my study at the University of Tennessee and came back to this area and completed my Master's at Radford and I was glad to come back home to Radford.
Q: How long were you a teacher and then a principal?
A: I was a teacher for 8 years in Knoxville, Tennessee; 2 years in South America; and 3 years beginning in 1940 I taught in Alexandria. Then when we came back to Blacksburg in 1962 I started teaching int he old elementary school here in Blacksburg, just finished out that year that school closed prior to moving into Margaret Beeks School in 1963. I was in the classroom as a 5th grade teacher at Margaret Beeks from that September or the latter part of August just prior to the Christmas holidays when Mrs. L. Rita Brown was principal at that time. For some reasons, whatever they may be, she decided not to return after the Christmas holidays so Mr. Evans King asked me if I would go in on a temporary basis and be the principal following the holidays. I worked in the office with her during the month of December before we left for the holidays and came back as the new principal thinking I would only finish out that year and stayed on there approximately 10 years at Margaret Beeks and loved it, every minute of it.
Q: You really started Margaret Beeks off, didn't you?
A: Mrs. Brown really started it off. She went in as the new principal and laid the ground work, the hard work. I was a classroom teacher, but I did go into the office in December.
Q: I didn't know that. I'm fascinated. What experience or events in your professional life have influenced your management philosophy? I guess we can define that just about any way we want to, the way you worked with your teachers as a principal.
A: The person who had in later years, after my graduate work, really had a profound interest or influence in my life was my husband. He was a teacher when I married him, and, of course, his work moved on to the university level and he was, probably as you know, too crisp with sole interest in education and was an educator. We, of course, discussed many problems in education. If I had a problem, of course, we sat down and discussed that problem. So, I would say he was really the big influence in my life as I moved along as a teacher and finally becoming an administrator profoundly his influence.
Q: What would you say you adopted as a teacher or management philosophy?
A: I felt when I went in from a teacher to principal that I didn't go in as a person to be telling teachers what you do or don't do. But on the hand, there had to be someone who was in a position to say yes or to say no. I always felt that the teachers were with me, my position no better, no higher or whatever than the teacher. The teacher, I always felt was the most important person in that school. I could leave the school and go to a meeting and I knew everything in my school was just going to be running just as smoothly as it was if I were there, but if the teachers walked out, that would never happen, but I could leave. I really always had the feeling that the teachers were the most important people in that building, but someone had to do the paperwork and take care of the business and administration of the building, as well, not minimizing the instructional program, that was the most important. I always felt I was even-kilned with the teachers. We worked together that my job wasn't any more or any less important than their job, but just that someone has to be in charge or the building. I could leave and everything would go well, but they couldn't because it would fall apart.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Would you describe any successful and any unsuccessful experiments and climate building in which you were involved I guess this is referring specifically to the school climate.
A: Well, I wanted teachers to be free to use techniques that they were familiar with using and techniques that they felt free to use and they felt comfortable, because I don't think any person, principal or anyone else, can go in and tell a teacher this is the best way to teach something. I think teachers get to know their children and parents and they know what their good teaching techniques are. We have certainly all studies and learned together what some of these good techniques are, but they all vary somewhat and I wanted teachers to feel and to know that they were professional teachers. I knew that they were and I wanted to make them feel that way - that they were the professionals in the classroom and it was up to them to organize that classroom, to be able to implement an outstanding instruction program. That was their job and they were hired to do that. That was what I expected them to do. You usually get what you expect. They were free to try the techniques that worked best for them in their classroom.
Q: It sounds like you were real respectively, but that you had very high expectations of them.
A: Absolutely. Absolutely. There are times being a principal can be very very lonely because in some instances you have to keep a certain distance. You just have to maintain a certain distance when it comes to sitting down with teachers, evaluating and going over programs with them. You have to maintain that, but on the other hand, I think you can have a closeness with your teachers, but as far as socializing with teachers and being an administrator, you can't do that during the school day or during those school hours you are working with those teachers and parents, but that didn't mean I didn't socialize with the teachers. After the working day, but during the school day there was no socializing on my part with the teachers. I was raised in a school that you called everybody by his or her last name, Ms. so and so or Mr. so and so. It wasn't Carol this or Betty or Sarah. I never did that during the school day or in the presence of any other teachers or any of the children. It was always Mrs. King or Mrs. Hummell or such as that. I did not call them by their first name.
