Interview with Myrtle Little


This is August 20, 1990. I am speaking with Myrtle Little in her home in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, birth place, things like that?

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A: I was born in Asheville, N.C. and I was an only child. In fact, I was a special child; I was an adopted child. So I grew up, so I was in North Carolina, with my father's people - mother's people were from Bavard, N.C., father's from Lenoir - and at eight years old we left N.C., came to Richmond, Va.; no, I was seven, and at eight we came to Clifton Forge, Va. My father was interested in railroading and we came here, to Clifton Forge. This has been my home base ever since. I grew up, I attended private school in North Carolina. Then I was in Clifton Forge; I entered the third grade - Richmond, second grade. I continued in Clifton Forge, graduated in 1931 from the Clifton Forge High School.

Q: Would you discuss your college education in preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher and as a principal?

A: I attended Harrisonburg Teachers' College and I took a two year elementary course. By that time I was really ready to teach the world. I was out to teach the world, but it was, if you can recall, you older ones, 1933 was the time of the Depression and I did not get into the Virginia system, although I had a scholar ship and because of the political background of my family I was offered to a one-room school. My uncle told the county, Transylvania County, N.C., if they would employ his great niece he would be a supervisor. So I went up there proudly, but I found that teaching (I was just 19) - several students were 19 and down to little six year olders in that one little school - my first experience. I loved the children; I enjoyed working with them but I was a lonely person. I went home after school to the home of my great aunt where my fore-parents and, another reason, grandfather, was a doctor in that community. I was living in the homeplace where the old family home was. So you see, it was all background, but the winters got awfully lonely and I was not happy so my background with that was not successful. When I came home Christmas to Clifton Forge, I said I wasn't going back. Mother talked to me, as my mother and mothers do, advising me, but I wasn't hearing a thing she said. My father came along and said, my little girl has never been a quitter. And that was all he said. So, I went back, not very happy, but I did continue and finish up the school year. Now that was my first background teaching.

Q: What year was that?

A: That was in '33 school session, and so I went back to Madison, or Harrisonburg it is still called, Teachers' College, and it was a teachers' college; we were being trained to be teachers. I knew from that, my background, that one year, what I was looking for. I had a different attitude towards my training and came out and graduated from there in 1936 a four year elementary. Oh, I could just teach anything in elementary school and junior high; I was prepared. But, again, there were problems. Due to a friend I was asked if I would like to teach in Sanford, N.C. My young friend was a minister who was attending Duke, and I did accept that position and had ten very very happy years there. I was seventh grade teacher, from 1936-1947. In the meantime, my father had died; my mother came down to be with me. She just couldn't live here alone, so mother developed, oh, she started nursing and became a most successful nurse. She was not able to continue in nursing institutionology. We had not sold our home; we just rented it and came back here in the summer. So this is just my background. Now in Sanford I was very very happy.

Q: What kind of setting was that?

A: That was a 19 room school, very progressive. Our principal was a woman who had Columbia University and most knowledgeable, and she demanded the best and she received it.

Q: So you taught all subject?

A: I just taught seventh grade.

Q: But, all subjects?

A: Yes, yes. Now they had special classes that our children who were slow learners, as they are called now, they were taken out of your classroom and were down there all day. And that made it easier teaching. And, as I say, we had the best equipment, very progressive.

Q: What kind of class size did you have?

A: I had 42 the first year, part of the year I believe it was down to about 36, and there were two seventh grade teachers and we worked together sometimes in exchanging students and programs we were working on. Of course, back in those days, you learned by doing was the theme. We worked together and those children were taught from the first grade independence. They were there to learn and I was called when my father died, came home, and for several days they did not have a substitute. They couldn't find a substitute so the seventh grade classroom they just left the doors open and would walk back and forth. Children were working on their own. You just can't believe it.

Q: No, hard to believe.

A: And report cards were made on the individual basis. You wrote out a letter to the parent saying, so and so was doing thus and what progress they were making, and you were supposed to follow that up the next year, the next six week period. I believe we had a two months period. That was very helpful to me.

Q: I'm sure it was helpful to parents. I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now?

