This is October 5, 1998. I'm speaking with Mr. Bill Gilliam in his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on his experiences as a junior high school principal.
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Q: Mr. Gilliam. Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development? Maybe you can talk about your birthplace, your elementary and secondary education, and maybe some things about your family.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I'll be glad to, Matt. I was born in Sanford, North Carolina, in 1931, August 28th. Attended elementary and secondary schools in Sanford, North Carolina, participated in athletics which they had a profound influence on my development as well as many decisions I made later. It was a lot of learning experience. I participated in football, basketball, and baseball. Although I was small in size, I made up for it because I was very aggressive. We attended a small school which had grades 8 through 12. There were only about 450 students in the whole school. Our graduating class had only about 100 people, and one of the main things that I learned in the secondary school was that I admired teachers. I thought then that they were the greatest people in the world. And that they were upon a pedestal as far as I was concerned. And it was only when I became one that I found that they were just people like I am. Maybe my bubble was burst a little bit, because I found out that some of them shouldn't have been there. I think that might have been one reason that I eventually wound up in the teaching profession, because I had people who treated me very well while I was in school. I attended Guilford College after serving in the armed forces. I went to Guilford one year during 1950, then I quit school and got married. I re-entered Guilford after serving two years in the U.S. Army. The service in the Army matured me and made me a man and made me see things from an entirely different perspective. So when I went back to Guilford in September of 1955, I had a much different attitude. We had a son who was 6 months old, and we lived in trailers on campus. I even straight-wired electricity into the trailers for about 6 months without using the meters, so I could save the money. Those times were very, very difficult. We got $160.00 a month from the government on the GI Bill, and it was very difficult to live on that plus a job that I had. One job was scooping ice cream at Guilford Dairy. Then I got a better job at Sears Mail Order House in Greensboro, where I would work after I would get out of school about 1:00 every day and then go to work there in the afternoon and work until 10:00 at night. I did this for three years. I graduated from Guilford in 1958 with an AB Degree in Economics. And a teacher's certificate more as an insurance policy for me to ensure that I would have something to do, because at that time, there was a serious shortage of teachers in the United States, and I thought, "Well, you know, you can teach if you can't do anything else." I really wanted to go into some kind of business or get a job in business. As it turned out, a lovely woman, Louise Luxford, who was the Personnel Director at Virginia Beach, did a tremendous selling job to me on the City of Virginia Beach, and so I accepted the job, offered and accepted the job in Virginia Beach Schools and came up here in September 1958. I moved my family. While I was in school, my second son was born, and so there were four of us when we came to Virginia Beach. Started out working in a summer playground job with the Recreation Department and then started teaching in the fall. I stayed in Virginia Beach for the next 35 years or 34 years.
Q: Someplace in there you decided to become a principal. Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: Well, that kind of evolved not too long after I taught, four years to be exact. I received a Masters Degree. Counter # 100 Actually I went into William and Mary, I guess it was 1961. I went to night school and got my Masters Degree in Guidance and Counseling. I became a Counselor after I had only been teaching about four years. I very quickly realized that if I was going to be able to feed my family without having to have an extra job. I did because the base pay when I first started. My first contract the base pay was $3,300 a year and I had a supplement because I had been in the Army. I was making $3,600 a year which was a little more than some teachers, but this wasn't enough to take care of my wife and two children. So I realized that if I was going to stay in the profession that I would have to go back to school and get an advanced degree. I graduated from William and Mary in 1964. I became a counselor, and after that, I had a scholarship to University of Virginia in the summer, an NDEA Fellowship, and I got six hours work there and then after that, I took 30 hours of classes at Old Dominion University and got a CAS, Certificate of Advanced Study. My desire to become a principal grew out of the fact that I felt like in order to get in the higher salary range that I wanted to be able to meet the needs of my family that I had to do it. So I went to school at night. I couldn't afford to go in the summer, because I had to work. At any rate, after doing this, I was promoted to Assistant Principal at Bayside High School. This was in 19, I can't remember exactly what year that was, but it's in the information you have. I became principal of the junior high school in 1969. So it was before then. And then I stayed as a junior high principal for 19 straight years.
Q: Your motivation for entering the principalship was financial. Did your motives change over the years?
