Today is the 17th of February, 1987. This is an interview with Mr. Theodore L. Coleman of 2160 Hollybriar Point, Norfolk, Virginia. Mr. Coleman is a Navy retired LCDR and former Assistant Principal of Northside Junior High and Middle school. We are in the den of the house and it is 10:16 a.m.
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Q: Mr. Coleman, tell us a little bit about yourself.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, as I have said before, I was born in South Carolina, Florence. And, of course, I was born in 1923, which was pre-depression years. And I grew up during the depression years attending school. I attended I would say small to middle size elementary, junior high, and high schools. And I was graduated from Florence Senior High School, which was the only high school in the city of 22,000. Immediately after I graduated, I went into the Navy. I went into the Navy prior to World War II and stayed in for 26 year. I enlisted and during that time in the navy I went through my Master's Degree and I retired after 26 years. After I retired I had a degree and certification in Math and Guidance and Counseling. So, I became a Math teacher and taught for one year. Then I was Guidance Counselor for two years, then they asked that I be an assistant principal. So, I became an assistant principal and I spent nine years at Rosemont Junior High. I was an assistant principal one year at Jacox Junior High, one year at Blair Junior High, and then I transferred into a scheduling assistant principalship at Northside for five years. After that I retired.
Q: That's an outstanding career. Mr. Coleman, what was it like growing up in North Carolina?
A: In South Carolina? I enjoyed it. I had a very good family relationship. I had one sister who was two years older than I am, and I had both parents and both my parents came from fairly large families. So, I have a lot of cousins and uncles and aunts, all in the area, and I had a very good childhood, I think.
Q: Good. Were there any significant events that you remember when you were growing up that had an impact on you, or the way you view the world, the time and sense?
A: I think that both of my parents were positive thinking people. They, themselves, did not have the opportunity to complete high school because of family circumstances in which they found themselves. My mother lost her mother and she was the oldest daughter. So, consequently, it was her task to help raise the family and she had to quit school to do this. She lived on a farm. My father's father died when he was 14 or 15 and he went out on his own at an early age. I think both of them had good, strong family values that they felt should be tied in together. And they had positive aspects about education. They wanted us to go on in our education as much as possible.
Q: I'm going to take the time and read two sets of statements. What I'm looking for is to see which set best describes your personal values. Set 1.Take this job and shove it; let the good times roll; let it all hang out; I'll do it my way. Set 2.The law is the law; a penny saved is a penny earned; put away a little for a rainy day. Which statement best describes you?
A: I think I would ascribe more to set number two, but I feel that the two merge at some point, you have some in-between points on it. Such as I said a while ago, I think you have good positive values; and I think you look at those. But, I don't think you have to go to a strongly traditional demanding "the law is the law," or the "I'll do it my way" set number one. I think there's middle ground that I might ascribe to, but I think also that basically, set number two would fit me more.
Q: Let me read you some other statements. Tell me where you would classify yourself, and I would like you to answer why you think it's that way. 1.Reach out and touch someone. 2.Climb the highest mountain. If you were going to describe your personality, which one of these two would describe you best and why?
A: I think "Reach out and touch someone" because I have concern, my philosophy about the school is that I feel school must be child centered, student centered. I have a concern that I think in today's society, parents aren't necessarily doing all they can and too many times, through circumstances not of the parents' own, there are one parent, single-parent families. You need to let the students know that you are concerned for them, and of course, you want them to do the best they can. But, I think many a time you find that you can be satisfied without necessarily reaching the top of the mountain.
Q: You kind of answered the first question we had, "What is your philosophy of education." You kind of talked about that. Is there anything else you would like to expand on as far as --
A: I think when you determine your philosophy of education in the administrative viewpoint, I think that there are several things that you have to consider. One of them is, first of all, that the school is there for the students. And this is the reason I say you must have student-centered education. You must point your curriculum in that direction. Teachers must do the same, and the teachers must realize that they are there for the value of the students, not just for their job. I think if I were going to classify the priorities of how I do things in school, students would receive first priority. Teachers would receive second priority, administrators third, maybe, and then the school plan itself receive the last priority.
Q: Talking about priorities, you mentioned that the teachers were a number two priority. As far as in the classroom setting, what is your philosophy of teaching?
A: I don't ascribe to the lecture method totally. I think that the teachers must have discussions. Students ought to participate in the learning process. There are some things that require lecture, but too often lecture goes toward the regurgitation process. I'm going to give you information and then you just spit back to me the same information I've given you without much thought. And I think that you need students' thought in on it. You need their ideas so that you can determine where they might be going wrong.
Q: If you were going to talk about the third priority that you mentioned, the administrators in the schools, and the others that you mentioned, and you were going to talk about your leadership philosophy, what would you say about that? How would you classify, or what is your leadership philosophy?