Q: I began teaching at Beeks in the late 70's with Mr. Morgan and there was still an atmosphere you must have created at that point. I was very affectionate, very close faculty, very professional, a distance during the day, because we had such a big job to do.
A: Teaching is a tremendous job. It's the hardest job anybody can undertake but its' satisfying and gratifying job.
Q: I think that atmosphere you created was lingering.
A: Just from the old school.
Q: I certainly enjoyed it. There was a great deal of respect among the colleagues. There was never, ever one teacher talking with another teacher about a third teacher. I've been since in schools where those things have been very unpleasant for me.
A: I never encountered that at Beeks. Every teacher in that school and I think we are try to instill in one another that the school wasn't any better than its weakest teacher in the school, and if there was a teacher in that school that needed help, I can guarantee you that every teacher in that school would have gone to the aid of that teacher. When we had a new teacher to come into the primary wing, an older teacher was assigned to that teacher or in the upper elementary where, we call, turning the corner, a teacher was assigned to that new teacher. It didn't mean that other teachers didn't move in to help also. That was one thing about the faculty at Margaret Beeks, everyone worked together. They were so willing to share those materials. I think that's the only way you can love a good school is everybody in that school working together for the common cause and know what you objectives and purposes are.
Q: I think you were successful in creating that.
A: We worked on that and not only that, we wanted a happy environment for the children. Everybody in that school was a top professional, working together. still there, outstanding teachers. All of them outstanding.
Q: I was very lucky to be assigned to that school.
A: I could just name them. Like Mrs. Lillian Akers, so professional just an outstanding teachers. Mrs. Reynolds in the primary wing. They were teachers who really worked together for the child. The child was uppermost always, what was best for that individual and trying to meet the individual needs of the children.
Q: What kinds of things to teacher expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal.
A: A teacher expects of the principal that the principal knows the curriculum. The principal who has been there, has come up through the ranks. It's might hard for the teacher to have confidence in a principal knowing the principal has not been in the classroom to know what the problems are when you try to organize that classroom, get everything under control, and have an effective instructional program for the children you just have to have been there in order to be a good principal needs to know early childhood psychology, particularly adolescent psychology, that has to be a strong background, and the principal has to work on the curriculum to know the textbooks being used, what is being taught in that primary wing and as the children move into upper grades know what is being taught in that part of a school. For a principal to be effective has to come up through the ranks, has to be a teacher in a classroom. I've stressed that so many times and I've really had words with them in the State Department. It wouldn't make any difference who the Superintendent sends up to be principal, the State Dept. would endorse them. It wouldn't make any difference if they had classroom experience or not, over the state, not just this county. Many of the principals in elementary schools would be former secondary coaches. Many elementary school principles have been secondary people and particularly been coaches. They come into elementary school not knowing the first thing about organizing an elementary school. That really bothered me because I felt like the best teaching goes on in the elementary schools. The principal must know that curriculum from start to finish. And how to go into a classroom and help a teacher if that teacher has any problems in organizing her room. It's imperative sometimes with a new teacher. It's our job, in a school, to help a teacher get off to a good start, and not to lose a good teacher and that could happen easily if a new teacher doesn't get the help from someone who knows how to do it. It's a tough job being a successful teacher. I don't know how principals manage who haven't had teaching experience. I just don't know. My feeling is, the size of the school Margaret Beeks was when I first went there. When I left Margaret Beeks to go to the Board Office, there were 890 some students in the school. I had only had an assistant principal for 2 years, Mr. Morgan. To go into a school of that size.
Q: You had 800 children?
A: Over 800 when I left there.
Q: Where did you have them stocked?
