This is March 1, 1994. I am speaking with Mr. Clyde Miller in his home in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. We are talking today on his experiences as an Elementary School Principal.
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Q: Hello, Clyde. How are you?
A: Just fine, Dave.
Q: I would like to start by asking you a few questions. Could you maybe start off by telling us a little bit about your family background, your childhood interests and development, and just how you got interested in education?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, I come from a farm background. I was raised on a farm, and there were four boys in our family, and we went to a one room school. A one room school--grades one to eight. My father was a teacher there, and I had my father for the first three years that I went to school. And because my father was a teacher, I started when I was five years old because there didn't seem to be any regulations at that time. So then I went on--started early when I was five, and when I got to sixth grade, I don't think there were very many students in sixth grade. I don't know whether because I felt that I could go on, but I was placed, instead of spending a year in sixth grade, they put me on to seventh grade. So now I'm two years ahead of most of my classmates, and I went though, and those days we had to take an eighth grade examination before we were admitted to a four-year high school. And so we had the examination in eighth grade and went on to Somerset High School, which is we were in the township and Somerset was a borough, the nearest high school there. We had no transportation. We had to furnish our own transportation to high school. And so I graduated from high school when I was sixteen years old.
Q: Could you discuss a little bit about your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching?
A: Well, when I came out of high school at sixteen, I didn't know for sure what I wanted to go, or if there was no money for college. And so I worked for a few years on the farm, and a friend of mine was interested in going to school, but he was going for the teacher--was going to be a teacher. And I always liked children, and my brother had married a teacher, and my brother said he would help me a little bit if I wanted to go to college and be a teacher, which I did. And I played football in college, so I got a scholarship. When I got a little help, I was able to get work during the year raking leaves in the fall and shoveling snow in the wintertime and got through with a two-year college education. After two years, we could come out and teach. And so after two years I got a school in my home township, and I had grades one to eight, and taught there for seven years. And then I went to the service, came back there for two years and then I had some other experiences after that. But the reason--and I always liked kids because I always went to bible school and I have to teach bible school, went to Sunday school and my family was pretty active in church work and our activities centered around the church. So I got--I liked being with children and I know that I would like to be a teacher and that's the reason why I started in the teaching profession.
Q: Great. What were the circumstances surrounding your entering into the principalship? What motivated you? And what continued to motivate you?
A: Well, after I was, after I went into the service, when I came back I finished my four years with my B.S. in education. And I had the funds to go ahead and be a principal, and I had--even though it's a one-room school you're a teacher, but you're also a principal there. And I had some experience in the school where I taught in fifth and sixth grade departmental. And I liked the things I saw in the school. I just felt I wanted to be a principal, so I changed some things and do some things differently, and I enjoyed being a principal. And soon after I got my principal's certificate, well, I was called to another district, and my family left our home district, all our family that we had been close to all these years, and moved to New Kensington, another county, and started new there. And I learned from that district to do things differently there than I was used to. And every move you make, or every different school you get into, you may bring something there, but you always take something away from that district.
Q: What...can you describe some of those early years as a principal in New Kensington and here in New Brighton?
A: Well, when I went to New Kensington and the superintendent there, the supervising principal--he started me on testing kindergarten youngsters before they came into school. We had no kindergarten there but we felt we had to test the youngsters before they came into first grade. And I remember we used the Pintner-Cunningham Test. I gave a little talk to the parents, told them a little about school, how we operate. And then I checked a test of the-- administered this test to their children and they were sitting in the back of the room. They could see me administering the test. And then one by one I went over that test with each parent and told them my findings. I felt that the child, according to this test, is ready for reading and definitely ready for school. If the child was not ready, I told them that. And I told them that if a child goes to school, the chance that he would have trouble learning to read in first grade. And surprising enough, the parents accepted that because they had seen the test being administered, and they seemed to have faith in what I was telling them. And then I carried on then when I came to New Brighton for many years, and I felt that was a strong point. It got you familiar with the people in the district and made them familiar and got them in, familiar with you. And they felt they could ask you a question or bring problems if they had to you.
