Interview with Harley Myers


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Q: This is an interview with Mr. Harley R. Myers, Hampshire County, West Virginia, a principal in Hampshire County for approximately?

A: 30 years.

Q: 30 years. Mr. Myers, how many years were you in education?

myers audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: 30.

Q: And how many as a teacher?

A: All 30.

Q: All 30?

A: Well, I was a teaching principal.

Q: A teaching principal?

A: Uh-huh.

Q: Could you describe the school or schools that you were principal at?

A: Yes, sir. I started off up at what they called the Purgettsville School and, as I told you awhile ago, I got up there because the superintendent needed somebody to take care of discipline and it was a one room school and we burned wood and had a coal stove in the center of the building and we had a hot lunch program down at Purgettsville and we had to walk...for dinner we had to walk down about two or three miles and we had a building down there and we charged...we started off charging two cents a day and then we had to charge five cents a day (chuckles) and we paid the cook, the Board of Education paid the cook then and they had a lot of donated foods so we got by. The only thing we had to buy was pepper and salt and maybe flour.

Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?

A: I didn't have any choice. That's what they gave me. Every time I went to them, they sent me as principal. See, we had a lot of one room schools here at that time in the County.

Q: I see.And you say you went to how many different ones?

A: Oh, I'd have to stop and count. Oh, I guess I was at eight or least ten different schools. As I told you, I was sent to take care of the discipline.

Q: What was the largest school that you were the principal of?

A: There was a ten room school up here at August. I finished up up here at Augusta in a ten room school. I was there 17 years.

Q: What role do you think or did you play in public or community relations as far as out in the community?

A: Well, I was in several clubs. I was in the Ruritan Club and I took care of helping and I was in the fire company. I was President of the fire company. I was President of the Ruritan Club two years.

Q: What techniques did you use to make teachers feel important?

A: Well, I tried to treat the teachers like I'd like to be treated and I felt that I could get the best results out of teachers if they felt that they could come to me with any problem. It didn't have to be a school problem. They might have a certain problem at home or something or any difficulty and they'd come in and talk to me about it and they did.

Q: Any other little things in the school system? I know that that's important.

A: Yes.

Q: Any other things in the school system during the day that you might do?

A: Yes. I treated them like they might be my partners instead of me being boss. I didn't treat them like me being boss. I tried to make them feel that they were...that they could come to me with any problem and their opinion was as good as mine and if they had an opinion, I wanted to hear it.

Q: What do you think it takes to be a good principal?

A: Well, being a good principal is just like being a boss or anything else and you're going to have to treat your people like professionals. They are professionals and you have to treat them as such.

Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?

A: Well, you're faced with all kinds of pressures being principal. It didn't make any difference what happened in school. If you was there, you're responsible. Teachers would do some crazy things. You're still responsible for them even though you didn't happen to be right there on the job at the time. It didn't make any difference. I had some crazy things to happen in school and I had to be responsible for them.

Q: What would you consider the biggest headache that you ever had?

A: Well, in any system, you get two or three people, you're going to have somebody who can't keep up their end of it or don't care whether they do and you don't have any power to fire or hire and you take it and you go down the hall whistling.  

Q: Would you say that you didn't have enough authority?

A: You don't have any authority. You can't hire and you can't fire but you've still got to take what they send you.

Q: Okay.

A: I know for about three years in a row, I was taking rejects from other places and trying to get something out of them. I did get a little something out of them. I'd get rejects from some other schools, you know, and they didn't want them and they'd give them to me. The Board would send them to me. Hey, he'll get something out of them.

Q: Well, that speaks highly of you.

A: Well, yeah.

Q: How do you think we can improve education for teachers?

A: I don't know. I don't like what's been going on in the schools and I don't like what they're turning out. I'm old-fashioned and I'm going to be...I'm going to stick my neck out. I've always believed that you had to have discipline or you didn't have anything. If you had discipline, you had respect. The two were hand in hand. At one time, we had a dress code and a hair code and you had the kids' respect. Now, you have nothing. I have a daughter teaching first grade down at Front Royal and she's about ready to quit.

Q: Just because of this lack of discipline?

A: Yeah, lack of discipline and they have no control. You can't punish a child.  

Q: What type of punishment did you use?

A: I used the board (chuckles).

Q: That's...

A: See, that's one of the...see, I quit. I quit early. I quit in the sixties because I knew I couldn't keep on running the school like it ought to be run without getting in trouble. I did some things I should have got in trouble any how for but I was lucky and got by with it. I had prayer every day in the school. Every morning we started off with prayer and Bible story. We had prayer at the lunch table and I never had trouble. I always figured there'd be a day when I would get in trouble. I thought, well, until they come and stop me, we're going to have prayer.

