This is September 18, 1990, and this is an interview with Mrs. May Duncan in her home on her experiences as an elementary school principal at East Salem Elementary School.
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Q: Would you begin by telling about your family background, your childhood and your special interests.
A: Well, there's not too much to say because in my days as a child a girl had only one or two things that she could do. She could teach school as a purpose in life or she could be a nurse or she could be a secretary. So, since my father's sisters were all teachers, I naturally leaned toward the teaching profession and I'm glad I did because I enjoyed it, and if I had to make that decision, I would do it again. I'd do the same thing because the teaching profession enables us to enjoy people, new people, and you have a feeling that, or you hope rather, that you can help them in some way to mature and that's your main purpose, I think, in education, is to be able to help the little boys and girls. And so I did. I finished high school in less than 4 years. I was interested, I guess, since I took an extra year in school. At the time they inserted an eighth grade in the elementary school so I came on just in time to catch that and I'm glad I did because I had a course called Young Language and if I hadn't been a teacher I would have been an enthusiast for different languages because I had three years of Latin in high school and I took Spanish; I took French. I had six years of college French so I taught French - well, I tried to. It was a great life growing up. Of course, in those days we didn't have all the nice things that children have today but we had plenty and we all learned some way; it was fun.
Q: Did you grow up in the area here in Salem?
A: I was born in Salem but my dad was a Norfolk and Western employee so in those days we had street cars to go from Salem to Roanoke and return, and it took too long in the morning and we had to get up too early for him to catch a street car and go to work and be there by eight o'clock so my parents decided to move to Roanoke and they stayed in Roanoke until after my dad died. But now my husband and I moved up to Salem and built this home because my work was up here and his work was in Roanoke. He thought it was better for me to be nearer to my employer, my agency rather, than for him to be. So I guess I have had a varying experience because I started teaching in primary school and taught two years, third and fourth grade (no, I taught a year and a half), and then I was moved to junior high school the first day of April. I didn't know if it was an April fool on me or playing with me or if it was right. But, anyway, I enjoyed that and then I just moved into the high school and I taught mostly math in high school but I did have, of course that was just about the beginning of World War II, and everybody was thinking about airplanes so they included a course they called Pre-Flight. Well, I don't know why I was selected to do that because I certainly wasn't prepared but I had to prevail myself to the school board. They sent one person from each high school to a class every week and I learned a lot. The boys taught me a whole lot. They knew more about planes than I did. I tried to teach that and I taught French and I think I did have a class or two, but I couldn't help myself in Geography. I didn't enjoy that as much as I did the others, but I didn't get around to teaching English and I would have liked that but I left and became an elementary principal and that's when I had your dad. He came over to the school I was principal of. After that I went into the school board office and he grew up. So, then he became a teacher so I had that pleasure of being his friend and working with him in different capacities. But I did spend fourteen years in elementary supervision which was nice and I could have just done that job in supervision but we did everything. I was given the responsibility of proving, I guess you might say, the need for all of the federal money that came to the school board office. We had public wards of the poor which allowed children to come to school. They were children whose daddies worked on federal property. They paid no local tax, you see, because the federal property that was not taxed. So I had to scoot all over for the county to find their places of employment and see, to verify it rather, I guess. Then, in addition to that I had all of the lunchrooms in the county. Of course you got plenty of good things to eat which made that nice, but I didn't particularly enjoy it because for every pound of butter we had to prove that we served 48 children - requirements that were necessary, but I didn't think that was elementary supervision. So I asked to go back around the children. I wanted to be with them and I spent the rest of my employment in Roanoke County. After I retired I worked in the adjacent county for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and I enjoyed that. Then I worked for the Achievement Center in Roanoke and I enjoyed that, so I've had a lot of joy in my work. It was fun. Anytime you are working with children, it's fun.
Q: Would you tell us what year you started teaching?
Q: And you became a principal?
A: In 1943.
Q: And at East Salem, that was started?
In 1960, I believe. I think that school opened that day after Christmas. We moved into the building in 1960, 1961 I guess it was. I think I was there 16 years. But just in that length of time I could see that schools were advancing, education was, well we had more money. We didn't have enough then either. You never have enough money to do what you want to do because there are so many good things that we can do with good materials. But when I first started teaching I bought all of my own art materials. We didn't have anything. We had no games. I taught in a section of Franklin County; well, it was in Roanoke County but the children bordered Franklin County, and that was in the days of prohibition and the only game those little children knew was Bootleggers and Officers. They'd get a rock and plant it somewhere on their body and the other child would chase him. They'd almost undress each other to get the rock. So I bought the first football, the first baseball and volleyball. I bought a ball out of each check, in addition to shoes for some of those little children. But it was good and I had 57 children, two grades, no inside water, no inside toilet, no central heat. So it was quite an experience for me to learn how to keep the fire going.
Q: Tough job. Did you find it hard then, a female principal just starting?
A: No, because we had more lady principals than we did men. And children respected you. Of course, I always found that if you took children into your thinking and your planning in any of your school's rules that you had that if they helped you make these you had no problems. Because it was made by the group. We all obeyed the same rules, you see. I don't think I ever had any trouble but maybe one or two children had problems. They weren't school problems; they were carry-over problems from home to school. I used to tell the children at East Salem School they were the best children on earth and I believe they were, and I still think they were.
Q: You talked a little bit about people in your family having an impact on you becoming a principal. What made you decide to take the job of teacher?