Q: You moved from that district to New Brighton, and when you came to New Brighton, you were instrumental in bringing about some changes here, or at least in helping to bring about some changes with the bringing of a couple districts together. Can you describe that process for us and describe what you did?
A: Well, when I came to New Brighton, there were four elementary schools, and a junior high school, and a high school. The four elementary schools were just right within the town area, a very easy district. We had no bus problem, we didn't bus anybody, had no cafeteria. At noon, the children went home for lunch, and it was really a nice situation with very few problems. Parents... each, each district, each school, had their own PTA. And we were close; PTA's worked there with each other. And we were very close; easily a nice district to work in. Then, we started to talk about a jointure, and a union with the districts that were surrounding our town. There were four districts that surrounded the town. They were smaller districts. Their buildings; they couldn't take care of all of their elementary children. Some of them were bussed in to New Brighton even though they had to pay for their tuition into New Brighton. And their buildings were deteriorating; they didn't have enough room. And so we first started with a jointure and brought the four districts into one. And with our older buildings in New Brighton, and the older buildings outside, we were able to ship the student population around a few years like that. Before then, we decided that is too expensive. And that's when we started in a new building program in which the building now houses all of the children from all over the districts.
Q: Can you describe what problems and events that were led--that you had faced when trying to put all those students from all those neighborhood schools into one building?
A: Well, anytime you bring children out of that district, all those districts felt rather secure. People in the districts there that, the teachers didn't know how this would work. They were pretty comfortable with the situation they had. And here with a new principal coming in, and he's going to be telling them what to do, and they just had ideas that here was a real master that was going to be telling everything to do. And I had to show them that we needed their help, that I was not that kind of a person. And I believe that I was successful in that because we did make changes without too much trouble.
Q: Can you maybe take us on a walk through that school, describe the appearance of the school, a little bit about the philosophy that inspired the building?
A: Well, we went into an open classroom type building. It's a little different than most buildings of that nature because it's built on an incline. In other words, kindergarten and the offices and so on are first level. And then you go down another level to the first grade. And then another level to the second grade, and you went on down to fifth grade. And we had room here now for the cafeteria in the building, which we never had before. We had a library in the building. We had a gymnasium in the building. And so our curriculum--we were able to expand our curriculum a lot. But we had, naturally we had the people in the district; this was completely new to them. They had to be shown the building. They had to be shown how this works, and we brought parents into the building. We brought a lot of volunteers in so they can see how things work from day to day. And this took care of any buildings that--some of our buildings are mostly--we had some minority schools, more or less some of our schools had a lot of minority students, and when you transfer them into other buildings, we kind of had trouble. Now we have no trouble. Everybody goes to the same building, and it just made for a wonderful situation.
Q: How did you personally feel about the building? Did it match your philosophy of teaching? Were you able to do some things you couldn't do in the smaller buildings?
A: Well, I had to change my philosophy a little bit because here we have teachers having to work, group together, which I never would have--never had much experience in that. And I tried to keep some of the--each teacher with the responsible as much for her own children as should could be and gradually work into more of the team teaching idea. But at first it was just a little against my philosophy, but believe me, I changed my philosophy since.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Maybe give some examples that were successful, and maybe some unsuccessful experiences.
A: Well, as I said before, when I started in the kindergarten, we had some very good kindergarten teachers that would--I think parents were really pleased with our kindergarten set-up. And we had, I think, a very good core of teachers and we had parents coming in to the school as volunteers, and had, we took people through the school. We had... we showed our school off not only to our own people in our own district, we had county-wide meetings at our school. And then after the meetings were over, we went to the classrooms, went along up to see the classrooms and to see how this open-type school works. And most people were impressed, and the more they became impressed, the more they -the word got around that New Brighton is really one of the nicer set-ups, which of course, made us all very happy.
Q: You mentioned earlier some of the things you've done with kids over the years, some of the activities that you've done. Can you maybe describe some of those for us, and why you like those particular activities?