A: Well, there was times when I'd get discouraged about school and thought about that I'd like to be the hostess on the train or the airplane, just something to get away from the narrow scope of a classroom, but I didn't. I knew basically that teaching was what I wanted to do and enjoyed it, and up here when I came in '47 to Allegheny County, it was a different course situation as I was in the, as principal, teaching principal. I came in in '47 full time teaching principal with the seventh grade Selma elementary school and there was six classrooms. I found that every class had almost double sections trying to absorb that first grade. You see, we had seven grades and so we worked, I took out the fifth grade bright children, as I called them then to myself, the ones who could work independently, and put them in the sixth grade classroom. Then, it wasn't the second year but I believe it was the first, we got the first, I had the children to come only a half day in the first and second grades. And as time moved on, I had a teacher, and we had so many children, that in the first grade I had the two teachers - first grade and second grade teachers - morning, the teacher would be the first grade lead teacher, the second grade would be the teachers who assisted and then in the afternoon the second grade teacher would be the lead teacher, and to me the teachers had their full time with their grade group. Never will you ever find children all on the same level. I don't know what you want to call them, but they're a different little individual. Changes were many in the school system and finally we got half a day. I was principal in the morning; I had a position in the morning. In the afternoon, I went in and taught the subject that the half day teacher wasn't strong in or didn't want to teach it usually ended up. I preferred social studies, and most of the time I had that.

Q: So you were at Selma from 1947....?

A: To 1972. Is that right? Yes, 26 years. Then I went up to Boiling Springs School, elementary school, and full time principal. That was, the county had progressed so that it took 22 personnel in that school, as we do the special teachers that came in had charge of the buses, the four buses that came into that school, and our cafeteria. They were talking of building a new school which developed. At one time, they started to say, well we'll just close this school entirely and have an elementary school up close to the southern part of the county, up close to Covington, but I thought that too. Because those people, Boiling Springs is a little different in the county personnel and the people that live around there, they're the most lovely people - some of them you can hear the old English, and the children's names are the old English family names, and yet they want the best for their children. And they don't want their children to leave and get out into the world, I've found, but you have to help them. The principal, I think, had taken them to Williamsburg, that far from home. I just went up into the mountainside and visited some of those lovely people and assured them that I had taken quite a few children to Williamsburg and I hadn't lost a one of them.

Q: You've touched on this, but would you talk about the circumstance surrounding your entry into the principalship? How did you first get your job as a principal, teaching principal?

A: When I came up here, back to Clifton Forge, my friend who was principal up at several schools getting married, she wrote and told me and mother needed me to come back, and I applied for it. The superintendent was my former teacher, and the supervisor, Catherine Howe, outstanding educator, she'd been in Harrisonburg at the same time. I knew them. I walked in and talked to them for a few minutes and that was it. They asked me about my background and all of that; they knew me. So I went in and then that was really the reason, and maybe this, some people won't think this but I know it, my mother was praying that her child would become a principal, and if my mother prayed for something you might as well just shut up and turn it over to the Lord. So with much guidance and much love and support, my mother was back of me all the way in that.

Q: What motivated you to enter the principalship and how did your motives change over the years?

A:Well, as I say, that was an opening. There was a little more money, 50 cents a day more that I would receive as principal when I started. And then I was employed for 10 1/2 months, then 11 and then the last full time was, of course, the 12. It was an increase in money, which was good, and I enjoy bossing people, so principalship I just liked it. I liked being with people; I liked working with children. I think my strong hope was child behavior. I just loved the little rascals and I said to people when I first went in that all I could do when a child was sent into the office and I was supposed to be teaching, that was taking me away from my classroom. The only thing I could do was pat him on the backside of the head and say, now don't do that anymore, that's not nice. That was just as good and effective as it was.

Q: Would you take us on a walk through your school, describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building? Why don't we start with the Selma building first?

A: Selma School was six classrooms, a school office, which turned into a cafeteria.

Q: The office turned into a cafeteria?

A: Yes ma'am. The children had to come, line up and come, and bring their lunch back to the classroom, which I liked because you had a chance to chat and visit with your children and practice manners.

Q: So they ate in their classrooms?

A: And it was most successful to me. I had that situation for 26 years and you were, I don't mean you told your children you can't talk at this moment, but politeness and a little bit of social graces was a time that you could be with them, an informality. So a desk set out in the hall was where I went as a principal and they partitioned one in so that I would have a little room. I had a little cot in there where children could come when sick; I could look after them and all. But the fire inspector, we were all one story, and they said that couldn't be because we were blocking off an exit. We had to take that out. Then they partitioned a little bitty cubilo as another place that I had my desk.

Q: Was this a frame building?

A: A brick building. It was a brick building because the former building had burned and that's why the patrons were so conscious of everything being fire proof. It was the nicest, newest building in the county.

Q: What about bathroom facilities?

A: Oh, they had a nice bathroom. It looked just like any school or public building.

Q: But they were off, not in the rooms where the children were?