A: Every room. Now you have classrooms for Art. Chapter I has their own room, but every room was used and that was a tremendous job particularly in Blacksburg, on the doorstep of Tech. Everybody knows all about it. It took me nearly five years at a school of that size, to really get in there, learn the curriculum of all the grades, and get to know the children, their parents and you school and how to organize and so forth. It takes several years to do that. Even with having been a classroom teacher it was a tough tough job.
Q: It was such a big school.
A: Is was wonderful having Mr. Morgan come in. I had been an upper elementary teacher and I'm sure my weaknesses, I'm sure. I had done a lot of substitute teaching when I dropped out to have children, but I continued to do substitute teaching in some of the lower grades Mr. Morgan came in as a primary teacher. He had done his teaching in the 3rd grade. That was a big help to have him to focus his supervision on that wing of the building whereas I could take the children in the upper elementary. Another thing, my background experience was a teacher who had taught elementary, middle school, and high school. I had a feeling of how it did tie together. That was a help.
Q: There are those who argue a principal should be an instrumental leader and those suggest realistically speaking this person must be above all a good manager.
A: I think it's necessary to be both. All principals I've known, including myself, you want to be a good instructional leader, and you have to be. On the other hand, there is so much business and management in the school, that a principal is forced to take care of. Often a principal wants to get out of the office and into the building because it's such a pleasure to be able to get out of that office and walk around the building and go into the classroom and see all the nice things that are going on, but so often a principal is not able to do that. That's my big into leaving the elementary school and going in as elementary supervisor. I thought that job would be high on the instructional part of the program, but I found it wasn't true. It was paperwork for 11 schools instead of one. Both is most important, but I still say the instructional part comes first.
Q: It has been said there is a home/school gap and that more parental involvement with the school needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this instrument? Describe how you interacted with parents and what ??????????? were ?????? to the well being of the school.
A: I don't think your school can function and operate without the parents. Beeks was one of the first in the county to have the volunteers, that was before Mrs. Maddus. Before she started into the reading program. She got a group of women together came into the school, read to the children and helped the children having reading problems. We had a parent group that came into the school if ever there was ever any problem, anything in the community, if there was any criticizing anything, they would come in talk about it and try to solve the problem before it became a major problem.
Q: Did you start that program?
A: Yes the very beginning. We were also the first school to have a parent come in on a full-time nursing basis. Mrs. Wedsel. We were the first school to have a nurse she spent so many hours in our school organizing the infirmary, came in every day and checked the children if they had a problem. We had many of those things in the 60's in MB - a volunteer program, and parents visiting our school. All they had to do was check by my office to let us know they were in the building or have lunch with the children. I think it's imperative parents know what's going on in the school. Then nothing is a surprise to them and they are your best supporters. I look back at one parent who really gave me a hard time. Her son, she had two, but one particular she felt wasn't getting the attention, the teacher wasn't doing what she should do, and she was very, very critical. So, I asked her to become a volunteer and asked her to volunteer in the classroom with her son to see what he was doing and she could see what the teacher was doing. She changed her tune in a hurry and she became one of our stauchest supporters. It's imperative parents feel free to come into the school and principals and teachers take the time out to talk to them because I don't think there's any problem that can't be resolved if you sit down and talk to the parents. The parents will 99.9% will be with you if you keep them well informed and let them know they're welcomed.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation? Give your philosophy to evaluations.
A: That was the hardest thing to do. I think principals working closely with teachers you can evaluate. Teachers have their ideas about teaching. I had my ideas. I don't think just because I did something one way in a classroom necessarily was the right way for another teacher to do it. In evaluating it's hard to evaluate because if I were to go into a classroom on a given day, there could be chaos maybe at some point. I would had to be in there the day before and follow it up to know what happened. I can go into the classroom and be intent on watching how the children responded to a teacher. But it's most difficult to evaluate a teacher by going in and just setting down in that classroom. The best way I could evaluate is get parents input. If I had happy parents, I knew I had a good teacher and the parents like the teacher. Walking in the halls, you can see the reaction of the children and the teacher wouldn't even know I was about to evaluate by going into a classroom you've got to perceive whatever is going on and follow it up. Sometimes a principal can't always do that. Evaluating a teacher is a tough, tough job. Their professionals, as well as I'm a professional. What might work for them in a given situation might not work for me or vise versa. All you can do is sit down and point out things to a teacher, maybe if you had tried this, it may have worked better for you. There were some cases where I could sit down and point out things. But I had such good teachers that I never had any that I just couldn't handle, I had outstanding teachers. I was blessed. That's the reason I got along so well as a principal. I felt I had support of the teachers and they were working with me as well as I was trying to work with them. Evaluating is tough.