A: My leadership philosophy is that we all must work together toward a common goal. As I said, that common goal isn't always climb the highest mountain, but you do try to do the greatest good for the greatest number of kids, or the greatest number of people. You want as many to learn as you can. You must have a positive attitude. Negative attitudes, I don't think ever work in any situation. And you work with teachers and students in so far as possible in decision making processes. You must always remember as an administrator though that it is your final decision that you must make. You must accept the responsibility for whatever decision is made. And while you can go along with the crowd, and things like this, you must always remember, you're the one who's going to make the final decision. You're the one that must accept the responsibility for the decisions that are made.
Q: How many years were you working as a teacher in a school setting and as a principal? To start off, how many years were you a teacher?
A: In public schools, I was a teacher for three years. Now, before that in the Navy, I had seven years of practical instruction also. And then I was a flight instructor in the Navy, too. In public schools, I considered myself a teacher when I was a counselor because I did have some classes, exploratory guidance type classes, to work with values of students, three years as teacher, one years of Math, two as counselor, then 16 as an administrator.
Q: What made you decide to become a principal? Since you were a teacher, what made you make that transition all the way to the administrative side of the house?
A: I think I did it basically because for the same reason that I went into teaching. I felt that -- I have a daughter who has a Ph.D. now and when she was in school, I felt a lot of time, for example: her Math class, she wasn't really getting the Math instruction that she could get and I felt that I had some expertise in the thing. I always was a lover of Math, and I had majored in Math. And I felt that I could help kids. When I went into guidance, I felt there I had the opportunity to help more than just the 170 that had been assigned to me as a teacher. I had 630 assigned to me as a guidance counselor. I got to work with a lot of them on values and things like that. Then, as an administrator, I'm working with the entire school, I felt working with teachers, and with students, that I had a better chance of getting the philosophy across that would help the teachers and student become better.
Q: Let me take you a little bit back into the school segment, talking about Northside Junior High and Middle School. Try to think of what was the philosophy, the educational philosophy that that school had, and how it was developed.
A: The educational philosophy of the school, I think, went along fairly consistently with traditional instruction. The teachers did go into a lot of discretion type teachings. When I say traditional instruction, I've always felt that traditional instruction was basically for students, and it's a discipline oriented school. The opportunity for the teachers to teach the students was going to be presented. In other words, we were not going to allow class disruptions to interrupt the teaching process. And if we had students to do this, we removed them from the classroom. We may remove them from classroom for classroom disruption to an in-school suspension room that we had developed. And the student there could work on his own with assigned work, under the supervision of a teacher in a small setting of 12 students and our teachers gave them work to do. In this manner, the remainder of the students could continue with their teaching, uninterrupted with discipline problems in their learning process. I think that this helped as much as anything. In the last five years that I was at Northside, for example, and the year that I was at Blair, the learning process at that time was much better than in the early '70's. In the early '70's, it was the case mainly, a lot of times I felt of almost survival of the school itself and the learning was not going on that should have gone on. There was a big upheaval of cross town bussing, and things that the teachers and the students had to become accustomed to and merge in together. We had too many conflicts. The discipline was very difficult to maintain, but we maintained it. But the thing of it is the teachers were not always as motivated to carry forth with the learning process as they should have been; some teachers weren't.
Q: You've mentioned three things that are kind of keyed to one of the things that I would like to ask you. You had like a suspension room you called it.
A: In-school suspension room.
Q: And that's basically like a time out situation.
Q: You also mentioned survival in the decade of the 1970's and also the issue of bussing which is very important. Basically, the way, correct me if I'm interpreting this wrong, but these issues had to do with the educational climate of the school. They kind of set that stage.
Q: I would like to ask you at this point, how did you create a healthy educational climate in your school?
A: I had a student advisory committee that I set up in Rosemont, and I carried that forth through all schools that I was located at. I think students thought they had input into the school climate. I attempted there to develop a positive atmosphere, positive thoughts, positive thinking, on the part of students, on the part of teachers. Because at the beginning of bussing, the massive cross town bussing that Norfolk did, there was a lot of negative thoughts on both teachers, some administrators, and on the students' parts. So, to get the school climate, you had to go for a positive climate. There wasn't any question about it. You had to get the students' help. If you didn't have student participation in it I don't think it would have been successful. Teachers had to participate. They had to be positive. And in some of them, it was almost a case of, you almost had to suggest to a few of them that maybe they could do better in other fields, that their attitudes would not foster good school relationships. I think that you always had to work on a positive student climate.
Q: The administrators and teachers and the community at that time obviously had to be incorporated in order to make such issues as bussing work. Is there any specific strategy that you used to do that you are aware of and could share with us?