A: No, no. We had one end of the hall for the bathrooms for the girls and one end for the boys. The boys had their usual facilities and the girls. And they were kept very nicely, the different stalls. That was one of the jobs of the principal to oversee that the janitors or custodians, cleaning engineers I believe they are called, kept the rooms clean and pleasant. And in the early days we had the facilities of the health or school nurse just for the school, not the county, and then the visiting teacher I found, Mrs. Ruth Clay, she was the counselor, she was the one who advised you if you had a problem, behavior, call Ruth and Ruth would come down. We'd go visiting.

Q: What kind of playground facilities did you have?

A: Poor up at Selma. It was on the hillside. It was rocky and one little dear fell down and cut her little knee and the mother came up after the child had been to the doctor and all and said, I want to see that rock. I just took her to the door, opened it and I said, you may choose any of them. And they worked on it where finally we had black top put on part of it. They had it enlarged. We also had the lower field opened and cleared so what we could have a baseball game. They had monkey bars, they called them. We did not have swings. This goes back to the first. We had our own well and I liked that, because it was good freestone water. When they put the water in Selma and they wanted them to do that, the School Board joined up, I said, I don't think that's a good idea. He said, oh yes, it's going to help the community get water from Clifton Forge, which it did. So, we had our own well and that was for, we kept it, and the only thing the custodian had a switch if the city or the tank they had up there, the water supply, was not adequate, we had our own well to fall back on.

Q: So this was a new building basically?

A: It was built in '36, '36; it was built in '35-'36, that period of time. There was a fire in Selma and it was very very.....:

Q: It was a community school, right? Did you have bussing?

A: Yes, yes, we had from Selma on down to the cow pasture river at one time. You see Sharon only had four classrooms and Central was crowded because they had the high school was the main thing, and poor little elementary school just had what was left over and so forth. Did you get to know Mr. Savich, a charming person, and he and I had a lot of fun together, teased each other. He came trotting in there one time and he was looking around, you know, well, if I'd known it was this nice of a building I'd just have come down here and taken this school over. One time he said, I don't see why they don't let you take the elementary school up here and have the two schools. You know, that was just our joking with each other. It was a very comfortable building, not quite enough room.

Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education and how did it evolve over the years? How did it change?

A: Well, as one grows older they don't grow smarter, but I think they do grow wiser. I think this feeling that we must teach children a certain number of facts before they're equipped to move to a higher grade, they must cover identical information, and that all children because they are in the third grade should act like third graders, being normal - whatever you want to call normal - and as I observed and taught, to me the individual child was the most important. I think, I know it was in my latter years as principal, please don't teach a textbook, teach the child. Teach those children. If a child cannot cover a certain amount, don't worry about it. I tried to instill that in teachers. To me that was the most satisfactory teacher, when I could see children learn, and their little faces brighten up.

Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school, telling how it developed and how it evolved over time?

A: Well, varied teachers, I mean we had good supervision in Allegheny County. We had these workshops which were good and, of course, as I went into Selma, thinking back, I was the youngest teacher there in age and, I guess, experience. But I had six wonderful teachers and time changed. You had to work with the individual and the instruction, you presented this philosophy and you presented instructional method, and the individual teacher, it was left with them. You couldn't demand. As I taught, as I was principal, the last four years were quite different. They were much younger than I that came to the school, and when they looked at me and says, Miss Little, that's not the way it's done. I had to take a deep breath and, oh, it isn't? I would try to reply and I learned to love them. I realized that they were excellent teachers coming. I realized that I met up with some that were there until they could get away by marriage and move away. They were just in the classroom and you had to work with them. I found that if I let them try out some of these ideas that were not true, that we older ones had tried, just let them alone a little while. I would say, well, have you tried something everybody? Miss Little, I need help! It doesn't work sometimes. Many a time we would develop a rapport there that I could make suggestions and they made suggestions to me.

Q: What experiences or events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy and please discuss any of these events that you would like to.