Q: A good deal today is said about teacher grievances. Would you give your views on the ??????? of such procedures and describe your approach to handling dissatisfaction.
A: Just like I said if a teacher is unhappy, you have to sit down and see what the problem is. I think in most cases, sit down with the teach, maybe bring in another teacher, talk about the problem and resolve the problem. In fact, like you said I never encountered such. I didn't have any teachers I felt was so upset about something that we couldn't take care of it just by talking it out.
Q: Most systems presently have tenure or a continuing contract for teachers. Would you discuss the situation at the time you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of tenure.
A: Teachers, I can't remember exactly, I think they had to teach 3 years before they went on tenure. Of course, administrators didn't have tenure. But the classroom teacher after 3 years of successful teaching had tenure. I think that's the way it should be. I don't think you should get rid of a teacher just because someone has a grievance or some dislike for a teacher so easily. I think a teacher should have due process to hear both sides.
Q: We were talking about tenure.
A: I think a teacher should have due process if there are problems by the powers to be who maybe does not want that teacher back. Every person should have due process to hear both sides of it and I certainly was for tenure if a teacher had taught 3 years successfully. They should have tenure. I think on the other hand too if there are just gross things, blatant such as that. There may be cause to get rid of a teacher and I don't think an administrator should hesitate to step in if a teacher is not living up to her contract. She knows what the job description is and that becomes hard some times when you do have a teacher who isn't meeting the standards of the contract or the standards set for your school. Again, you try to work it out and if you can't work it out, of course you may have cause for dismissal, but even so I think every person, whatever the causes are, should have due process.
Q: Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about paperwork and the bureaucratic complexity with which they are forced to deal. Would you comment on the situation during your administrative career? Compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the situation at this time.
A: I think there's entirely too much paper work. I think teachers themselves use too much paper. I am sorry to see teachers get away from the blackboard. I've seen some of the best teaching take place when the teacher utilizes that blackboard instead of using it for a bulletin board. When I started teaching I didn't have anything but the chalkboard. If we wanted to make anything for the children, we had that old messy, gummy like stuff. We didn't have even machines like the manual machines at Margaret Beeks to run off your copies. It was a jelly like thing your paper went in so we were forced to use the chalkboard and I firmly believe that even today that a teacher can be very effective using the chalkboard, cutting down on some of that paper. I know even when I was principal at Margaret Beeks we talked about it, let's just set aside just one day a week and not pass out any work sheets such as that to children, no paper. Paper they use will just be from their own tablets and the teacher using the chalkboard to eliminate some of the paper. Seeing the janitor after school with trash baskets full of paper, just so much paper. We thought we could at least have one day, a no paper day. I would like to see that. I think there's entirely too much paper work in the classrooms. You get away from that stimulating a good discussion with children in the classroom, listing to their ideas, letting them express their opinions whether they have any facts to back up that opinion. So, what? At least let them give it. Really stimulate communication in the classroom. Get away from all that paper handed out.
Q: Little children sitting in isolation.
A: I just don't think that's good teaching. Go back to the chalkboard and eliminate the paper. Eliminate it in the principal's office too.
Q: Do you think that could happen?
A: Yes, I think a lot if could be eliminated. What did we do before we had all these Xerox machines? I think teaching was just as effective. I don't know why there must be so much paper work. I think it takes away from good teaching.
Q: Principals I think are more strapped with ...
A: They are. Inundated with paper. It gets worse all the time.
Q: More and more accountable.