A: It was very difficult in the '70's to get a PTA to work, for one thing, distance. Some parents had to travel to get to the school. Some neighborhoods they didn't want to go into at night where the schools were located. Rosemont, for example, was surrounded by woods when we first went there, and it's now surrounded by apartments and some single family homes. The negative attitude of some parents in accepting integration made it very difficult, but we worked toward getting parents to have positive attitudes. I think students were more positive than parents were in a lot of cases up at the junior high age. I think in the '70's we saw the starting of integration in schools; this gave us some problems by having kids who had not been together as black and white at that time in school settings, made it difficult at that age group to bring them together to integrate them. And I think it was great that they were integrating down in the lower levels first. I think this is part of the reason in the early '80's that we saw a positive aspect. I sometimes wonder now about the business of neighborhood schools. While I like the neighborhood school concept and I don't like to have to travel too much, I think it's a shame that they're going to have to start the integrating process, to a large degree, in the middle schools, and in going into the high schools I foresee some of the problems of the early '70's coming back to us. I think that one of the single most things that I did to help was that I had school activities aimed at bringing people together so that they would have a better understanding together of each other. We had clubs that went on during the school day as opposed to after the school day. We would have two days a week for a half hour each day so the student could belong to two different activities and this was a student activity period. Then at the end of the year, the culminating activity for the ninth graders, we had a promotion ceremony. We had a picnic. We had a dance, and this was for the ninth graders themselves. We did class pictures. All this was financed by fund raising on the part of the class. The class had to work together in that. We had 480 ninth graders at one time and I think this gave them something to look forward to and it gave them the opportunity to work and get a better understanding. I think that was one of the biggest human relations aspects that we had in the school.
Q: You mentioned the student activity period, and the promotion ceremony that you fostered in your school, what other leadership techniques did you use that made you successful besides these two?
A: Scheduling. I did a lot of schedule changing through the year. When a student goes into junior high school, you try to work up, not necessarily a tract for them, but you try to place them where their abilities are going to be best used, whether they'll be in a slower class, or a gifted class. Many times when you're doing this, you're doing this by test scores, by the grades that have been given you by elementary teachers, and when you schedule students like this, when they're hitting middle school years and they're changing maturity, this might not work so well. The test scores might fall completely apart. Well, you might have a very high achiever, for example, his behavior may be such, and he doesn't know why he's behaving the way he does, that precludes him from being in a class that would require more self-discipline and self-esteem than he or she is willing to exhibit at that time. So, I worked a lot on class changes. I didn't feel bad about at any time pulling one out if they were not performing where they should academically. Many a time, it's better that a student sit back and be more successful in their grades, than to sit in a high ability class and not be successful.
Q: The individual approach that you just took on scheduling and different placing the student in his real level of maturity on an individual basis, why did you feel that that was successful? Was there a specific reason? What made you think along those lines? What made you choose that strategy at that time?
A: Well, I think if you see success in school with a student, I think it helps their self esteem. I think it improves their values. It makes them more receptive to, maybe, value alteration if there's a possibility for it. And along those lines, I think that this is one reason I like the middle school/junior high age group so much. This is really one of the last chances that you have to work on values with students or with children. I worked with the teacher, the student, the guidance counselor, and the parent in trying to get the student placed where he should be placed.
Q: Were there any leadership techniques that were unsuccessful as far as the strategies--
A: I think with the individual sometimes that didn't work. But, of course, I don't know what would have worked with some of them that you try. The clubs, the student activities that I mentioned, one year, the first year that we tried it, it didn't work with that set of students. We finally had to slow it down and alter it to where we went to once a week with it and have the other day that we had assigned to club activities as a discussion period with the teachers and the counselors helping the teachers on it. And then the next year we went back into the student's two-club activity and it worked fine. I think that today they have something very similar in the middle schools and I think it's a great thing, teacher advisory groups they call them, where they work a couple of times a week with students in small groups of no more than 15. And they work with values and things, and this is a lot of what I did with the exploratory classes that I mentioned in guidance that I did back in the late 1960's.
Q: When the participatory type situations didn't work, did you try to sit down and try to figure out why? Was it something with the individual? Was it the setting that was not right, or as in the case you mentioned, the maturity level of the student? Why do you think that strategy of participation on the part of the student did not work for certain students?
A: I don't know. I think sometimes that maybe with the activity was the reason we had to back off and regroup on it. Maybe we didn't indoctrinate the students enough. Some of them, I felt, tried to see it more as a free play period, as opposed to a club activity where they could really gain some benefits from the club and help build up self image. They just wanted to play around. This is the reason we backed up and regrouped and started having discussions about it, the purposes of the student activity groups and how it would help them, and try to fit it toward them.
Q: Let me ask you one more question. If we were to take an imaginary tour in your building, tell us what we would see.
