Today is Thursday, March 9th, 1995. I am conducting an interview with Sam Johnson as part of the Oral History of the Principalship project.
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Q: Mr. Johnson, thank you for coming.
A: Thank you for inviting me, Jack. I'm looking forward to it.
Q: If we could begin the interview with a little bit of background about yourself -- childhood interests, development, schooling in terms of elementary and second?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Okay, but with my age and on I'm going to have to think back a little bit here. But very early on, of course, I went next door to my school. Buffalo Forge School was a school with two rooms for grades 1 through 7. I went there for three years and then we started consolidating schools in the county and I went to Glasgow Elementary School about five miles away and completed my elementary education in Glasgow, then to Natural Bridge High School for my four years of high school. We did not have the eighth grade then, but I think it came in my last year of high school; they started the eighth grade
Q: In terms of later education -- college education and your preparation for teaching...?
A: Well, when I left high school I decided I needed to go to work and that was the customary thing to do back then. You had to go to work. So I went to work in construction and worked there for about a year. And then I got a notice saying that I was going to be drafted into (the armed) service. I went into the service and stayed for four years. When I came back home I decided to go to college and of course, I could get some help from the G.I. Bill. I went through four years of college at Lynchburg College. Then I stopped at that point and started my teaching career.
Q: How many years were you a teacher and what fields did you teach?
A: Well, I taught history and social studies. I started at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Va., and I taught there a year. And then, due to the poor heath of my father, we moved back to Rockbridge County. I then started teaching in Lexington High School. I taught there for six years ...at Lexington High School. Then I decided I wanted to take a break. I was tired of teaching and I left. I did not have a job at the time, but I just decided I wanted to get out for a while. I went to work for the State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and I worked for them for seven years -- and I enjoyed it -- before coming back to education.
Q: When you came back, did you at that point start your career change, or move, into administration?
A: Yes, I came back, and (while) I had been with the State, I had moved up to an administrative position with the State. I found out there was an opening at Natural Bridge High School, the high school I had once attended as a student. I was asked to put in an application for that job, and I was either fortunate or unfortunate -- I received the job as Principal of Natural Bridge High School.
Q: At that point, had you done any type of training to become a principal, or to move into the administrative area?
A: I had taken my Master's from the University of Virginia in School Administration. I started out, I believe, two years before I left the State, to take school administration. Yes, I had prepared myself. I'm not sure how well my college prepared me for it. I think the experience is the main thing. Anyway, I took some courses. I had several good courses. School Administration with Dr. (Bill) Sewell was my top course that I think I gained more than I did from all the others. The others -- I thought it felt like it was a test of endurance more than anything else. But that one course I was real pleased with. The rest of them -- some of them weren't bad, but mostly it was endurance. Especially if you had taken them in the evening -- you know, after working all day and then going at night. But yes, I had completed that before I took the job as principal.
Q: You had mentioned wanting a break from teaching, and moving into the State Department for a while. Was there any key decision or and special motivation to bring you back in the school, and then into the administrative position?
A: Gosh, I don't know. It wasn't money. I lost money when I transferred. But I think I lost -- the first year I was making, when I was working for the State, between $16,000 and $17,000, plus better benefits than I received at the school system. And my starting salary at the school system was $14,000. So I lost money. I think the main reason I wanted to leave the job I had was because we dealt with handicapped people, and some them severely handicapped. My last station with the State was at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center. We had a lot of spinal cord injuries, and I think that was beginning to get to me after four years there, and I felt like I needed to leave. I always enjoyed working with the younger people and I wanted to get back to it.
Q: Let's change the gears just a bit and talk maybe about some philosophy of education. Could you give us a description of your personal philosophy of education and how it evolved through the years? And the changes that came to it when you went from being a teacher to being a principal?
A: I don't know -- you know -- I don't have a lot of fancy words that I'm going to put into this philosophy -- and everybody is supposed to have a philosophy. I guess mine has changed a great deal. I always felt like instead of a philosophy, maybe somebody had to have a work ethic -- to do the best you could do for people, and certainly earn your money while you were doing it. I think through the years as I worked for the students and so on, probably it did change. Maybe I got a little stricter as far as people doing the very best they could do. From the time the student -- regardless of how many, they had to do the very best they could and give them everything they possibly could while they had them. And I know that's real broad, but I think basically, when we get down to education, that's what we are supposed to do. I mentioned Dr. Sewell a few minutes ago that I had from the University of Virginia. We talked a lot about curriculum and curriculum -- you know, everybody has a definition or something like that. But I always liked his definition. His definition of curriculum was whatever experiences a child has from the time he gets on the bus in the morning until he gets back off of the bus in the afternoon. That's the curriculum -- all the experiences, a sum total of all the experiences that the child has. I guess riding that bus and learning all those four letter words was a part of his curriculum. I'm sure they learn a lot of other things on there, too. But that's the one thing that's sort of distasteful to us. They always pick up those four letter words. But a lot of the times, if you trace them back to the source, they came from their parents. That's where they hear it. But curriculum, I never will forget, that's what he said that curriculum encompassed. I guess that's about as nice a statement as you can have about all of their experiences.
Q: With that in mind, and the climate for learning including when the kid steps on the bus all the way to the time the kid gets back home, what did you do to try and encourage a successful climate of learning?