A: More and more accountable and I think all school administrators and anybody in the teaching profession should be accountable. That's for sure, but I think you can do it in a better way than what we are doing it. I think you can look at children's behavior. I think you can look at, you have all kinds of ways of testing their learning. We could still have standardized tests. You could see how children are doing. But I think children's behavior more than anything tells you how children are doing. I firmly believe that most discipline problems comes through the lack of the instruction, that's the reason they misbehave. For some reason we are not meeting the needs of that child and the child is misbehaving in the classroom.
Q: It has been said the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's schools, positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now?
A: The curriculum we had was from textbooks. We certainly followed the textbooks adopted by the state and then the ones we adopted here. I encouraged, and even the superintendent at that particular time, when I was principal, Dr. Sorry, and I think a lot of Dr. Sorry, always liked him. I always encouraged children to take any books home they wanted to take home, including the reading book. I always encouraged my own students when I was teaching to take the reading book home. You know what story we are going to be talking about tomorrow, you know what we are going to be reading tomorrow. I had many teachers, including Dr. Sorry, who didn't want the reading book taken home. I always said what's the difference in taking the reading book than the spelling book, the math book, the language book or whatever? What if they did read the story? I thought it was great if the child wanted to read the next story. We'd still be talking about it and he'd be that much further ahead. I always said if the child took his reading book home, the child might steal the teacher's thunder. Because she or he wanted to be able to throw out the questions or whatever and find out they had already read it. I used to say, so what? Let the child go home and read it. The more reading he does, the better. That was one thing I encouraged that the children take home any of the books that they wanted to take home, and particularly that reading book along with that math book. But we followed the curriculum, basically the program adopted by the state, whatever the textbooks were in the reading program, math and so forth.
Q: You were administrator for quite a while before you retired, did you see a change in curriculum emphasis over those years?
A: No, I really didn't for years while I was there. We wanted teachers to bring as much outside material, not just focus in on one set of books, like reading, not just on that. Those books adopted were really just a guide. But they were encouraged to bring in anything else from the outside that was more meaningful or stimulating for the children to encourage them to improve their communication skills. Teachers had to bring in other materials even though we had our curriculum. It wasn't molded. They were free to bring in anything else that would enhance that curriculum.
Q: It sound like we taught the basics then and we still pretty much teach the basics in elementary schools.
A: Yes, I think as well as I can see they're still being taught.
Q: Could you describe your work day as a principal? How did you spend your time? What was the normal number of hours you put in each week? Perhaps some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis.
A: I was always in the school by 7:30. I was there when the first school bus came in. I wanted to be there to see the children into the building off the bus. Rarely ever left before 5:00 or 5:30. For the first five years, eight years, I always worked half a day on Saturday. I was back in that school. My husband would go to work on Saturday and I would leave with him and go back to Margaret Beeks, just about every week I'd work half a day on Saturday in order to keep up with everything.
Q: So, it just couldn't be done during the week?
A: It just couldn't be done. I felt like I always needed to be in that building when there were teachers in that building or as long as I had children in that building. It was my place to be there. I never left the building without leaving one teacher in charge in the primary wing and one in charge in the upper elementary rooms. Mrs. Akers, as long as she was there, was in charge oft he primary wing, until Mr. Morgan came. That's when I left the building. Nita Little was in charge of the upper elementary wing and then she decided she couldn't do it for one or two years. But I never left the building without knowing that someone was in charge in that building in case some kind of emergency came up and they might have to make a decision, but I didn't like to leave the building, but there were times when I would have to.
Q: Was there a routine to the days at all? Most school days?
A: There were certain things on a given day that I had to get done, but my schedule was pretty much the same each day. Going in and clearing the paperwork and then trying to get into the building to see what was going on. Often parent conferences, some took longer than others. Every day was a full day from the beginning of the school day to the end of the school day. Every day. Many days I didn't get lunch or I'd go in and try to get lunch, I'd be called to the office for some reason. So, I think the reason I find myself eating so fast today, I know if I don't eat fast, I'll miss it. So often I didn't eat half my lunch. Sometimes I'd go in there and everything was put away. I was so busy I'd forget it was lunch time.