A: Let's see. That question is: What events or experiences in your professional life influenced your management philosophy, your administrative philosophy and discuss these events. I'm just trying to think back. So many things that happen in your life, you don't realize that's a real influence. As I have said, I had excellent superintendents to work with and understanding - Mr. Beazley, Mr. Hartman - they were just real fine people to work with. The supervisors of elementary education - their programs they made out - and going to principals' meetings. I met with and learned from programs were presented and a philosophy, this is a simple one, but I never did forget what one speaker said, that our communities were changing so that a child in the past (30's, 40's) grew up in his homecommunity where aunts and uncles lived and that child had somebody that was interested in them. Also, someone, if he was not walking the straight and narrow, uncle John ran and told mama about it or daddy. The message came back. Now so many of our children come from a community where they don't know anyone, no one cares, till they get to school. And that was something I had never thought of until he brought that to my mind, and I thought yes, children are different, yes! They come here to the school and, I hope, they found loving, caring people. Sometimes you might see me on the street and this big old bald headed fellow comes up and gives me an old hug, and the deputy sheriff yesterday I saw him and got a hug. He said, I appreciate it now. The Simpson boy was one - his whole family went to school there. That was it - the school needed to give them more love and I realize that and I think that influenced me to think why, why, the children act like they do, and then I always had a feeling of pity for so many children. They didn't have a chance and their only love and people who had high values were the people they met at the school. I tried to hold a high standard for them and for myself and the teachers and the children.

Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Would you describe successful and any unsuccessful experiments in climate building in which you were involved?

A: Well, as I mentioned, the classroom teacher was the important, the key figure in the school, and most, with the exception of one or two, I think I was able to work a room that was disciplined but yet it wasn't like they were un a Communistic rule, but they were there to learn and the opportunity was given and it was the teacher's chance, as I said, to discipline your child. Every time you send him out to the principal you're weakening your ability. As I say, with the exception of one, who was a little -she expected the children to be saints and sit up there and study all the time - and I was unethical the time that I walked into the classroom; there was just tension, a beautiful Spring day - it was time for the children to go outdoors and have a nice physical education period, but she had them in there drilling them on something. I walked in and I said, the period for physical education? But they haven't finished. I think all of you had better put your books aside and get out and when you come back you will study and you will make up the time. That was what - I didn't use my good judgement, but I could not get that teacher to see that a classroom can be, can have some freedom and yet have perfect control. Those children had no respect for her.

Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteris-tics of the good principal.

A: Well, the teachers expected leadership. They expected you to be knowledgeable on the techniques that were being examined, explored and tried. They expected you to be able to explain to them how things can work, what groups can work, what can't work. They expected a teacher, a principal to be the disciplinarian and yet they didn't want you to interfere, which was wise. And I think, as I say, in the last ten years, I realize that the our younger teachers that were coming in expected you to let them have, to use their initiative. They expected you to back them in projects that they wanted to do and they, but the didn't want you to interfere, and yet they were specialists. The last teachers were specialists, which I find is good. The philosophy that a teachers isn't a saint, that used to be what you were supposed to be, everybody in the school was a saint, and the community was supposed to know your personal life as well as your ability to teach. A younger teacher I am employed 8:30 to 3:30 and then it's my life. In a way, I think that's excellent. I learned to adjust my thinking to my younger teachers, and I had some excellent ones.

Q: As a follow-up question, would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal that were placed on principals by their employers and the community during your period of employment. How do those expectations differ from today's situation?

A: I think I touched on it there. Their expectations of your community is quite different for the principal. The principal was supposed to live in the community. They were supposed to truly a part of the community. They were the social leader; they were the physical development leader; they were the religious leaders, and that was the expectation. The latter part of my years the expectation was a teacher come in that school building, teach my son or daughter and make them learn whether they want to or learn, but have the ability to teach and to know the subject, and to have the techniques that teacher should have and give a good day. Now, of course, I think there are some expectations of high school teachers more than in the elementary school, outside activities. But they employ teachers now for the music, the physical ed. and that sort of thing, whereas the older teacher in the 30's and 40's you had to put on the program. And that's one thing I introduced up here, the May Day Program. Put on a big May Day Program. That type of thing was expected. They didn't expect because they had never had a May Day, but my elementary children had a nice program and so forth. Yes, I think the older teacher was to be part of the community in which the children lived and now they are to excel in the teaching profession and the community of the school, the community in which they can live 50 miles away, it's okay.

Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and an incident in which your approach failed.