A: Well, I like teachers knowing what other teachers go though, and sometimes we had like a second grade teacher will say, "These things should have been taught in first grade. Why didn't the first grade teacher do this?" Well then we had, sometimes teachers that are first grade teachers move on to second grade with the same group of children, and after they were in second grade, then they wondered what this first grade teacher did, and they were the first grade teacher. So this made them more tolerant of, I think, other teachers. Some teachers get in a set when they don't realize what other teachers go through, the teachers above, a grade above or a grade below. And I tried to keep children in a situation where they would be comfortable, know their teacher, and be with their teacher as much as possible. And we had activities that took in the whole school. Naturally, we had a loud speaker system that went to all building, all of the classes in the building, where we had to call out the buses in the evening and the announcements went to all of the teachers at one time and the students. And one time I had--I gave spelling bees, spelling lessons, or spelling tests if you will. And started with first grade words at the first grade level, at the second grade level, at the third grade level, and all grades had to take this test. I think we had a hundred words in the test. The first ten words were probably for the second graders and then the next ones for the third graders. But all these second graders could go and continue on with the test as long as they could until they got up to third, fourth, fifth grade level if they could. And sometimes we had fourth and fifth grade children who kind of didn't do too well on the second and third grade spelling words. And it was kind of a thing that had drawn all of the teachers kind of close together, and the children as well. I thought it was a nice thing for the school. And we had volunteers in our school; I don't know if to bring that in now. We had buses, a lot of buses here with kindergarten children. And some kindergarten children don't know where they got off the bus, and they have to have help. And we started a volunteer program of parents riding with the school buses, and helping the school bus driver to find the right home for these children. And so we didn't have as much trouble the first and second days of school as children not getting home. I felt that was kind of a thing that brought together. I think that's....
Q: What kinds of things did teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your view of what it takes to be an effective principal. Describe maybe some personal, professional characteristics of a good principal.
A: Well sometimes I think principals--they're expected-- first of all, principals are supposed to take care of the disciplinary problems. That I kind of discouraged in a way; I took care of some that I felt needed it. You can't take care of disciplinary problems for forty or forty-five teachers. There has to be--the teachers have to take care of most of them. And I, I believe in pointing out the good things that teachers did. We had one superintendent that came along and they felt that teachers weren't being evaluated enough. We have to evaluate them. We have to knock them down; we have to tell them so that if we ever want to fire them why we have this record of what they did wrong. Now that was against my philosophy completely because I could see things that teachers did wrong, but I would certainly try to find out things that teachers did well, first. And I compliment teachers on what they did well and tried to stay away from things that I, that they didn't do as well. I'd least of got time, and I wouldn't of--I hated having to write down things that are against teachers and let them see it and sign it and send it to the superintendent. That can, I'll tell you, is not good for the morale of a school. And that happened with one superintendent there, and I just felt it was bad. And we had--I think our morale was poor with that one superintendent than with any of the others. And we had that experience with one superintendent.
Q: What is your approach to leadership? Describe some of the techniques that worked for you.
A: Well, I think we have to let teachers have, in other words, we have to let a first grade teacher expand and let her find out what works for her. And I like to get into the classrooms and I always try to teach a class or teach part of a class when I was in the classroom. And then I would point out things that, "See, that didn't work very well for me," or "What works for you?" Or "How did you keep all these children busy while you were doing this?". And I want the teacher to tell me the good things she does, or things that she has problems with, and then we could talk it out. I don't like to go in and say, "Well now, this you should do". And write it down and send it in to the superintendent. Those were things that were--that I didn't go along with. And I think that when teachers can come to you and ask about problems they have, then I think you--that's part of being a good principal. When they ask you, not you telling them.
Q: There are those who argue that principals should be instructional leaders and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person must be above all, a good manager. What do think on this issue? What is your opinion on this issue?
A: I don't think that teachers--the principals can be the greatest with the curriculum. I think they have to be good managers; they have to know how to handle people, have to know how to handle parents, but of being a curriculum leader as such, I don't think that's exactly their mainstay, not in the elementary school.