Q: Okay.Were you a principal during the civil rights issue?

A: Yes, uh-huh, yeah.

Q: How did you handle that?

A: I had two coloreds, two blacks, and at one time, I was up to three blacks out of one family and I talked to the children before they come and I told them that they was going to be there and I said, you're going to treat them like white children or, if you don't, you and I are going to have a little session together and, if there was any trouble, I never heard of it and the black mother told me, she said, you really took care of my children.

Q: Did you have any problems after integration?

A: No, no, no, not any problems. I nipped it in the bud before it started.

Q: Did you have an assistant principal?

A: No.

Q: Never had that luxury?

A: No.

Q: If you had of had the luxury of an assistant principal, what are some of the characteristics that you would have wanted?

A: Well, I would have had more time for observation. You see, I had no time for observation. I couldn't observe teachers and I just had do it in my little time when I caught a minute and this class was busy I could go over to another room and watch 15 minutes maybe but it wasn't long enough to know what the teacher was doing.  

Q: What was the toughest decision that you had to make as a principal?

A: Nothing comes to mind.

Q: What advice would you give to a person who is considering an administrative position?

A: A good sense of humor. When I taught school, I'm just liable to stop in the middle of an arithmetic problem and tell a joke. The reason I did that was because those seats are hard and the kids never knew what was coming next and they usually paid attention. They didn't know what was going to happen next. I was just liable to stop in the middle of a problem and ask them why they studied arithmetic or English or history? I thought that if they knew, they were more apt to study a little bit. I thought that was the way. I guess one of the hardest ones was when I quit. You see, I didn't have to quit. I was only 60 years old. I was only 60 and, as I told you, we went into a principals' meeting and the superintendent, I'm not going to name him, said, you principals are going to have to take care of all the discipline and I said, well now, if that's true, is the Board of Education going to back us? He began to uh, uh, uh, uh, and I said, well, in other words, we're going to be out there on a limb by ourself, aren't we? He said, yes. He said, you make a mark on those kids and the doctor finds it, he said, you're in trouble. So that was on Friday. He came by the school on Wednesday and I told him to start my retirement. That's why I retired and I expect that was one of the hardest decisions I made because I enjoyed teaching. I enjoyed the children. I like children and I got a laugh out of them every day.  

Q: So you're not just saying discipline or hard discipline for discipline's sake?

A: No, no, no. I enjoyed children. I've got something to laugh at every day. I laughed with them and not at them. I laughed with them and not at them. Do you understand the difference?

Q: Yes, sir.

A: I never laughed at them. I laughed with them. When the laugh was over, we went back to work (chuckles).

Q: Would you enter administration on the principal's level if you had it to do over again?

A: Well, now, only one way. You may use this. If I had the power to hire and fire. You would give and I'd take it not where I had to take anything that came to me.  

Q: What about if you had a say-so in who came to you?

A: That there would be just dandy as far as I'm concerned.

Q: What aspect of your professional training best prepared you to be a principal?

A: The best thing I got, I started out at D and E out at Elkins and we had one teacher out there. He was...he was a whiz in administration, in fact, Professor Stephenson. I got more actual administrative courses from him and more ideas on how a school ought to be run and how than I got all the rest of college. He talked a practical standpoint. He put his finger on the problems and we discussed the problems and what we could do about them. What system we'd use? Dictatorial system? Laissez-faire system? We'd had them already. Mine was mostly laissez-faire. I'm not pronouncing that right, am I?

Q: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. What suggestions would you offer to universities that would better prepare candidates for principalship, now we're talking about, not for teachers, but principals?

A: Right now, I don't know what they're doing now but when I went, they didn't give you enough courses in administration. I had to take a course in kindergarten. Now, I don't know.

Q: Which didn't prepare you for...

A: It didn't but I had to take it.

Q: What would you like to have spent more time on but other responsibilities prevented you from doing so?

A: Well, I'd like to have spent more time observing the teachers but I didn't have any time to do it. How are you going to make a resume on a teacher without any observation? Of course, now I don't want this to sound too braggy, but I could walk down the hall and meet a child and I could tell you where he was at in his studies, just about where his grade level was, what he was doing.

Q: How could you do this?

A: I just knew enough about...enough about to know just about where he was at in his studies and what his grade level was.

Q: What is your philosophy as a principal?

A: The principal would be a guide and a friend. Didn't necessarily have to be a boss. First thing he would be is be a friend first and a guide and a source of information.  

