This is an interview with Mr. Erdman Mullins at his home in Haysi, Virginia, on March 5, 1995, as a part of the Oral History of the Principalship Project of Virginia Tech.
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Q: Thank you again, Mr. Mullins, for allowing me to do this interview, and let me just begin with a background question. Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests, development, birthplace, elementary and secondary education, family, and so forth?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, Debra, I am a native of Dickenson County. I was born and raised here, Tarpon section. I attended school, my high school, at the old Clinchco School for three years and then in my senior year I transferred to Haysi and completed my high school requirements in 1941. And, after that I was out of the county for a few years. I worked for Hercules Powder Company a year, tried to get a little money to go to school on. And then after two quarters of work at Tech, I was drafted into the army, World War II. I spent a little over three years in the army. You want me to tell anything about my army--
Q: Yes, sure, whatever you want, because I'm sure it had some impact on you.
A: Well, I was originally trained in service as a X-ray technician, and worked X-ray technician, worked for a while, and got restless with it, I guess, for lack of a better term. And, I decided maybe I wanted to get into flight training. So, I went back, passed my tests and so forth for flight training. And in the process of preliminary stages, I again changed my mind, and decided I didn't want to be a pilot, so I concentrated on aircraft maintenance and flight training techniques. So I spent most of two, two and a half years helping to train pilots on heavy bombardment, heavy bombers, B-24s and B-32 Consolidateds. And after I came out of service, I went back to VPI and completed my bachelor's degree with a concentration in agriculture but also qualified with a certification in English and biology and all sixth and seventh grade subjects at that time. I came back to Haysi in 1948 to teach and it was pretty rough going then. With the salary that we got at that time it was easier to starve to death than it was to make a living. But anyway, in, uh, right after coming out of the army and before I went back to school I did get married and I--my wife stayed at home most of the time up until my last year of college and she continued on with a job that she had which helped us out financially quite a bit. But anyway, after coming back to Dickenson County we settled down here [indicating this specific house] to housekeeping and I started teaching agriculture at the Haysi High School. And, well, I did the regular work that most any agriculture teacher would do. I guess with the exception that I was in an area where I was in an area here where it was about forty miles to the nearest veterinarian, so I also took on a lot of duties of being a veterinarian. And doctored I guess two or three thousand cattle [chuckle] in my time. I continued as an agriculture teacher up until, well, for thirty-one years, I guess, as an ag teacher. At which time I took over as principal at Haysi High School, but, of course, prior to being principal I had worked five years as an assistant principal under Mr. John Tarwater. And then after I became principal, I worked there for, let's see, how many years did I say?
Q: As a secondary principal? Eight.
A: Eight years?
Q: Um-hm, seventy-one to seventy-nine.
A: No, that wasn't prin--yeah, now, let's see, nine years, I believe it was.
Q: Oh, okay.
A: But, anyway, after nine years as--working as principal, I went to the central office and worked eight years as supervision--I wrote the program for the gifted and talented program for Dickenson County and got it approved and started. And it was one of the main areas I helped to supervise as well as working with attendance and other general problems that arose, but basically my two responsibilities was the countywide gifted and talented program and the attendance problems of the county. That's about all. That brings me up to retirement, I guess.
Q: Okay, one thing kind of following up on one thing you kind of brought up there. What kind of things did you have in college as preparation for teaching? Did you take--of, course, now we take a lot of education courses and that kind of thing. How would you describe your teacher training program?
A: It was rather extensive. Of course, I was majoring in agriculture, but in the process of preparing as an agriculture teacher, I also became qualified and had on my teaching certificate, I had English and biology, and all sixth and seventh grade subjects, and general mechanics. [A minor in biology] I mentioned that. Then later on in supplemental work at a later date I did prepare for school administration, school supervision, and in work, extension work I also became qualified to do school evaluations and so forth. And served on the evaluation of Richlands High School, it was the only school I specifically worked on there. I did that work at Radford University. What else?
Q: Well, let's see. What motivated you to switch from the classroom teacher to the principalship? [IS chuckles.] I know you mentioned the assistant principalship in there, but how did you get to administration? What motivated you?