Q: Did you--how about central office policy? Did that hinder or help you?
A: I only had one superintendent where that, I think spoke a little bit about that before. That one superintendent whose policies hindered not only the elementary, I think it was detrimental to most parts of the district, not only the elementary, but the other junior high and high school teachers as well, because it was one of too many things turned in to the main office, and he wanted to take credit for things that went good and wouldn't take any credit for things that went bad. And I don't like to say anything against the central office; that's not my style at all. Because I always got along well with the central office and the school board. But I can't help but say that this was a bad experience. One bad experience that I had. And I think that the central office can be detrimental to the--how the principal works and how teachers respond.
Q: What advice would you give for an inspiring superintendent? How should he act in that office?
A: Well he should be a good listener, and he should find out that the people that he has working for them may know more about some of the things that he wants to regulate than he does. Certainly, he wouldn't go out and tell the basketball coach how to coach this team. He wouldn't go to the elementary and tell the elementary men how to teach reading in first grade. I don't think he should. And if he starts to get into that, and then sits in the classroom to see if they follow what he does. I've even heard of principals who looked in the manuals of the reading system and went in and sat in the classroom. And pointed out that this teacher isn't following the manual as she should, and then wrote down that as a criticism to kind of make her- to show that he knows all of this, which he read in the manual two days before. So a teacher sees through that very quickly. If you're honest and if you know--the thing that I like to do--I like to substitute for teachers if they had to go to a funeral, leave early some day, or if they were sick and had to leave early. I like to go in and take their class. Now the other teachers that see that, "Well there, Mr. Miller took over that class. I didn't know he could teach second grade, and he took over that class for a half a day". Then they have more, I think, more respect for you. If they feel that you know what you're doing, they will respect you, just as you should respect them if you feel they know what they're doing.
Q: It is often said that a principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in city groups and other community organizations.
A: Yes, I feel school people should be active in community affairs. They should belong to the PTA, service clubs in the community, and get to know people on a different scale than just through the school. I myself have been a Rotary member for many years, and I--naturally, I spoke to all the PTAs, and belong to a church in the community. Through the church, we had some of the same parents and teachers go to the same churches you do. I think it makes for a good relationship when you're part of the community, as well as part of the school.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluations? We spoke a little bit about this.
A: Well, I hate to scale of--I hate to scale teachers down on A, B, C, D, E. If we evaluate teachers, and I like to evaluate them by telling them the good points that I see, and if a teacher needs correction or needs graded down, I think that those things should be, naturally, written down and see if she corrects some of those mistakes. And come back again, talk to her about it, and very few people--very few teachers are graded so that they can be dismissed the way we are now. I remember a teacher I had in first grade one time. And she was definitely not a first grade teacher, so I was in her class, and I could hardly spend the period there in her class--things were so out of hand. So I talked to her about it afterwards. I said that--I asked her that if she felt comfortable in her class. Did she feel that she had control of her class? Well, naturally, she didn't have control of her class. And at the end of the year, I told her that we can't have you teaching in the first grade situation. If you want to try it with the older children, we'll put you in a fifth grade class for next year. But I said, "I think you're in the wrong profession, I really do." I told her this at the end of the year. Well, she didn't come back the next year, but she wrote me a nice letter. And she said, "Mr. Miller, I want to thank you for being truthful with me, because I am happier in what I'm doing now than I was when I was teaching."
Q: Do you ever take any time to demonstrate a lesson for a teacher?
A: Oh yes. Yes, I've demonstrated lessons for teachers. And if teachers are teaching, sometimes I just kind of ease into the class and take over part of the class. Teachers kind of like that, and children like it whenever somebody else teaches a little bit. And I think it makes for a good situation. The teachers feel that you're just--you know, they see you doing things, and they see things that you're probably doing wrong too. And it's a good--it makes for a good relationship between the principal and teacher.
Q: A good deal is said today about teacher grievances. Would you give your view on the desirability of such procedures and describe the approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction?