Q: Mr. Myers, would you discuss for us the five most pleasant principalship activities that you had?

A: I think the most pleasant thing is seeing children learn and take them from the beginning of the year and see how much he's progressed that year, in that time. The second thing which is a little out of school but it's still part of the school is seeing these kids come out of school and what they amount to and I sat down here one day and counted and the children we had in school, we have roughly 40 teachers and I said to myself, I said to my wife, evidently we didn't give them too bad a taste in their mouth for teachers or they wouldn't have been teachers and I look at these kids and I get a good deal of satisfaction in seeing what they amount to and the feeling that I've had a small part in it and they'll come back and tell me how much they appreciate what I did for them and it makes the whole thing worth while and I went up to church here not long ago and, in fact, I took the service over for the preacher and the Sunday School Superintendent was one of my boys. The boy that taught the class was one of my boys. The girl that played the piano was one of my girls and that girl downstairs teaching. Down there was another five of them, students, and I told the preacher that I got more good out of that than I did out of the sermon, to see five of my children taking part in church activities. It did. It did me more good than the sermon. Now, that's a pleasure thing.

Q: What about the five most unpleasant principalship activities?

A: Well, right off, discipline was one thing I always hated to do but I knew it had to be done. Another thing I always hated to do was to reprimand a teacher and to bring a teacher up on the carpet. I tried to do it with tact and understanding but even then it's rough and the unpleasant part about it, as I mentioned awhile ago, is you know you've got problems you can't do anything about. You know what has to be done and you know what you could do if you had the authority.

Q: Did you see much difference in the...when you're talking about discipline, did you see much difference...weren't you a principal during World War II?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you see much difference before and during World War II and then what you saw afterwards?

A: Oh, yes.

Q: Could you describe for us a little bit of it?

A: Yes. You see, like I mentioned awhile ago, we had a dress code and we made the children live up to it but after World War II, the parents began to buck us about the thing. I had a friend up here at the high school and the Board began to play politics with the parents and they wouldn't support the principal and he talked to me. He said, Harley, I've about had it. He quit. I quit about the same time he did and I'm not saying that they ate thistle but he mentioned Nathan Cox here awhile ago. Cox sat with me one time and he said, Mr. Calvert is the best principal in the County. He said, you're next and the only reason you're not best is because you don't have the time he has. He's not a teaching principal. Then he said, the area lost two of their best principals in one year for the very same thing that you're talking about. We couldn't keep control. He was old-fashioned like I was and he felt that you had to have discipline or you didn't have anything in the classroom. You had bedlam.

Q: Do you think that these changes were brought about by changes in society?

A: Yes, it was a whole difference in society of the people, you know, but one break I had before I quit, some of my patrons were students of mine. The kids would go home and tell their parents something. Nope, I know Mr. Myers, that's not right. They wouldn't listen to this stuff. See, I had those kids in school and I was getting their children back now and they (chuckle) wouldn't listen to any of those stories. They'd said, no way ____________.

Q: Good reputation.

A: Yeah. Doug, you remember the fracas we had with McBrides (chuckle).

Q: What's this?

A: Oh, maybe I embarrassed Doug, I don't know. Would you be embarrassed? come in in the afternoon for me and he had this boy in school. He was Ray McBride and he kept aggravating Mr. Heare until Mr. Heare worked him over and his dad come in and his dad has blood in his eye. He'd been into the office and the assistant superintendent there said, now listen, before you go out there, he said, if you think you're going out there and scare anybody out there, he said, you just might as well forget it. He said, they don't scare. So he come in. I called Mr. Heare over and I said, Mr. Heare, I want you to tell Ray here what happened. Mr. Heare told him. He said that boy kept aggravating me and I couldn't teach and he said, I worked him over with my hand. Now he didn't apologize. I didn't want him to apologize. He just said, the only thing I'm sorry about, I worked him over with my hand. (chuckle) I said, Jim, I want you to tell your dad what I told you a couple weeks ago. He said, do I have to? I said, yes, you do. He said, Mr. Myers told me that I was going to keep on worrying Mr. Heare until he worked me over and then I'd want my dad to do something about it. I said, go ahead and tell him the rest of it. Mr. Myers said if I'd given him as much trouble as I did Mr. Heare, he'd have knocked my head off two weeks ago (chuckle). Mr. McBridge's face fell and out he went. He said, it wasn't my idea to come up here. I said I knew it wasn't.  

Q: You mentioned something about superintendents and the school boards awhile ago. What are the characteristics of a superintendent which you found most effective for allowing you the most leeway in operating your own school?