A: Well, actually it wasn't. I would say it was financial, but it really wasn't all financial. Right, because you could have just continuedI could have probably gone to another field and set aside the economic desire. But I wanted to stay into the profession. I felt like I had something to offer children, and I enjoyed working with the kids. I spent a lot of time with them and even after becoming an administrator, I never lost touch with the students. I never stayed in my office very much. I was always out in the building. I feel like that's where it is. For a three-year period, I was Assistant Director to Mr. Bruce McGuire in the Central Office. It was a very distasteful job. I did not like it, and after three years I requested to go back in the building because there weren't any children down there. The work was all very dull and uninteresting. I went back to the school and finished out my career as a junior high principal. The last two years I worked at the school plant. Those were right before I retired.
Q: You talked a little about being in the building, being out with the kids and that's all about being a principal. If you could describe your personal philosophy of education, how would you describe that?
A: I think as a building principal and a teacher that you must make your decisions based on what your highest sense of right is as far as what is the best for the children is concerned. Sometimes we base decisions based on other things like transportation or what is economically feasible, and the kids get lost in the shuffle. But ideally, we should consider what is good for the children first and then let those other things take care of themselves later on. But we don't live in an ideal society, as you very well know. We have to be practical. My philosophy is that we must be compassionate. We must provide an atmosphere where teachers can feel free to make a mistake without reprisal. If you do this, then this allows for a certain amount of creativity among the staff members. If you become too regimented and demand too much, then teachers are not going to give you all they have got. If you restrict them so that they have to be more concerned about how much paper they are using or -- how about -- whether they are their own duties precisely at that time or whether they keep their room clean or some other rule that may not be of any consequences, this is going to turn off your teaching staff.
I would always try to be as fair and as open with them as possible and try to elicit as much from them and try to make their day as free from interruptions as possible so that they can do the job of teaching. Cut down on announcements and other types of paper work that are unnecessary and other types of interruptions during the day. Anything that should be scheduled should be scheduled at a time when classes aren't insofar as possible. I think that too often the adversarial relationship between teachers and administrators occurs because of teachers unions putting certain demands and restrictions on administrators. This is non-productive and causes tension and stress on both the principal as well as the teaching staff. I think it has to be one where you cooperate with each other, and I think that in order to do that, the principal must know a lot about his staff. To be able to treat each one as an individual and know when to reprimand and when not to based on the personality of the teacher. It used to be when I was in school, in high school. Simply because a person was a teacher, they commanded respect, but that doesn't go anymore. The teacher has to prove himself in the classroom. The administrator's job is to try to provide everything within the realm of their possibility for them to succeed because when they do, you do. It's got to be the cooperative type teamwork type thing. You must listen to what your teachers have to say. You must communicate to them. You can't go in and shut your door and just issue orders. It's not that kind of job. It's a people job and you have to learn to get along with those people and work with them. You must provide an atmosphere that is -- the word conducive is probably over used. I think the principal must be sensitive to the needs of students first and also the needs of this teaching staff. In order to do that, he must go out among them and associate with them and provide an opportunity of forum for them to express themselves. If he does this, then there won't be an adversarial relationship usually with the teachers' union or the local education association. However, in some ways, those organizations have been harmful.
Q: When you answered that question you talked a lot about your management philosophy. Were there experiences or events that happened in your role as principal that helped you to learn that, or could you talk about maybe one or two things that happened that reinforced that through you?
A: Over a course of 35 years, a number of things happened which some influenced your management philosophy more than others. During this period of time that I was working in the school, we integrated schools which were formerly all segregated. Obviously, this had some influence on what we were able to do and had some influence on your decision making. There were times when there were anti-war protests and students demonstrating. There were, people wore long hair. We even used to measure the length of their hair. We would suspend them from school until they got their hair cut, which was kind of dumb. But at the time we thought it wasn't. We tried to hold the line on the dress code and as the dress changed, we reluctantly had to go along with this. But every time you mention change like that, it changes your management style, because you wind up spending more time with those things than you do with instructional matters. And every time one of those things happens, you can't let it alone. You have to deal with it, because it can be a destructive element in your building. And sometimes it is important; well you have to deal with it otherwise. We had a situation one time when the movie Roots came out by Alex Haley. That book that was written by Alex Haley. And they had the TV show. At the time, I was principal at Plaza Junior High. Well, there were a number of Black children in school, and one of the Black kids ran up behind one of the White girls and acted like he was going to clip her hair. The incident really wasn't very serious except that it spread throughout the school of fear, and, "You know somebody came and cut the students hair?" Anyway, it became very, very serious and some of the students were afraid. The parents said they were going to come and get their children and they weren't going to send their children to school because they had heard that the Blacks were cutting their hair. We had to call in the authorities to help us. We sent home letters and reassured everybody there weren't any problems and nobody's hair had been cut and the rumors that had been so vicious were not true. So this event, yeah, changed my management style. It changes you as a person. It spread out. Fear spreads very rapidly among people, especially junior high children can change, vacillate from one extreme to another. In one moment they are elated and the next moment they're in the depths of despair. Events like this, yes, help to change what you are doing. Of course, we had to call upon our staff to be out in the halls, being available, being ready to, because kids really made a big thing over it.