A: Well, I had an idea that you were supposed to advance and I thought that I hadn't taught too many years just in the actual classroom but at the time I was teaching high school and I had heavy extracurricular activities. One year I had senior class and then I had the school annual and then I'd revert to the senior class and it was just that, and it required so much night time going back to play practice and that type of thing and since my husband worked at night I had to go by myself. So I thought, well, it would be easier in a way if I could get all of my work done during the day except the take home work and I could do that at home at night. That was one thing. Then there was a wee bit more money in the principalship and all like that so. It's not right to think it, but I used to think the more money you made was a sign of being more successful at it. It wasn't true, but when you're young you have ideas that you just want to keep going. Then too, I had had some courses in administration and I thought it would be nice to give it a try and I loved it. The fun there is watching little children start in kindergarten and if you stay long enough you see them progress each year and see them grow. That's a real joy.
Q: How would you describe your personal philosophy in education?
A: Well, I think in the first place that we have to look at ourselves. If you train a child in the way he should go, you travel that road yourself first. Because you are, I won't say the perfect model, but there are children who mimic you, who copy you and who look forward to what they think you should be. So that's one point. Then I think that everything we do in school should benefit children. I think we do a lot of things that are not necessary but nevertheless I think that our main philosophy should be to help children mature and advance in knowledge and in favor with god and man really because you have to learn to live with your neighbors and that type of thing. Actually, I think that schools have a purpose and that is to advance a childhood maturity. I think that we are wrong if we don't study the situation and plan it so it does promote childhood maturity and growth. And I think we ought to surround them with the beauty of the world. I've always thought, now this is just my thinking, but I've always thought we should have things that are alive around the school, like live plants rather than artificial plants because they are the growing things and they like to watch things grow. We can do so much in enrichment not only in school life but for life in general.
Q: How would you describe the instructional philosophy in your school and how did it change over the years?
A: Well, I think in instruction we have to fit it to the child rather than the child to the instruction. It works both ways though because if you didn't do a little of fitting the child to the instruction, you wouldn't be successful and neither would the child be. I think we ought to do everything we can to enrich it and I know if you took it, say to individualize it, I realize that especially with the numbers that we've had in times past, because at East Salem we had 42 children in the first grade rooms. And the teachers did a beautiful job, but we hadn't learned how nice it would be to have - well, the Southern Association cut that back down to 30 - I don't know what their limit is now, but even then it was just like heaven on earth having just 30 children. I don't mean you wanted to get rid of any of them; you didn't. In fact, one year we had to move 175 away from East Salem because we had 853 children in a school built for 600 children. So, everything was taxed. The toilets were taxed, the drinking fountains were taxed, the lunchroom was taxed, the whole building was taxed when you had too many. So I think we ought to have a reasonable number. I won't say that you can't teach 30 children. It can be done because children become more independent and help their teacher, and they grow in that way. But I am saying that there is such a thing as too many. Of course, it depends on so many things to be successful, the teacher with her children. One thing, you have to have a nice school philosophy, a nice rapport with the children. They have to know you love them rather than it's just a business. So, if the children realize that, they know you're interested in them. I always wanted to be at school early every morning because I wanted to be the first one to wish them a good day. So I went to school at 7 o'clock every morning. A lot of parents dropped them off I suppose as they went to work and I couldn't see leaving the children at school, a big building with nobody, and I couldn't expect a teacher to come, so I was there every morning. It was always nice to go out and speak to them and sometimes hug them. I think we had, just like the old woman who lived in the shoe, so many children she didn't know what to do. I think we had that. But it was fun. I think children loved the school. I don't think I ever had a school year end that within a week I didn't have children coming by begging to let them do anything. They would have stayed in school, but I think that made me one year, one summer, we had no money, we had two weeks of music, two weeks of art, two weeks of physical education and games. So that took six weeks, and with no money I baked cookies and so forth. Well at that time Streetman Biscuit Company was here in Salem so they gave me cookies for those children and we had a juice time every morning and we'd sit down and talk. You can do more in social places with children if you live with them and, of course, a principal doesn't have much chance to do that except at lunch time, or meeting them in the hall, that type of thing. I well remember I couldn't pay the teachers anything because we didn't have anything to use as pay. So I just worried and worried for fear that I should do something for them so I decided that personally that I would give them a $25 series government bond and that was their pay for two weeks, but anyway they enjoyed it. It gave them something to do too. I think we ought to be using schools the year round and I think it's just as important to air condition schools as it is to heat them because it's just as uncomfortable in learning to be sweltering in the summer as it is to be cold in the winter. But I guess that's a long way off.
Q: Well, we're beginning in that direction.
A: I hope we live to see the day that we will have that. I think schools could be put on quarters and those quarters could be rotated so parents and children could have a vacation when the daddies are home from work, if business could be organized so that they could know that. It would be the same as we are doing now but we'd be using our school buildings. There are too much tax dollars tied up once we lock the door. And I've never been one to just open and say come on in world and do what you want to do in it because I as a principal was responsible if the building happened to be damaged and I couldn't stay there all of the time. So I think it's good if in someway we could divide the school into four quarters and have every child rotate the quarters. That's just the way I think. On snow days we ought to have snow routes and let buses run on those routes that could be cleared and we would never have to stop school. Whenever we close schools we have some kind of interruption in the school learning. The child's day is broken and teacher's plans are broken. I think we ought to have a longer school day and I know teachers might not like that but we ought to have a longer school day and plan activities that would take care of that and it could be done, because children work a lot harder after school playing than they do in school playing. I don't know whether I've answered that question or not.
