Interview with Rudolph Claytor


This is the interview is with Rudolph Claytor, retired principal, from Rockbridge County. Today's date is May 29, 1997.

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Q: Mr. Claytor, we're going to start off by having you tell us about your family background, your interests, those kinds of things which would give us an idea where you're coming from.

claytor audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: Well, I was raised in Rockbridge county, right her in fact. I was born in a house a hundred yards from this one. Uh I was the seventh child of a family of seven, born in 1930. So you can imagine where that put a family of ten, my grandfather too. So I came up during the depression and we dug our living out of the soil right here on this hill.

Q: Did you go to school here in Rockbridge county?

A: Entirely. I went to Buffalo Forge School for two years , to Glasgow in 1939, and graduated from Natural Bridge High School in 1948.

Q: Your college education, would you tell us a little bit about that and how it prepared you for entering the field of teaching?

A: Well, if I could I would like to tell you that the thing to do then was to buy you a new car. So I got me a job at James Lees or Burlington here in the county. And I bought me a new car and stayed until the Korean War got me for the military. I was in the military for four years. So that was a major crossroads when I was discharged fronm the military because I liked the military much better than I did industry. So I decided I had the GI bill, no money but the GI bill, so I would come out of uh, the military and try college. So I tried - So I tried college and liked it ok, so I stayed with it and got my bachelor's degree.

Q: How long did you serve as a teacher?

A: Uh, two years.

Q: Only two years.

A: I served two years as a high school English teacher and one year as a Seventh grade English teacher teaching English.

Q: What school was this?

A: I taught one year at Effinger High School and Natural Bridge Elementary.

Q: So you became a principal in uhhhhh, what year?

A: In 1961.

Q: And how many years were you a principal?

A: I think it was 20. Elementary principal 20. Yeah.

Q: I wonder if you would discuss the experiences in your life that constituted important decision points in your career. How do you feel about those now?

A: Well, when I finished college my wife was a teacher, so I wanted to try teaching also.I did of course. I startted teaching my first year for $2600. And uh, the only reason I got the $2600 rather than the $1600 was that my wife had about six years experience and Floyd Kay was Superintendent wouldn't pay me less than he paid my wife, so I got up to $2600 my first year. Now, where were we, high points?

Q: Right, what points?

A: Well, the main thing I had to do was earn a living at this time I had two kids, so my wife and me teaching barely made a living. So after one year of teaching at Effinger High School they offered me the principalship at Goshen, Goshen High School. And I couldn't take that because you can't get from Plank Road to Goshen. It was too far to drive , so I accepted a teaching position in Natural Bridge elementary and I spent one period in the office learning administration that second year of teaching.I had to get into administration to earn a living was the major point. And then after getting intoelementary school administration, I liked it and thought I was contributing enoough so that Icontinued to do it. And then,yeah, after six or seven years of elementary principalship I was offered a general supervisor's job in central office under another superintendent. And I took that and I worked seven, eight, nine years in central office. But each time I preferred the elementary principalship over everything. Each time I moved up I did it for money. Because the elementary schools are where the good things happen.

Q: Still feel that way?

A: Yeah. Absolutely.

Q: What motivated you to, um, excuse me, I think I will skip that question, you have already answered that.

A: Ha,Ha.

Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy, philosophy of education, and how did that evolve over the years?

A: My personal philosophy of education is is to stay away from jargon and concentrate on production. Doing something for the kids, you give them some information so they can use that information and roll and think. You teach them to think, you teach them to act and you be responsible for your actions. You see, to me that rolls it all in a real tight ball. If you've got information, will think, will act and be responsible uh, you ought to be a pretty good citizen.

Q: Would you describe your instructional philosophy in school? In terms of how that developed over the years. Was it the same with elementary school as it was for secondary schools?