Q: One of the things you hit on in there, looking at question 10 now, there are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader and those who suggest that realistically speaking, this person should be above all a good manager. Could you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?
A: I think you should be an instructional leader, but I think it also requires you to manage well so that you can provide instructional time that is not interfered with by some other group or some other incident. If you don't manage well, Matt, you can't become an instructional leader. I think it's fine and all well and good that you provide information to teachers and provide instruction and leadership for them. But sometimes you can't reach that goal because of the other things that are demanded of you. And this depends largely on what your superintendent and what your school division demands and the role that they cast on the principal and whether or not they provide enough assistance for the principal so that he can turn over some of the management duties to someone else while he is supervising classes and while he is providing instructional materials to teachers, because you can't spread yourself but so thin. At the time when I served as principal, we had a tremendous growth in Virginia Beach. Our population was growing at the rate of a classroom a month there at one time. We had to go through a period where we had; it was so crowded that we had like 1,800 students at Plaza Junior. We had an 8-bell day. We had half the students come in from 8:00 until 2:00, and another half came in from 10:00 until 4:00. The middle four bells all the kids were in your building. But you see the cafeteria and your other areas were suffering because there weren't During those four bells in the middle of the day, there was not any vacant spot anywhere in the building. But it required supervision over a period that extended before 8:00 in the morning until after 4:00 in the afternoon. When you have a situation like that, it is difficult to be an instructional leader when it takes everybody to do supervision during those four middle bells. So it was difficult, and you had to be a very skillful person. You had to be in good physical shape, and you had to be able to delegate lots of responsibility, because there was just no way that one person can be expected to do what is necessary to do if you're going to have an effectively run school. That's the kind of thing that influenced us in Virginia Beach, because we were one of the fastest growing school divisions in the country during the time while I was working.
Q: That was something you just hit on there at the end. If you would look at number 18... Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under stressful conditions?
A: That's a good question. I used to play racquetball. I play golf on weekends. When I was younger, I played tennis. Sometimes you just had to get away from the building, and sometimes you maybe go down to the book store and throw a book or two against the wall or something. What you have to do is you to have to plan some way to get away from it. Oftentimes when I would come home, I would be very physically exhausted. It is tiring. You do have to be in good shape, but my family was my outlet, and I had four children. My home was where I could get away from it. Of course, I had the responsibility here. But oftentimes, in our situation, we had a full-scale athletic program in junior high, and it meant that at times, we were gone practically every evening, sometimes three or four evenings a week to some activity. Our superintendent demanded that we as administrators attend these events. We sometimes could delegate some of the responsibilities to assistant principals, but we found it to be productive if we would go and be physically present even if we were unable to stay for the whole event. I think that was a wise move. Dr. Brickell was a tremendous superintendent, and he demanded a lot' but he was good to all the people; he looked after them. You knew he was going to take care of you. But at the same time, he demanded a great deal.
Q: One thing that you came back to a couple of times there were assistant principals. I'm looking at number 14. What in your view should be the role of the assistant principal? Can you discuss the most effective assistant principal with whom you had the opportunity to serve?