A: Well, I guess teacher's grievance--I guess in some cases teachers would have grievance. I know a few grievances I had. We always had teachers call in the morning or the night before they were going to be absent. Well, my question was, "Are there plans or something there that a substitute teacher will know what to do tomorrow morning? And if not, could you see that they get that?" And I wanted to know then why are they absent. Are they sick? Are they going to a funeral? Is it their personal day, or what? I have to have a reason. Well, now they were unhappy with that, and they went to the superintendent, and they said, "You know, Mr. Miller always gives us the third degree when we want to be absent for the day. He wants to know why we're going to be absent, the reason, and he gives us the third degree, and maybe I'm sick in the morning, and I don't like to go through that." The superintendent asked me if I could wait until] they come in, in the morning what the reason was for their absence. You don't need to question them before they come in. So I said, sure I can do that.] So, within the next week, there was a teacher who came in, and I said, "By the way, can you give us a reason why you were absent yesterday?" And she said to me, "Well I don't know that you need to know that." "Oh," I said, "I don't need to know that." I said, "I think I'm the one that needs to know that." I said, "Because we have excused absences and unexcused absences." And I said, "If you don't care to tell me, why then you don't need to, I will write it as an unexcused absence." So she left and went down to see the person from the union in the district, and then she came back and she said, "Yes, I will give you the reason I was absent." I said, "I thought you might." But I said that's a grievance, probably one of the grievances that I had. But I just felt that I have to know why teachers are absent. And sometimes, I mean in some areas, they just call in and there's a telephone takes the call, or a secretary takes the call, and they don't need to respond to anybody. And I said, "I don't think that's quite right." Not that I don't trust teachers, but I guess I can say that I don't always trust them.
Q: Do you feel that that's a procedure that the teachers need to have? A grievance procedure?
A: Yes, I think they have to have a grievance procedure.
Q: What--over the years, salary and other compensation has changed a good deal in the profession. Could you discuss your recollections of compensation systems in you school system during your early years as principal? Maybe give some...
A: Well, in early years of principal everything was cut and dry. We started at a thousand dollars the first year. The second year we automatically went up to eleven hundred dollars. And the third year, we automatically went up to twelve hundred dollars. And that was the salary for the year. And then I don't know just when we got- I think we stayed at fourteen hundred then for a long time. And then when I went to the service, and after I came back from the service, why gosh, we have salaries up here to twenty-three hundred. And then I--when I got my first principal job, I got that for thirty-four hundred, which I thought was quite good. And I was a principal for thirty-four hundred, and when I got called to New Brighton, the salary they gave me here was forty-eight hundred. And when I went to the district where I was making the twenty-three hundred and told them that I like the district, but I have to move on. And they offered me four thousand if I stayed with them. I was making thirty-four hundred here--or there. So I came on to New Brighton at forty-eight hundred, and then it was up to the superintendent, more or less, if jurisdiction of how much money you made, how much of a raise you got. It was kind of based on what the teachers got. And of course, after the teachers got bigger raises, why then, the principals got bigger raises. So I don't know that it had anything--I don't know if I was ever graded as such, that you're a good principal, so you get this. Or you're an average principal, so you'll only get this. If I was ever graded in that manner, I never knew about it.
Q: No one ever sat down with the terms?
A: No, no one ever sat down.
Q: Today, we have a system--Pennsylvania's school code had a system of tenure for the protection of professional employees. Would you describe the situation at the time you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses? Maybe why tenure came about?
A: Well, when I started teaching, my neighbor was on the school board. So all I needed to do was put my application in, and he would see that I go to school. Regardless, I guess, of who applied. I was a neighbor, so I got the school. And that went on--that was pretty common in that relatives or friends that you had on the school board would get the jobs. Which later on--they found out that that exactly wasn't the right thing to do. So I think that I guess we have to have some sort of tenure to protect the teachers against that.
Q: Do you see any--did you see any problems with the tenure?
A: Well, tenure has some problems too. It, as you say, it protects everybody, and whether everybody should be protected or not is the question. I don't think they should be, but then I don't know how else you manage that. If they had no tenure, and they were let go, with the way things are today, I think you would have--you would have a lot of trouble with lawsuits and that sort of thing.