A: In Northside, for example, the last five years I was in school, you want the entrance to be pleasant. You want people when they walk in to feel comfortable with their surroundings, the grounds to be neat and well kept. One of the things I had as an alternative to suspension was my student, for example, Northside has a very beautiful campus. There must be 20 acres with a lot of trees, fall colors, absolutely beautiful, but when you get to fall colors, a lot of times you have Gum trees and you have gumballs. Well, gumballs would fall where we went outside. Once we had much, we allowed students to go outside in that area that would not interfere with any class and they'd have kind of a free time. We ran two lunch bells. So, while they were out there, we didn't expect them to be running around. We had one kid one time to run into a tree and knocked him out. So, we talked to them about that, no running around and things like this, but that particular area where we were going to have them out was going to have gumballs laying on the ground, it is as I said, when they were out on the break from lunch, the gumballs were there, and there was a strong tendency for them to throw them and things like this, so rather than suspending students, sometimes, I looked for alternatives to suspensions, tried to keep them in the classroom where they needed to be, then I assigned them to the school gumball raking. I had the permission of the parents, I called the parents and I told them what I was doing and they had a certain block or an area that they had to rake gumballs or rake leaves. This, a lot of times made the student realize he shouldn't misbehave, but at the same time he realized that he had to accept punishment for his misbehaving. Raking gumballs was not a pleasure, and especially when it took maybe a half hour of his time after school and if he didn't rake his allotted plot during that half hour period of time, and really he could do it in about 20 minutes, then the parent was in agreement that he should rake until he completed his job. If he didn't complete it in one day, he may have had to come back another day and do it. That was just one of the things that kept the school grounds in nice shape. The other thing is the halls. Halls were, during transfer, 750 students are, or such as we had at Rosemont, we had 1,400 one time almost, 1,350 students are quiet, orderly, teachers were in the halls, in the doors, and if any teachers were floating teachers, they would transfer from one class to the other with the flow of the students. Administrators should always be in the halls during change of classes, highly visible, not just standing in front of the office door, not even out of the office, you must be out where the students are. Counselors, if they were not actually in a counseling session at the time, they were out in the halls. And the halls always stayed nice and quiet and orderly. The students could talk, but we didn't expect yelling. But, they could talk when they were transferring. We didn't expect them to be a bunch of zombies. The bulletin boards were assigned to different departments or groups and they kept the bulletin boards up, kept them changed for seasonal things or other subject matter. Our scheduling toward school motivation was part of what -- we put them in clusters. In the seventh grade, for example, students got assigned to clusters, part of it by ability, and part of it was also by what they were taking, music, for example, if they were taking chords, of if they were taking strings, or band. We tried to place them where they would have common interests with students. We tried to work in clusters towards school and community projects. The clusters would be maybe fund raising together so that they could take a science field trip together, for example, to Richmond to the museum. The halls always clean, students might be assigned to help clean up the halls as part of after school work as an alternative to suspension. The rooms and bathrooms clean and neat. We use bells for transfer. I was always interested in trying one thing that I saw in a school in North Kansas City, Missouri. They used lights. Of course, they were on modular scheduling, some students were in the hall at least every 15 minutes and they had lights on the side of the halls where they actually lighted the halls, but the center lights, the overhead lights in the center of the halls were on for a period of four minutes, when there was going to be some class transfer. When those lights came on the teachers knew that their 15 minutes sectional time was up. They stayed on for four minutes while the students made the transfer and when they were turned off, there were to be not students in the halls. We thought that was an interesting aspect and I never will forget, the maintenance people in Norfolk timed our lights in to where it would work, but I think we have an electronic bell anyway that was not a disturbing bell and teachers and students both respect it. I guess the auditorium where we have assembly, we expect it quiet for students when they went into the auditorium. They were seated as they entered and we filled in from front to back. We didn't have any specifically assigned area as we didn't want to have confusion in that. They just came in and seated, and filled in all seats from front to back as they came in from the halls and we sent them down orderly. We expected that they would show proper respect toward any speaker or anyone that we had. We were commended many times for the behavior of the students in the auditorium. I think the students felt a certain pride in the school whenever they saw that we can go in as a group of almost 600 students at one time into an auditorium and behave in a manner that teachers aren't having to chastise us. There were many an assembly when no student got pulled out of the auditorium for discipline, many an assembly. And I think that was because of that pride that the students themselves had.
Q: Talking about pride, there is a two-fold question that I have to ask to add to this one here. The first one is, having to do with pride. Pride is usually expressed in a school setting and the graffiti on the wall. Students feel kind of frustrated where they are not able to express their opinions, they might go ahead and write it on the wall.