A: Well no, not, not really the same. Each time you have to take a youngster where they are and that is a great determining factor in establishing wherea student is and taking them where they are and taking them as far as you can during that year. But uh, my philosophy uh is you teach kids reading,writing and arithmetic now I'm talking K 12 now. You teach them reading, writing and arithmetic . All subject matter falls under those three Rs' so they can earn a living you teach them the three Rs'. Then you teach them the music, the art, the literature the aesthetics so they will know how to live. So they can earn a living and know how to live after they've learned it. Does that make any sense Cindy? It does to me.

Q: Well, what experiences have influenced your management philosophy?

A: Well, I, uh I'm I'm from Judo Christian heritage, and and I think that has the biggest, maybe not in educational jargon would it have the biggest influence on my philosophy, but I like to treat everybody right. I am also a believer in a good day's work for a good day's pay. So, that treatin' everybody fair, being honest, uh, I found if you treat people that way, they're generally treat you that way, and that's the way I like to be treated. That sort of established my management philosophy.

Q: Are there any specific events that made an impact on the way you conducted yourself as a manager?

A: Oh, it was many, many. I can think of one offhand that I had this uh, this janitor that was the best old soul there ever was. She wasn't real bright. Well, she was bright, but she wasn't a genius or anything. She worked hard and we played with her hard. And if I stopped on my way home from work she was supposed to work three more hours and but if I stopped she passed me on the way home. And the labor department came in here and they got the poor old lady in my office and got her to tell them she was working 60 hours a week and that made me realize that when the labor department came in and I was givingher a break that you had to live to a certain extent by the book. You had to keep those hoursand you had to make everybody report on time and leave on time and a lot of people don't like that type of management, but that one particular thing uh, influenced my management style, and then you have your real good teachers who report on time and leave on time and then you have your people that are aren't like that. And I thought that most people were alike until I had to deal withmany people on different levels.

Q: Are there any other events you can think of that really brought home some sort of change or major influence in how you managed your school?

A: No, with the realization that people will generally treat you about like you treat them and if you treat them with integrity, with honesty, with love they treat you the same way. And if you don't, if you come down on them hard ah, they will reciprocate. I had a lady one time that was a time, I had been in management for several years. Ah, but I called them all together five minutes after school, and I just chomped on them. And ah I said that's all and I picked my notebook up to leave and she said "hold on there young man" and I said "Yes, Mrs. McAlpin" She said "You wasn't talking to me today. You were talking to somebody else. And when you've got something to say to me you say it to me. Don't call me in here when you're not talking to me." Ha, Ha. And that, that makes sense. Ah, so ah that influenced me terribly. I usually handled problems when they occurred if I couldn't handle them when they occured I ah set them aside until I could. But you don't call everybody in when it's only one or two guilty. But that influenced me.

Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning?

A: Well, I believe that cleanliness, we'll start at the bottom. I believe cleanliness is next to godliness and I liked a clean building. I liked a bright building, so I had good lighting and clean paint. Uh, and then I tried to generate wholesome, happy atmosphere where kids wanted to come and teachers wanted to come and participate and have a good time and do things. And uh make it interesting. And all the time I'm doing this I'm telling them, now look let's not forget we're ...teaching and learning is hard work. Now let's get on with it, but we're going to have a good time while we're doint it. And we're going to do it in a good environment, a good, clean whole- some environment. By keeping the bathrooms clean. Have the kids look after things of that nature. But it's a day to day management thing that you take care of every day and you teach all these concepts that they don't get elsewhere. A day's work for a day's pay. Ah, you always produce more than you consume. You don't spend more money than you have. You don't charge it. A little economics. Cleanliness. You do it as you go along.

Q: Were there any things that you tried in setting up the climate in a school that didn't work?

A: Oh gosh, more didn't work than, than did. Take the things I just mentioned. Some people just don't like to be clean. Ah, some people don't want to be in a bright energetic place. They want to be slothful, dirty. They want to be left alone. They want to sleep. Ah, most of the things you try they work a little and some a whole lot. You try different things as you go along.