Q: What do you think . What type of characteristics?
A: Patience, and I think you ought to know what you're doing and if you don't know, you ought not to be there. And I think that you should guide teachers because we have a lot, and I'm thankful that we do, a lot of real young teachers who are flapping their wings for the first time. They need security and we need to make them feel secure. We need to give them all the help we can possibly give. So I think we need teacher education probably to help teachers more than we do teacher experience. Really it wouldn't hurt if beginning teachers had king of an indoctrination course a week or two prior to the opening of school. I don't mean just to put up bulletin boards, to put books on desks and things like that. I mean in letting teachers feel at home in the building in knowing the recordkeeping and all of that. You don't have time in just a day or two to do that. That would be, I think, would help beginning teachers. I know about the time I started teaching about all you could do was go in and stomp down the weeds and unlock the door and go in and start. Children got there the same day we did and that has improved a lot because you have some teacher days ahead of time. But I think that beginning teachers ought to have that.
Q: Would you describe the expectations both professional and personal that were placed upon principals by the school board during your principalship?
A: Well, I don't know what was expected of us. I guess if we didn't perform we would have found out. I know during the time that I was a principal we had more stringent rules set down. We had a lot of forms to fill out especially if you had gotten hurt or something and you couldn't come. I forget but first we had ten days and then I think we had, whether it was limited or not, before I retired. I think you had so many days that you could be sick and then you had to have a doctor to verify it. We had little rules like. We always had pre-school principals' meetings after I became principal and prior to that time and we talked about instruction and we went over new textbooks. Things like that were helpful. The supervisors generally planned it. We spent a little time talking about the testing program, which I think a lot of it was a waste of money now. I don't think that we are fair to the children with too much testing we do. Of course that will be a big item probably in your questions. We better wait on that one then.
Q: Do you think that the expectations have changed over the years as far as what the administrator expected?
A: Well, I think that, and I mean no harm in this, but I think superintendents don't want to be plagued with complaints from schools and if a school, well just a dress code would be one thing, and I'm not sure that many schools now have dress codes, but we did. And we were in that lull, well all of our problems started with the Beatles - do you remember the Beatles? So, the long hair started with the Beatles and that type of thing. I know that you can carry anything to an extreme; you can be too fundamental but you can be too lenient too. And to draw a medium line between the two and let children know that beyond this they cannot have their way and up until then they have a choice, as long as they are mature enough to use that choice, and I believe in giving them that, but I'm concerned today sometimes that we don't have enough time for instruction because the buses come to get the children so early in the afternoon. I think the state did have a six hour instructional day but that did not include lunch. It did include music, physical education and art because they are just as much instruction as mathematics. Don't tell your daddy I said that because he's a math supervisor. I think it's just what you do in good school living. I think most teachers try to, every school has its own philosophy, really, and the teachers have to make that philosophy. New teachers coming in don't have a chance at it for a year or two because they haven't been there. They have to accept what those of us who've been there had the year before and the year before that. But all schools, I expect nearly all schools, are accredited by the Southern Association of Schools, and to me they have the best standards, better than the state. State standards are more quantitative. The Southern Association's are more qualitative. So I would go with the Southern Association's standards if I were a principal today hoping that there would be no conflict with the state's.
Q: If you were the king, if you had the power to make changes, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements and the way of grooming the administration for the administrative positions now?
A: That's a difficult question, especially since I've been out of it for ten years, but I think superintendents, and bless their hearts they have more to do than a human being ought to do, but I think it would be a boost or a shot in the arm if they could visit the schools more. I'm not critical of them either. But I think a child ought to know, especially as they grow up in the school, but I think a fifth grade child ought to have some idea of who's the boss. And we have some regulations that are handed down to schools that maybe we in schools don't always enjoy, so they have to be passed on to the children. I don't know the attendance records but it used to vex me somewhat to know we had a visiting teacher; I guess we still do, but there's more to a visiting teacher than just visiting. I think's there's too much paperwork going on and teachers have to fill out too many forms, especially in special education. I guess we still have to do all of that. You don't have to do it? You do, well I believe that many of them are not even looked at after they are filled out. It just bulges the child's record and I think we ought to be careful of what we put on a child's records because they follow a child. I know one time during my first principalship we had what we called a yellow file on every child and the irony to it was on the front side of the sheet it had a space for each subject for each year for grades, but on the back side it slipped up and said remarks, and teachers felt free to put any remarks they wanted to so I just happened to be looking one day and one of the teachers remarked that this boy she believed had stolen a bicycle. Well, you couldn't get it off so we had to make the whole folder over. And that has worried me because that card stayed with that child until he finished school and then it was hidden somewhere in the school board office if somebody wanted years after to come and you don't know what made the child steal the bicycle in the first place and we're not sure he did. So I think that we should be awfully careful about what we say about children. That's a difficulty that principals have about teachers and I found that it was always helpful when I was asked to do something like that that I put it on a copying machine and made a copy of it and studied it before I put on the actual form because it's really diffuclt to really know. You're not in that classroom all the time. I think principals have more time today for observation because we were filling out reports. I don't know what I would change because really Kim I don't know what we're doing right now in the way of administrative directives. If I were a principal now there would be only one request that I would make of all the teachers in that everyone would be a dedicated, dyed in the wool teacher, put that first. If you are dedicated you're going to do everything right because you want to do it right. That's one characteristic that I would ask and that's what I used to ask when you were a little girl in school that we be dedicated and at every faculty meeting just to picture a child sitting right in the middle of us and it could be a teacher's child, but we could picture that child and every decision we made ought to someway help that child grow. If not, we don't need the decision. You don't need rules unless it's going to help children because they'll just be broken. Just look at the laws that we have on books that can't be enforced so I think too many rules spoil the broth.