A: We didn't have any at Northside. The building in itself, and I have always felt this very strongly, that if you keep a clean building, that you're going to see much less graffiti than if you just let the building run down. If you have trash on the floor, you're going to find more trash on the floor. If you don't have students periodically clean out their lockers, then you're going to start seeing effects of graffiti and things like this. If the students see that you reflect pride in the building, they're going to take pride in the building. You will see much less graffiti. Now, the only thing that I have never been able to figure out is that I can go into a boy's rest room at the school and through the year never see any writing or graffiti. But, go into the girl's rest room and there it is. This always surprises me. I never could understand that. It wouldn't be a lot of it. There would be some, though.
Q: How about the teachers? Pride is something that, obviously the teachers were doing something right if the students were not writing graffiti and were well-behaved in the auditorium and other parts of the building, but what kind of support did you obtain from them in all these endeavors? Was there a lot of resistance?
A: I think they realized that we all worked together on it, and I think the teachers took pride in the building as well as the administrator. If you have a good custodian who's interested in and takes pride in his work, the teachers sense this and they work at it, and the administrator works at it and the administrator doesn't have to work at it too hard if the students and the teachers take pride in it. All you have to do is keep it rolling, your pats on the back and your motivation from it and you can't help but appreciate it, as an administrator, when you have people that work toward it.
Q: That's very good. I think I have a pretty good idea of the school. Did you have any problems as far as the school is concerned getting materials, the upgrade of the building facilities and things like that?
A: Not really. Norfolk is very good about that. They've always been good about that and if you didn't have the money, you did some fund raising. For example, I talked about picnics and things a while ago. There's no way you could get a school fund to go toward that, so consequently, you went out and raised the money for it, all paper for teachers so that the kid wouldn't have to do a lot of writing of questions that the teachers have put on the board or something like this. We have duplicating machines that we would buy. We did some of that with fund raising. Some of our fund raising money went for additional paper so that we could have that because the school system, they could not afford to allot you all of the paper that you needed when you were doing things like that.
Q: In your opinion, how do teachers expect the building principal to behave? What's your expectation of that?
A: They want him to be a leader to show them the way. They want input, but there's many a time they want him to make a decision even though some of them want it to be the way they feel. They still want the principal to make the decision. But they want input on it and I think that it's only fair that they should have input when you're working with people. I think that in anything you have a lot of educational expertise on a staff of teachers and you're failing as an administrator if you don't take advantage of that. While maybe you're still taking courses yourself, you must remember that a lot of those teachers are working towards their Masters or higher degrees and they have a lot of input they can give you--a lot of profitable input.
Q: How do you perceive that they saw you?
A: I have a picture I'll show you after awhile. (Laughs). They thought that there were times when I may have come on a little strong insofar as discipline, because I did feel strongly toward discipline, and then there were times they felt that I was too lax on it. They wanted me--there were some teachers that wanted me to be a much stronger disciplinarian than I was. I felt that you must work together to get the student to understand what they have done wrong, and go from there toward making positive corrections in behavior, values, whatever. There's many a time that when a student came into my office on that issue of three day suspension, at the same time they got a piece of candy. I kept a ten pound bag of candy in my office, and I always gave them a mint or something like that. They knew that they were cared for still when they walked out of the office--I don't care what I had done insofar as administering discipline, they knew that I still cared for them as a person and as an individual. The teachers--they knew that I cared for the students, too, and the teachers knew that I was working with students as the number one item in the school.
Q: Let's talk about the school setting. Some educational researchers have, and one that I kind of looked over was Campbell. He points out that the role of the principal has changed from the traditional role of interpreting educational programs to a more difficult one of assessing the school, assessing the community, the nation, to determining the aspirations and the needs of the society the school serves. Do you perceive your job, the job that you had as an assistant principal in that light, that it was changing? No longer did you just stay in your office and interpret the educational program, did you have to get out in the community? Did you have to look and see how the nation was acting, where it was headed, what were the latest issues? How do you feel about this particular question?
A: This is the reason that I mentioned a few minutes ago the student advisory committee. I think that along with the student advisory committee I also had a parent advisory committee. I tried to get the parents to give me input. I tried to get teachers to give me input. I think that you have to get a feel of what society and the community itself want. The school actually is a product of society and I think this has been determined long ago. I think it still is true and I don't think you just sit there and work education to the blotting out of everything else. In today's society you have to have students. There are many values that you work on. They formerly were given in the home. You have to look at the society. You will find that those values are not being given in the home. This is along the lines of sex education. That is the reason that sex education came up. Many persons still say that belongs in the home. I wonder now with the single-parent families, and I can't stress that single-parent families strong enough because they're becoming more and more. Out of 20 students in one of the guidance sessions that I had, even back in 1969, 15 of them lived in single parent families. I had in Northside the first year I was there, I asked about one particular bus I checked in, there was one student on there that lived with both, original parents and there were either 44 or 45 kids on that bus. Just from the records, I checked the records. I didn't even talk to them about it, although I did talk to some of them about it. The thing of it was one student out of 44 or 45 kids lived with his original set of parents. Now, some of them had stepfathers, or stepmothers they were living with, two parents "in the house," but there was an awful lot of them that were single parents. This is society and you've got to take that into consideration. You've got to work with those kids.