A: Oh, gee, that's going to be difficult. There were a lot of assistant principals who worked with me. We had a philosophy. Our superintendent had a philosophy that you did not stay in the building but about five years, and then you would be transferred to another building. There were lots of reasons for this. We had a large school division and this enabled him to move people around to put people in places where he thought they would best serve as well as solve problems that he may be having in the building. We would get moved and along with that, the assistant principals would be moved. He wouldn't keep the same assistant principal even if you stayed in the same building. It was, every year, especially after you served in a building for about five years, you would, say, "Well, I know my number's up and I'm going to be sent somewhere." You would begin to anticipate that. First of all, there are a lot of good assistant principals I had the pleasure of serving with. I don't know if I could say that one was any better than another. They were all different. All of them had different characteristics. But the ones that I was assigned in most cases were very effective. I had occasion where I had one that wasn't good. It was terrible. It was bad things you had to document. To do that kind of thing. You put yourself in that kind of position. I think the most effective assistant principal was one that, you know, is loyal to you, who doesn't try to go behind your back or deceive you, or One who shares the information with you and alerts you when there seems to be a problem, or they run across something that they think they bring it to your attention and consult you about it. And one who has enough vision to go ahead and take care of something without disturbing you with it and one that you can rely on to do that. There was a number of people who served with me who went on to be principal later on. And that's a good feeling, because you think that whatever you may have taught them stood them in good stead, so they went on to get a school of their own, and there is a number of them who are still in the system who worked with me. But not many now because I'm older. But Don Harvey, who is the principal now at Larkspur (middle school), was assistant principal with me. Don was a very capable man. He is now principal and has been for a number of years. Times change, though, and people change, and when you get into the system as large as Virginia Beach, you get some people who stay at the assistant principal level because they don't have the initiative or because they don't have the desire or a combination of those or for some other reason, it becomes a dead end. When that happens, they tend to be stagnated, and they tend to get in a rut and become just kind of drag their feet. One way to deal with that I think is the school division used to shuffle them around and used to send them to a different school and give them a new challenge and that kind of thing. Because our division is so large, that minimized that problem. That was our way of dealing with it. I think that assistant principals are one who work well with others and who work well with children, who make decisions that are rational, and if they have one that is particularly tough that they come to you and ask your opinion before they decide what to do. Sometimes you can avoid a real ugly situation if you know in advance rather than going ahead and making a decision that might be wrong. Sometimes you consult with someone else. But usually in a school this is something important. You do not have to decide now. You usually have. "Well, let's sleep on this tonight." You don't really have to, "look, I'm going to think about this, and I'll let you know tomorrow. I want you to come by." If you'll always remember that, you don't have to make a judgement and it is important for you to take the time to make the right decision than make the wrong one and spend an untold number of hours with that parent or with that person who is unhappy because you made the wrong decision. And we make some wrong ones, because when you get into a building, when you work as long as I have and when you work in a building, you make a number of decision, you're going to make some that aren't right. Your dream is that you would always do the right thing. And you do as far as you can tell based on the circumstances that you know. But you don't always know all the circumstances. And there is no way for you to know that. So you're going to make some mistakes. I think it's how you handle those that's important. Usually if you come right out front and say, "Look, I made a mistake." But if you err on the side of the student, sometimes teachers don't understand this. They think that if you give a child a second chance, "Man, he doesn't have any backbone. He doesn't know how to" But sometimes if you err, you feel that there is not sufficient evidence to suspend or whatever it is you want to do, you might be better off giving him another chance. Lots of times children don't take advantage of it, because they are so immature. And they want to play you for whatever, take advantage of you. Once they have done that though, and you catch them doing it, the next time it should be very clear, "Look, you had your opportunity and now, you know, this is it." There are little things that you can pick up. All depends really on how well you know the person you're dealing with, the student or the teacher or the assistant principal. If you know them well enough, 9 times out of 10, and you can make a better decision about something involving them, and so your job is to get to know the other people. And know yourself. Know your limitations about it. It's hard to be objective sometimes because you get emotional. You have to control the emotions so you can make a rational decision. And this is difficult. Sometimes you get real angry, and if you don't wait until after that anger goes before you decide something, than you are going to make some wrong choices.
Q: That's a good point. One thing since, you kind of hit around in this area. It's a good question to ask at this time. Toward the end, number 19. Since you've had some time to reflect on your career and be objective, I wonder if you would share with us what you would consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.