Q: If you were advising a particular group interested in an admistrative position, what advice would you give them?
A: To get some experience first, and I think that it would be helpful if you could, well not simply because I was forced to have it, but I started out teaching in primary school, then I went to the elementary, then I went to junior high and the high school, and the high school teaching that I did I loved, really, I couldn't wait to get there every morning. But, after I left there I missed it so much because the folks there were more mature and you could say let's do it this way, got any better ideas? And you'd get better ideas. But little children you couldn't expect that. But you know if you've taught high school what these children are eventually going to have put before them if you've had that experience. So I think that if I were suggesting to someone going into the principalship, I would say get all the varied experiences that you can and I would also say go to school in another section of the country and with a different philosophy. Now when I finished Roanoke College; Roanoke College was an excellent school. I was glad that I had two years of school that was at a teachers' college before I went to Roanoke. Of course, I lost a lot of credit in moving credits there but I got the liberal arts side there so I was fortunate I had had the teachers' college training. I had the liberal arts college training. Then when I went to graduate school I considered five schools and of course I'll have to confess I had no money. I was making $90 a month and I know people will say it costs more to live now, which it does, but the ratio of the cost of living now, well the $90 would still be way way down in teachers' salaries. But, anyway, we studied at the University of Virginia, which I was very fond of, Duke Univerity, University of North Carolina, and my favorite school, the University of Chicago. I could not afford it. Then my next favorite was Northwestern and that's where I wound up. I borrowed the money every summer. It took me that year to pay it back so I had to borrow the money next summer. It took me I don't know how many summers to pay the money back but I finished in three summers. I thought that if I had it to go over with I'd do the same thing because a midwestern university is a huge job. It's big and they give you a different slant. In the first place, you have experts on the faculty, I mean on the university faculty, you have a greater variety of human beings with whom to work, so I would look at me if I were going to be a principal initially, I would look at me and say where are my weaknesses and what do I want to do. Do I want the responsibility of being in charge of every child's learning and, in a way, a principal is. A teacher can't do something that isn't allowed in that school and a teacher has usually just had the experience just in the classroom. So I think that school divisions ought to have more than an orientation. There should be some get readiness for principals because it's a big job from being in classroom from say, 25 children, and then have a school of 600 to 800. You've got to work with parents, you've got to work with the school board, you've got to work with school board office, you've got to work with all of the community helpers that come down to help the school. The sphere of duty is just shooting in all directions and you just have to take that, as a rule. So I think that principal training, I don't like the word training because it sounds as if we're training a horse or a dog or something, but I think it would, I don't know what we'd call it, but it would be more than just orientation. It would be things that this school division, whatever it is, expects of you as a principal and what you might find when you get into that school. But we have a principal until June 30th and then July 1st a new one comes in and that's the way we do it, and I'm not sure it's fair to the one that's coming in. Because if the one going out tries to help you'd just probably swallow and leave the school the same thing that it's been and you want your school to grow.
Q: How long did you stay?
A: Well, I stayed 16 years and probably I would have gone had I been in this day, but that school was a little different because we had parents who helped, and they did. I had regular conferences with parents on how they felt about things and are we doing what you think. I never wanted one to agree with me because I wouldn't have ever grown any if everyone had said yes. And it never hurt my feelings when anybody said I think we could do this better. I wanted to know. Some parents are too vocal and have a chip on their shoulder and a principal has a hard time. But I never had, I don't think, a parent to really be ugly with me. I've had them be ugly with teachers and I've sat down with teachers and parents, and I've never, and this sounds awful, but I never went against a teacher, never. A teacher had a reason for doing what she was doing. I firmly believe teachers need protection and I think it's more necessary now than it was then because I think more parents were at home and not working, more parents are working now and don't have time to help their children and don't have time to come to the school to see if the child complains whether it's justifiable or whether it's a childhood whim. After all, I've been a kid once, so I know the things I didn't like too. I don't know; I think it would depend on the success. It would depend on how successful the principal felt she was and you can tell. You know when you make a mistake. if it's a bad one. It's good because you don't make the same one again. If it's bad, you don't know until you've made it.
Q: Some people would argue that the principal should be in instruction and there are those that suggest that realistically a person must be a good manager without being in the instruction field.
A: I think a principal is in the instruction field. You do have to have a certain amount of good management. You certainly do have to keep the funds straight. You have to use those funds for instruction. That's the only way we ever used our money was for something for instruction. But, and you can say I'm traditional, I can't see all of this mimeographed paperwork that we hand out to children. There's a certain skill that a child develops from looking at the blackboard and transposing that onto his paper, and so many times words are mispelled on mimeographed sheets and you put things before the child and the blanks, just like a work book, the blanks are not long enough for the child when he wants to write in, so I never did like duplicated work at all and I did frown upon it and teachers knew it. It's a waste of money. It's a big waste. Paper is costly. So, in fact, I had one little girl and she was a nice little girl, when I was a teacher, left East Salem because I wouldn't give but so much money to be spent on that, but she came back. I think that if a principal is assured that she's had good planning, she should know how to direct herself.
