This is November 11, 1989.This is an interview with Mrs. Norma B. Lester in the sanctuary of the Tookland Church on her experiences as an elementary school principal.
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Q: Mrs. Lester, would you begin by telling us about your family background - your childhood interests and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, I was born and reared in Southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Actually, I am the daughter of a coal miner (laugh) - Just like Loretta Lynn - I'm the daughter of a coal miner and I'm proud of it. All of my life I wanted to be a teacher. From the time that I first opened books and started to look at pictures, I was a teacher and I would gather children around me and pretend to be teaching them. I - ah - My elementary and my secondary education was in Southwest Virginia in Buchanan County. I'm a graduate of Hurley High School. I, ah, received my Bachelor's degree from Pikeville College, a small Presbyterian school in Eastern Kentucky. From there I went to East Tennessee State where I acquired my Master's degree in elementary education.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching with us?
A: OK. I actually started out wanting to be the very best teacher. I didn't have any aspirations, at that time, to be a principal and so, that's why I did all of my work in elementary education with a concentration in the teaching of reading.
Q: How many years did you serve as a teacher?
A: I taught for nineteen years. Ah, Actually, I have taught every grade from kindergarten through the seventh grade at one time or another. I began teaching in a one room school in K-7.
Q: Could you tell us something about the one room school?
A: That was a wonderful experience. Ah, I don't know how much education the children acquired because I walked right out of the high school door and began teaching. This was a time, when you ah, when in Southwest Virginia they were having trouble, ah, getting degree teachers and so, I walked out of the high school door and started teaching. I look back on those days as a part of my education. Ah, I didn't have student teaching, but I learned to teach in the classroom.
Q: So, how many grades did you teach in the one-room classroom?
A: I believe it was one through seven.
Q: How many students? Do you remember?
A: Probably, about 30.
Q: I wonder if you would discuss some experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about those now.
A: Well, I guess the important points in my life one being, ah, when I left the classroom and became an assistant principal and as I said, I actually had no aspirations to be a principal. I just wanted to be the very best teacher I could be. Ah, however, when I got into the school as an assistant principal, I began to enjoy the management duties and the organizational duties and the discipline and the, ah, relationships that you have with parents as a te-- as a principal. Ah, at that time also, in this particular school division, there were very few people qualified as a principal and so, therefore, you might say I was more or less drafted or persuaded to enter administration. Ah, after a period of two years as an assistant principal, the principal was, ah, transferred to the secondary school, and so I became the principal. And that's how I got into the principalship.
Q: Would you take us on a walk through your school describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building?
A: Well, that school, ah, had two main facilities. One was a - was a building that was occupied about 1962. It had six classrooms, an auditorium and an office complex. One building was, ah, occupied around 1928, and I believe it had about eight classrooms and an auditorium and the library. The outside buildings made up the largest part of the facility. We actually had twenty-seven outside buildings, mobile units or temporary buildings. The, ah, just the layout of the campus made it extremely hard to supervise. You felt like you needed roller skates just to get around the campus.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education? How did it evolve over the years?
A: Well, now my personal philosophy of education is I believe that all children can learn. Now, all children are unique and they will learn at different rates. They need different teaching techniques. Ah, all children have a different learning style but I believe that all children can learn if we cater to their capabilities. Ah, I think that has changed somewhat through the years, however, I believe that in my early years of teaching that I actually believed that some children could not learn. Today, I do not believe that. I believe all children can learn. I don't think it matters what their background is, I don't think it matters what their socio-economic class is, I really don't think it matters what the educational level of the parents is - all I believe that matters is what the teacher does in that classroom, how she sets expectations for those children, how she uses her time, how she adapts the instruction to fit the needs of those children.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning?
A: Well, I think to, ah, you know as I look back, that's been several years, I believe that we did have a successful climate for learning. But, I believe that any principal really sets the tone for learning. First of all, by being visible in the building, by ah, meeting the children in the morning with a smile on-on your face because really you never know what those children have gone through that night. So, I think if they come to school that morning and the principal is standing there greeting them with a smile - ah - making them welcome - making them feel like that this is a good place to be, then I think the principal sets the tone for learning. In addition to that, I think the facility itself has to be clean and attractive and I also think that is the principal's responsibility. I think if we - ah - make children - ah - feel that they are successful and make - we must create success for children, they must feel successful and if we do that, then we have set the tone for learning in the building.
Q: Could you describe any successful or unsuccessful experiments in climate building in which you have been involved?
A: Well, I think, ah, maybe there were times that I was unsuccessful simply because of my, ah, personality maybe being a little too laid back and sometimes I feel that people really take advantage of you. You know they think, "Oh, well, ah, I got away with it this time, so she won't do anything next time either." So, I think sometimes that we have to, ah, make our point stronger when we're working with parents, when we're working with children and when we're working with teachers. I think that sometimes we make the mistake of being a little too laid back.
Q: What do you consider to be the personal and professional characteristics of an effective principal?
A: First of all, I think a principal has to be able to listen. I think that is a key characteristic of a good principal. I think you have to be able to listen, ah, you don't always have to agree but I think you have to listen to parents, to listen to students, and you have to listen to teachers. Second, I think that a principal does have to be well organized in order to manage the school. But, I think the most important characteristic of an effective principal is to know instruction. I think this is - this is a weakness throughout the country in principals is that so many principals have gotten into the principalship without really knowing instruction. And I think a principal has to know instructional strategies, they have to know, ah, how to teach reading, they have to know, ah, how to sequence skills, they have to know about learning styles and diagnosing learning styles, they have to know about adapting instruction. If they don't know this, then the teacher knows more than they do; therefore, they cannot be an instructional leader. And I believe that is the one most important factor right now for a principal. You know we're entering an age of accountability here - more accountability then ever before I believe on principals and I believe if they do not know instruction, they cannot be effective principals.
Q: Would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed upon principals by their employers and the community during your period of time as a principal?
A: Well, I - actually, at the time that I became a principal, again I think we were more or less expected to be building managers. If you could manage the building and, ah, you could organize schedules, and you could - you had good discipline, and, ah, you could take care of the facility and there was no graffiti on the walls, then you were considered a good principal. Ah, I - I don't think at that time principals were expected to be instructional leaders, but I think that has changed somewhat. I think today principals must be instructional leaders.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership.
A: I like the team approach really, I like shared decision-making. I don't think I've always been that way either. I think that has evolved over the years, ah, and I'm afraid that it was always my personality to lean that way, but many times I'm afraid that I tried to give all of the orders directly rather than, ah, sharing the decision-making and, ah, allowing the staff to participate in more decision-making. I think that if I walked back into a school today as a principal, then my - we would share the decision-making.