A: I think several strengths. One is that I understand and like people. I have an outgoing personality. I have the ability to relate to others and understand what their problems are. And in a way, empathize with them. Over the course of my life, I learned how to deal with these and I think that makes me better able to advise students and/or teachers. Counter # 800 I think that I have some pretty strong convictions about my relationship with God, which influenced me. I don't really preach to these people, but I think they have influenced the decision I have made. I think that that is strength. I think that I felt very, very concerned and sincere about my job. I took it very seriously, and I had a real strong desire to do well. To do the best that I could and under sometimes very difficult circumstances. I think you really have to want to do this job. You have to really want to help children. If you want to get into a field where you are going to make lots of money, and that's the goal, then don't become a principal. If you want to get into a field where there are opportunities to do something for somebody else, and that makes you feel good, and that satisfies you as far as your desire to do something for humanity or for other people, there is not a place that you can go where you have more influence than in a building in a school. And I don't think the people realize what that opportunity is. I'll tell you a little story. And there are hundreds of these. I was at Bayside High, and I was assistant principal. This goes back to, gee, a long time ago: 1967. At the end of the school year, a young man came up to me and said, "I want to thank you for all the help you gave me this year." And I said, "Look, I haven't done anything for you. I hardly know you." I said, "I speak to you when I see you in the hall, and I talk to you." He said, "That's it." He said, "You're one of the few people that spoke to me."This young man apparently was so starved for affection that anybody who spoke to himwell, I didn't realize I was doing anything for him. So you really never know what you're going to be able to do. Counter # 900 I think that those are some of the strengths. Weaknesses. I'm a pretty easy guy. I'm not forceful enough and come down on people when they should be disciplined. I tended to let people get away with things that other people wouldn't. I became too much of an easy going or an easy touch and lots of people played on that. And lots of people took advantage of me, because of my easygoing character. Because my philosophy is more or less fair and not strict enough. I was taught that way when I was young, and I believe that people ought to have the right to make a mistake. I gave lots of freedom. We raised our children that way. One of the big dividends that we have now is that our children always felt free to come to us regardless of how bad they might have screwed up. We did not cut off communication between them and us. I think that's very important, not just in dealing with our own children, but in dealing with other people. I don't think you want to cut yourself off from your staff. I don't think you should be autocratic. I think you should have enough insight and enough ability and enough guts to make decisions that are tough. I recommend that some contracts not be renewed. I think that the older I've gotten, the more callous I've gotten, and so I'm not quite as understanding now as I was when I was in the school system. I think because of the fact that after a while you get burned a few times. Then I think you stop putting your finger on the stove, and you stop letting someone do this. I think you draw the line a little more. But I do think that you have to permit a certain amount of freedom to teachers. I think one of my weaknesses may be I just allowed too much freedom and maybe could have been more demanding and that would probably be the biggest weakness. I'm sure that there are others.
Q: One thing you kind of hit on and kept going was one of the questions I wanted to ask you. Would you - it's number 16 - would you discuss what it was like to be involved in integration of public school? How did it feel to be a part of those times?
A: Fortunately, I served in a school division where this problem was not as big as it was in some other school divisions, because the percentage of black population here in Virginia Beach at that time was only like 10 to 15 percent. So integration here was very, very smooth. Another thing that our superintendent did was, we held several workshops to help us to deal with this problem before we actually integrated the buildings, and so this was very helpful. Because at that time we only had one high school which served black children, it was really a very minor problem for us. We really experienced no real serious adverse circumstances to my knowledge. Not in any school that I served in. It was a very smooth transition. I think that there are certain things, though, that principals need to be aware of. There are certain characteristics that some of the children possess you need to be aware of so that you will be able to treat all of them with respect. I was the kind of person that liked to put my hands on students. I would walk down the hall and give them five. If a student was having trouble I might sometimes put my arm around them or something. Well, that was years ago. That was pretty acceptable. Of course, times have changed and that is no longer acceptable. But there were Black children who had been taught at home - and I don't blame the children for this, "Don't let anybody touch you." And so I would go to put my hand on a child, and he would say to me, "Don't put your hands on me." So that was a different reaction. I had to make an adjustment to that. And just realize that there are some kids that you don't do. You need to learn as much as possible about the students you deal with. Being an administrator, it is very difficult to know students personally, large number of them, unless you have dealt with them in some other, maybe in an adverse situation. It is important to know them, and it is important to know what kind of groups are in the school that you have, clubs and other organizations, because they always have an influence on how students react. Integration in our city was very, very smooth and very uneventful. It was not marked by anything like a massive resistance in Norfolk which was really bad, and they closed the school. In Virginia Beach it just passed without much of an incident. I think that Dr. Brickell and his leadership and the things that they did to get ready for this was tremendous. I'm sure that that's one of the reasons why it went so smoothly. He did a lot of background work to help to make this possible.
Q: One thing that you touch on a lot is I consider you to be more of a personal leadership. Look at question number 8. It says a great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership describing some techniques which work for you and maybe an incident in which your approach failed.