Q: What procedures for screening people do you think appropriate for......?
A: Well, I guess the superintendents would have to do the screening. I think most of the time superintendents would screen principals and directors of personnel would screen for the teachers. But is it still that way? I don't know how you would screen a person but just sit down and talk with the person. I think you can tell but I believe in promoting principals from within the division and if a superintendent has his eye on Mary Jane Jones he can go into that school more than once and see what her work is like. She's not going to be any better principal than she is a teacher. She's got to be a good teacher first, be successful, and there again, you must love children. You can't guide children unless you are interested in them and show it. So, there again, I think the superintendents ought to visit the schools more. It goes back to that. I don't know what I would suggest they leave out in the course of a day, and probably that would leave out a whole lot, but it just depends on what your priorities are. You're not going to have a good school division. Actually the principal is the pilot of a school program. I know a few principals in Roanoke County who think staying out in the neighborhood playing politician and so forth - that to me, we're paying that guy to do nothing, really. So, the principal sees the child's progression so I think the principal is important. And if the principal isn't going to be a good principal, if he's going to be gone all the time and that is a problem, the teacher has no backing, a teacher should realize that somebody there is going to help him. And I don't mean to have to sit in class all day to help the teacher either, because unless you're going to be in there the day before and stay and see what she did to lead into that day's instruction, you're kind of muddying the water for her. I think teachers ought to be willing to leave plans the afternoon before going home. I think they ought to have a planning period every day and the reason I said that is you never know if you're going to stump your toe on the way to school the next morning or not. If you've got a substitute in, then she's lost without a plan. So I think that ought to be a divisionwide rule that plans ought to be left every afternoon before the teacher leaves or some way that the school could get the plans. I don't think that the principals would have the time to go out and hunt down the teachers and get plans if they are sick.
Q: It's often said that the principal should be active in the community. Would you discuss your involvement and participation in civic groups and other community areas?
Well, I used to go about two or three Sundays a month I used to go to the different churches that the children attended and that was just like old home day. Of course, the church is a major institution in the community, I think, next to the school, so that was my thought that that was one way they could understand that we had the same standards of life. Of course now you don't always see small children in church. That's the pitiful truth. But that was one way I belonged. I belonged to one or two organizations up here. I belonged to the Woman's Club when I was principal, which didn't throw me in with the children but threw me in with their parents. And I tell you, this would be heresy to suggest it, but one year we took the census, and the teachers didn't want to do it so I did it. I went into every home in Salem. We had to go all the way to Ironto - do you know where that is? I went that way; I went down Deyerle Road. You see Broad Street, we were heavily bussed; it took me a whole summer but I learned where every child lived and I learned what type of home every child had. It was fun but it nearly killed me. And I think I got some pay; I think it was seven cents a name then. I don't know. I did it because I wanted to see what the little children were coping with at home because I had one one time who had been in contact with a pole cat. He rode the bus and came in and I needed to go to that home. I had to put him in the furnace room; we couldn't take it. Oh, I had some cute experiences you know. You learn; you handle everything.
Q: I'll bet that was a real educational experience.
A: And people were so good to us. They made you cakes. That was a side line.
Q: Do you have any community group that you think..........?
A: Oh, I think the church did. You wouldn't do it now but when I was at Broad Street; your dad was there - World War II ended in 1945. Well, the Baptist Church was right across the street; it is now, but this is a newer church, so I didn't have a room that I could have all the children together that we could be thankful for our dads and brothers and so forth that the war was over, so I asked the Baptist minister if we could come over there to his church and we had to get a slip from everybody's little mama to cross the street. Everytime you move a child, you should be protected. So the minister comes down and he was such a sweet person and he wanted to have a word to say with the children. So that was a nice experience. It taught children to be grateful. That kind of plagued me because when I was in high school the boys were volunteering and we had emotional days; we cried when they would have to go. And it was still going on when I came and had my first principalship. The little children didn't seem to be as worried over it as the older children.
Q: What do you think as far as community organizations these days. Which groups have the most influence? Do you think it's still the church?
A: I think it should be. I'm not saying it is but I think it should be. The church has had one difficulty. It can't go out and bring them in. The parents don't take them, the little children. But by and large the most cooperative children are children who have a sense of values, a sense of what you should do if you are a good person. But I don't know. I am opposed to all of these community agencies that want to pick the best teacher. There's no best teacher. Everybody is best at something and if you're going to say the best teacher that means it would be just like a baseball game. Who's the most important - the pitcher? If you don't have a pitcher, you don't need the batter. If you don't have a boy at first base, you'd never get anybody out. So you see everybody does the best he can at some phase of teaching. Nobody's going to be the best. I know I wasn't much good in geography. When I was teaching elementary school I left it til the last thing of the day so if the world came to an end I wouldn't have to teach it. But I loved to teach english and math and history. The only geography that I liked was the travel. And now you don't teach place geography anymore so it doesn't do any good to travel to London to know which direction you go in. I'm bitterly opposed to picking people to be the best because it's impossible. Now if you like to do some things, and you yourself know you do some things better than other things, but suppose no one would say you were the best. Somebody else might be better in the thing that you don't think you're the best in. So I think we ought to have a way of commending teachers without doing that.
Q: What are your views on merit pay?