Q: It has been said that the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's schools?
A: Well, during the time that I was a principal, I don't remember having very many curriculum guides. Ah, we bought textbooks for all the children but we didn't have the management systems that go along with the math and reading for example. We didn't have the, ah, record keeping materials and many of the teachers kept records but they kept them on an index card or something. Today, we have, ah, curriculum guides have been developed, we have - the state has developed standards of learning and we have the standards of learning to guide us in our curriculum decisions and, ah, my school division - I'm sure that most school divisions today provide the management systems that go along with the programs for the teachers to use and therefore, it - it works in a positive manner because they can see the progress of their children and they have to document that.
Q: There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Could you please discuss your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.
A: Standardized testing can improve the instructional program if used appropriately. Ah, teachers can use, ah, the, ah, mater - the information from the test to adapt their instruction, to set up their instructional group, and to decide what strategies they will use with the students. You - you hear a lot today about teaching to the test, and, ah, there's more to education than a standardized test. Well, that is true. My response to that is, and I do this now when my teachers or my principals say, "But, that's teaching to the test." And I say, "Oh, no, that is teaching what you will test." Also, ah, the - the standardized test is the only measurement that we have. It is the best that we have and it's going to be with us and therefore, we are accountable and so we need to take it and go with it.
Q: Could you describe your normal work day when you were principal? How did you spend your time?
A: Well, I was a principal in a school with twelve hundred students - grades K - 7. I would say my workday started at seven o'clock and sometimes ended at seven, sometimes eight and sometimes nine. Now, that was not exactly a normal situation, but I don't think that any person entering the, ah, principalship should think they can be an effective principal, ah, open the door at eight o'clock in the morning and walk out when the bell rings at three-thirty or four o'clock. Being an effective principal requires dedication, commitment of time and energy, and, ah, staying in that building and making sure that everything is ready for the next morning. As a principal, my day started better is I had everything laid out. Now, of course, it doesn't always work out that you can follow your schedule as you have mapped it out. You may get in the building and you have a discipline problem, or there's two or three unhappy parents standing there to talk with you so you have to take time to do that, ah, the furnace may break down, a bus may break down somewhere and so, you're dealing with all kinds of problems and you have to work under stress. And so, when you map out your day, you may not get to follow that map.
Q: What was one of the toughest decisions that you had to make as a principal?
A: I think maybe that one of the toughest decisions sometimes is conferencing with teachers on pupil retention. Ah, you try to evaluate what has happened and where the child has come from and decide what is best for the child. And then you have to conference with the parents and - ah, those parents get so upset sometimes when you have to - you must tell them this child needs to be retained and many times it's just a battle with that parent and to me that was a tough decision. I think another decision, another thing that was tough for me was to, ah, observe a teacher and then need to tell that teacher, "Hey, your instruction is rotten. You just aren't doing what you should be doing for children." That was tough for me to do. Especially if it is a young teacher who has maybe her first year of teaching or his first year of teaching and, you know, you sound like you're just cutting off their career right here after they've just spend thirty or forty thousand dollars or something. That - That was tough for me.
Q: What was the key or what do you consider to be the key to your success as a principal?
A: I think maybe my honest, ah, my persistence, ah, my willingness to teach, to treat everybody fairly. I - you know a lot of people say, "Well, you should treat everybody just alike." You can't treat everybody just alike because everybody is unique in their needs and in their behaviors. I think you just treat everybody fairly. I think that was the key to my success plus my interest and my love for children and my love just for teaching - for education.
Q: Could you discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you have applied it in your career?
A: I guess my professional code of ethics is just to be honest and treat everyone fairly - just to reflect back on what I just said. I think that is my professional code of ethics is to always be honest, up-front, say it like it is and I always have (laugh).
Q: What suggestions could you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: I believe that, ah, universities really need to, ah, clamp down on the kind of candidates that are coming out with degrees in administration. I believe a lot of people are getting out with the qualifications really and, ah, they really are not ready for the principalship. I think before they actually go into a program that they should have taught school. I believe that makes the best principals and my years in supervision now have convinced me that that does make the best principals. I think this "mentoring" thing that's coming along now in the universities where you - where a person, ah, headed into the principalship is combined with, ah, a veteran principal. I think that will be very helpful because I think really work experience is the best. I feel like that the administration courses that I had earlier really did not prepare me for the principalship. I think we got just a little bit too much theory. We got some good management techniques but I believe that the principals really need to know instruction. First of all, they need to know instruction and, I think that maybe not as much theory and more courses in instruction. Now, I do feel that the administration courses that I have taken lately were very good and I wish I had had those when I started out.
Q: Have you have any experiences with the "mentoring" program?
A: No, I can't say that I have. I, ah, myself I never had a mentor and I really have not had any experience with a mentoring program. I think that, ah, my - I guess that I look back on my work as an assistant principal. I think I look back on that work and that I drew from what I learned as an assistant principal to assist me.
Q: OK, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools?
A: The characteristics that are associated with the most effective - with the most effective schools, ah, include a principal that's an instructional leader, a pleasant school climate that is conducive to learning, all of the teachers are on task, ah, going about the duties of instruction - of instructing children. The, ah, if you walk into the facility, the whole building reflects this is a place for learning because you'll see students' work up and this kind of thing.
Q: During the past ten years, schools have become much larger. What are your views on this phenomenon and could you suggest an ideal size for a school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional activities?
A: I think 350 - 500 students is as large as any elementary school should be. And then, I feel you should have a principal and an assistant principal and I think that assistant principal should be an instructional leader as well.
Q: In recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students such as LD, gifted, talented and non-English speaking students have been developed. Could you tell us your experiences with special student services and your views on today's trends in this regard?
A: Well, my experiences as a principal, ah, I don't recall having any gifted programs, but we did have special education and they were self contained classrooms. My feelings today on that, ah, revolve around what I see in classrooms. I think that, ah, Public Law 94-142, OK, that was great because I know that many children were not being served that needed special assistance. However, I feel that the guidelines today for learning disabilities - I could be identified as a learning disabled child - and I think we are placing far too many slow learners, ah, in special education programs and labeling them as learning disabled. The, I believe that the answer to that would be - and you know we're pushing high teacher expectations for success - I believe that if we lowered the pupil-teacher ratio to 12 - 15 students per teacher, we trained all of our teachers in the proper instructional strategies to use with these LD students and the proper instructional strategies to use with gifted, talented students and we trained them to adapt instruction to fit all of these children. I believe that we would have a better system if all of the children stayed in the classroom with the teacher and that teacher was trained to teach those children and, of course, in a class of thirty, a teacher could not possibly do all that - no matter how well they were trained but that's where the taxpayer needs to "Get on with it." We need to see that this pupil-teacher ratio is lowered and that the regular classroom teacher has an opportunity to work with those students before we take them out of that classroom. Simply because those children learn from the other children. They learn from the gifted children. The gifted children learn from the slower children and I think it makes for a better situation. They're also models for them.