A: Well, we had a superintendent got this thing on?

Q: Yes. You don't have to mention any names.

A: He was right down the road like the rest of us. He believed in the investment of control and when the parents come in there, he took our part. He stood up for us and, after he left, things started sliding.

Q: So you're saying that a strong, supportive...

A: Oh, yes, yes, in the school board.

Q: Superintendent?

A: Because if the superintendent of the school board was going to back you, you could do about anything you wanted to in school, I mean as far as teaching and discipline.

Q: What would you say would be the worst characteristic in a superintendent?

A: Well now, we had a man follow him and he couldn't tell the truth. He'd tell you something. Two or three days if you said you'd quote it to him, he'd say, I didn't say that. You couldn't pin him down to it and that don't go. Make you out a liar every time and that don't do your disposition much good.

Q: What kind of responsibilities did you delegate to teachers?

A: Everything, everything.

Q: Okay.

A: Everything that had anything to do with their room, I expected them to take care of it. If they couldn't, I wanted them to come to me. If they had any problems, I told them to come to me. If a child gave them discipline that they thought they couldn't handle, bring him to me.

Q: If you could change any five areas in education today, what would they be?

A: Well, the first thing I'd you're going to disagree with this. The first thing I'd do away with all these extracurricular activities. There's no room for school studies any more. There's more stuff going on outside the school than there is in.

Q: Okay, let's go on.

A: I'd go back to the rule that if the kid listened, then he got his lessons. One thing I never believed in too much homework.

Q: You which way?

A: Sending kids home homework that wasn't taught to them, that you didn't teach. I never made...sent a problem home but what I introduced that problem myself. If they had problems, they'd bring it back to me the next day for help. My theory was teach, test and reteach or reteach again if they missed any and I always believed that a test was a learning instrument, that they could learn on a test. I tried to prepare my tests so that they could pick out the right answer and learn the right answer on the test. I never believed too much in true and false tests.

Q: Speaking of testing, what would you think would be the best way to test a child's knowledge?

A: I believe your multiple choice answer is the best one. He has to make a decision. He can take a penny and flip for heads and tails and pass a true or false.

Q: Mr. Myers, could you describe your typical workday in terms of how you spent your time?

A: Well, I usually tried to be at the schoolhouse by a little after eight every morning.

Q: School opened when?

A: School opened at nine. I tried to be there at eight and I very seldom got away from there before 4:30 or a quarter to five and teaching, hot lunch and different activities, supervision, pretty well took up my day.

Q: Could you give us a kind of...just pick out one day and give me kind of a detailed description?

A: As I told you, I was there by 8:30 and I usually made a round through the building to see that everything was all right and the furnace was working and see that the teachers were all going to show up. Then at nine, I went into the classroom and I was in the classroom then from nine until lunch time and, of course, we had an hour for lunch. Went back in the afternoon and had the afternoon classes until recess and then classes after recess until about 3:30 or quarter to four. Then I made a rule to go out and watch the kids getting on the bus and see that they all got on their right busses and then I usually walked around through the schoolhouse to see that everything was all right before I come home.

Q: How much paperwork did you have to do as far as a principal was concerned? Now, not as far as the teacher was concerned, but as far as the principal.

A: Well, you had that hot lunch. That hot lunch was a headache.

Q: How? You're talking to somebody that hasn't experienced that.

A: Have you had the experience?

Q: No, sir, I have not had it. Just tell me what you had to go through.

A: You had see, you had free meals meals and then you had meals that they paid for only part of them and then you had so many kids with milk. You had to account for all that milk and you had to count up every day the amount of children that had free meals, paid meals and ones that paid just part of it, reduced meals.

Q: Well, is this from somebody outside that you were contracting with to cook these meals?

A: You've got your cooks. They had to be supervised. At the end of the month, you'd have to make out an account for all that milk you bought, down to every pint you bought. You had to account for it and every nickel you spent. You had to account for every nickel you spent during that month and that runs into money and the office checks it in there and it had to come out or you stay with it until it does.

Q: What about administrative reports? Did you have any?

A: Yes, you had them. Every month you take them and you take all your teachers' reports and you peg it on the back of yours and then you itemize...I mean you put them all together on yours, on the back of yours, see? And that has to come out to the...and at the end of the year you have to take every kid that he's either there, he's a non-member or he's absent. Now, if you have so many kids in school for 180 days...Jim, did you ever fix out them reports. You fixed out the teachers' reports, yeah, but you've got take every kid in that school and you better show one of three things. He was absent. He was a non-member. By non-member, he drops out, or absent, and it had to come out and you don't get your paycheck for last month until it comes out (chuckles).