A: My approach to leadership is we should lead by example. I've just recently been reading a book by Rick Pitino, the basketball coach at Kentucky and now with the Celtics, which he describes that hard work causes you to expect success. Author of the New York Times and Business Week best seller Success is a Choice, Rick Pitino is one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in corporate America, showing how the route tobusiness "overachievement" begins with a winning attitude and a dream.I think that this applies to any job, especially to the principalship. I think if a person will set an example by showing up to his work place ahead of time, by spending the time on the job as efficiently as possible, by learning as much as you can about the people he deals with, and by staying late and during the time while you are there, focusing all your attention on what's going on in that building. Counter # 100 Be abreast and gather information about it and get to know the people personally so that you can deal with them as an individual. Make yourself available at any time. Ed Brickell taught us that you were a principal 24 hours a day. And you were kind of married to that building. Even when the school had a break-in, he would call you and sometimes you would have to get up in the middle of the night and go because someone had broken into your school. We were taught that you were there all the time and that you had to deal with the situation. As long as you did that effectively, he was going to support you. I think the key to it is probably the most valuable thing that you could do is lead by example by showing them that you are concerned, by having lines of communication open between yourself and your students and between yourself and your staff members. I'm talking about all staff members, not just the teaching staff. Because sometimes your bus drivers and sometimes your cafeteria people can be helpful; even the person who answers the phone in the front office can make a big difference in the attitude as to what people come in and see in your building or what they get when they pick up the telephone or when someone calls in. You have to be aware of all of these factors that affect the smooth operation of your school. So you need to get as much information as you can and you need to spend all of the time their focused on resolving it. And when you get away from it, you have to get away from it so that you are renewed the next day. You just can't spend all the time thinking and worrying about it because if you do, you'll become ill. I have taken problems home, and that's probably things that I have become too intense, and something would happen at school of some great consequence to me, and I'd bring that incident home' and I was unable to get away from it. I think that's probably when an intense person has a problem. When he becomes so intense with it, he can't relate to his family, when it becomes so bad that you are not a father to your children, and you can't be here at home and do the functions that you've been, that's too much. Our own superintendent was a workaholic. It was so bad that he divorced his first wife. He married and I think probably because he spent all of this time on the job. He didn't have any time left for home. There were lots of people like that. You've got to be able to divide that so that you can spend If you're going to have a family, they demand some of your time, and you've got to be a father here and a principal over there. There's only 24 hours in a day. So you spread yourself kind of thin. I think that where my technique failed was that sometimes I was unable to leave it. And when I left it, I was thinking about it so that I wasn't hearing what my wife was saying. I was focusing on something over there. I think that's a big danger, especially for an administrator. It's not as bad for teachers. They have all summer off, but I think you get too close to it, Matt. I think you do have to work hard. I do think you have to expect success. I think you have to be positive. I think you have to have a good self-esteem. I think you have to be healthy in order to be an effective principal. You have to have these qualities. You have to be able to communicate with other people. You must have the ability to listen to what they have to say to you. That's probably more important than being able to talk to them is listening.
Q: I think when you answered that, you just answered question number 6. What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal. Describe the personal and professional characteristics of a good principal. Is there anything else you would like to add? I think you've covered that.
A: Only thing I say is that obviously you have to know something about education. You have to know something about it, but the most important thing is how well you are able to communicate that to someone else. I know lots of people who have tremendous intellectual abilities, but they can't communicate to anybody else. I think you have to have a love and respect for others. I think you have to recognize the worth of every individual regardless of who they are. You have to communicate with all the people in your building. If you get the idea that you are an instructional leader, that you're up here and the custodian's down there. Uh huh. That's not He is an individual and his role is just as important as the assistant principal and just as important as that classroom teacher. Because he doesn't do his job, the classroom teacher is going to be unhappy. So I think you need to understand, and you need to communicate to the teachers what you expect of them, and it has to be done clearly and concisely. That's enough to carry out those expectations. And set goals with them and help them to follow through with those.
Q: If you want to move on to number 12? Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluating teachers?