Q: Would you describe aspects of your professional training that prepared you for the principalship? Which training was least useful?
A: Of course, working in the office with Mrs. Bryant those few weeks...what I did mainly with her was setting up the finances. I had to know how to handle that. That was the main thing I did with her. Really I didn't have any training going in as principal. That's why it took me about 5 years to get my feet on the ground with the curriculum and knowing all the aspects of being a principal that I could stand up to protect people. They knew it all and I didn't. It took me quite a while to have the confidence that I could talk to them, but going in there wasn't a training program for principalship. You just make mistakes until you learn it. I put my trust in the teachers.
Q: What were some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis as a principal?
A: It's always tough when you have unhappy parents, but I never had any problems with parents, as I said before, that we could sit down and talk about the problems and work them out. Some times I don't know whether you feel the pressures or you just know some times parents have ill feelings about the school or the principal or about the teachers. It was always satisfying, gratifying, to sit down and talk about those problems. And another thing that concern me were little children, particularly the primary children having to come in so early on buses and always those that arrived first were the last to leave. Those came in on the first bus, and for some reason the way the bus scheduled was worked out, they would be the last ones to leave. I always felt badly for those children and not having a good program for those children kept after school. They had to sit in the multi-purpose room for so long waiting for the bus. After a full day of school, they were really tired. They needed to be outside running while they were waiting, but there just didn't seem to be a way to do that. So, that was tough. It's hard to anticipate the problems, but always some little things would come up that would create a little bit of pressure, especially parents calling or so and so is not home yet, the school bus had already gone and maybe a child would decide which we tried to be very careful about not letting a child go home with another child, if the other parents weren't expecting or they did not have permission, but now and then something like that would slip through. I remember one case where one child did go home with another child and the parents didn't bother to call us and let us know the child was at their home and had dinner and the other parents had no idea where the child was. It was like he vanished, but he went home with another child, had eaten dinner. I forgot how we did locate that child. I guess the other parents just took him home. But his parents didn't know where he was. Whenever there is a problem if a child didn't arrive home, regardless of how long it took to locate that child before ever leaving. There were some problems like that when you're dealing with over 800 children, you know you are going to lose them. Not really lose them, but they disappear for a little while. There were little problems, parent problems, working them out on a day to day basis, just busy busy days.
Q: You liked it a lot?
A: Yes, I have to say I'm sorry I left it. But I think there comes a time when it is time to move on to something else. A person can stay in a job too long. It's a pretty good feeling when you feel like you're doing ok, but you stay around too long and people wouldn't feel that way. It's better to leave when you're on top.
Q: What year did you leave?
A: In 70 or 71. That summer. 71.
Q: You were there how many years?
A: I went in as principal January 1963 and left in 1971. So 8 years. We didn't go into that school until Fall of 1963. I went in the office in December of that year and stayed until I went over to the school board office. I think it was 71.
Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in questioning, there's probably something left out. What have I not asked you that you would like to talk about or that I should have asked you?
A: I think being principal of an elementary school is one of the best positions in education. I think to see those little children coming in the first time they've ever been away from home, they're thrown into a whole new world, to see these children to grow and develop. I didn't have kindergarten then, to see them grow, develop, just blossom as they moved through the elementary school, working with them, just wonderful and working with the parents. You know in the elementary school, the parents are so interested and the students are so interested, parents come to every thing that goes on. At the middle school and high school, they don't want the parents around anymore. So, we really have the best of the worlds in the elementary school. Being in elementary school is the best position to have, it's just wonderful, but on the other hand, it's a hard position. You need background experience going in as a principal, even though there was no training for me, I just had to rely on the knowledge I had as a classroom teacher. I relied on my husband with his background in education, having been an administrator in education for many years, relied upon him and these good teachers I had. Many afternoons I'd go in and sit down and talk with a teacher or teachers and ask them about how things were going in the school and any suggestions. At the end of every school year, I asked the teachers to please give me criticism. I wanted their criticism about how I ran the school and what we were doing in school. Not only did I want their criticism, I wanted constructive criticism from them. I didn't want them to criticize me and not tell me what I could do to straighten it out.