A: I really didn't want it. I took the principalship and all the aggravation and criticism and so forth that went with it for almost no increase in salary above what I was making as an ag teacher because I was getting paid on a twelve months basis. All ag teachers were on a twelve months basis plus the fact that we got paid extra for adult farmer classes and young farmer classes that we taught at night. So, really I didn't ask for the principalship. They--they asked me to take it, more or less basically begged me to take it. Because at that time they needed someone, and I guess I was the most qualified person handy. Wasn't too people really available at that time. I became principal not really because I wanted it. It was--the superintendent and one of the school board members came to my home and talked me into taking it, what it amounted to. Of course, later on I had reason to regret that I let them talk me into it, but that's another story.
Q: Maybe we'll get to that.
A: (chuckling) No, I don't want to get into that.
Q: Okay. Would you take us on a sort of mental walk? Of course, I'm very familiar with Haysi High School, but other people who might wa--listen to this tape at another time are not necessarily. So could you just describe the appearance of the school and any unusual features of the physical plant?
A: Well, unusual features we had, for sure [chuckles]. At the time that I graduated from Haysi High School in 1941, we had the original brick building, and it was in that building that I graduated. In the meantime, while I was out of the county, the original building was burned in--somewhere around 1942, approximately. And when I came back to Haysi to teach in 1948, well, I had spent three years in service and so forth. In case the time element doesn't figure out quite right, I did four years of college work in three years and stayed on the dean's list most of the time. But that's another story of little importance to anyone but- except myself, I guess. But when I came back to Haysi the instructional program for the general subjects of the school were being conducted in what we called the tarpaper building, which was a replacement for the building that had burned. Other than occasionally holding a study hall or helping some teacher out, I never taught any classes in that building. The original agriculture building that had been at the school for years was still in tact. Very poor equipment--very poor equipped, but over the years we built that into a good school, a good facility and increased our instruction into veteran's classes, young farmer classes, adult farmer classes, as well as high school classes, and carried on a rather extensive instructional program. But, then after I became principal, another--another ag teacher came to the school, and, of course, no fault of his own and for unknown reasons, the ag building did get on fire and burn. And we had to teach the agriculture classes in temporary facilities at the time and of course eventually a new agriculture building, the one which is presently standing up there was built to take the place of the first one. And is built more to accomodate the needs in that it was larger and would accomodate a wider variety of machines and so forth for the shop phase of the instruction. But, anyway the school has gone through quite a few changes from the original burning to temporary building back to the present building, and original agriculture building in which I worked to it buring and a new building there. About the only thing that is original at Haysi High School now is the home ec cottage. It's about the only original building at the facility. The bandroom was not there at that time, it came later, in later years. I don't know what year, but something, well, up in the fifties; I can't pinpoint the year of it. But, the school as a whole has gone through a tremendous transformation over the years, buildings and instructional facilities and so forth to what it is today. I consider it a good country school today, but it hasn't always been that.
Q: Did you find--I know that the ag building, the band building, and the home ec cottage are actually across the road from the main academic building. Were there any special problems that you had to deal with having them separated from the main academic building that way?
A: Well, not really. There wasn't much choice except to separate 'em, because the home ec building and ag building there just was not room on the same level of the high school, the main high school. Too there is considerable noise in the ag--in the process of teaching agriculture, 'cause it involves the shop classes which--planers and saws, arbor saws, and other pieces of heavy equipment which makes considerable noise. So they do need, through necessity to be separated from the other school. The--originally there was a concrete steps that went up from the highway up on the upper level. And students used the concrete steps, a little bit dangerous getting across the highway, but then in later years and in fact during my tenure up there, was able with the assistance of the superintendent, school board members, and so forth to get the bridge that's there now. I think I can say I'm pretty well responsible for that being up there. But, it has--those subjects being separated from the main building hadn't created all that much problem because especially the shop 'bout has to be separated, which is pretty well true all over the state, because of the noise and the machinery, and so forth. So that has not been really a problem up there. There is very little time lost in the five minutes that we used to have, and I guess may be still true, between the classes. Students can pretty well traverse the distance between the two buildings, and it has not been, or was not for me, any major problem.