Q: Approximately, what was the pupil-teacher ratio in the school where you were principal at?
A: Probably, about 26 - 28 to 1.
Q: And how many teachers would there have been?
A: 55 or 60 - It's been so long now I can't remember (laugh). 55 or 60.
Q: Salaries and compensations have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. What are some of your recollections of the compensation system of the school during your early years as a principal?
A: Well, let's start with my early years as a teacher. I taught in a one room school. My salary was $1,100. I drove a '40 model Chevrolet. The seats were covered with, I think they call it oil cloth, some type of a plastic covering I remember so I guess it had holes in it. And, then when I started as a principal my salary was only $16,000 a year. Today, I guess my salary is about four times that but I don't - I don't think that I'm being adequately paid today. I don't feel any principal is being adequately paid today. I think a good principal is probably worth about $100,000 a year. I really think that a good principal would be worth that much money and a good teacher at least $65,000 or $70,000
Q: Most systems presently have a tenure, or continuing contract system for teachers. What was the situation at the time you entered the profession?
A: I actually can't remember if we had a continuing contract at that time. I, ah, am happy that we have a continuing contract system for our teachers. However, I think that that status is misinterpreted. Ah, a continuing contract should mean that you continue to grow. Sometimes, I'm afraid that some teachers get the idea that once they reach continuing contract status, then I can just lie back and relax. I feel that it is the principal's responsibility to see that continuing contract status means continuing to grow.
Q: Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paper work they have to do. Would you comment on the situation when you were a principal?
A: Well, when I was a principal, I think that I probably complained also (laugh) and I hear a lot of it today. Ah, but I believe that central office people are held accountable also and so we need to accept this directives and move with the flow. We all have to be accountable and this paperwork is a way of being accountable. It's a way of monitoring what we're doing.
Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of educational administration, what would these three areas be?
A: OK, ah, I believe that school administrators sometimes are bogged down dealing with such things as the "rumor mill," street talk, knifing in the back, back-stabbing - this kind of thing. If I could zap all of that, and if I could make sure that school board members stayed out of the operation of schools, that the administrator - himself or herself - had the opportunity to operate the school without interference, then I would certainly do that.
Q: What was your relationship with the Superintendent in terms of his general attitude toward you and your school?
A: Most of my experience with my Superintendents has been very pleasant and a very compatible relationship. However, there was one time in my career - one time after twenty-four years - that I did have a slight problem with a Superintendent. Ah, some people like to think that problem was political, some people like to think it was a personality clash, I'm not exactly sure what it was, but I'm sure I didn't do anything wrong. And, ah, so I have to look back on that one year as a learning stage in my life. And, it's one of the things that has made me what I am today. At that time, I was bitter about it and I didn't like it and, ah, but I look back at it now with a smile and say I wouldn't be where I was today if that had not happened. I would still probably be a principal in that school with 1,200 students, I would still be, ah, running up and down that campus and settling little fights and, ah, doing all the things that a principal in a large school would have to do. And, I still probably would not have had the chance to grow as I feel I have had. I feel I have had an opportunity really to attain professional growth that I would never have had an opportunity to have had I stayed in that situation.
Q: What was your general relationship with the Board of Education?
A: My general relationship, I suppose, was very good. Up until, ah, one of my teachers who had resigned got on the board as a board member. And then, I think my relationship with the board deteriorated somewhat. This, I think this also probably has formulated some of my beliefs today about the make-up of school boards. I think now that I am firmly committed to the belief that school boards should be elected by the people, should not be appointed by the governing bodies because if they are appointed by the governing bodies, too many times decisions are made in the board meeting are not really made in the board meeting. They're made somewhere else - at someone's house, ah, in the basement of a garage or coming up the sidewalk. They really are not made in board meetings many times and I believe that if the school board members were elected by the people that we would have more accountability from school board members and we would not have this attempt sometimes to push good administrators around.
Q: How effective do you feel school board operations are?
A: In some cases. I suppose they are effective. However, I believe there should be some regulations and again, maybe we go back to constitutional rights (laugh). But, I believe that there should be some - some type of - of qualifications for school board members. I believe in too many rural areas we have people actually making, ah, decision on - on the education of children that maybe has a third or fourth grade education themselves. I mean, what - what do they know about what is good for a school or what is good for children? And those kind of people can also be influenced by the undercover politician or the person who would like to gain power by stabbing someone else in the back. And, I really believe there should be qualifications for school board members.
Q: Many people argue that, more often than not, central office policies hinder, rather than help, building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. What are your views on this issue?
A: OK. I hear that also (laugh). Occasionally. However, again this gets back to this accountability issue. Central office people are accountable to the school board, accountable to the Superintendent, and accountable to the State Department of Education. And, ah, well everybody all across the spectrum of school operations today are being held more accountable. And part of this paperwork has a filter from the state department to the central office staff. It has to filter from the central office staff down to the principal, and it has to filter down to the teacher. And, it is a way of monitoring to see if we're doing what we should be doing and if we, the only thing to do is to take a professional attitude and, ah, say "I want to be accountable." And we are really in an age now that we must "get with it" as school administrators or we should seek job counseling. We really are - are - we're in a real exciting time in education. I think it's one of the most exciting times and I'm just now finishing thirty-six years - I like to say I'm still thirty-nine (laugh) - but I'm finishing thirty-six years and I think really that it's one of the most exciting times in my career. And, I think for ah, principals to sit back and squawk (laugh) about the paperwork that's coming down from the central office that they really need to, ah, find another field to get into. Because I don't think there's any central office in the country who is filtering down any more paperwork than they have to because they also are swamped with paperwork. So, they're not going to do any more than they have to to monitor the education of children and after all, that's what we're there for. We're there for the children and so we need to accept that and accept our responsi -our professional responsibilities and be accountable.