Q: What is your view of the characteristics that are associated with most effective schools? And those schools that are less effective?
A: Well, I think, I think the most effective schools are schools that let the public know what they're doing in the schools, to get the public involved in what's going on at school, and give the results of what's going on and so on. Schools that want to hide some of those things or won't bring any of those things out, I feel, are the poorer schools. For instance, when I moved from my one school, the first school I went to as principal. We had--I started to give standardized tests. And oh my, those standardized tests were not what I was used to at all. And the teacher then said, "Well, look at the kind of kids we have here. We can't hope to have good marks on this," which I didn't agree with at all. I think--I think you have to have some kind of testing that shows that your school is doing the job. I know there is some criticism about standardized testing and that it doesn't suit everybody and so on, but how else do you evaluate schools? And your parents will evaluate your schools, and if your parents are satisfied with your schools, nobody can down them very much. Because they won't let them. They say, "Well, my child goes to that school. I know what it's like. Don't tell me." So I think if you have your parents behind you and your school, and the children are happy in the school--most of them you won't have everybody happy--I think that you have a good school.
Q: There are things that a principal can do to make that-- to help that?
A: Well, I think to make sure that the public knows what's going on in school, invite the public to come in to the school, and if some kind of--well, every year, different holidays and that sort of thing if you have parents come in and have children perform for the parents. I think that all gives a good feeling about the school, even though it doesn't always say what kind of math scores and reading scores they have. It is a nice activity.
Q: There had been a traditional commitment in this county to the principle of universal, free public education. Could you give your views on this concept and indicate your feelings as to practicality of such approaches in this day and time?
A: Well, that situation has gone on- free public education. Then we had parochial schools coming into being kind of popular. And now not only parochial schools, but we have other private schools. And I must say the experience that I've had with parochial schools and private schools is that they're rather efficient. And I--as I see things discussed in the paper, I don't know if I'm--I don't know just how I feel on that, whether I would be in favor of giving a child his voucher and say you go to the school you want to. That would cause lots and lots of problems, but it may, in a way, be good for the schools. I just don't have a full opinion on that. But I've never had any of my children go to a private school, and I don't have much experience with them except dealing with them as a- along with the public schools in our area. I just have a good bit of respect for the parochial schools. For the one thing though, the parochial schools--people who are interested in, send their children to parochial schools, you have a little bit different type of student to work with than you have in the public schools. And we can't always compare them in that way, because you have really a different type of student.
Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, is there an area in administration that you would change in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness of educational administration?
A: Well, I don't know. We have to have the elementary, we have to have the principals responsible to somebody. And that somebody, I guess, has to be the superintendent or the school board. And I don't believe we could have the schools running with each principal just on his own, without having some--without reporting to somebody or letting somebody know how things are going. So I don't know that I have any answer to how I would change a lot of that just in the experience that I've had with the schools. I'm not in a larger, city school; I don't know all the complexities that go on there. But for the smaller schools, I think we still have to give the principal the authority to run that school, and yet I guess I'm saying not complete authority. So if a parent can't talk to the principal, he has to have someplace else to go, either the school board or the superintendent.
Q: We talked a little bit earlier about your relationship with superintendents. What's been your relationship with boards of education? The pros and cons?
A: I've always had good relationships with boards of education. I, of course, when I started teaching, it was just the board of education. We had no--we had no principal at all. We dealt strictly with the board of education. And then we had supervising principals take over, and I've always--I've always had a lot of respect for that. I always got along well with that.
Q: It has been said that the curriculum has become more and more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal? Maybe compare it with some of the situations you've seen in schools today, or the time...