A: I think that you can never pay a good teacher enough and I don't care what you pay her, and you can never pay a poor teacher too little. You are paying her too much if you keep her. I don't believe in tenure. Nobody has a job for life because as we get older we don't have the patience, we don't have the physique to do the things we did when we were younger, so why would we have, what is it - 3 years; I know teachers would not appreciate that but you just don't get a job for life. Nobody has a job for life. No matter what you do you have tenure and you can stay on and that makes it harder. A weak teacher can get by and it makes it harder on a strong teacher. Now do you agree with that?
Q: I'm not supposed to agree or disagree.
A: Well, that's true. They realize there's a weakness there and try as hard as you like we still have some educators who shouldn't be. I imagine we still have people who have one eye on the door and one foot ready to spring. I don't think I've answered your question. What is merit? Is it having all the children being promoted? Now some people would say yes. She taught them all everything they were supposed to know, and you and I know better than that. Is it the teacher who brings the superintendent the last rose of summer and says here friend, I saved it for you. She's buttering him up and there are people who butter and eat shoe polish. I don't think that we'll ever get merit pay that is justifiable. We may have to have it because somebody may make a run for it. You know, there are some things in education that are popular to talk about. If people want to make a name for themselves, they can do it by picking on something like that but you notice that they'll come out and say that these are the things that merit proves; they don't ever do that. So as we see it now I would say I am not in favor of it.
Q: What was your approach to teacher evaluation?
A: To sit down with a teacher not on an evaluation sheet but from time to time and say now how do you feel, what do you think we're doing, what do I do; I put my own evaluation in and gave them a shot to tell me what I wasn't doing that would make their day better for them. Because I think that's one of the things a principal should see to. I'm not much on the types of evaluation I've seen. I've heard there are some good ones now but I haven't seen them. But the types of evaluation that we used to have, I didn't think it was helpful to the teacher. An evaluation sheet should be a sheet to go by rather than a sheet to check up on you. I don't believe in that. I think everybody knows when she needs to do better. Well, I have always tried, at East Salem, if I saw anything I'd never condemn the teacher but I'd say, have you tried something else? As a matter of fact, they would. It might not be any better, but it might be. That would open up an idea that maybe what she had done wasn't a full fledged success, you know. But you don't have to say you're all wet. You just don't have to do it that way.
Q: How did you feel about your professional organization?
A: Well, we may have had weaknesses that I didn't know about, but there was no way that we could air them. I used to say that to be professional, you have to treat everybody else that's in your profession the way you want them to treat you. I've said more than once that the best way to leave the school that I'm principal of is for you to talk to a parent against a fellow teacher or for you to talk to a fellow teacher against another fellow teacher. You just don't do that because when you sign a contract that's not in it. That's not in it. So, I think we grieve too many things now, I really do, and I think we've just found out we can do it in the last few years and we've run it to an extreme. I don't know; I've worked under four superintendents and in later days, I wouldn't say that all superintendents would have let me grieve, but I felt in later days that if something were wrong I didn't have to go and say you're wrong to the superintendent, I could say I somehow have a question about that statement and in a way I might be grieving something and I didn't think it necessary. I know, you might have been in Salem, I never did see giving children examinations, even at the end of the year. If a teacher doesn't know by then; an examination is a test to show what she didn't teach the child, but when they're going home in June, you wouldn't have a chance to rectify it, so why bug the child to take the examination. I think if you teach with all your power and let children learn with all of their power and you'll be all right.
Q: What do you think about the standardized tests?
A: Too much money, too much time. They're not used. Well, who knows when a little child has a headache and you're going to test him that day because that's the testing day. And I think we could spend that much money in doing things for teachers that would mean more to children. You know the testing company would die. They'd just die, because they'd go out of business, if everybody had my philosophy on that. They may show some things, but intelligence, when you give a child an intelligence test, I think there are 250 aspects of intelligence that nobody yet has been able to measure. So now what good is the measurement that you get? I think a good teacher is the best barometer of what a child can do. That's the reason I think that we need good, sound, dedicated, qualified teachers. That's the key to the whole school division, really.
Q: What is ...........?
A: I would think that if we're going to have instructional principals we need assistant principals, because the assistant can take some of the administrative work away and let the principal keep tabs on what the children are learning. After all, the principal has to have a think day too. She has to fill her thoughts about the plans for what she is going to do. When I was principal I never did have time really; I'd have to do that at night - think how to plan things for children and teachers that would be interesting and informative and would enable the road to learning to be a little smoother. I didn't have time during the day because school was so big, I had parents coming in and sick children, community agencies and all of that. It's a great job, really.
Q: The salaries have changed......