Q: Just for a moment, suppose that you were queen, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: Well, first of all, if I had the power to do what I wanted to do - if I was queen for a day, for example - I would remove, first of all, starting at the top, I would remove all school boards that were appointed by governing bodies. I would have the school boards elected by the people. I would make sure there were qualifications for those school boards and that they were interested in the education of children. I would move around the schools in the country and I would screen out all of those teachers who really were not good teachers (smile) and I would put in teachers that were (smile) good teachers that I felt had the kids at heart. I would remove all of those principals who are just there occupying a chair with their feet upon a desk from eight till four. I would put in principals that, again, were instructional, knew the curriculum from the top to bottom. And, I would also give school boards the power of taxation so that they could make sure that all of these schools I - this system I had designed - could be funded. And, I would also increase the salaries. Again, I would have those good principals, ah, pulling down a least a hundred thousand dollars a year or more and teachers pulling down at least sixty-five thousand dollars or more. I really believe that teachers and administrators are the lifeline of this nation. They're really the lifeline - the bloodline of this nation. And, if we continue to allow poor teachers to stay in the classroom, we allow poor principals to stay in the schools, ah, we are destroying our own nation. And, I believe that we have a responsibility to do something about that and to see that they're the strongest people possible, are looking out for our children and to make sure we are compensating those people appropriately. Educators should be able to have the same type of living as a medical doctor for example because they train the medical doctor. And yet, they are, ah, viewed as, sometimes, just being on the public dole so to speak and yet, they actually are producing the lifeblood of the nation.
Q: In the school system where you were principal, how were the board members elected?
A: Oh, ah, the board members were appointed by the coun-- no, the board members were appointed by an electoral board who, ah, were - the electoral board was appointed by the circuit court judge.
Q: And what were the qualifications?
A: There were no qualifications.
Q: Could you describe a typical school board member in the school you were principal at in that area?
A: Well, I think we had some that had degrees, maybe one or two that had degrees on the school board. However, we had some who, ah, probably their education was a very low level. I'm not sure exactly what level but a very low level.
Q: What is your approach to merit pay?
A: Actually, I haven't had any, ah, experience with merit pay but I can tell you how I feel about it. I believe that all teachers should be expected to be top performers and they should be compensated accordingly. I'm afraid that when we start compensating teachers for, ah, trying to be better than someone else (laugh) then we are defeating our purpose. I think we need to expect top performance from all teachers and we need to compensate them accordingly and if they aren't top performers, then we need to get them out of the race.
Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what kind of advice would you give that person?
A: First of all, be open-minded. Make sure this is what you want to do. Keep in mind that this is not an eight 'til four job if you do what you're suppose to do. Ah, keep in mind that again you are responsible for the lifeblood of the nation. You're responsible for the young people. Ah, also get yourself oriented to instruction. Know reading! Know math! Know social studies and science. Make sure that you understand appropriate teaching strategies. Make sure you understand how to adapt instruction. Ah, make sure you understand assertive discipline. Ah, to me, you can grow into the management if you've had a few techniques but the instruction you must know -Instructional strategies you must know. And you must be able to evaluate and talk with your teachers accordingly. Also, for a young person going in, Linda, for example, if you were going into the principalship, I would suggest that that person get involved in the state and national associations for administrators, like, ah, the Elementary Principal's Association, both the state and national or the secondary or middle school associations - whatever your interests - plus that you participate in all of the professional conferences like the state and the national professional development conferences. That you belong to those organizations, that you get their magazines, that you read the research, and that you attend those conferences plus the ah -- ah association of curriculum and development. These associations offer excellent opportunities for staff development and for preparation for your entry into school administration. Another one I would suggest also is the state and the, ah, international reading association.
Q: How active were you in your education association when you were a teacher?
A: When I was a teacher, ah, naturally we didn't get to go to many conferences because there wasn't much money available for travel. However, ah, I was active in the state and national education association and, at one time, I served as the local education association president. I felt I did a "bang-up" job - I don't know what the teachers felt (laugh).
Q: Did you travel a lot to a lot of conferences when you were principal or teacher?
A: We occasionally got to go to a few conferences. I felt that we were weak in that area, however, and that we probably should have been able to go to more. Ah, simply as a stimulus, if nothing else.
Q: You've mentioned that the principal should be an instructional leader. There are those that, realistically speaking, suggest that this person must also be a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue?
A: Well, we know that you have to be both. You have to be a good manager. However, I believe that you do have to do both well. And, I believe that, ah, for most instructional leadership is the most important, ah, component of school administration.
Q: What is your style? What would you consider to be your style as a manager and instructional leader?
A: Well, again, I like this team decision -making kind of thing. But, occasionally, there comes a time, you know after you pull the team together and you make all of these decisions, for example, like what is my staff development program going to be this year. So you decide on all the things you're going to address this year. Then, there comes a time sometimes when you just need to say to a teacher who doesn't want to attend an afternoon session or doesn't want to participate in, ah, a growing, what you consider a growing professional experience. Then, there comes a time sometimes, as a principal when you simple have to say, "Yes, this is it. You must attend this." (Laugh)
Q: Would you describe what you consider to be the ideal requirements for principal certification?
A: Well, let's go back to instruction. I think the requirement should be instruction. I really think that, ah, probably these principal assessment centers that are coming along also are very good. I believe that before a principal can -should - that before a principal actually is able to achieve state certification as an elementary principal, that they should be able to demonstrate that they do understand instruction and that they, ah, have those management skills that they need, and those public relation skills. But, ah, first and foremost, I believe they need to understand instruction. Now, I believe that they should demonstrate that they understand instruction before they, ah, can be certified as an elementary principal by the state.
Q: What kind of procedures would you use for screening candidates that wish to become a principal?
A: OK. First of all, I can tell you what I do now (laugh). All right, what I do now is I look at how - at their evaluation as a teacher if they have taught. I look at their evaluation as a teacher. That is a good indicator as to whether or not they understand instruction (laugh). I look at that carefully. I would look at their interest in children and their love for children. I look at their personality. Ah, you know, are they capable of actually, ah, going into a classroom, observing a teacher, coming out of that classroom, sitting down and conferencing with that teacher, ah, in a positive manner for continued growth of the teacher?
Q: It is often been said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed. what are your views on this issue?