Q: What kind of pressure did you face as an assistant principal in the light of what you just said about single parents and some of the issues you mentioned before, bussing, integration? These are issues that you had to come to grips with. What kind of pressure do they bear on school that you felt while you were executing your job?
A: I think that there's a lot of stress in the administration. I think there's a lot of stress in teaching, too. I feel that you dealt with the stress in the best way you knew how. I feel that stress comes from parents who a lot of times feel their child can do no wrong. They want to cover up what the child has done. Some parents even lie about some things. Some parents are finally coming to the realization that when that child reaches the middle school age group, 13, 14, that maybe they have raised a child who is not perfect and this is a hard thing for some people to accept. I think, of course, that you need to pick it up from there and go on. And this is what you do in working with parents. It's not a nice thing to have to sit and discuss with a parent, that a child is not perfect, because many of them want their child to be perfect. And of course, many of them don't care. Sometimes it's very difficult to get parents in to talk about their child. I believe totally that you do not only work with the child but you must work with its parents. It's a way to help get positive corrections in. I think there's a lot of stress in things like that and I think any time you deal with rightness or wrongness and the child and the child coming in denying they have done something wrong in class and the teacher is saying yes, they have done something, when you're sitting in judgment, you have stress. These are the pressures that as an administrator you have to learn to handle and while you can't help but take some of those things home with you, you still have to learn that when you leave your job, that you must leave some of those pressures back there or you will be a raving maniac.
Q: How did you handle those challenges? Were there any activities that you did that could help other administrators alleviate some of the pressures? We talked about the bussing which is a pretty stressing situation. What strategies or techniques did you use to alleviate the pressures that you were talking about before?
A: I think that there are some things that you just have to realize are beyond your control, for example, the recent decision to stop the cross town bussing at the elementary school level and they are still going to continue in the middle and the high schools. So, the high schools and the middle schools are going to have to deal with the problem of seeing that students for the first time become integrated together, for example, there are some students in the elementary schools, if you ask some students in the City of Norfolk to draw a house, they're going to draw an apartment because they've lived in housing complexes all their life. That's all they have seen. Now those same students are going to be going to the first grade and within the housing complex in a lot of situations, Robert Park School, Young Park Elementary School, Tidewater Park Elementary School, all these schools are located right down in low-cost housing complexes. Those students are going to go now their first six years of school in those schools, right in that neighborhood. And then they're going to go, for example, Young Park is going to go to Northside Middle School. They're going to be bussed completely across town. For the first time, some of those kids are going to be seeing houses, individual single family houses, which they never have before and they are going to try to come in now and try to become a part of that society and a part of that culture and the teachers are going to try to teach them. And the lousiest teachers are coming from the single family units. It's going to be a difficult problem. I don't really have an answer for it. I don't know how I would handle it. I would have to take it as it came. And I hate to go back on your previous childhood experiences for the way you are. And if you look at some teachers that teach, they're teaching the way some teachers influenced them to teach back in their childhood. These pressures, I don't know how you're going to alleviate them.
Q: Let's talk about some other things. How about teacher grievances? How did you handle that kind of pressure?
A: Well, first of all, I've never actually had a teacher file a grievance. It might be that I've been lucky. It might be just that the teachers I had didn't want to file a grievance because I know that I had some teacher dissatisfaction at some time during the course of my life. But any time you have teacher dissatisfaction, if you want to call that a grievance as opposed to a formal filing of a grievance, I tried to get the teachers to feel that at all times my door was open, that they could come discuss things with me, they could discuss things with the principal, they could discuss things with their department chairman. In any thing, it could be administrative or corrective, if a teacher really had a justifiable complaint, they could be corrected by administration if it was going to be corrected. If the complaint wasn't justified, for example, maybe it was a case where a student should be changed from a class or something, I hesitated. While I made class changes on academic abilities, if there was a personality clash between a teacher and a student, we worked on everything we could to get the teacher and the student to understand each other's position and I didn't go pulling that child out just because they didn't get along. Many parents would call and demand their child be removed immediately from a class and I'd say hold on, I'm not going to do that. It might be that we didn't have another teacher teaching the class, so they were going to have to learn to get along. I think teacher complaints that we would take care of fairly rapidly as much as we could. If a teacher had a complaint about a student we'd get the teacher, the student, the guidance counselor, maybe myself to sit in together. We would talk and try to come to some satisfactory solution.