Q: You would make an effort to talk with the teachers individually during the year and ask for criticism at the end of the year?
A: Yes, I never minded. I always told them I didn't mind them criticizing me because you are helping me to do whatever I'm not doing. Because I was new at that position, i had to have help from the teachers, but if they criticized whatever I wanted some constructive so I could do it better.
Q: Were they willing?
A: Oh yes. That's one thing about the teachers at Margaret Beeks. They were willing to criticize and willing to help. I think that's the reason we had a good school. The primary teachers, on a regular basis on work days would get together and work on their curriculum and the primary and upper grade teachers would do the same thing. Then some of the primary teachers would get with the elementary teachers to let them know what went on before because many of the teachers in primary and upper grades had not had teaching experience in the lower grades, so they didn't know what went on before so we interact that way. We had some real good inter-service at Margaret Beeks. We just enjoyed working together. I had a good time doing it. The only thing I had going for me was Mr. Evans King had confidence in me by asking me to take over when Mrs. Bryant left. So I felt he had confidence in my abilities to assume that role, even though I wondered after I said yes what I had gotten myself into. As years went on I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't call it pressure, but an added responsibility was the janitor didn't have a telephone, so my phone would ring, it could be 11:00 or 12:00. I've been in that school at 3:00 or 5:00 in the morning. Anytime a policeman would walk around that building and find a door open, he would call me. I would meet him at the school and go through the school to make sure no one had been in the building. With all the doors in the primary wing, so often one of those doors wasn't locked or pulled tight and I would be in that building. So I would write on the blackboard, Mrs. So and So, I was in your room at 3:30 this morning. The next time I'm in your room at 3:30 in the morning I'm going to call you to come over and join me. I've been in that building and walked through that building all hours of the night. I'd hear the phone ring about 1:30 or 2:00, I knew what it was. The police would say, "Mrs. Beamer, I'm in your building." and I'd get up and go over there. One time a fire had been started in one of the classrooms. It burnt itself out. Two little boys had been in the building. That became a chore when it happened so often. The cafeteria, when I went in, we didn't have a dietician, so I had to do the menu planning the first few years. I had to do all the payroll for the cafeteria workers, hire the cafeteria workers and keep check on the cafeteria. That was a big responsibility. Had to do withholding, pay their social security. Now that's done in a different department. I had all that to do when I was principal.
Q: I'm surprised you didn't have to stoke the furnace.
A: Practically, with the janitor I had. It's a big job keeping the building clean. I'd walk up and down the halls so fast, I'd have to take parents to another wing, I'd be going a mile a minute, I'd have to stop for them to catch up. I'd be about 10 feet ahead of them. One of the teachers said if I wanted to keep the corridors clean, I should put a mop on each foot.
Q: Anything else you can think of?
A: Not right now. After you leave, I'll probably think of something else.
Q: What advice would you give somebody starting out as a principal?
A: To have the patients of Jobe, really patient with children. Try to get to know the children as well as your teachers and parents. It really takes a lot of PR working with parents. Parents are really wonderful in supporting the school and the teachers. You have to work with them and let them know. They don't want to be shut out. They want to know what is going on. It's vital if you are going to have a good school. Work closely with your teachers, know what is being taught, know your curriculum. Try to learn the names, even the first names of students. I thought I'd start with the first grade coming in and know the first name to be able to speak to them. To be able to call child by their name when they enter or leave the building. You could see their face light up because the principal knows their name. Wouldn't know his last name, but if you know each class, of course Margaret Beeks got so large, sometimes I'd see a child and I'd say I haven't seen that child before and the teacher would say, well he's been here all year. It's really important to get around and get to know the children and let the children know that even though you're in charge of the building you're not this person in the office waiting for them to be sent to you, but that you're there as their friend to work with them and they have no fear of the principal. Just a lot of things principals can do to make a school better. Principals I know and I think I know all of them are doing an outstanding job. Every principal in this school system has their school at heart and is working hard to make it the best school. They're really outstanding and I think this town is lucky to have the administrators this town has. They are really outstanding.
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