A: I do believe that we are dealing today with a lot of parental apathy. Probably, more so than ever before. I think we're dealing with many, ah, homes in the lower socio-economic areas where, ah, many of the parents are in the drug culture or coming out of the drug culture. We're dealing with many parents who have a low income who have low self-esteem and who really are not comfortable coming to the school and talking with the teacher. I believe that we should get parents involved in their children's education. Ah, we should reach out to those parents that we can't get in through some - one form or another and get them on committees. Ah, have workshops for them. We have workshops for parents on effective parenting for example, give them a certificate. Ah, we need to pull these parents in - now, you'll have one segment of parents that you'll have no problem with. They'll be there and they're your staunchest supporters. But, usually the children that you have the most problems with are the children whose parents you can't get to the school. So, we need to work on ways of getting these parents involved in school and making them comfortable in coming to PTA and participating in committee meetings and joining other parents in workshops on how to deal with their children.
Q: How did you interact with parents and citizens who were important to the well-being of the school when you were principal?
A: Well, I - I had committees. I had parents on committees but I don't - and of course I had a fairly active PTA, but I don't feel I did a real good job with that. Ah, at least not at first. I think I did later on. But, at least, not at first, I don't think I did a very good job. I didn't feel I did a very good job and that perhaps I could have done more to have pulled the parents in who were uncomfortable with coming to the school. However, in the, ah, later, the last year that I was a principal, I think I came to a full realization of how much support I did have from the parents. And I think it was just a matter of, ah, I really probably had not reached out for them, but I had been touching them in more ways than one without realizing it.
Q: What kind of activities did your PTA do?
A: Well, ah, some - course some of it was fund raising naturally. All PTA's raise funds and my philosophy on that has changed also. I don't believe they should be fund raisers (laugh). I think they should drop that totally. Ah, and I think we should get them, ah, the PTA more involved in making decisions about the school. Ah, for example, what kind of discipline are we going to use? Ah, how are we going to control the discipline on the bus? Ah, I think if we just brought parents in and talked about these things, in many cases, the parents would take charge of it and we wouldn't have to worry about it anyway.
Q: When you were principal, what forms of discipline did you use and what forms of discipline were used?
A: When I was a principal, we could still spank. You know we can't do that anymore. You can't use the paddle anymore. That's forbidden. And, I think its probably good that it's forbidden. I think as I mellowed I decided that that paddle wasn't any good anyway. And I don't believe I used it much. I cannot recall using it much - maybe occasionally. I believe you probably can do better by just counseling with the children.
Q: Mrs. Lester, would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and also give your philosophy of teacher evaluation?
A: Well, I believe teacher evaluation should be for growth purposes. Ah, not necessarily just to find something wrong with what the teacher is doing but it should - teacher evaluation, if conducted appropriately, can assist a teacher to grow into a master teacher. So, I believe that principals should approach teacher evaluation in that way. Ah, and I also believe that principals should provide assistance for teachers, ah, who have problems which again goes back to the strength of the principal. I believe that a principal has to be able to assist a teacher who's having problems. For example, my ideal principal would be one who observed a teacher today and perhaps she's having problems, ah, with teaching to an objective. For example, she bird walks all over the map. So, he realizes that the teacher never achieved the objective she started out with. So, he should be capable of, ah, having maybe, ah, thirty minute, forty-five minute presentation for that teacher to show her how to teach to an objective and not continue with the, ah, way she's teaching. And perhaps he could schedule that two days later at seven-thirty in the morning and say, "I'm offering this session tomorrow morning on tracking to an objective. All volunteers be in the library at seven-thirty expecting to see that teacher there and then go to her room a day or two later to see if she actually following up on what he has just taught or if she doesn't show up for the presentation, then do a private conference with her to find out what the problem is. So, I believe that if it is conducted appropriately that - that a teacher will grow professionally. I think a lot of us came through a time when, ah, we, as teachers, I know as a teacher I came through a time where I had principals that might stroll through the room and that was suppose to be teacher observation - classroom observation. Or, come and peep through the door and that was suppose to be classroom observation. Now, I - I think principals must get into the classroom. Ah, they must sit down listen to the lesson from beginning to the end to know whether or not a teacher is actually using instructional strategies appropriately and adapting instruction to meet the children, tracking to the objective, covering the material appropriately. I do believe that you do learn from a stroll through the room but I don't believe that that should be considered teacher evaluation. And, not only when I was a teacher, I see some of that now. That principal's actually think they can evaluate teachers by strolling through the room. Of course, I discourage that and require them to do it appropriately.
Q: When you were principal, what type of teacher evaluation did the school system use that you were in?
A: You know, I do not remember, and I'm sure there must have been but I do not remember a formal evaluation system in that division. There may have been. I may be wrong, but I really do not remember it. I remember observing teachers and, ah, just taking notes and talking with them from my notes, but I do not remember a formal evaluation system. But, then that's been several years.
Q: What do you consider to be the role of the assistant principal?
A: I feel like an assistant principal, just like the principal, should be an instructional leader. I think, in order to make a dynamic team, that, ah, the assistant principal should have the same skills as the principal. And they should be compatible and be able to cooperate in leading instruction. So many times, assistant principals are, in my view, misused because they - maybe they just handle discipline. Ah, but scheduling or that type of thing. I really feel that assistant principal can be a valuable asset to the principal and to the teachers and to the instructional program.
Q: What were your views or how did you utilize your assistant principal when you were a principal?
A: As I recall, ah, I think I did all all of the wrong things (laugh). Maybe, I think I did use, ah, both of them in instruction somewhat, part of the time. But, I believe that maybe being in such a large school that I did rely too much on them to help with the discipline. I, ah, I'm sure I did as I think back on it now and that it would have been better had I relied on them to help with instruction.
Q: Could you describe the most effective assistant principal that you had opportunity to serve or the least effective?
A: That I had an opportunity to serve.
A: Ah, I'm not sure that I've ever had, ah, one that was ineffective because I think that the assistant principal more or less follows the role that is set by the principal. So, I can't say that I ever had one that was ineffective. Ah, you know, I think the principal has to share the responsibility for their assistant. If they do not train them appropriately and assign their duties appropriately then, you know, they probably won't be effective. But, I think that probably as far as what I did with my assistant that they were probably effective.
Q: What became of this individual?
A: I believe one of them is now a principal. I'm not sure what happened to the other.
Q: Earlier you said as a child you were interested in being a teacher that that was one of your lifelong desires, were there any contributing factors or people that helped to create this interest or motivate this interest that you had?