A: This is a difficult area. We had several instruments that we used during the time while I was principal. We were given classes in teacher evaluation, and we used certain classroom behaviors, and we would write down when we saw them. I think that might still be used. That evolved over a period of many years. I do think it is important for the principals to allow time to get in the classroom and to know what teachers are doing. We are in a litigious society and if a person is ineffective in the classroom If you do not document what they are doing wrong, if you are unable to prove that in a court of law, there is no way possible for you to correct a situation that may exist in your staff where the teacher is ineffective unless they go out and commit some felony or something. You are stuck with that person after they gain tenure. So the only way that you can effectively deal with that is to observe and go in, and you have to be able to document. So, I think that sometimes we get too caught up in the mechanics of the observation. I would like to be able to see one that would be a little more simpler, that would allow the teacher a little more freedom. But we've gone to a situation where certain classroom behaviors must exist. And I think that sometimes restrictive a little bit. We've gone to that because the courts have forced us to do so. I guess we're just going to have to live with that now. Years ago, we had a much more informal situation, and sometimes I think it might have been better. We are unable to do that anymore. I think we find ourselves in a situation where we're so accountable there that the teacher evaluation has to be formal and has to be precise and has to be written down, and you have to meet with the teacher and you have to sign off on it. I think if you miss any of those steps, it's not going to mean anything. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in the process that we make teachers unhappy. Ideally, if you would have such a relationship with the person that you could sit down with him and counsel him into quitting if they are not effective. But that's not going to happen anymore. Because they have the backing of the teacher union or teacher association. I think the teacher evaluation realm has changed drastically over the years.
Q: : Were you ever involved in having to have a teacher dismissed?
A: Yes. I have several times.
Q: How did it make you feel to do that?
A: It's not pleasant. Nobody wins. But you see, you have to do it because you're realizing that every minute that that teacher is staying in there, those kids are not gaining anything. In a couple of instances, it really was bad because the person was so bad. I didn't have any trouble documenting, and they had messed up so bad. I had one situation where I put a teacher on probation and then after they came off probation, they went back. I recommended several teachers for dismissal. And, no, it's not fun. It's ugly, but it comes with the territory. It's like suspending or recommending a child for expulsion. It's a no-win. But it's something that is very necessary. If we're going to keep the high standards of education it is absolutely imperative that the principals go in with the idea of knowing that they are going to have to do it. Because there are so many things that we see in the newspapers about immoral behavior on the part of teachers. We can't tolerate that kind of stuff in the schools. We read it in the all the time about this teacher filming students, you know all the things that we see here.
Q: A couple of more things. You look at question 9. This is something that I haven't really gotten your view on. Not completely. There are those who argue that more often than not, Central Office policies hinder rather than help build administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue?
A: I think a lot of times they are restrictive and I think a lot of times information that must be sent to the Central Office for whatever reason you have to report to them may infringe upon the time that you spend with personnel in your schools. It can be restrictive. It just depends largely on what kind of superintendent that you have and what his philosophy is about that. Sometimes, the federal government and the state demand certain reports and forms, for example, we have to get our allocation of money based on the enrollment of students. The 30th of September, you've got to count all the kids and you've got to send that report in otherwise we're not going to get our allocation. That's a very necessary thing. There are other things like that, though, because there are other governmental agencies that require information to be sent. And when they do, somebody has to put that information together, and somebody has to type it out and get it back out on the deadline. When they do that, then that takes those people's time away from what they could be doing with teachers or with students in the school. So every time that you do that, then you are putting more crunch on an already busy day. Counter # 400 When you do, that translates into forms that you send out to the teacher, and they'll say, "My God, I don't have time to teach, I've got another form I've got to turn in to the office" because of some report that comes out of the federal government or the state government. That varies on where you live. In Virginia Beach we used to get allocations from the Federal Government because of the Federally Impacted Funds. And I guess we still do. We have to fill out reports, send home one of those federal cards every year. It's terrible to get them back from the students. It's time consuming. Teachers don't like it. Administrators don't like it. But, if we're going to prove to the federal government that we are entitled to that money, then we have to do it. So, yes, it hinders, but I think that if principals understand the reason for the federal cards or the reason for the other reports. Then it's much more easier for them to go through the process. Even though you get principals that fuss about it. Like you get teachers who fuss about it. But those federal cards are difficult, and it takes sometimes half a year to get some of them returned. That goes with the job. I think what you need to do. The principal on those matters should take those in stride and not make a big thing out of it. Because the more they make out of it, the more the teachers are going to complain and become unhappy. And then announce, "Oh, you have a morale problem in your building." But I think the principal has to set an example there. He's got to support his Central Office. You're not in any position I wouldn't dream of getting up and saying, "Oh, my God, we got federal cards again." That's the wrong attitude going in. And I think you have to be positive. It's a good example for a principal to set the tone for something that everyone knows is distasteful. But, anyway, that's where your leadership comes in. That's where skills as a principal might be able to turn this activity into something that will be fun. Maybe set up a way that whoever did it would win some money, you know. But you could come up with some idea that would make it not so laborious.