A: Well, leadership, it was as I've indicated that it was the church played a big part in the church in the school life. You were checked on leadership. I was prominent in our Presbyterian Church. You were, early stage of leadership. I felt like it was part of my privilege to develop those children's spiritual development, that the child needed spiritual, or we call it now values. I encouraged the teachers to have some kind of devotional and they could use it as a way for children to take part in the bible story reading. They, themselves, could do that - little stories and poems about values that developed. And I was teaching when bible reading and prayer was taken out of the school. I remember saying, our minister was talking about it, and as I walked out the door of our church, I said to our minister, I like vegetable soup best. You bring that down to the jail. He looks at me real peculiarly. I said, my school, I've already told my teachers, that they are to have the bible reading if they wish to. I'm not saying you have to. And the prayers, if you want to pray individually or collectively, all right, I will back you up, and if they come and take you to jail I'll go with you. That was a joke, but I meant that - that I did not feel that my government should tell me what I was to teach the children in that line. They told me I was to teach the whole child, and to me the spiritual development is important in teaching that child, by example or by some words. Actions speak louder than words. I don't know that I really touched what you are asking. Leadership in perhaps in education, the program, development. Some of my teachers that I had only had six weeks training when we were short on teachers and, of course, I encouraged them to go to school, and making it a little easier if I could see in the classroom and helping them go to their heights in education.

Q: Do you think your leadership came through because of your position as principal or do you think that you were just naturally a leader in your building?

A: I don't think I was naturally a leader. I'm kind of a shy person. No one will believe that. But as a principal I felt that it was an opportunity and to help the teachers and the child, I guess. I don't know; I guess that's just me. After I retired I told them over at the church that I had bossed everything for 30 years and now I'd come over there and I was going to boss them.

Q: There are those who argue that more often than not Central Office policies rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities? Would you give your views on this issue? If you were the king, what changes would you make in a typical systemwide organizational arrangement as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness? Long question.

A: Long question. I think that applies to the elementary or high school principal, middle school. The elementary, of course the larger schools we have now, and by the way I haven't said now the last four years I went up there and built a new school. I call it building. They gave me a hammer when I retired, physical plant, a beautiful open type school. I had to sell myself on that concept, then I had to sell my teachers and the community and the children. We worked together as they were building two feet from the classrooms over on one side. Now that's where leadership came in and I was proud of that. The last four years, the last two years or three years, really, working on this was the goal. Training, I went to down at Appalachia, they had a course there, a two weeks period. I went to Roanoke and visited all these different schools. I would bring back, I would send the teachers, of course this was working with Mr. C. M. Smith, he was the supervisor, and work on that, and we got that program, that was my baby, that was Mr. C. M.'s and my baby, getting that school organized.

Q: One thing that I didn't ask was how large a school was Selma and how large a school as far as pupil enrollment was Boiling Springs when you went there?

A: The school varied from 250, I believe we had a few more than that, average, I would guess it would average around 250 at Selma. As I said we were crowded, we had to have that double shift. Then when I went up to Boiling Springs, there were 300 and some pupils, and one through seven. Kindergarten started the last in our new building. We did not have it before. That was mine and I taught, I was principal there one year and then I said, you young folks, I've got the show going, now you put it on the road. And they have done a good job. Mr. C. M. Smith came up as the principal when I left and it's wonderfully organized school, teachers and their secretary. That organization of that school, Betty Lou Bowles, she's been up there, she was a student herself reared in that community and she knows them all and she helped me. She'd look up and see Mrs. So and So coming with a cloud over her face, so I could meet her very pleasant. Or she'd say, go in that other room, go back there. So she'd meet her and she'd talk to her and she'd get that woman smiling before I went met her. And then we were ready to set down and talk and not be fussed at. Betty Lou Bowles - she is a wonderful person.

Q: So did you find that your Central Office helped you in your efforts as principal, I think is the basic question, or did they hinder your progress?

A: The Central Office was great always to me. They were always, I could go up there and feel like I could get help or they were down there to help all through my years.

Q: Did they leave you alone and let you do your job?

A: I was left alone. I did not feel that I was hindered. I was advised and, now like the new school, building that. I guess the one that kept up with me is Mr. Leffson; he was the superintendent. He had these ideas of the curriculum being adjusted to the child instead of adjusting the child to the curriculum, in other words the child development for the school. page 13 -

I saw through it, as I'd had that background down in Carolina, as that was my philosophy too. So I got along fine with Mr. Leffson. I really did.

Q: And he was superintendent during your time in Boiling Springs?

A: Yes, he sent me up there. He closed the school. We got down to little over 100 pupils there. You see they built this new school and we just had a fine time in there with a few children. That Central - they were most helpful, the were knowledgeable - C. M. Smith cooperated if you went to him. Now I could never get Mr. Smith to say exactly how he felt. Oh, you know says he, go ahead and try it. And just laughed. I didn't feel like he was being critical, but he wasn't one to bounce in, but there were many things I wasn't doing right. Anyway, C. M. Smith, Mr. Hartman was a great person to work with - I mentioned Ruth Clay -all of them from the office - yes, yes indeed, they helped me.