A: Yes, Linda, that's a long story. I can recall, I think I was in a two room school in Eastern Kentucky. And when you're in a two-room school you may have the same teacher, you know, for two to three years. I can recall having this teacher and, ah, I believe she - when I started she was in the primary grades and then that later on she moved up to the upper elementary grades. You know, we called her the high teacher (laugh). And, ah, I can recall that teacher. She had the most beautiful hands - long fingers and long fingernails. And she would get up and write on the board and diagram and explain things. And I had such an intense desire to learn what that teacher put on that board. And I also had such an intense desire to communicate what I learned to other children and to my parents. And to this day, I can remember that - my intense desire. I don't know what happened to it along the way but...(laugh)... but I can remember that today. So that was a positive effect that that teacher had on me because from then on my whole dream was to become a teacher and to be able to stand up in front of students and present material and write on the blackboard. And I wanted those long fingers and long hands and long fingernails. But, you know I - I have no idea what those fingernails and those long fingers had to do with being a teacher. But that teacher really impressed me with the way she could get up there and write on the board and I - I remember that I really strived to write just like she did. So, that was the positive of that teacher. Later on, that teacher went on up to the higher grades, probably the fourth or fifth - I'm not sure which. And I don't know if personal things had happened in her life or if she was just plain burned out as a teacher. Ah, I don't know what happened. But, she would, ah, we had... I recall we had a pot-bellied stove. And, in the wintertime, we all had to get in close around the stove. Well, she would put lists of questions on the board like in social studies. And, we had to write all those questions down. Then, we looked up the answers in our book. All the time that we were looking up answers in the book, she would sit there and she either crocheted or knitted. I don't know which I just remember that there were squares and they were black and orange. I will never forget the color. And, ah, she was probably making a bedspread or something. And it may have been knitting rather than crocheting because I remember the thread being coarse. And she would knit these squares. All day long she would sit and knit and knit. And we would look up questions. The next day she would go down her roll book - she always had that roll book out on the desk - I don't know why - I don't have the least idea why but she had that roll book out on her desk. And she would go down the roll and she would say, ah, she would ask the question and she might and I can even remember her voice very distinctly, and she would say, "Normal, what is the capital of Kentucky?" or, "Can you tell me about the Gettysburg Address?" Well, great, if you knew the answer. But, if you could not answer that question she would just literally berate you and make you feel like a little, ah - church mouse. And, ah, I recall that with much bitterness probably because I always believe this affected me psychologically simple because this - you know - this was the person that had inspired me and I knew what I wanted to be. And all of a sudden here's she's a totally different character. And, ah, she would - she would go through that day after day all winter long. In these later years, I think I've decided that maybe she just needed to sit close to the stove and so that was a way of doing it, you know. but, I truly believe that affected me somewhat all through my school career because even in high school and on into college that if a teacher or an instructor suddenly threw a question out at me, it did not matter how well I knew the material, I could never formulate an answer. It was just suddenly I would have a block (smile) and I couldn't do anything - you know I was just like a "stupid little do-do." I could never remember anything. And I really think that, ah, teacher had a terrible effect on me in relation to that. However, in the long run, that had a positive effect on me also because I was determined never to be a teacher like that and I was determined, ah, never to, ah, support any teacher like that. I think when I became a principal I did not support that kind of activity. Ah, now that I'm a supervisor, I do not support that kind of activity (smile). And, ah, so, in the long run it really had a positive effect on me. And, ah, it didn't cause me to give up my lifelong dream of being a teacher. Ah, I realized I could still be a good teacher. I didn't really have to be a witch. I could be a real good teacher and, ah, go on with my dream.
Q: Principal's operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: I really cannot remember doing much to maintain my sanity other than read perhaps exercise. I like to read, ah, World War II books and books on the Civil War. I really cannot remember doing very much to maintain my sanity. I think, today, if I did that, I would probably take aerobics and, ah, ah, all the other things we think about doing today to relieve our stress. I really cannot remember doing much to - well, I guess I can too. One of the things I can remember doing is, and I still do this today and it really is bad, ah, is, I love to go shopping so I would just take a day off and leave town and use those credit cards. And sometimes even fly off to Atlanta and shop and stack those credit cards up knowing full well I didn't have the money to pay for it...(laugh)... on that sixteen thousand dollar salary...(laugh)...that always relieved my stress and made me happier. I think I was a better principal when I came back.
Q: You mentioned earlier that when you came out of high school you immediately went to teaching. How did you get your degree then? Did you teach at the time that you were going to school?
A: Yes, I did. I actually, ah, drove to Pikeville College to get my degree and, ah, even when I got to graduate school, I did some driving also to East Tennessee State. Of course, I went some in the summers, but even in the summer for my Bachelor's degree, I drove back and forth to Pikeville College. Actually, I was already married and had a child for one thing (laugh). And so, I drove back and forth to school.
Q: Knowing the area, what were the conditions of the reads then? How long did it take you to drive to Pikeville?
A: Well, I - it probably was about an hour and a half. Ah, I can recall studying for a biology test until three o'clock in the morning, lie down on the living room couch, sleep for an hour, get up, take a shower, and jump in the car to be there for a seven-thirty or seven forty-five class.
Q: Since you have had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.
A: I think probably one of my weaknesses is being too laid back. Ah, I think one of my strengths is being persistent. I am persistent. Ah, one of my strengths is being enthusiastic, being honest. I'm enthusiastic about what I do, ah, and being honest with the people I work with. They know that if I tell them I will do something then I do it. And, ah, they know they can call on me at any time and I will do it. I think that that probably is one of my strengths. I - also, I am pretty well-organized. You wouldn't believe it if you saw my desk sometimes. But I am pretty well-organized and I manage my time fairly well. I love what I'm doing and I think that is important. Ah, you know I am finishing thirty-six years. I'll probably go until I'm seventy-five. However, if there is ever a time that I feel burned out and that I don't like what I'm doing and that I feel I'm not doing well, I'm not organized well and I'm not managing my position well - then, I will step out.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to leave the principalship at the time you did? Would you also give your reasons and the mental processes that you exercised in reaching the conclusion to leave the county?