A: I think I tried to make it as pleasant for the child as you can -- even with the bus driver saying "Good morning", you know, and being polite and nice to a student, as well as saying "Good-bye" in the afternoon when they get off the bus. I think to me that's where the teachers, and I know they have a lot to do, and the administrators in a school -- everyone you know to be a polite -- to do the very best you can, and help them in any way you can. I don't know -- I always felt like I was a little too strict on teachers, and I felt that I required maybe a little more. But by golly, that's what they are paid for, and that's what they are there to do. And I felt like you take as much away the them -- paperwork, busy work -- and give them time to do their job, and in most cases they will do it. But give them time to do their job.
Q: By giving them time to do their job you've set up certain expectations of them. Did they have any expectations of you as a principal?
A: Yes, I think they did. I hope they felt like I was their leader. Now some of them expected you to do everything for them -- take care of their discipline and do everything. And I hoped I changed some of their ideas. Yes, they expected me to be a leader, a role model, to help them out when they had problems and so on, and I always tried to do it. At the same time, I expected them to be a good role model in the classroom, and to work with every child and do the very best. You know, when I started out teaching I had 40 some in a classroom. It didn't bother me. I was -- you know, they didn't tell me that things would be nice and rosy when I took and job. And when I signed the contract they told me that I'd do the very best I could in the classroom teaching, regardless of how many I had. You know, I even went to the principal one time when I had a little over two hundred students in my five classes. And my free period was almost a joke. I went to my principal and I said "You know, according to the state regulations I'm not suppose to have but one hundred and fifty students." And he said "Don't worry, they will never know how many you have. And when my report goes in you'll only have one hundred and fifty." So I gladly turned and went back to my classroom. Things were a little different then than they are now.
Q: Did you have any teachers working with you who would come to you with similar statements or concerns? If so, how did you handle that?
A: Well, I told several of them that statement -- that they'd never know how many we had in our classroom. I always remembered that principal telling me that. And yes, I told some of them the same thing. And you always felt in a lot of cases that it was a little unfair for some teachers. Especially if they had 28 or 30 eighth graders and your math teacher down the hall had Algebra II -- this was a relatively small high school -- and she had 14 or 15 of the top students in the school. And here this poor teacher down here teaching eighth grade math with 28 or 30. Most of them didn't want to be there anyway. So yes, you had to be a pretty good philosopher or fence-mender or something to talk to those people. They did have complaints. And you see that same thing today. Especially a teacher down the hall who has two or three students -- and I know some of them have some pretty difficult problems. But at the same time, here's an English teacher and she may have 25 or 26 students, and she has papers to grade -- you want them to write and you want them to do this and the other -- and sometimes that jealousy shows that ugly head every once and a while and it's hard to justify. Then, to top it all off, this special education teacher has three students and then she wants to mainstream one of them in your classroom, and that only leaves her two, and that's another one for you. So yeah, sometimes it gets a little difficult to tell people that there is a reason for all this, you know, and you go ahead and do your job. It gets a little complicated.
Q: You've mentioned expectations, teacher/principal expectations, with the school. Let's shift the focus to include the community and the school board. Were there expectations that your could describe to us from a professional perspective and a personal perspective that you felt were placed on you as a principal by the school board? By the community?
A: Oh yes, I think so. I don't think there is any doubt about it. They expect you to have the best school in the state, you know. And they expect you to do certain things, and they expect you to give special attention to their particular child, and you are supposed to know them by name and exactly what they wore the day before, and so on. And it's pretty difficult, but you put on a show and try to do those things. But the community expects a great deal from your teachers and from your school administrators. They expect you not only to do everything possible for their child as far as getting a good education, but they expect you to produce a good band, and a winning football team, or basketball, or track, or whatever it might be. You are supposed to have a direct hand in producing that football team, and you're supposed to make everybody else want to play on that team if they want to play. Whether they do their homework and come up with their end of the bargain, it's your responsibility to make sure they're eligible to play, you know. So yes, I think certainly a community should expect their school to be good. Sometimes their expectations are a little high for you, but you try. Because after all, you are employed by them and they are paying your salary through their taxes, and they have a right to expect that to be a good school. Problems and drugs and all of that in which you try your best to do. And you know, you're accused of a girl getting pregnant -- it's not the boy that they meet around the corner, but it's your fault. Those things shouldn't happen, and the girl didn't get pregnant at school, but it's really your fault she did get pregnant. You do the very best you can, but again, that goes back to their expectations of you and your school and your teachers. You try as best you can to set a good example for your teachers; to set good examples as role models for children. But that gets a little difficult when you tell a teacher how to dress. But all this stuff -- I guess I want to say a principal's job is not easy. You have to try to keep too many people happy and at the same time educate these children and do all these other things that you're suppose to do. It make a day get a little long every once in a while.
Q: You've had opportunities as a principal of both a high school and elementary school and as a director of -- from what I can remember -- everything one could want when you were in the Central Office. Has that changed or modified your view on expectations? You've had the chance to watch the community, the school board, and the schools change over time. What types of changes have taken place with respect to expectations?