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

A: I would say if you enjoy working with people, not only children but the adults in your school system and the community, and enjoy them, and as I would often say to the patrons, I don't blame you; I'd come down here too with what the children took home, no telling what they told you. Let's sit down and talk as adults and then you can tell me the things they told you about me. So, anyway, you have to be open minded. You have to be a person, not only knowledgeable, but have to have a personality that can get along with people. You have to work, a little extra work, but I think there's a young person that I'm hoping she's going into it, Brenda Siffer, she's such a lovely person, I've gotten to know her in the church work and then she was teaching when I resigned.

Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be the instructional leader and those that suggest that realistically speaking this person must be above all a good manager, what would your views be on this issue and describe your own style. Were you a good manager or an instructional leader?

A: I think I was a very good manager, getting the situation so that the teacher could teach and seeing that the aides, that she used the aides, and that they were available for her, and working with them. I feel like a teacher that comes out of our schools today should be able to manage the instructional point of view, and I think they are. Now, well I think they had education classes. I know we fuss and fume about education classes, but there are some that are good.

Q: Would you describe the ideal requirements for being a principal, certification, and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?

A: Well one thing I think they should the smaller school should teach them how to be business managers, how to keep books. Nowadays, they don't have to do that. The computer, I didn't even know, well it didn't exist; I retired in '76 and this business ordeals that I found myself with, keeping up with the cafeteria, keeping up the cafeteria reports, all that. Now you don't. That's one of the great changes. I think they should be equipped to know about handling the money and how to take care of the real business in the school. It should not be left to teachers and it should be the secretary or someone in the school appointed for that. I think every principal ought to have a good secretary; that's another key to a successful business, that can take care. I think they should be equipped to, well, there's emergencies that you just have to be able to take care of in the school. Today they're so different to what they were physically, mentally, personnel is so different than my day. No, I just, you have to know the curriculum, all sections, primary right on through. You have to know curriculum, you have to know child development and a principal should aware and knowledgeable of the total program. I think that they should be able to have time to study, renew. They don't have to sit up at an office someplace in the summer time and all the time, but to go and get out and see how other schools work, and experience it, go back to the universities that are good and go increase your own capacity mentally and physically and have enough time and have enough money that they can have a good time.

Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?

A: Now, of the teachers? I'm not too well acquainted with the more recent evaluation sheets, but the old evaluation that I worked with prior to the last four years, it was more or less what the principal thought of them, whether they were a good disciplinarian, whether they got complaints from patrons, and then the principal's personality of judging people, reaction. I understand now that it is required that a principal goes in the classroom and listens, which is good. Yet, you can be aware that a teacher is not quite herself and it's a hard evaluation. I think you can just, I think the children's evaluation is a fine tool of the teacher and the principal, children's reactions, written and vocal. Yes, I.... Years ago one of the principals said that he had a good way, he'd like to go pick out some of the teachers - 36/26/36. And, so, we have many, principals have different ways of judging their teachers. And, by the way, principals have a lot of fun in their conferences. That was a good learning situation for me, situation there. One thing, got with the other principals at lunch time and jabbered about our problems, and I realized that, well, I wasn't the only one with problems. That it was normal.

Q: As you knew it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools and what features characterize less successful schools?

A: I am sold on a modified open school type, whereas a child is not restricted by walls, by curriculum but on his own. He can develop. It has to be skilled teachers and it has to be teachers who have had experience in that type of teaching before it occurs, and I assure that our discipline was the easiest that I experienced anywhere when we went into that new school. The first thing the teacher and pupils sat down and really analyzed the situation. They were more on their own; they had to consider their classmates and others that were working around, and if they worked and kept themselves in order, talking normally, that there would never be any problems. This has many fine features, but it takes a skilled teacher. I couldn't have gone in that classroom and taught but I could tell them how and all. And some never did. They'd put up more barriers, bookcases. I haven't gone back to Boiling Springs the last two years. I understand they've thrown up some barriers up there. It was fun. One of the little rascals that I had, he was giving the teacher some problems, and the idea of the people they was just going to be like a big barn and they would run from one end to the other, that's just how it started out. I said, well, now your classroom is going to be here and you will work with this teacher, maybe this teacher you all will move at a given time to suit yourself, but as you are working, there's no hall, and you can't shut the door. The principal can't, you know when the principal opens that door, but now you're there. I can walk through your classroom any time. Your other teachers see you. You are on... you can't hide and do things to annoy people. He looked so funny. I said, a hint to the wise is sufficient. Think about that. He was an older child. I think it really sank in to the child before he came into the classroom. I like that open school, that concept, not the building particularly, but that open concept where the curriculum can be developed for the child, with the child.