Q: What about dismissal? Did you ever have to dismiss a teacher?
A: No, I had one teacher that I suggested, as I said before, that maybe she go into another occupation. She took my suggestion. There was another one that I had on a plan of action that resigned. She saw the handwriting on the wall. One teacher was incompetent. There wasn't any question in my mind, and the other I suggested go into another field because there was going to be no opportunity, if she didn't have the educational background to teacher her subject matter. There was no need for her to try to continue as a teacher. This was where we saw the incompetence. She resigned before the end of the year. The other teacher whose interdiscipline methods with students, her aloofness with students and not willing to listen to students at all finally got to where we had to sit down and go on a plan of action with her and just her teaching methods. When we went into the plan of action and started the observation, she resigned. One of her problems was, she probably could have been a good teacher if she had been willing to accept some training. She was having some problems at home and I think she was more into the problems at home than she was into the problems at school.
Q: Are there any other issues that you know of that would bear some pressure on a principal that we can discuss?
A: I think we've pretty much covered it. It goes with the job.
Q: If you were to think of some things that make an effective principal, what does it take to be an effective principal?
A: I think you've got to have confidence in your abilities. I think you've got to realize that your opinion isn't the only opinion that can be right. And I think you need to have the ability to work with people and of course those would be qualified professionals. Your professional qualifications must be right up there to where you can do them.
Q: If you had to do it all again, would you start off from scratch on what you know today, what would you do to better prepare yourself for the principal position.
A: I don't know. I think I took a pretty good path. I really feel that, and I've had people express this from time to time, and I had to disagree with them, they said that there was a guidance position, or counseling position and there was an administrative position on matter. They didn't feel that the two could work together. In other words, if you were to administrate, if you had to take a harder line than you did as a counselor. I have often felt that as an administrator all you're doing is counseling. So, I couldn't agree with them in their position. I think this is one reason I always felt pretty comfortable being an administrator, because I felt that as a counselor, or as an administrator you had to counsel. Therefore, my background in counseling helped me as much as anything.
Q: So, you would say that for the teacher, let's say you were signing on a program for a certain university and you were thinking the teachers of the future, how they will have to react to problems, based on your experience, what kind of, along the traditional curriculum that teachers go through, what area would you think needs to enhance their preparation?
A: I feel that your subject matter that the teacher's going to teach, be well-qualified in that. I feel that the teacher must be aware of how to get along with people. This is difficult to teach, personalities. For example, back in the '70's when the teachers' salaries were not very high, and the other professions were starting to out distance teachers, I think that too often some students thought, well, I can't do anything else so I'll teach. I think this is a -- I think that the type of teacher that you want, you want one that is well-qualified in their field and they've got to have an effective personality and ability to get along with people. A lot of times it's very difficult to marry in a highly qualified person in their professional field, their academic area as opposed to their personality. Sometimes people have a tendency to think of a Math teacher, for example, of being some kind of not necessarily gregarious type person. But, Math teachers an be very gregarious type people and they can be highly qualified in their field. You want people who are comfortable with themselves. And if they're comfortable with themselves, they usually have fairly good values and they have the ability to get along with people, and they are the people who are qualified in their academic areas. They are highly qualified normally.
Q: Based on your experiences at the different schools that you have worked at, are there characteristics that you associate with an effective school?
A: I think the ability for the people to work together, a person who knows where he's going as your leader, not so much if he's going to flounder and grasper at different areas. They had to have a well-thought out philosophy. And I think the motivating students, those students who have the ability to be motivated, I think this makes an effective school. I think the plant makes a lot of difference. If you have a good, positive looking, clean plant, school plant, that makes a difference toward an effective school. Positive attitudes, with a community willing to support the school. I don't think they're going to be effective if they don't get some community support in there. That's about it.
Q: Talking about community, it's funny that you mentioned that, what kind of role did you play in community relations in regard to your school, the last setting you were in?
A: Well, of course, the keeping of the school grounds clean and neat. I think you have fewer complaints from your neighborhood and you will find that the neighborhood will complain if your school grounds are not up to what they think the neighborhood should be. I think if you attend community affairs, community functions in large cities, sometimes this is not done as much as it should be. But, if we had a school function at night, I felt that you should be there. The administration should always be out. There wasn't any question about it. I even went to some of the neighborhood little league ball games and stuff like this to support students that we had, also to be seen in the community and for the community to know that I had an interest. I believed in visiting some of the neighborhood establishments. They knew who I was and they knew my position within their community. I think they appreciated that. When Civic League would meet at our school, although I wasn't a member of the Civic League, I would drop by for a visit occasionally so that if they had any questions they wanted to ask about the school's part in the community, I would be able to answer it. I think you have to participate in community relations.