A: Well, I think it's changed tremendously for everybody, just in the few short years I was away. But let me back up a minute and say something else as a preface to that. You said the high school and the elementary school -- if I had to go back today -- and I spent most of my career in the high school and as a high school principal and as a teacher and so on. After having an elementary school, I wouldn't even look at a high school anymore. I would pick an elementary K - 5. That's a paradise. Those little people come up and rub you on the leg, and they haven't even learned how to lie real good yet, you know. Sometimes, when you get to the fifth graders, you have to ask them twice and be a little more forceful. You can ask a kindergartner or first grade child if they did something and they say "Yes sir" and smile all the time they are saying it. When they get to high school, you can put their head down on ice, and they will still say no. And yet you caught them with their hand in the cookie-jar. And if you call the parents in, they'll say "No, my child wouldn't do that." The little ones are honest -- for a few years, anyway. But yes, I think everything has changed. I think, just as we were talking a minute ago about the classroom size, you don't have the large classroom anymore. If you do, you have an aide sitting there helping you. Principals always have an assistant or two or three or four, depending upon the size of the school and the office staff. When I first started, I had -- I didn't have an assistant, and I had one secretary, and I had a custodian and a cafeteria manager, and we took care of the place. Very important people -- but I think now, yes, things have changed a great deal. Again, when you have a school, it's so important to get the right staff -- get the people. And I certainly never was genius at doing that. But picking the right people and expecting them to do a job, and they'll do it for you. I didn't have a magic wand, and I don't think anybody else did when it came to picking people -- that's the key to it. Then expect them to do a job and they will do it for you. But you still have to go through all this evaluation and stuff, you know. I never did much approve of a formal evaluation. My custodian helped me evaluate my teachers. He'd tell me what was going on in the building. And I used to go sit in a classroom. I enjoyed doing it. The State says that you will do one formal evaluation where you tell the teacher a week or so in advance that you're coming to their classroom during fourth period and you will sit the entire period, and she had two weeks to prepare that lesson for you. It's so phony, really. But you're required to do that, or at least you were five or six years ago. But I always enjoyed just stepping in briefly. And I had teachers that would invite me in, and I enjoyed going. Times when they -- and you know, sometimes this would be I know if I say they invite me, they must have something special, and they knew it in advance -- but sometimes it would be first thing in the morning, and I would say "What are you doing thing morning? Anything exciting?" And she'd say "Yes, we are doing so and so third period." And I would drop by third period. I wouldn't tell her that I was coming by, but I would still drop by. I really enjoyed it because you actually saw things as they should be.
Q: Did you have any ways that you worked to bring the best out in your teachers? I know you put them in and turn them loose, and said do what you can do and do it to the best of your ability, but is there anything that you would use to encourage or bring out the best in or motivate a teacher?
A: I think probably you do. You know, I had a superintendent that came to my school one day -- I think it was the second year that I was principal of a high school -- and he asked did I have favorites among my staff? I had to be honest and I said "Yes." And he said "What?" And I said "Yes, I do and I'm sorry to say that. I hope I don't show it, but I have favorites here in this school." He said "Why?" And I said " You know, when I ask for a volunteer in the faculty meeting -- they will be supervising a ball game at night or something like that -- certain hands go up every time. And if I have somebody I need to supervise a dance on Saturday night and those same hands go up and the volunteer -- you'd better believe I have some favorites and I'm partial to certain ones. But again, I hope I don't show it." And he never did tell me whether I was right or wrong in saying my answer. But I assumed I was right. I'm sure it's only human that we do something like that or have favorites. I think you can find ways to recognize these people and reward them. I think they found ways of rewarding their students, so I, in turn, found ways to reward those -- it might have been a casual little statement in the faculty meeting or assembly sometime that I said something about a certain teacher, an accomplishment or if I saw something interesting going on in her classroom or his classroom, or we got the newspaper in and we had a little article in the paper concerning what they were doing in their classroom, or they had done promoting a school play or something like that. There are ways that you can recognize these people without -- I always felt it was nice to recognize them financially, but you couldn't do it. But you could work around it and give them some supplements once in a while, which helped them out for doing certain things.
Q: Did you ever have any instance with teachers that you couldn't seem to find a way to make them perform or help them perform their best? And what did you do in instances like that?
A: Well yes, I had several. I think I had three or four while I was in my high school. You know, I tried my best to work with them. I had conferences with them. I even wrote lessons plans for them. My gosh, I think I went the extra mile, starting probably in September. And I may have gone for two years working with teachers, trying to bring them up to what I thought they needed to be. Also, with the help of the Director of Instruction in trying to get them to improve. And then finally you turned the other way, and eventually, they were dismissed. And I told them after working with several of them for five months -- I told them it was coming to that. I didn't want to use it as a threat, but I had tried to help and like I said, I had written lesson plans and done everything for them. But I just got to the point that I didn't think they wanted to be helped. So we started working on the other end of it to dismiss them. But as the last resort, after working with them myself; bringing in the Director of Instruction -- I even tried working with some teachers in the building that I thought were good teachers that prepared well for their classes. And so I teamed them up with them. But in the final analysis, I brought the Superintendent and even asked him to help me with sitting in on classes and also having conferences and being present. But yes, after all that failed and we went through the dismissal, which is one of the -- some of the most unpleasant moments I ever spent, dismissing teachers. You have to do that. I think if you try everything else, and you can't get it to work then there is no other choice you have, because you are the head of that school. You're the leader, you're the instructional leader, and by golly, you have a job to do or see that it gets done. And that's providing the best education that you can for the children. That's the last resort, but yes, I went through it four times, I believe. I was successful.