Q: Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your school system during your early years as principal and give your views on developments in this area since then?

A: Well, now, the very first salary down in Sanford, I was getting eight months, $95 a month. As principal, I came up here in '47 and I was offered for nine months $200, and if I was a good little principal the next year I would get a $50 raise. And, so, the next year everyone got a nice raise, including the principal. That was what we lived on. But I could go with $20 to Roanoke and buy me a nice outfit. So, living at home and all, and I have a lot of Scotch in me and I saved my money. Then as time and this county, some thing they're slow, but they've done pretty well in keeping up. I was on 10 1/2 months, then I was on 11, then I was on the 12. When we built the school I did not take one day off the year before we were to move in. I was determined we would have that school open on the day that the others opened, and it was. It was. The money - oh, my, my! I remember looking at my check and I cried. I said, I never thought I'd get this much money and that's more than my father made working for the railroad. Of course he'd been gone 30 or 40 years. It was, that's the way money affected me. I guess I was thinking about a professor at Madison State Teachers' College. She says, girls, I was making $45 a month and I wondered if I was worth that much to the state? And so that came to my mind, was that $1,000 check - was I worth that much to the county? And it's changed. And I'm saying retirement, that of course is part of it. And that last year, years, full time principal, I took a vacation after school started. I asked at Easter if I could take a full week off. I wanted to go over to Europe. They said, yes, you certainly can take the full time, plus. I don't know what days we were getting. No, the county had always been very very kind and considerate. I tried to be considerate with them. But, yes, there's quite a difference and I can't even visualize what our young people are offered. It just, it's amazing, it's dazzling. But yet then I think, Myrtle, I'm getting more in retirement that I did in my take home pay, a lot more. We had a raise this last August in retirement. It is amazing.

Q: Would you discuss your participation in handling the civil rights situation, integration and describe your involvement with bussing.

A: I never had a black child in my school.

Q: That's what I figured.

  A: Boiling Springs - now, I indirectly had a little one in this manner. Selma had been a community that they wouldn't even let the black people that lived in Low Moor walk on their street through there, the main highway, at one time. Those boys would rock them. I knew that and when they began to talk about integration I began to think ahead and think, these children are going to have to go to school maybe with a black. There was a child named Joe Lewis that lived down in Hard Scrabble we called it, down in Clifton Dale Park over there. I met Joe Lewis when we were talking about changing schools. Mr. Hartman did not put any in Selma schools because he knew the background. Also, he said he would hate to have one or two little children up there in that and all the other white. So I never had the pleasure of having black children to teach. But, as I was going to say. I said, Joe Lewis? Does he play football with you? Yea, he's a good player. And they would get, that was before integration, the boys down in Clifton Dale Park would all get together, plus the little black one or two that lived across and they played football with them. Yea, Ms. Little. Well, isn't he a nice, a pretty good little boy? You like to play with him? Sure. I said, well, when you go to school up in high school, you won't mind Joe Lewis being in class with you? No. And made them see, and although I had one family and I'll never forget it, it was during the war, and the Japanese we were at war with them. This impressed me when I saw it in the paper. The Japanese killed and the American that found him also he had clutched in his hand a picture of his wife and little boy. And I said, your father and your brother in service, doesn't he have a picture of you all? Reckon so. Seventh graders. But they're Japs. I said, yes, but they're human and they love their children; they love their wives. And I tried to make them that the blacks was a person, they loved their families, they were just like them. They play football, they got dirty, they stood up on their head. You see my two little friends there? I like them; they live next door. Romania Wallace and that's her two children and they live there. The little white boy is my cousin. They come over here and they think I'm their grandmother. We laugh about it. But I just never had the privilege, but that was my way indirectly teaching these children that all of us are human beings with the same basic needs.

Q: Could you describe your work day; that is, how did you spend your time, what were the normal number of hours per week that you put in?

A: Personally? Well, I did my work mostly at school. I'm thinking of my last four years. I would spend maybe 30 minutes after school to get things kind of tied up. And as I told them, coming up in Boiling Springs School, I would throw my troubles down and by the time I got home I had lost all of them and I'd pick them up in the morning, I promised. And I came down in the morning and I couldn't find those troubles. They'd all been solved. That was my time of a lot of time preparation, thinking and planning and saying this must be done or that must be done. Then I went to night classes and summer classes, to the University, Madison, and then you have classes locally you had to tend to and check with the teachers.