A: Well, it has become more complex, and when we started here, we were interested in the three R's. We were tested frequently on those. We were tested even though it was a one room school. We had tests sent out from the county main office two times a year--in the middle and at the end of the year, tests sent out from the office and the county office. And I used to give--in my own district, I used to give spelling tests every six weeks, or every nine weeks. And then, of course, we had achievement tests at the end of the year. I think then somehow, people said, "Well all these achievement tests aren't fair." There are some other things that can't be tested and that. That is very true, but we still have to have some way of checking, and I think we have gotten away from that a little bit. And because of pressures, community pressures, different pressures from different groups that think they're treated unfairly, and the tests don't suit everybody like they should. And so they decided not to do very much of that. I think that's wrong. I think we have to have a way of checking just what's going on.
Q: Could you describe your work day? How did you spend your time? What pressures did you face on a daily basis? The biggest headaches, maybe?
A: Well, I always went to school early in the morning, because teachers that needed to call early could call the school early in the morning and say they're sick, and say they're not coming in, and still gave me time to get a substitute. I always checked through the building to make sure the custodians were there. I always walked through the building to make sure that everything was in order, and then I always checked as the teachers came in one by one to see if I spoke to them or if within the building where I could be reached to see if there was anything on their mind, or if a parent came in early with a child. Sometimes you have parents want to drop their children real early. They want the school to be the babysitter for the children. And you have to have some arrangement for that, either you don't do it, or you have a method for doing it. And then as all the teachers came in, and I'd make sure that there was a teacher for every room, I would, naturally, go through the building then and just see that everything gets settled down. And usually, you always have call from parents or calls from somebody as you come back to your office. I was out of the office a god bit of the morning. I never was in the office very much until 9:00. And so then, you get all kind of calls the rest of the day.
Q: What were your biggest headaches?
A: Well, the biggest headaches, I guess, would be- sometimes you had small things that a principal has to take care of. You have fighting on the bus, and you have parents calling in that there was fighting when they got off the bus. Or so and so was picking on their child after school. Some of those things are related to school, some of them are not. And you have to hear those complaints and do something about them in a way. And some of those are hard to deal with to be fair about it.
Q: How did you cope with the stress?
A: Well, I don't know; I just... I've had a good many years in that. I just don't know that I got stressed out over that. I just accepted that and tried to keep a sense of humor wherever I was. I think a good sense of humor helps to get rid of stress.
Q: What were some of your toughest decisions? What did they relate to? Can you remember a particular decision that was really tough for you to make?
A: Well, when we went into the new building, the toughest decision was to try to get--we had to have teachers that we felt could work with a group of four to eight teachers. And trying to figure out which teacher would be better in this, or sometimes, the hard thing was to deal with teachers who didn't get along. That was kind of hard to manage and hard to deal with, which is the thing--you have to be very careful in that. Parents not getting along and bringing it into the school somehow. Parents and teachers not getting along, and how do you deal with that? I used to--a parent came into the school and went over this teacher. "Well this teacher did this and this teacher did that." And her child is afraid of this teacher. I--instead of me saying, "Well that's a good teacher, and they shouldn't be afraid." I tried to make it, if it's possible, to have that teacher come up and face this parent face to face. And then let the parent talk to the teacher. And you have a different situation then than you have if the teacher feels she can pull your leg a little bit and tell you all about this--how bad this teacher is. She has to talk face to face with the teacher; you won't have as much of that now. Those were kind of hard situations for me.
Q: What was the key to your successes as principal? Maybe reflecting on your career, what also would you say were your strengths and maybe even your weaknesses?
A: I think my strengths were that I got along pretty well with people and could get along. When I was in the New Kensington area, I was only there one year. But they wanted to have a jointure there of two districts. Upper Burrell and Lower Burrell, and they were so against that. And the supervising principal said, "Mr. Miller, will you go out and talk to the Upper Burrell people about this jointure?", which I did. And I talked to the teachers; I talked to every one of the teachers that was in that building. And low and behold, they had a jointure form after that year. I want to take credit for that, I really do, because after I was gone a year or so, that jointure fell apart. I just felt that if Clyde Miller was there, it wouldn't have done it.
Q: Maybe that is so. Do you feel that you had any weaknesses?
A: Oh sure, I had weaknesses
Q: You just can't think of any.