Q: Could you elaborate a little bit on the actual dismissal process?
A: Well, I'll tell you the first one was a member of the local and state organizations and national associations. I don't remember at the time whether we even had an attorney for the county or not. But I know the Superintendent -- I sat down at the table and he and I were on one side and this particular person that we were starting the process on came in, and he had two lawyers provided by VEA -- the Virginia Education Association -- at the time. And then he brought in later, at the second meeting, a third attorney which he hired on his own. You can imagine how I felt sitting across the table with Superintendent, and I didn't know sometimes whether he would even support me all the way or not. We won the case anyway, and it's all part of the agonizing time that you go through in doing that. Then secondly, you hate to do it. Here's a person that has prepared for the teaching profession -- I remember that first one that we did had not only a bachelor's but two masters'. And on paper, I thought this individual would be super. But he just did not want to teach. He did not even want to work with children. He didn't even want to show up for class...a real loo-loo. Again, it's a thing that's the last resort and it's something that you don't particularly want to do, but you have to do it.
Q: You had mentioned the local and state teaching organizations -- we have grievance procedures. Would you comment on the grievance process and did you have any teachers that ever went through the grievance process?
A: I had several when I was in the Central Office that filed grievances. None when I was -- I don't think we even had one at the time when I was principal of the high school. But we did when I was in the Central Office -- had several to go through. Only one, I believe, carried it on through its final stages. Most of them we were able to solve through conferences and so on. Sometimes they come in pretty determined that they were going all the way through it.
Q: Let's shift a bit, and again, given your wide background -- teacher, high school principal, elementary principal, and considerable experience in the Central Office -- what types of changes might you make in the system wide administration as a way of improving the efficiency and the effectiveness of the overall structure?
A: Well, I was probably fortunate and I worked for three different superintendents and I thought all of them were pretty good. I don't know, I think we are seeing a lot of changes now where they are taking away a great deal of the unnecessary work that we used to think was unnecessary as far as the school system paper work reports we had to turn in. You know, one of the big things I remember when I started out in teaching -- one of the big things was a register. the superintendent that I worked for and the first principal I worked for -- you know, they were apt to send you to prison or put you in the electric chair if you made a mistake on that register and if you didn't do all the proper procedure crossing through. And you couldn't correct mistakes and all of that. Some teachers just lived in fear at the end of the month when they had to fill out that register -- or the end of the six weeks. We finally got rid of all that and now it's all done -- I believe -- on a computer by a -- some person that -- it's done daily. But anyway, that was one example. And you know, in a sense, you could see it back during the olden days when you -- the state reimbursed on the basis of average daily attendance, but then they changed it all so that it -- really there was no purpose I could see in keeping it registered, period. You know, they might take attendance twice a year. I think that's what they based it on anyway -- in October and perhaps in April or May, one or the other. But you had two certain designated periods that your allotment of money was based on. But at the same time, you had to keep those registers -- to keep all the tardies and all the absentees -- which didn't amount to a hill of beans. Then the teachers keep them in their gradebooks, too, you know -- who's absent from class and so. And that, I felt like, was more important. Because if a child doesn't come to school, you can't -- regardless of how good a teacher you are -- you can't get much across to them if they are not there. So yeah, I think things have changed, and I think, through the years, they are taking a great deal of this junk away from them that they are forced to do all the time. So - I don't remember -- you asked me about changes -- I don't know whether I answered your questions or not.
Q: Well, I think we are certainly around that area. Let me be a little bit more specific. With respect to curriculum, or just overall school operation, could you state three changes you might make as you look past -- look into the past -- from the different perspectives that you have had?
A: Well, I think one of the first things that I would make -- and I would do it tomorrow -- I'd cut about half of the junk we've got in the school system now. And I'm speaking primarily -- I don't know how much unnecessary stuff -- you know, that's a good word, so I'll say stuff -- that you have in the high school or middle school -- but I know in the elementary schools, and the state imposes a lot of this on us. And we keep adding. We expect teachers to do a wonderful job, and we just don't give them the time to do it. I was thinking the other night at home -- I just, on my fingers, counted about five or six or seven different things that, you know, we could kick out tomorrow and we wouldn't miss them. But in some cases, we'd be scared to death to think about it. Well, I'll give you -- a good example is Bible. It's the biggest waste of time that ever was. But if I go out here and start preaching that, they would call me and atheist, and want to stone me, probably, or drive me out of the county. But it is a waste, and we have some people that really believe in it. And yet we take time each week and let them have Bible. We teach about drugs, and I guess this drug course is good, but we are still taking away from the time the teacher has to teach. We have 4-H. We have all of these other numerous things you can think of. If you just see what all you have to include in a week's work at an elementary school -- then on top of that we have people -- a member of the school board, the other night, said we need more of the arts in school. And you know, I think that would be wonderful if we had the time. There was some talk last week about putting in an art course in all the elementary schools. We have music and we have P.E. We have full-time librarians, full-time guidance counselors -- we keep these people busy -- and now these is talk about putting a full time nurse. Somebody has to pay for these things. And it takes time. But if you come up and say well, let's extend the day from eight until four, why they'll shoot you, again. If you wanted to add a little time to it -- and to me, that's the most sensible thing in the world -- you know, we worry about these latch-key children -- we worry about kids going home. You receive five phone calls a day, at least -- who's going to pick up a child and should they go to grandmother's house, or where should they go in the afternoon? You can keep a secretary now, in elementary school, busy just making after school plans for the children. Why not have the same working hours as the parents, or pretty close to it? It would make pretty good sense. We say we don't have time, and I know teachers don't have time. Our test scores continue to drop. We have gotten that reversed a little bit in the last couple of years, but they just plain don't have the time. And you feel bad about going to a teacher and saying "Well, why did your test scores fall down in math or science or English or grammar?" Why? Because we've taken away over here somewhere. And then all the other things -- you know that you may have a partial class because some of them are going down the hall for a special ed. class. And again, I don't think you're giving the teachers the opportunity to do the job you hired them to do. And in saying so, immediately go through and screen out the subjects, and whatever you're doing during your day that you call part of your curriculum, and go through there and take out a lot of these unnecessary -- you know, and then you've got to have assemblies every so often. And then you've got to bring in all these shows. And a teacher wants to have a film every once in a while. All these -- you just are not getting in the time to do the job that you need to do. So yes, very definitely, look at your schedule and see what you are doing in the schools, and cut out a lot of the stuff. But instead of cutting, we keep adding. Our curriculum expands, but our time stays constant. And actually, I think we cut it down trying to work out a bus schedule in this county. Now the high school's not affected, but the elementary school is. That's where they need to get off to a good start. That's where you mold the foundation -- right there, you see.