Q: What kinds of things do you think teachers expect principals to be able to do?

A: I feel strongly about this. I think a teacher expects a principal to help them to teach. To make, as far as I'm concerned that's the only thing a principal has to do. To get in there and take the all the deterrents out of the way of the teacher so that she can work with the kids and teach. And I depended on ah teachers to do that. I would take, I would take any thing that would promote that. I would take that, like keeping the records. I kept the records in the office. A behavior problem. The only thing a teacher had to do was to stand a behavior problem outside the door. Uh, and as I went up and down the hall I knew if you were standing outside the door that you needed to see me. So the only thing a principal has to do is to help the teacher teach.

Q: What are the personal characteristics that you think make a good principal?

A: Humh..first comes intelligence ah, energy, ah information, ah the liking of people of students and teachers. Oh you, physical features, well dressed, well groomed. There cleanliness is next to godliness. Ah, everything about you is consumed in a principalship. Whatever you are that's the kind of principal you will be.

Q: As a follow up question, would you describe the expectations both professional and personal that were placed upon principals by their employers and the community during your period of employment, and how does that differ from today? A: Well, yes it's a difference from today. Ah, at one time you could take a teacher and student tell them what you expected and you pretty much got that. And then a few years later the teacher started asking why. And a few years after that the students started asking why. A good number of teachers and kids asking why on every directive or practically every directive ah it was time consuming and a principal has a tendency to be more autocratic because of the time element,not because he wants to be. And the further it's gone the courts started mandating certain types of behavior from the, the principals and teachers and it's, it's for a lack of a better word, it's a loss of control. It's a, you can't manage students and teachers like you used to. I thought and I still think I knew what I was doing and I should be allowed to do it. Well you, within certain confines. But the confines are getting narrower and narrower. So it's more difficult now to manage and to administer and to lead an instructional program.

Q: Now, when you first became a principal we were talking early sixties.

A: Yeah.

Q: So when did you start seeing the changes? When the teachers questioned you? when the students questioned you?

A: Uh, early on, mid-sixties especially, when we integrated the blacks and the whites. And ah, of course that generated somewhat ah, it sort of got in the way of instruction. You spent more time on management than you did an instructional program. I was fortunate in that during the integration period I knew all the blacks and all the blacks knew me. Ah, they liked me and I liked them. The kids, the blacks and the whites didn't know each other like I knew the blacks and the whites. So they had a little more difficulty and that's when these questions started. Well, you let him do that and you. .they tried to make it a black and a white issue which I would have no part of, but I say it started in 63, 64 and 65 that teachers and kids started saying " why, I'm not going to do that." or "I don't want to do that" or "You can't make me do that" and ah it's gradually gotten more difficult.

Q: Speaking of integration there's a question that we were going to touch on later on, what was your role in terms of integration in Rockbridge County?

A: It was wonderful. It was probably the most successful role I played. Because I had known the principal of the black school here in Glasgow practically all my life. We were about the same age and he was principal of the black school and I was principal of the white school and most of our black population was at the south end of the county, in Glasgow and Natural Bridge. So uh we integrated in Rockbridge County because the black administrator and the white administrator at the two schools in the area had been friends. He had been to my house to eat and uh we fished a lot together. So we were friends and integration went very smoothly.

Q: When did that take place? Do you remember what year that was?

A: I believe it was 1964. Might have been after that. It was in the sixties. When was the civil rights act? Was it 1964, 65? (1964) Then or shortly thereafter.

Q: Was that when Natural Bridge High School was formed?

A: No, no. Natural Bridge High School was built in 1939.

Q: When integration took place, did the black school close? Everybody went to Natural Bridge High School at that time?

A: The high school, the black high school was in town, Lylburn Downing.

Q: Oh, I see.

A: The black high school kids from the south end of the county went to Lexington to high school. Uh, we had a black elementary school in Glasgow, but no high school.