A: OK. That was a very unfortunate time in my life but as it has turned out it probably has been - was the best thing that ever happened to me. Ah, I was in that large school with twelve hundred students. Ah, I actually had a husband at the time that was bedridden due to an accident. Ah, I was having a pretty rough time and luckily for me, I had excellent health and so, excellent physical and mental health so I was able to hold up under all the stress. Ah, what happened at that time - we - ah - as I think I mention earlier, that school board somewhat operated, ah, on the premise that the school board member pretty much said what happened within his district. And it happened that a teacher who had resigned from my school was on the school board at this time. There was some political changes within the county. Ah, a superintendent was appointed, ah, that I had probably had some mild run in with as president of the education association. When I had supported the previous superintendent and his efforts to get, ah, you know, I didn't do anything wrong - I simply exercised my rights as a person and, ah, as the leader of the teachers in the county, you know, to speak out. So, I went through a year of a lot of harassment and ah, a lot of, ah, unpleasant - a very unpleasant situation. Fortunately the parents, the patrons of my school, were very, very supportive. That's when they really came out of the woodwork, in large members, ah, which told me, "Well, they really know what goes on in this school whether or not I know it, they do know what goes on in this school." They came out and they were very supportive. Now, what happened is - he attempted to reassign me. Of course, he was not successful, ah, because I went to court with it and he was not successful. We did settle out of court. However, due to certain reasons that, really, ah, were not related to the job at all. So, ah, I was not happy in that school division after that. I had worked very hard. I loved what I did. I had given twenty-four years of service to that county. And, ah, I probably would still be there but, ah, I was not happy in that county after that. And so, I felt like, you know, ah, I'm an excellent person. I've worked hard to get where I am. I don't deserve this and I will begin to look elsewhere. And, so I did. And I got a job in a small Northern Virginia school division as assistant superintendent of instruction. Ah, I really did not like Northern Virginia. I'm a Southwest Virginia girl. And, ah, I didn't like Northern Virginia, and so I decided to leave there. And, I thought, I'll go back to Southwest Virginia -job or no job. And so, I left there - I resigned and I left there - and I came into the Roanoke area and found out there was a position open with a school division in that particular area as elementary supervisor. So, I drove into that county, talked with the superintendent, was offered the job and accepted that day. And, ah, so I left, I came home, I packed up my things, and I moved to the area and began my job. I stayed in that job for six years. I loved what I did there. I felt that I grew tremendously professionally. Ah, I also felt that I grew in the Northern Virginia job also even though I didn't feel prepared because I had never been in a central office position and, all of a sudden, here I am making all of the decisions and in ma..., and for a few months before I left, I was actually acting superintendent. I didn't feel prepared for that at all. I made the decision four years ago to leave the elementary supervision position for a position with more responsibility and ah, more - ah, a better salary. So, to, currently, I am Director of Instruction, K-12, and I do Federal programs for the Bristol Virginia City Schools. I love what I'm doing and I want to continue until I get ready to retire. When I retire, I have no idea.
Q: What direction has your career taken and what direction do you intend to take in the future?
A: OK. Since I am in a Director of Instruction, I answer directly to the Superintendent. I have a lot of responsibility there. I have a lot of flexibility. Ah, I pretty much can call the shots as to what is going to happen in instruction. Ah, and I feel good about that because I've had an opportunity. I walked into that school division. They were more or less like some of the school divisions I've been in. They had not been having in-service for teachers. They did not have a formal teacher evaluation system. Actually, in some of the schools, they were actually using different textbook series at different grade levels, like the primary levels might be using one series and the upper elementary be using another series in reading. So, there were lots of what I considered instructional weaknesses in the school division. Now, I have been able to take the leadership role and to change all of that and I feel like we're really moving along. I have a good relationship with my principals and, ah, so, as far as moving anywhere else, I don't have any goals to do that right now. However, you never know, you know, it would be good to finish up your career in a small school division as a superintendent(smile). But, I think one of my main goals is that once I retire, I really want to write book on my educational experiences beginning with my life in that one-room school, ah, where I really didn't have much of anything. I can't recall that we didn't have money to buy, ah, we didn't have all of this duplicating paper and all of these machines - you know we had to make our materials. I can remember that my father actually took a circle say and sawed out circus animals and farm animals for my first grade children. I actually cut glass and made an aquarium for the fish. And, ah, so I want to, ah, really write a book about my experiences. I have lots of documentation. I've saved lots of notes. I even have notes from parents. And, ah, I have a good collection of materials and I would really like to write a book about my experiences. Now, I really think it may be a comedy...(laugh)...but nevertheless, that's my ambition.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish passed along to today's principals?
A: OK. I think the, ah - first of all, let's deal with the cons of administrative service. I think that it is hard work. You cannot think that it is one easy job from eight til four. It's hard work. You, ah, must be prepared. You must have an open mind. Ah, you must be prepared instructionally. You must be prepared for instructional leadership if you go into it. The pros are that it is a very rewarding, ah, position. You have the power to make changes if you want to make them. And, ah, elementary schools are so unique. Every hour or every ten minutes, something different happens and so you can't get bored. It's an exciting life and if you're enthusiastic and you want to do that, then "Go for It."
Q: Mrs. Lester, you mentioned that your father had made some materials for you to teach with. How did purchasing of materials grow the longer you were in teaching?
A: When I first started teaching, we didn't get an allocation for ah, instructional materials like - you know today we give teachers an allocation, not a lot of money but they can buy some materials. Ah, we didn't get an allocation and so if you, ah, got materials, you had to buy out of your own pocket. And naturally, if you're only making eleven hundred dollars a year, you don't have much money for materials. So, you resort to, ah, finding items that you can use for instructional materials like paper plates and paper bags for puppets and wallpaper for murals and that kind of thing. Ah, then I, as the years progressed, we, ah, went through this time when, ah, federal money was being pumped into school divisions, especially in poverty stricken school divisions. And so, all of a sudden, it was like we just became rich. We could just buy everything. We could buy workbooks and we could buy ditto books. Ah, we had machines and duplicating paper. We could make all sorts of things. I guess we thought, really, well I know we thought that we were doing a very good job of differentiating instruction - with all of those ditto pads and those workbooks and things. But, you know, I've come to the conclusion now that that was the wrong thing. And I think the research is bearing that out. And, I believe that, ah, probably those years when I actually didn't have those things were probably my best teaching years. I probably achieved more at that time with my children simply because I, ah, couldn't resort to a worksheet. I had to have a lot of interaction with the students. I had the students standing up and reading, and acting out their stories, and writing stories and reading their stories. And so, I think that even though that money had a positive effect on rural school division in that we had money to buy materials with that probably there was some negative aspects to that also. And if I could go back to the classroom again, I would not have a ditto book in my classroom. No way.
Q: In the one-room school, was there a principal?
A: No. I was the principal.
Q: You were the principal?
A: I was the principal and the teacher.
Q: What other duties did you have other than instructional duties? What other duties did you have as a teacher?
A: Well, I had to arrive at school early in the morning, build the fire. Also, I had to stay after school at least once a week and we had to, ah, sweep up the dust and oil the floor. Now we had wood floors so we had to oil the floor to keep down the dust. I cleaned my own windows. Ah, we had to carry the water in. And, ah, in addition to that, I guess I was the softball coach, also, I can recall, ah, having the - you know I was only eighteen years old - so I can recall calling all of the boys in the neighborhood to come in at recess - They were probably the dropouts from that school - come in at recess and play softball - and so I was the softball coach also.