A: Oh, you'd have to write a book on that. Well, I started teaching on $75 a month and $10 a week I had to pay to get school because I didn't have a car. So that took about $40 of that. Then I had to try to educate myself. I always made not what I needed to. My dad had to buy the bread that I ate so I never had a dime to do anything with. But anyway, the first year it was $75 a month for nine months. The second year the county, they said, was out of money. That's the usual cry. So we were all cut. Then the third year, I was naive and didn't know all that was going on, you know. When you're young you don't know, and I was inexperienced and I was thankful to get really, I guess I would have taught for nothing, to get the experience. I wanted to do it so badly. So the superintendent said it wasn't fair so he was going to put in a salary schedule. So I got $65 a month, third year, $65 a month. The thing that bugged me that year was that the superintendent said we didn't have enough to pay the teachers' ......... So I think the last two weeks were the worst two weeks for us to teach. You didn't have any allocation through the summer at all. But when some of us found out that he returned the money to the board of supervisors, we became vexed because we thought that money should have been divided, if it had been five cents, among the teachers, which it would have been enough we felt to have paid everybody those two weeks. I am opposed to a percentage raise because the ones that get the most get the most raise. I don't believe in percentage raises. I think it ought to be a new salary schedule. If you have a little extra tidbit make a new salary schedule and let everybody have their fair share of it rather than the superintendent getting a big shot at it. Anybody in the higher echelon gets more. It's the beginning teacher with inexperience, they get very little raise. So that's my idea now. I have nothing against the superintendent getting all the money he can get. That's immaterial to me but I do think eventually percentage raises are going to get so far out of what is fair and yet every corporation does the same thing. There are very few workers that get a fair shake in this raise. Then we get a raise. I don't know how Salem does it. I'm not condemning Salem or Roanoke County but I am saying in time the percentage raises will catch up with us. And it's time now for us to stop it. I don't have any say-so in it but since you ask me the question I answered it.
Q: There's been a lot of progression in the special ed., L.D., .... We're spending an awful lot of money. What are your thoughts?
A: Well, first I'd want to be sure that these children were L.D. children. I'm not sure all children are L.D.; sometimes it mental laziness. I don't know how we can separate the sheep from the goats, the ones that are and the ones that aren't, but I'd like for us to be absolutely sure first before we put a label on a child, and when it first came into vogue, the parents didn't want it because they didn't want their children labeled like that. Then when they found out they could get one teacher to teach almost individualized, they wanted it because the child could get more that way than he would in a regular classroom. But I think if we can teach them to read, write and cipher, the rest of it they can get along without. If you can have enough to teach them to read, to teach them to develop the basic skills in mathematics. We don't need to educate everybody. We've got to have some ditch diggers; we've got to have some people to cut grass; we've got to have people to do the tasks that sick people can't do, old people can't do and, actually, you can't get anybody to work now. Nobody wants to work because everybody thinks he's too well-educated to do that type of work. So we're going to need a few people to do things like that, but I don't know how much money is spent on special education, but I understand quite a lot.
Q: Would you talk about some of the pressures you faced every day and how you coped with them?
A: Giving children medicine - I never felt comfortable with that. I'd have a parent called. I couldn't do that. That was one pressure and then we had other pressures. I thought the physical inspection was a farce; do you all still do that? It should have been reduced. It would be impossible for me to look at a child's throat and tell whether his tonsils were infected or not, to tell you whether his teeth had cavaties in them; we just weren't trained in that. That was a pressure and it took so long in school to get every child. Parents were good, though; parents would help me. Then some of my pressures I made for myself. I always wanted everything new in the field of education and I never had quite the money to buy it, so that was a pressure for me that my wants exceeded what my income would let me get. I don't know whether that was a worthwhile pressure but it was a dumb pressure, but it was there. And I used to want to go to meetings when I couldn't go but in later days I did get to go; I was one of nine people in the state of Virginia in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for the state. So we had regular meetings and I learned a lot from the meetings. I would like to have gone to all the principals' meetings that were statewide. I probably could have gone to more than I did. I probably could have had permission to go but when I was gone maybe I was silly enough to think the building would fall down if I weren't there. So I made my own pressure thinking that suppose something would happen. So that was that - most of my pressure I made for myself. I didn't have that much. I wasn't happy with the fact that recommendations for teachers ....... What was the purpose of it, the purpose of the recommendation? The only thing I could see was whether a teacher was a good teacher here but where she's going isn't here. Now that wouldn't enable her an assurance that she was going to be successful in Timbukto, so I couldn't quite, but I tried to protect myself by making a copy of it so in case anything ever happened. And if you were really honest, and I tried to be, I called a teacher in before she asked me. I said now if you can't change this - I had one little girl who wanted to go around and knock on teachers' doors. She'd think of something to tell a friend and she'd leave her children unattended. I didn't check up after I had said something so in her evaluation right at the beginning of year; I didn't wait until the end of the year, I evaluated anytime I felt it was need. I told her I said, now I'm not saying that you're going to leave East Salem, and I hope you won't, because I'd like to help you. But I am saying that unless you improve I cannot ....... Somebody told her, but I had my copy of what I had told her. Somebody told her; I think it was...... She came back and said I have a lawyer and I'm going to sue you. I said, well I'm sorry but I have a School Board laywer too that will do the lawing for me and I did the recommendation, and my recommendation if I'm not honest in it; I said, you must admit I told you. I said, is that not right? She said, yes. And all the time I had ........
Q: That must have been a tough situation to be in.
A: Well, she was a little girl that started the panty raids at Radford College. Do you remember them? She started them. She was just doing what came naturally to her. I coultn't blame her.
Q: What would you say was your toughest decision in your day?
A: The toughest decision? When I went into supervision. I went back and told them I wouldn't take it after I told them I would. And they made me take it. And they said, you promised. I stuck with it 14 years so I gave it time enough.
Q: What would you say is the key to your success?