Q: And that's where head start is now?

A: Yeah.

Q: OK. So when integration occurred the black students from where Lylburn Downing is now split up into the three county high schools that existed at that time?

A: Yeah. uhuh. You were here then, weren't you? (Yes sir.)

Q: A good deal of attention has been given to personal leadership in recent years. Discuss the techniques that worked for you, and an incident when it didn't work. Your personal leadership.

A: What personal leadership, you get there first. stay all day and leave last. That's the first prerequisite. In the meantime you watch the people you work with come in and you greet them and you help them solve their problems as they come in. You visit them during the day. That's the way I personally led and solving problems as they came you got more solved and more expeditiously. When it didn't work was when occasionally. I only had one man that refused to report to work on time. I just told him that he didn't have a job there any more, to please report to the superintendent's office that the superintendent had hired him, so he could tell him where he wanted him. And it didn't work, but it did work. Because the superintendent went right along with me. I think he let him finish our the year somewhere else.

Q: I have a story that one of your former teachers told me when I told her I was interviewing you. She said that one of the things she remembered about you was that you brought the notices around every morning and she thought it was really unusual that the principal did that when there lots of other people who could do that. But she said as she looked back on that later she now thinks the reason you did that was that you were always visible and it kind of gave you that natural in to the classroom. My students were never surprised when Mr. Claytor came in to observe me because he was always in and out of the classroom. Is that true or is that...?

A: No, you said it better and make it sound better than I can. But yeah, that's a true story. Any chance that I had which meant takin the memos around each morning, I used. I visited the classroom every chance I had. Always once or twice a day. I didn't need to have a reason. I went to every class every day. Ah, and I didn't feel I was completely successful until I could walk into the classroom and back out and the teachers and the kids didn't even notice me. When they didn't notice folks were coming in and leaving then I considered myself successful with that visitation.

Q: Apparently you were successful, that's one of the things she said was that the kids never noticed when you came and went in the classroom. There are those that argue that more often than not central office policies hinder rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this?

A: Well yeah. I disagree. I believe central office is a service center to help the principal help the teachers to teach. I think the only thing that is needed is from the top to the bottom or the bottom to the top of the organization of a structure and where the powers that be insist that everybody retain or restrain themselves within that organization's structure. And it only gets out of kelter when the principals starts running around the superintendent to the school board trustee or some local politician. I am a strong advocate of central office handing down policy that administrative directives from the board policy board, directives from the superintendent and to the principal and the principal to the teacher working this directive, directives out. Central office, uh central office is an integral part of the system. Ah, it is sort of the hub which makes us go round.

Q: If you were king, what changes would you make in systemwide organization?

A: The change would be that everybody remain within the organizational structure and I have never seen that work completely. Somebody always gets around gets around somebody. I would dare say that if you asked the teacher that told you the story about me a moment ago if she would go around me to the superintendent or to a school board trustee while she was working for me. She's say, no indeed she wouldn't because I believe that it has to work it has to work from top to bottom and from bottom to top and you have to remain within the structure.

Q: If you were in charge and you could set the directive, how would you keep that from falling apart?

A: By insisting that uh, from top to bottom that everybody knew in the structure and it was expected of them to honor it. And repressions of what would happen if it was not followed. What would happened established.

Q: If you were advising a person who was considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?

A: Be willing to work, be willing to get along with people. Ah, be flexible and eclectic. That's the first jargon I've used. Be flexible and eclectic. Be willing to work and compromise and get along with people. And if you don't like people, don't don't go into the school business. But if you're willing to work and are going to try to help some body to be somebody, yell school is the place to be.

Q: Would you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification. Discuss the appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?

A: I've thought about that for a long time that I wished I had .... That's a legitimate and good question. To be a principal, you've got to be personable. You've got to be a people person and uh, enjoy it, integration, ah,

Q: Ah, a good place to stop. You're doing a wonderful job.

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