Q: How do you account for your success as an administrator?

A: I tried to tell you here awhile ago. Maybe I didn't do a very good job of it.

Q: Well, maybe I'm just asking the same question in a different manner.

A: I always tried to treat teachers as a professional and I always made them believe that I valued their opinions and I wasn't too ashamed to ask for an opinion because I have never met anybody who knows it all yet. I may some of these days but I haven't yet.

Q: What are some of the things that you would like for this oral history going into an archives that you might like somebody ten or 15 or 20 years down the road that might be listening to this tape to know about Mr. Harley Myers?

A: Well, one thing I would recommend right off. If you don't like children, don't get in the business.

Q: That sounds like good advice.

A: If you don't like children, stay out of it. You've got no business in it and I don't know, I always looked to the children as little grown up people. They're the little fellows and I always got a lot of fun out of them. I enjoyed them and I don't know whether I told you awhile ago but I never got too busy to listen to them. Little first graders come up and tell me about their dog or their pet, I didn't have time to listen but I took time. When they got to be eight graders, he'd talk to me then. They brought me in teeth to pull. I pulled teeth, yeah. Mr. Myers, will you pull my tooth for me? I fixed zippers. I put tacks in soles on shoes, heels on shoes. Now, that's what I mean. That's a principal.

Q: Being involved?

A: Being involved.

Q: What said that you've been in the hospital just recently?

A: Yeah, my lungs collapsed on me and I went down to Winchester Hospital and the doctor come in and he said, I understand you've got a bunch of kids in here. I said, yeah, five or six of them, anyhow. I started to go down for an operation and I was laying there waiting my turn in the operating room and this little blond come up and kissed me on the cheek and said, how are you, Mr. Myers? and she took off and she told me who she was. It didn't dawn on me who she was at first and then another girl come up and kissed me on the other side and she said, asked me how I was and said I'd be all right, going to make it all right.

Q: These are all previous students of yours?

A: Yes. Well, my wife and I'll go over here to the restaurant and there'll be some kids come in and they'll come around to the table and kiss me, yeah, and that's the kind of attitude I think you ought to have with kids.

Q: What have I not asked you that I should have?

A: You didn't ask me how much money I made (chuckles).

Q: Okay. How much money did you make?

A: When I quit, I was making not quite $9,000 and you're making now. I'm going to ask you one now? Is this thing running?

Q: Yes, sir. Before we turn it off, what are some of the other things that I missed that you would like me to ask?

A: Well, I asked you the main thing there, if you like children. If you don't, don't go into it and don't expect to get rich.

Q: No, I don't think you can, not as a teacher.

A: If you're going into for the money, I wouldn't advise anybody to go into it. If you're going in for quitting time and payday, you ain't got no business in there because if you're riding on the clock on payday, I'd say you got no business in there. We've got too many people right now, quitting time and payday.

Q: Well, Mr. Myers, I've just about asked all the questions that I can come up with.

A: Well, I hope I've given you something you can use.

Q: I've found it very interesting and I will say again, give you the opportunity to say anything that you might want to say.

A: One day I had a teacher had to be out for his doctor and I sent an eighth grader over to take care of the class and I slipped in to see how she was getting along and I sat down on the table. A little chubby girl come up to me with a note and it said Mr. Myers, I love you. Will you marry me? I said, good. I'm willing but we'd have to go up the hall here and ged rid of that blond of mine first. She said, no, I'm not going.

Q: That blonde was your wife?

A: Yes.

Q: That was a teacher in the school?

A: Yeah, she taught. Another funny one. I remember this one. We had a book in the eight grade called In Your Teens. Now that was a good book. It was all about dating, what age and so on. We were trying to decide what was the right time to start dating. There was a boy said, Mr. Myers, what do you think a good time is to start dating? Well, I said, I think about the time when you're dry behind the ears to start. I looked back and he was feeling behind his ears (chuckles). You know, it took me five minutes to get calmed down, I was laughing so hard. We were sitting there (chuckles)...

Q: You were telling me a story about teaching seasons?

A: Yeah, yeah.

Q: You want to relate that for me?

A: Oh, yes. This teacher...this seventh grade teacher was teaching seasons, autumn, spring and fall and summer. She looked at this boy and said what season are we in now? and he said, squirrel season (chuckles).

Q: Mr. Myers, I appreciate very much your time.

A: Well, I hope I helped you a little bit.

Q: I think it's very informative for us and we appreciate it.

A: Of course, I can talk about that teaching any time.

Q: We appreciate it very much.

A: You're welcome.

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