Q: Let's change gears again. How about a description of a typical day at work in each of your different positions -- as a high school principal, as an elementary principal, and as a directory of personnel, and lord knows, whatever else they dumped on you?
A: I guess the most difficult one would be the principalship. The other days you can control a little bit in the Central Office. You can plan ahead for those days. But -- and you hope you can plan a little bit in a high school or an elementary school. But you can't because you don't know what parent is going to walk in the next morning and you don't know what a teacher may have said or done in a classroom the day before, that this child is going home -- and a lot of the times it's a misinterpretation of what went on, or what was said. But you don't know who's going to show up the next morning and say "Well, my teacher was in so and so's classroom and he said a bad word." Oh, I'm sorry. But they don't want to accept that, you know. They want you to hang them up on a cross or a flag-pole for a couple of days or something. They've got to have some satisfaction. Or they called on my son three times and didn't call on anybody else in the classroom, and I think it's because they thought my child didn't do his homework or something. And all these little things -- you never know how many bus drivers are going to come in and say "We've got a problem we've got to deal with today." Those unexpected things take place first thing in the morning and sets the stage for your entire day in most cases -- because I have seen a time that you would spend an hour or two in the morning and just get rid of the problems that you hadn't planned for at all. Or a child is driving a car to school and has an accident, or he goes speeding by and comes into the parking area, you know, a little wild. Somebody reports him or a state trooper follows him in, or something, and you've got to go through all of that. So you never know how your day is going in a high school. Then you get into first period -- which starts the day -- and somebody leads a couple into the office because they have gotten into a fight out in the hall. So you have to expect most everything. I think a lot of that is in elementary school, too, because as I said before, your secretary might spend a couple of hours in the morning just arranging who and where these children are going after school when their parents don't get home until 5:30 or 6:00. The grandmother's sick now, so you have to go up the road and "Do you know where so and so lives?" Gosh, the key to me was the secretary. You know, they usually knew. I rode the bus routes to find out where most of our children lived, but I couldn't remember. But the secretary -- she was a local girl, and she knew all of that, and she'd say "Yes, I know where Uncle Henry lives, and we'll tell the bus driver to put him off at Uncle Henry's." But you get all these unexpected things. People coming in with lunch money, you know, and bring medication in, and the unexpected always happens early in the morning. And usually, after an hour or two, you can plan your day a little bit. But you never know what might happen. But I always said high school was the worst, because -- and you know, they will ride the bus in and they start disagreements, and a lot of them will turn into fights. And of course, somebody smoking around the corner or somebody slipped over the hill to the store, you know, and didn't have permission. So it's always those unexpected things -- no way you can plan for them. But usually after about 10:00 you can plan a few things, and get around to your classrooms, and do some things that you like to do. And then, as I said before, somebody would invite you to their classroom or the custodian wants to show you a leak in the roof, and we've got to get something done with that, or the athletic director wants you to get some gravel brought in for the track, or cut the grass, or get somebody to cut the grass on the football field, or the commode is stopped up, or it's -- a number of things will happen during the morning. There is no way in the world that you can prepare for those things. And I don't think that anybody at the university level can prepare you for those things. I know we were talking about preparation classes and things like that. You know, the experience is the best thing in the world, and I always felt like that a person, in most all cases, should work as an assistant principal for a while, if they can find a good person to put them with. Let them stay as an assistant for two or three years and maybe they will be a little better prepared for moving on up. You know, we tend to use people when they are the assistant. We give them all the discipline -- and that's the most distasteful job, you know -- give that to your assistant. Let him handle discipline problems and bus problems, and the poor fellow, you'll drive him off right quick.
Q: With that in mind, looking back over the years, could you describe the characteristics of an efficient assistant principal? Do you have anybody in mind that...?