Q: How did the children arrive at school? What form of transportation was there?
A: They walked. There was no transportation. They walked.
Q: Then you left the one-room school and you moved to the larger consolidated elementary school. Is that correct?
A: No, I think I moved into a four-room school. And then I taught first grade, I believe, for several years before I moved into the larger consolidated school. And, ah, I loved first grade. I thought I would never leave first grade. I loved it. But I wanted to gain more experience and so I asked to move around. And I would ask to go to the third grade if a position was open or the sixth grade. And so I gained experience in K-7 by doing that.
Q: If you were going to give some advise to a student entering the teaching profession. What advice would you give them.
A: Make sure it's what you want to do. Make sure that you have that, ah, persistence to stick with those children no matter what level they're on. Make sure that you're able to deal with the cultural diversity that you're going to run into in an elementary school in any division let it be city or rural, county or whatever. You're going to have children from public housing projects. You're going to have, ah, the children from the more affluent homes. Then, you'll have the middle income children. And so, you have to be able to accept those children as they are and deal with them. Now, if a young man or a young woman is the kind of person who feels that they cannot deal with, ah, a little dirty child walking into their classroom, they can't deal with, ah, a child who don't have shoes on, ah, his feet when he comes in, then, ah, and they want to deal only with those children who are easy to teach, who have the parents who participate in the schools, who have the parents that provide everything the child needs, then the teaching profession is not for you.
Q: You mentioned cultural diversity. Would you discuss the nature of your student bodies and comment on the problems, challenges and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal.
A: OK. Ah, in my school, we had, we did not have any minorities in my school. However, we did have children from all, ah, from families in all walks of life. We had the very lowest socio-economic level, and then we probably had some from the high socio-economic level. We had children from all kinds of families that lived in huts that didn't have a floor, for example. Ah, I have in my tenure as a teacher and as a principal worked with families that actually lived in places that didn't have a floor. That is hard to believe in this day, but, it really is. It's like the homeless problem really. And, ah, so and I have dealt with children that had all kind of emotional problems. Children that were sexually abused as well as, ah, psychologically abused. Ah, so I think I've dealt with, I don't think there's a problem that has ever happened to any child, anywhere, that I haven't dealt with somewhere along the line. For example, I can recall a child that came in one morning and I had known this child. I was his kindergarten teacher so I had known this child all through the years. He was, I believe, in the sixth or seventh grade at this time and he came in and he - he had always been a child who came to school with his clothes just - his jeans were starched and ironed. He was just as clean as could be. And I remember he was a little blonde boy and his hair was cut in a crew cut like the kids wore then. Ah, he had always been a very sweet kid, a very well-disciplined kid. And, he came to my office - well, in fact, the teacher brought him to the office - he was just crying, just screaming, and sobbing and the tears rolling down his face. And, ah, the teacher just pushed him in the office and said that he talked back to her and that I should handle it. And so, I just had the child sit down and I said you obviously can't tell me about the problem so just sit here with me for a while. And, ah, then we'll talk about it. When you finish crying, we'll talk about it. I just let him sit there and cry and sob and so, ah, finally, I said, "You tell me exactly what happened," after he calmed down. It took him a long time. I guess it was an hour or more before that child calmed down and two or three times I just walked out and closed the door and told him just to stay there and cry and when he felt better, we would talk. So, he cried and finally he just stepped up and he said, "Well, you know I did. I talked back to the teacher and I shouldn't have done that. So I deserve a spanking," and he just turned around and he said, "Now you just give it to me." (Laugh) And I said, "No, I'm not going to do it. I want to know exactly what happened and what you - what caused you to talk back to the teacher. I want to know what happened. I want you to start at the beginning and tell me what happened - what happened before you left home. You know just go through the whole bit." So, he started and then he started just boo-hooing again and he said. Ah, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I had remembered hearing that his mother had been ill. And so, I tried to get him off of that crying spell by saying, "Well, how's your mother doing?" Well that just made matters worse. And when I finally got him to really confide in me, his mother had actually had, I guess what we termed a mental breakdown and had apparently been committed to a mental institution. This child, who everyday had ironed, starched clothes to put on, perfectly clean, did not have clean clothes to wear to school that day because his mother was gone and she had not been able to wash and iron his clothes and he just didn't have clean clothes. When he walked into the room that morning, he'd been absent the day before. So, when he walked into the room that morning, the teacher had tried to make him tell him, apparently in front of the other students, why he did not come to school. And, instead of telling him that, instead of telling the teacher, he just, ah, apparently told the teacher it was none of his business or something (laugh), and refused to tell the teacher what really was wrong. So, ah, that, so really it was the way the teacher had treated the child is what caused the child to act out in class. So, ah, we just set back down and I said, "Allright, now let's just sit down here and let's talk about this. I'll tell you how to handle this clothing problem while your mother's in the hospital." So, I set there and I told him how to measure his washing powders and put them in the washer, and how to - how much water to put in and get his clothes washed and if he didn't know how to iron them not to worry about it. As long as they were clean, they were fine. And, ah, so he started to leave the office, he said, "Well, aren't you going to paddle me?" And I said, "No." I said, "You need to do one thing for me though. You need to go back and you need to tell the teacher that you're sorry that you talked back to him and that someday you'll tell him why you did that." And so he left the office, ah, with his face all cleaned up and went back to apologize to the teacher. And, you know, to this day, I don't know if that teacher knows what happened or not (Laugh). And it doesn't matter. But, that is one of the memories - the precious memories that I have of the children in that school.
Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have?
A: I don't think you have left anything out, Linda. I think that just in summary perhaps I would like to just maybe give you a summary of my career. I have never regretted one minute of the time I have spent in attempting to educate children. Ah, I believe I've done a good job all the way. I know that I had my weaknesses as a teacher, and I know I had my weaknesses as a principal. And, I know that, you know I can still grow. It doesn't matter that I'm now in central office. That doesn't matter. I still continue to grow. And I take all the training workshops that I can. I just recently finished training, ah, for trainers in all the correlates for effective schools. Ah, I just recently finished training in diagnosing learning styles. So, I'm constantly looking for something different and new - something that's going to affect the children in the school division that I'm in and, I truly love what I'm doing. I'm still enthusiastic and as long as I maintain that enthusiasm, as long as I love what I'm doing, I plan to stay in education for a long time yet to come.
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