Q: What time did school begin and what time did it end?

A: 8:30 to 3:30. And it was closer to.... I'd say about 3:30 would be my last bus, and they would come in in the morning 15-20 minutes early and there had to be supervision and the teachers. Up at Boiling Spring I had an assistant principal and buses was assigned to him. It's easier to do things sometimes yourself.

Q: Would you tell us the key to your success as a principal?

A: I loved it. I enjoyed working with the people. I enjoyed seeing the success of the children and then as I stayed with it, these young folks, bald headed or grey headed coming up and putting their arm around me and saying, do you remember me Ms. Little? And I say, well do you know I don't know why you are grey headed but I'm not grey headed. You see, the children had the hard time; I had the happy time. I enjoyed it; I liked it. I'd get discouraged and think why am I in here. And that little rascal turned out like I wanted him to. There were more days of joy in the total 41 years. There was more joy, I think, is why I liked it.

Q: Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship? Which training experiences were least useful?

A: Well, I was trained on the job. I went back to the University and I was really thinking of going into visiting teacher position and took that work. That helped me a great deal in home/school relationship, although I never did go into it. I benefited from it. The summer school work, the principals' conferences - I got something out of those, reading - I had read quite a bit, especially the concept I was trying to find out what it was all about. I left that. C. M. said, Myrtle, I'm so glad you left those books here for me. But, that course I had up at Appalachia, up at Boone, N.C., that was special too for principals and that was excellent. Some of these classes I had to take that were to get an hour or two hours, I had way over what I was supposed to, but I took. To me they were useless. I can't put my finger on any. I wouldn't if I could about the professor. It is disgusting when you go and you're kindly tired and the professor sits up there and opens a textbook and reads half of it to you. To me that was beyond.

Q: If you had it to do again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship?

A: Well, I think I would, I know I'd take special training, preparation, and at the University. I felt like I needed more background in curriculum training and good management, and then I would like to be an exchange person to go to another school, another system, and see just how they do it. I learned so much, you see, I went all around this area on the open school and every time I got a chance that I knew someone that had this open concept to visit them and the county, I would go some days and maybe go over night. That was certainly a help for this new situation I was in. I think if you are coming into being a principal if you have had a principal that has been good, what we call good, a well managed school and one that was up, and then schools are so different, not only in this state, in this area, and I feel like a principal should go to other places and not just one day, but just go as exchange, maybe, into a school situation and just be with it enough to know what is the new technique. Techniques have failed. What is good? What do you judge as good? Well that wouldn't work with my people.

Q: Would you give an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice you would wish passed along to today's principals?

A: I have a good feeling about all the administrative group. I worked with them, some of them new. I think why Mr. Litz and I got along so well, the gentleman came and he wanted to go around visiting, got sick, and was taken to the hospital and he said in his visitation he wanted to place, he said, I want to place you in the class or as principal. He knew them, most principals, but he wanted to know his teachers, and the poor thing, he got sick and his wife was away. So I had one of my friends run up to see him. By that time his wife had arrived but I think he appreciated me being human and concerned about his health, and I was. I was concerned about him getting adjusted to this school. I could see some of his problems because I came from a more progressive school here. This school is progressive; this county is progressive now but it wasn't when I first came in. It's an adjustment. I would say to really know the administrators, some way or the other. I don't know. Of course, now they all don't have go visiting in the hospital, but to be the little social affairs, to get to know them outside the class, everyone one of those persons up there, so many in the office now I don't know them. Listen to the advice they have. Sort it out in your mind and let the teachers, let the principal go do as the common expression, do their thing, to be their individual self in managing their school and then be tactful in helping them overcome some weaknesses. You know your weaknesses. In other words, to be a unity there, that we're working for the same purpose. There's not a feeling that I'm trying to overshadow you so I'll get a promotion, that my bossman sees me. We're working for the good of the children and I think that is the key and maybe there needs to be more social get togethers and as working group too. You work, but you can socialize.

Q: This is the last question. Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something that I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have asked you?

A: I think you've done a very, very good job of asking me many questions and I have skimmed and hopped over many of them, but I don't know the question or the individual - the teacher and the principal and the supervisors are individuals and I would say to a young teacher, take time to know each other. Enjoy your school. Enjoy the children. Don't load the children down with so much work that mama and daddy are to do and that you are supposed to correct and wear yourself out. Ten short little questions on math, you can find out what a child understands if it's done right there in the classroom. Maybe I shouldn't add that, but I just don't like, the longer I talk, I hated the homework part of it.

Q: Thank you very much.

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