A: I think we always have people in our mind, but shucks, I remember a principal I had in high school. If ever there's a man I wanted to be like, I wanted to be like Millard Strickler. He was my high school principal. He weighed about 150 pounds, although he talked like he weighed 300 pounds, and you believed he weighed 300 and he could pick you up and throw you across the room if he need to. He wouldn't dare do it, but he was one heck of a man. And you'd see him in one end of the building and two seconds later he was at the other end of the building. He got around. He was in classrooms -- he was just a dynamo. He was super. So yeah, you need one that can be everywhere all of the time and actually -- well, you know, a person just can't walk in off the street, I don't think, and be an assistant principal or be a -- regardless of how much education they've had to take the job, unless they've had -- well, I think it's mandatory in most places, or its -- they say you should have so many years teaching experience, and certainly that is necessary. Beyond that, you -- a lot of times they'll pick coaches, and they are good people. A lot of those turn out to be good principals. They work with children, and know how to work with them. They know how to motivate them. They know how to get them doing the things that they want to do. But certainly, the experience is the best thing in the world. I don't know, I don't think I could look at one -- although I feel like I've been fairly successful choosing, in choosing, personnel. But there is no way you can look at one and say "Ah-ha, that's a good principal."
Q: Are there any screening procedures that you used to try and narrow the field when you were looking?
A: Not really, not really. Oh, I guess, you know, if I would look at their background and what they had done and so on, and try to determine the person I thought would do best for the job -- their experience and - I know, you consider all things because, again, getting back to one of the early questions, they have to be a role model. You look at how they dress, how they act, and the habits they have, and so on. I think you have to, because you are going to be a role model just the same as a teacher and even more so. And you have to look at all the habits and the dress and everything else when you hire a person, and then hope they will be successful. And it's sort of a lonely life for that individual, too. Because, you know, when you and I were talking earlier, a lot of times the teachers -- faculty -- would invite me to come to parties. And I remember they had a bunch of the coaches that used to get together every once in a while and play poker. And oh, how I wanted to go to those poker games. But I really couldn't do it, because I had to supervise those people the next week. And you couldn't go out and drink and carouse with them and then expect to have that -- assume that -- leadership role on Monday morning, and expect them to look up to you if you'd do those things. So it's sort of a lonely life, a life of a principal, if, in my opinion, they do it right.
Q: Many of the colleges and universities have started cohorts for their principalship programs. As part of the cohort group, they go through a mentoring program/internship. What are your views on the effectiveness of programs like that?
A: Oh, I think it would be wonderful. I think it's a terrible mistake -- I saw it done not too many years ago in this county -- that took a person right out of the classroom, and threw them into a large elementary school. That's the worst thing that could have ever happened, and I begged the superintendent at the time, to put -- assign her as an assistant principal, or let her be the head teacher, or something, in a school for at least a couple of years, and let her see some of these things. Don't throw her in there. And they did, and it's been problems ever since. I think not only did they hurt this individual, but they hurt the -- the teachers suffered, the students suffered -- everybody down the line, and it's really been a tragedy. But yes, I think if you could put people working with someone else and, you know, you can pick out -- shucks, we have student teachers coming into this county to work with some of our best teachers. Why not let principals-to-be come in to them and work a year? Go with the principal and learn some of the things that they might happen to run into.
Q: Do you have any suggestions to the universities for things that they could do to better enhance their programs for preparing principals?
A: Well, I don't know. Mine was back in the late sixties or so for my master's. And I don't know, I thought a lot of the work was unnecessary. I think that probably if we could come up with a mentor program like that or let them go into a school and work -- as sometimes our undergraduate colleges do with student teachers. Let them come in and work in the system for a while, you know. Wouldn't something like that be possible in the master's program and the doctoral programs, and so on? Let them get some experience from some of these people who have been down the road. And that would be far more beneficial to them than a lot of the classes they are required to take now. I know such things as school law -- I'm sorry I ever took it. But I thought it hindered me. And I didn't always abide by the law, because I think you have to do what you think will work. I had my hand called a couple of time and I had to reverse some of the things that I was doing because it was illegal. But it worked. I was withholding grades -- I was withholding sending college scores and grades out so people could get enrolled in college and so on, until they paid all their obligations at school. And I let their parents know about it. That I would do it until they turned in all books, paid all library fines, and everything that they needed to do. And I got my hand called on it, and I found out I couldn't do it. But, by golly, I got by with it for two years, and it worked. And I had a clean slate every year, and I had every book back in the library, and I had all my textbooks in -- everything worked wonderfully. So I stayed off of it for two years, and then went back to it. But I think you had to try and try everything -- if it works, use it. But I think taking the school law -- I'm glad I had it. I'm sure it saved me in a lot of situations. But it sort of handicapped me, too, in some of the things I wanted to do, and I knew I was doing it wrong. But something like that is a necessary course -- you need that. But I think I got into an unusual school, because the school had had four different principals in three years, and when I took over it wasn't an easy first year. I think the students had almost taken over the school. It was bad. But in -- it took a while to bring it around, but I had a lot of good teachers in the school. We worked at it and worked at it, hard.
Q: What did you do to relieve the tensions and frustrations that must have built up in you? Particularly in that first year when you were trying to turn things around?
A: Well, where I live now -- of course, civilization had caught up with me -but I lived out in the sticks, and my nearest neighbor was about two miles as the crow flies. And so I could kick the dog, and yell, and walk back up on the top of the mountain and -- but we tried to get away. We tried to do things -- my wife and I -- on the weekends when we had a free weekend. The evenings -- so yes, you have to have things like that -- other than kick the dog. I had to have some other release. We tried staying involved, and I had some clubs and some other activities that I belonged to, since both of us were teachers and we didn't talk much of it at home.