A: Not many. I suppose that sometimes the way you handle some situations, after it's over you felt you could have done a better job. Just to point out the weaknesses one, two, three, I don't know whether I was too demanding of teachers or not demanding enough of teachers or that sort of thing. In one case, I would be, and in another case, I wouldn't be. So there are little things there that after the situation you can always look back and say, well, probably should have done this another way. And every situation is a learning experience. But I try to make it a learning experience, and I try to admit my failure or my wrong decisions if they were wrong. And if they were right, I wouldn't--I'd stick to that also.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire? The time you did?
A: I had been--I had 46 years of experience, and my mother in-law was living with us, and she lived with us for eight years. My wife had a lot of--not problems, but responsibilities having to take care of her, and since I had that many years experience. It wasn't exactly anything to do with the school, but I just felt I had enough time in, and I had a good assistant principal to ready to take over, so why shouldn't I?
Q: Well thank you. Would you give your overall comments, pros and cons of administrative service? Advice you might want to pass on to today's principal?
A: I think that the role of principal are pretty understanding people and deserve a lot of credit than they get, because the teachers, even teachers don't realize all the things that a principal goes through and all of the things that he is responsible for. I think that the principals do a good job today. I really do.
Q: Would you recommend the position for others?
A: Well, I would recommend the position for others if they are so inclined. If you have people that for the right reasons they like what they are doing, and they like dealing with teachers, dealing with pupils, then you need to be a principal. If for other reasons, you're going to be a principal because you're going to make a lot of money out of that, and I guess you are today, I don't know--I think that's the wrong reason.
Q: I noticed that on your background, you listed that you had a letter of eligibility to become a superintendent.
Q: Does that bother you that you haven't had the opportunity to become?
A: No, not at all. I've had many opportunities to--I've had opportunities to go back to all the districts I left. They all contacted me. After I was in one year in New Brighton, salesmen would come around, and they'd say, "Mr. Miller, we heard about you. Would you be interested in- there is a job opening up over such and such a place. Would you be interested in going over there?" No, I wasn't interested in going over there. I had the qualifications, but I liked my job. I liked my position as elementary principal. I felt I got along well with the people, with the teachers, and within the town itself. Well known within town, and since I've retired, I can't go anywhere with somebody who doesn't know Mr. Miller. And I feel that's worth something.
Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something that I left out. Do you have anything that I should have asked?
A: You asked a lot of things here, Dave. No, I don't know of anything else that I can add here. I think that a principal should be innovative. Sometimes even though it goes against what most people think. I think sometimes I wasn't innovative enough. When I had a chance at the--where the nice building was forty, forty-five different teachers, I felt maybe I could have done something maybe a little different that would have--more innovative. But I had to worry about with these teachers coming from the background that they did, you had to watch that you didn't become too innovative or you would ruin what you had built up. So I think children could be grouped sometimes a little differently than they are. I look back to the one room school and say, well, you can't go back to those days. You have children taking care of children. And here you have children, and not so much in the elementary, but in the other buildings, that are fighting one another all the time. If the children can get along, be responsible, that would be something. And if a first grade had a fourth grader that kind of watched to make sure nobody picks on him when he's on the bus. Or make sure he's coated up if he's too cold. Little things like that--a way of taking care of one another, or relating to one another. I don't know how we bring that about, but that would be a wonderful thing if we could get kids helping to relate to one another better.
Q: Do you think that happened in a one room school house?
A: That happened in a one room school house. That happened in a one room school house.
Q: And the other thing I heard you say that you need to have maybe a balance between innovation and...
A: Oh yes, you can't be too innovative all at once. It has to be gradual. In other words, when I had the first graders go to the second grade, I had seven first grades. Only three of them would do that. I asked if they would, and some of them wanted no part of that. But three of them did. So that's partly innovative, and I felt good about that. So that's the sort of thing I'm talking about.
Q: Well thank you very much for sharing your time with me, Clyde.
A: I enjoyed it.
Q: Thank you.
A: You know I enjoy stuff like that.
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