A: I'm not sure I had so much success, but enjoyment. I had it. I had, well, the key to my success; I don't get any credit for it because I had the best children on earth; they had the best parents. I had good teachers. I always had the best because I never had seen any others. But I had good teachers and we worked together. Well, if one of us got sick; we all got sick. I mean it was just a family type of thing. If anyone got sick, we'd take food. We'd just lived with each other. That was fun. I never had that in any school I had been in before. Parents were so good to me; the children were good. I had very very few problems, very very few. Considering the number of children we had, we just didn't have any. You remember when you went to school. But signs of the times are different now, so the fact that a teacher has problems now isn't against her. I believe we ought to give teachers more encouragement. I think somebody ought to give them a slap on the shoulder and say, gal, you did a good job today; that was nice. Nobody does that but we ought to take time to do it. We wouldn't lose teachers. Now pay holds teachers and that's not the way to do it. It's the enjoyment, it's the satisfaction; it's the delight that you get in the job you're doing, more than pay because money won't buy anything.
Q: Is there anything you'd do differently if you could start over?
A: If I started over? I would try not to make the mistakes that I made. I left some problems unsolved when I left the school but it wasn't personnel problems; it was things I just couldn't. If I were starting over I would do one of the things that I was unable to do while I was there. I would do that first. I would have the library the center of all instruction in school. Everything that would be possible to buy to be put in that library would be put there. I really spent money on the library. Were you there when we won $26,500 on it? You know when we opened the school we didn't have a single library book. Johnny and I went down to the public library and had 21 baskets and 21 boxes to make up for a child. I knew the number of children in each room and I got a book for every child on that child's, not on the child's level because I didn't know; the school was new and we were pulling from South Salem, Broad Street, Academy Street. Anyway, all the schools in the county we were pulling from. And I think it rained every day and Mick or Mack boxes didn't have tops on them so I had to put newspapers over the books and every six, no every three weeks, we had three rooms of each grade and we didn't have a place to put those books because we were in the afternoon session and Broad Street and Academy were in that morning. See their division lines were changed so I had some Broad Street children in the afternoon that had been going to Broad Street every day. Well, there wasn't any place to put those boxes so we finally decided to put them under the teacher's desk, so they wouldn't get all confused with the other books the other schools had. So, that was a real problem but I didn't lose a book and that went on until East Salem opened up and that was after Christmas. I knew not to ask parents for books because I'd get any kind of book and I didn't want to put a book that wasn't a leatherbound book. I had to have the best because they'd last longer. What happened was that the federal government put so much money in each state and the state of Virginia allocated it for teaching materials and part of it they allocated for library materials. Because teaching materials and library materials ought to be in the same place. Only the teachers' should be in a separate section from the schools'. And instead of giving every school in the state 10 cents they allocated it in areas. And I believe we were area 4. We won it for all the schools in this whole area. I didn't know anybody but me was vying for it but anyway I sat one Sunday afternoon and wrote it. You remember Mrs. Bishop? She and I got together; she had good ideas. We transplanted her ideas and mine into something and, you know, we won it - $26,500. But, you could buy teaching materials and we didn't have filmstrips and all because the school didn't need them. And it was just a God send. But you couldn't buy equipment. Well, what good did it do me to have all the filmstrips and slides and all of those things with no equipment. Well, parents got busy. We didn't have tables in the school. No classroom had a table. So Mick or Mack had a thing that if you would get $25 in cash register receipts they'd give you a card table. Well I appealed to the parents to buy everything at Mick or Mack. We got card tables for every room and when I left East Salem I left those card tables. Now they stayed that long. Of course, we had other tables there. You have to make a dollar out of fifty cents; I can tell you that. But I enjoyed it; it was fun. All the things I did, some things echoed. At least we tried. Do children still take field trips? I imagine they don't unless they're study trips. If they're study trips, that's fine, but just to say you're going, they get away from school. I can't think of anything else. It was a difficult job because we never could have all the little children together in the afternoon. And if somebody dusted the erasers off in the building, my children would get blamed. And we had talks about that. I couldn't declare that they didn't do it but I don't think they did, because we had learned never to take what belonged to other people. Then when we moved down to the new school every child had a responsibility to promote good care of the building and if one of them saw another one doing the least thing, scrape his foot on the floor or anything, he'd come and tell me. I was sorry I had instituted that little plan. We had a good custodial staff. I'd like to go over the East Salem days again. Of course, there were sometimes that I got weary; I wouldn't want to do those days again. Got any more questions?
Q: Well, just one. What suggestion would you have to offer to universities as a way of helping them better prepare candidates for principalship?
A: Get some hard nosed principals in there to help them.
Q: Is there anything else that I haven't asked that comes to mind?
A: Yes, we haven't said anything about keeping parents' support, and that is a must. If parents don't know what's going on in school they can't tax us for it. And, I don't mean we shield it from them, I don't mean we're doing that, but we don't take time every day. And I think that we ought to have more meetings with parents. I don't mean to talk about sex education in its infancy. Teachers were not qualified to teach it and I'm not sure they are yet. So the county bought, they sent me 30 books, I believe, and if I wanted to use them I wouldn't have had enough in the classroom, because I had more than 30 in the classroom. But I developed the idea that I wanted parent input; that was in the sixth grade, so I called all the sixth grade parents in. I think I had six sections of it, so I had to have six meetings. And I let them take those books home. I said, now we're going to come back together and I want you to know if you want to instruct your children by this book or if you want somebody who doesn't know how to teach it to instruct your children. So every last one of them said no, don't worry with it, we'll do it. So I didn't have a problem at all. So if we just let parents know what's brewing, what's in existence, what might happen, that you can't help, because the other schools went along and did at it and that ruined it. You've got to tell the whole thing and tell it right and in the proper manner, if you're going to do it.
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