Q: Let's pick up on that for just a minute. Because you both were teachers and your children have also been involved in education, what type of effect do you think you had on your children in terms of their desires to become teachers?
A: Well, I think it must have been my wife, you know, not me. But you know, We didn't encourage them to do into education. We told them that it was a -- I told them it was rewarding, but it was hard, and it wasn't very good pay back then. So they couldn't do it for monetary reasons. But we told them it was hard. But both of them chose to do it. We were right proud of them doing it, although we didn't encourage it. But both of them wanted to do it.
Q: Since we've been over this, and you've had a chance to think back over things that have happened over the last few years -- looking back, what do you see as strengths and weaknesses that you've had?
A: Well, I don' t know, that's pretty hard for me to say. I guess I was lucky as much as everything else. I still do enjoy working with young people. I enjoy working with teachers. I think you have to be a dedicated person, because I have seen a time that my days will run to six in the evening and I have seen a time that I would leave school at 4:00. But those days were very rare -- and that was the time I was supposed to leave. I think that my enjoyment of working with people -- that's what I missed when I left education for the seven years, although I was working a great deal with people, but not necessarily young people. I did enjoy -- my wife was an elementary teacher. She taught for 30 years and didn't want to do anything else but teach. And so again, I think our lives -- we both enjoyed our work and working with the young people. You know, every day was a challenge. With education you never know what to expect. But even when I was a teacher in the classroom, shucks, you never knew what to expect when you opened up a class, or when a hand went up or "Mr. Johnson, can I tell you what happened at home last night?" Of course, you get some surprises once in a while, too. Especially in the elementary, because they tell all. I think that's one of the reasons some people stopped "show and tell", you know, because it was some right bad experiences that these children would bring to the classroom. Anyway, being able to work with young people, and, you know, the rewards, you get to see them daily, too. Especially in elementary school. When you see a child's eyes pop open and they start waving their hands and saying "I see it, I see it." It might be at a math problem or dot on a map or whatever, but there are rewards. They come to you. Not too frequently in a lot of cases, but eventually they come. Or you read in the paper about a student you had, you know, that's doing so and so, or they got promoted or they are CEO somewhere, you know, and when you look back you think, by golly, maybe I helped them a little bit, and those things are rewards. Or a football player goes to the pros or something like that, it makes you think. Monetarily, I think that, you know, our salaries have gotten to a point that you can live with now. One time, you know -- you hear people tell you that they started making a hundred dollars a year, or something like that. Well, I'm not quite that old. I think I started out my teaching back in '60 over at E.C. Glass High School over in Lynchburg. I started out with $3500, I think that was our starting salary at the time. That was pretty good money - or $3700 I believe, because I lost money when I came to Rockbridge County. I had to drop back a couple of hundred dollars. It has moved a long way, I think, in that. And I don't think our pay is bad in most cases. Everybody says teachers don't make anything, but I think we have gotten our salary scales up to a respectable amount anyway. You know, for a teacher, a loaf of bread costs as much as it does for anyone else. You know, you always have those people say they only work ten months a year, and -- or really nine months a years, they used to say, and shucks, they don't go to work. I have to get up and go to work at seven o'clock in the morning, and they get off and three o'clock in the afternoon. The don't realize the amount of work you take home with you and the things you have to do.
Q: Do you have any ideas about the merit pay issue or master teachers with career ladders?
A: Do you know, I don't? And I always thought -- I felt there was a need, but I don't know how to do it. I think it would be wonderful. I always felt that we maybe should be a little more honest with our own people as far as the pay scales they are on, you know. But again, at working with the state and local governments, when a salary increase comes across the board, they -- everybody gets it, whether they are a good teacher or a bad teacher, or what else. And you would certainly like to award those good, dedicated people, and I think that would be a little incentive for the others to reach for, and certainly, for this person to improve even more. I often wondered how -- I know when I worked for the state, we had a scale that we had to go by, and we had to evaluate our people twice a year. And, in a sense, rated them, and you could deny them a raise the following year if you so desired. Even the state had that then, and I thought that wasn't even a bad way. I think you need, perhaps, to do it two or three times during the school year, at least, and say, by golly, you're not producing, and if you don't by the end of the year, then your raise next year may be withheld -- something like that. The thing of everybody on this scale and everybody moving up the next year regardless of what their performance is, it's not right. We're spending taxpayers' money -- as one teacher told me not long ago, "What's the use, because I'm going to get a three percent or a four percent raise." Or "I'm on the salary scale and if I have 15 years I'm going to move up to so's and so next year, by tenure that I taught a year and I move up." And I think we need to come up with something, and I don't care if it's a monthly evaluation or whatever. I think we would have something that may encourage that person to move a little bit if they know that money is going to be withheld. We fiddle around and we don't do it -- we talk about it a lot, but we have never done anything about it, and I think that it would be the most wonderful thing in the world. And, any more, I think we try to reward everybody, maybe some don't deserve that reward.
Q: Let's shift over to something that I know is kind of near and dear to your heart -- and that's a code of ethics for educators. Would you elaborate on that for a few minutes?