Q: So, participation is the key in all these.
A: Right. Right.
Q: For the professional staff, how did you influence the professional development for those teachers that you worked with during the years?
A: Well, first of all, teachers have to get so many hours every few years education for professional development to keep their certificate. What I tried to talk with teachers about was if they participated in things that they should participate in, they would find that the hours were going to come anyway. Courses, I suggested strongly as always that their courses be working toward another degree, rather than just taking something to survive. It would help them professionally as opposed to saying that we had teachers with Bachelor's and so many with Master's. If people could see that they were working toward a Master's Degree, it made a difference. I always tried to get teachers, for their own self-esteem to work towards degrees as opposed to just working on survival courses, so to speak. We had inservice training and we had planned whereby we would work inservice training towards some noncollege credit courses for the teachers for their betterment. That's one reason I suggested they work toward their degrees in their college work because these would come along anyway. We worked on specifics, for example, when we made the transition from the junior high school to the middle school concept, we did two years of inservice training with teachers for that. In doing these inservice training periods, the teachers picked up non-college credit courses and we managed to get college credit courses for some because they brought in a college professor and we worked in conjunction with ODU in getting courses for credit. I think the professional development of teachers, you need to work on that all the time with them and let them know that you appreciate them getting additional degrees, not just for their own monetary advantage, but for the advantage of the school. It did make the school look better. It made the school look more professional to know that the teachers were interested in their own education as well as their children's education.
Q: Along with the education and encouraging them to grow professionally, as you were guiding these new teachers and some of the older teachers along in their professional careers, how did you evaluate them? What methods did you use to evaluate the teachers?
A: I used classroom observations, conferences with them, getting their thoughts on things, and asking for their participation in matters. You have different functions of jobs in schools and one of the amazing things was that you always had someone willing to volunteer for it. That's what made you have a good feeling about the attitude of the school. The evaluation, a lot of it was through informal observations of teachers, as you were walking down the hall each day and you must be in the halls not only during class changes, but between class changes. As a result of that you got to see a lot of things go on. The actual writing up and evaluating of teachers were usually done on a formal basis, formal classroom observation.
Q: What makes a good teacher?
A: I think a person interested in themselves. They feel comfortable with themselves. A person willing to continue their own education and feel the need for continuing their own education. The ability to get along with students. They're highly qualified in their actual field, if it's English, they're well-qualified in English. If it's Math, they're well-qualified in Math. But, the ability to get along with people means an awful lot and there's no course that I know of that teaches that. You just have to have internal enthusiasm that a teacher has, or a person has.
Q: How can we, referring to educational institutions, school administrators, improve the quality of education for the future raising experiences, raising procedure so that those institutions have indicators into ones education as it will come in the future?
A: Work together with everyone for the betterment of the quality of education; for example, try to evaluate and see what has not worked and what has worked. Not only in your system, but in other systems. I just returned from the National Convention of Secondary School Principals and this is one thing that you do when you go to those, you sit and listen to leaders in the field, national leaders in the field and see what has worked for some of the other outfits. You sit down in workshops at those conventions and even though I've retired, I still feel that I should take part in things like this and work on improving the quality. I am a field consultant right now for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. There are only 18 of us in the country. I feel the quality of education and working with student administrators in trying to improve the quality of things like this that I can still make a contribution to that.
Q: Let me let you enumerate the key traits that made you successful as an assistant principal.
A: I think that we've covered that. If you feel comfortable about yourself, your feel confident in what you're doing, and you are willing to listen to others, and you try to better yourself professionally at all times as I just said, and that you're willing to spend a lot of hours. And while that hadn't come up in any of this, it takes time and if you're willing to devote -- if you're going to be an assistant principal or a principal, you've got to be willing to devote a lot of time to the job.
Q: What caused you to choose retirement when you did?
A: I felt that it was time that I devote some more time to myself. Actually, I have worked since I was 12 years old. When I retired I was almost 63. So after 50 years of work, I decided that I wanted to do some things. I like to fly still; I was a pilot in the Navy, and I have my own plane and I like to fly. I wanted to devote some time to flying. I like woodwork. I like fishing. I do a lot of computer work still, and things like that. I felt that I needed to do some things like that and enjoy the golden years so to speak.
Q: What have I not asked you that I should have asked?
A: I can't think of a thing.
Q: First of all, before I go away, I wanted to personally thank you. Not only have you provided us with good information, but I've grown a lot as you have been talking. As I mentioned before, I was listening on a personal basis to get some feedback, to get some insight to what I could use to become a better administrator in the future. Those students who come after us and read the information you have provided for us will be doing a lot better than those who did not have this information. Once again, we thank you in behalf of VPI/ODU Doctoral Program and on behalf of myself.
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