Q: Just to sum things up. If you look at number 20... Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons - not a whole lot, because you've mentioned a lot of pros and cons but just sort of pros on one side and cons on the other - of administrative service and any advice you'd wish to pass on to today's administrators?
A: On the pro side, the principal is in a position to make a positive influence on young people and probably more so than they will ever realize. They can take advantage of that opportunity and if someone wants to be of service to children and to other people, there is not a better place to be. Another pro is that principals are not ever going to be rich people but they are not ever going to starve to death, and it's a good secure and a great place to work. There is very much of a challenge, and a person can accept that and go on and try to do something really good about it or they can complain about it, just like any other job. Counter # 500 But I think the opportunity is there for somebody who really has what you might term "Masonic zeal," if you want to use The idea is that if you want to save somebody if you want to be of service to somebody, here is a good way to do it. Another pro is that the rewards are tremendous. Tremendous. I can't go anywhere where I don't see somebody who is a former student or a former teacher who calls me by my name and say, "Do you remember me?" Most times I don't. "Do you remember you paddled me?" or "Do you remember that time so and so?" Most of the times I don't remember their name, and I don't know what they look like. Those things are the dividends, and I think that they come because you have made a difference in somebody's life. And if that means anything to you, then that's important to you, then that's the job. Another thing of being a principal is you can look with pride when you see one of your former students' names in the paper. They've gone on to be something famous or you used to run into them on the street or something. But that's the kind of thing that's been very meaningful to me since I've retired. See lots of folks that I know lots of people. And if that's important to you, then that's a good job to get into. Some of the cons are you have to be physically fit, and you have to have good self-esteem. If you don't feel good about yourself, then this job will kill you. If you let it, the job will get you down, and you can become very stressed-out. You can become a good candidate for some mental problems. If you don't keep yourself physically fit and keep yourself mentally alert, and you were to take on certain of the characteristics and the problems yourself, then it could be very stressful; and, to handle stress you must be pretty sure of yourself. Have a real strong desire to do well and be able to move from one thing to another, to shift your gears so that you might be dealing with one situation here which is really bad and then go to something very positive. You have to be able to shift those gears. And you can't get so emotionally involved with people, especially with students and with teachers. You got to be able to deal with it a little more impartially, because if you make it your own problem and you bring it home and you go to carry it then it can really bother and some people are bothered by it. If you are squeamish or if you really have to Counter # 600 And I think one of the that things it gives you this kind of confidence is participating in athletics or some other challenging thing during your life that prepares you for this later on. You learn how to deal withIf you go out for football, you're gonna have to take all of the harsh treatment and calisthenics and all the workouts that go with it. I think you translate that into good physical and mental shape. Because if you aren't, you won't last. The other thing is if you don't like people and you don't want to deal with people, you want to stay away, don't get in it. Because it's a people business. Dealing with people is very difficult at best. You have to deal with all kinds. And if you want something where you can relax during the day and not havethen you're in the wrong place. You don't have time to do that. It's a very demanding job. If you don't want to be upset and if you don't want to get in there in the trenches and really work one on one with somebody, then it's the wrong place. And there are principals who avoid those. They shut their door and go in there and they hide from people. And that's not the way it's supposed to be. But you know, different people have a different approach. I always like to be out where the children are, and I wasn't very big on doing a lot of the written work. I let somebody else do all that. I just love to be with the children. I think that's important. My advice to someone else? Go in there with your eyes open, and make sure you realize what it is you're getting into before you get there. Because you don't want to wait until you get there and then say, "Look, this is not for me." Because you just need to It's like a fella described marriage one time by saying you go in there with your eyes open and you see everything, then once you get married you don't see half of it. Don't want to look at half of what happens. Want to ignore about half of what your wife says or what you see. I don't know, Matt, I guess there are a lot of other things we could talk about.
Q: Is that a good place? Is there anything else I should have asked you?
A: I don't know. There are a lot of stories I could tell, but I don't think anybody would be interested in those.
Q: You told a couple.
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