A: Well, I think that we need a code of ethics. I think we need a dress code. I'm a little old fashioned, but I think we are role models, and by golly, we ought to act like we are. As I told you before, there were lots of night that I wanted to go out and drink a beer with the teachers and coaches, or go to a party and so on, but I didn't do it because I knew I had to supervise those same people the next day. Old Sam may have a drink too many, and they might remember that the next morning. But yes, I think we need to be role models. We need to dress, we need to behave. You know, at one time, when I was employed over at Lexington High School -- I never will forget the principal. I don't know whether you remember or not, but Alden Whitmore was there. He later became Superintendent of Schools at Danville somewhere. But Alden says "If you want to take a drink, then you ought to go to Roanoke or Lynchburg somewhere. Don't be caught." And he also said you will dress, and you will join your state and your local organizations -- the only question is how are you going to pay for it? You'll either do it by check or cash. He said it's not whether you're going to do it -- and you supported your local organization and you dressed and you behaved. I think we have drifted a long way away from that, and we need to get back. Children are constantly looking for role models everywhere, and we as teachers, I think, we don't offer a lot for them. Yes, I do think we need more codes, but legally, if you touch any of that stuff now, you're really in hot water. It's hard to tell people how to dress, you know. I used to hire people when I was in the Central Office, and I said " You will be expected to wear a coat and tie. You don't have to keep your coat on. We expect you to wear short sleeve shirts in the summer time, and so on. If you do wear a coat to school, we don't expect you to keep it on all day. We do expect you to wear a tie." I don't think I could say that now. I don't know whether that I would be able to or not, they require these or not. Of course, we had exceptions. The Industrial Arts teachers didn't have to wear them around dangerous machinery and stuff like that. I never will forget -- I hired a young man that's in the school system right now, and he was a boat captain down in Norfolk. But I needed an Industrial Arts teacher. I looked the state over -- they were scarce at that time -- and I finally found him, and he came to see me. I really liked him. I thought that he had a lot to offer. The only thing that I disliked was that he had long golden-blonde hair down below his shoulders. And I guess he saw me looking at it, or maybe he picked it up from the way I was talking. He said "This is going." I said " I was hoping I wouldn't have to say anything about it. But thank you, thank you, thank you!" And you bet, he's probably the neatest person you have around now. But he came for an interview and he had his tennis shoes and old over-alls, and so on. I told him we did expect our teachers to dress to set a good example. He never let me down. He turned out to be a super one. So yes, I think we need that dress code.
Q: Well, this has been a real pleasant experience for me, and I certainly appreciate your time. Before you leave, there are a lot of issues we haven't had time to discuss. Are there any issues that you would like to throw out on the table before we end this session?
A: Well, not really. I don't think that I'm -- everybody tells me that I'm -- Rudolph Claytor, one of my colleagues, used to tell me that I made Barry Goldwater look like a liberal. But, you know, I think we need to get back to some of our conservative ideas, maybe, concerning dress and concerning behavior and certainly the work ethics -- a dedication to work. You know, I used to have some of these yellow sheets they used to pass around about, you know, if you work for a man, work for him, give him an honest day's work. And I think we need some of that again. Not just the thing of trying to see how little that I can get by with. Because you're cheating these young folks down the hall here, you see, and when you do that it tells on you eventually down the line somewhere. We get a chance to see that every year. I'm not a strong advocate in believing everything I see on tests scores, but I think it's an indication, and I think testing is wonderful. I don't agree with who benefits the most from it. I think the Press benefits more than anybody else from our test scores because they can't wait to get hold of them and publish them in the paper -- that this division tested so and so for their eleventh graders. And I think that's a tragedy, that they shouldn't even be allowed to put them in the paper. At one time, in this county -- and incidentally, you could get any kind of test score that you want. You can teach for it and you can get any kind of test score that you want. And if you would take them seriously, and test the children, and not prep them and do all of this advanced work, and then take those scores and sit down with your teachers or guidance counselors or whatever you need to, and explain to them, and say "This is where you were weak." These children were weak at, or this teacher was weak in math last year, and you need to come up on that, or you need to do more of this, and you need to do more of that. And you can pinpoint those things right down to particular parts of a math book, be it at decimals, or at something else that you didn't quite do the job that you should do. And after all, teachers are only human, and you know most of them will say "Well, I really don't like math myself, but I have to teach it, and I'm an elementary teacher, you know." So we tried to do something about -- you know in some places some schools -- even here in Rockbridge County -- we're a little slow to catch on, but we've taken and said that -- well, gosh, this person is good in math and they love math, so let them teach math for the third, fourth, and fifth graders. And another one teach science, and another one is teaching English. And that makes good sense. If a person likes to do something, then they will do a better job at it. So we have moved in that direction. But again, I think those test scores are the most wonderful things in the world, and it gives you an idea of where you are going, or where you have been, or where you need to go. And if a teacher would set down and go through those things and work on those things, and work on those areas that they're weak in themselves as well as giving the students little doses of it. I think testing is wonderful, but they have to be used right. And I just hated every year when they came out with the local newspaper, and their headline says well, so and so drops and so and so moved up, and they must be doing a better job in a certain county or a certain city than they are doing in this one. And that's not right. That's not the purpose of the tests. So again, they could be used right. They're a good tool. You've got to try to use everything that you can get your hands on to be successful.
Q: Once again, I certainly do appreciate your time with this.
A: Thank you. I enjoyed talking with you.
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