Q: Was the building always just a high school facility or was it at one time other grades? Today, of course, it is eight through twelve, but I don't believe that's always been the case. Would you--was the building originally built for a high school only?
A: Well, of course, when I started teaching, Debra, there was no eighth grade. I don't remember the exact year but it was something like six or seven years after I started teaching in 1948 that the eighth grade was installed. And, of course, we went through some fifteen or so years up there that the eighth grade did create some problems because at that time the population count of the county had not started decreasing as it is now and consequently at one time--well, let me go back and say that there was not sufficient room in the elementary school to handle the seventh grade. The seventh grade was for several years during my time as principal housed in some trailer buil--two trailer buildings located behind the present high school building. And the seventh grade out there was under my administrative leadership because, actually I guess I could say I had everything from seventh grade on through twelfth grade. And it remained like that until the new school was built up at Sandlick, and, of course, even after that we still for a period had the seventh grade down in the trailers. I don't know what the situation is up there now because I don't go about the building. I haven't been in the building in five years, except ballgames.
Q: Would you describe. . . get off that a little bit and get on to something more philosophical. . .
A: I had forgotten, but there was three classes on the level with the cafeteria. I guess first, second, and third. The classes out in the trailer were, if I remember correctly were sixth and seventh grade classes, in the trailers. And so there was five elementary classes, I guess, there. And after the new elementary school was built the classes downstairs were moved out, so I don't what's down there now. [IS to his wife] I'm glad you mentioned that; I'd forgotten about those classes down the hall.
Q: Okay, would you describe your personal philosophy of education, and how do you think it changed over the years?
A: That's a toughie. My personal philosophy may not be popular. I. . . (pause) you should have given me some warning on that question (chuckle).
Q: We can come back to it if you want to.
A: Not really, thought wouldn't help I don't guess. I believe we have a responsibility for preparing the children for the society in which we live. Society changes, the needs of the society change, therefore, the needs of what is offered in the school system changes along with it, or should, otherwise your school is static, and the. . .what the school offers and the needs of society would not coincide if there wasn't change in the school system. I do think that one of the big problems in Dickenson County has been that we have been offered. . .asked to and expected to educate the children in a school system that came from homes in which a very high percentage of the parents were illiterate or near-illiterate. And it has been to acquire and to hold the interest and cooperation and the school/parent relationship that you should have in order to have good student progress hasn't always been as well as it should have been because of the low educational level of the students, er, of the parents. And suprisingly enough that situation has from forty years back up to the present has not changed a great deal because I can remember many, many years in which ninety percent of our high school graduates was gone within two weeks of the ti. . .after school closed. While we retained, kept behind the troublemakers, the school dropouts, those who didn't give a damn whether it was daylight or dark; they're the ones we kept behind. Today they are largely the very students who have become parents and are now populating the schools. And they don't care whether you've got a school that's fit for a dog or not. I hate to say it, but that's the way it is. I've been there, I've worked with them; I see them on the street everyday. I'm not saying we haven't got a lot of good parents in the county, we have, but we have more than our share of those that are poor parents and poor school supporters and the school is not going to get much out of them in the way of educating their children. It's not there; it's just not in 'em. It wasn't there when they were students. . . It wasn't there when they were students and it's not there when they become parents. And it is a problem we've had to face the last fifty years and it's going to be with us the next fifty. Now it may slow down a little bit for the simple reason that the accessibility of jobs elsewhere is not available, as readily available, as they one time was, or one time were. But at the same time Dickenson County right now has a real economic problem. We cannot provide employee. . .employment to our high school graduates, at least not full employment. In many instances there is jobs elsewhere that's too low pay for them to pay room, board, transportation, and make a living. We are, we are, in my opinion, in one of the greatest financial pinches that I can ever remember seeing in Dickenson County, and with the exception of about ten years, I've been here all my life. And we're in one of the greatest financial situations, pinches right now I have ever seen. And I don't see any quick fix. I went to the meeting at Clinchco, I saw you at the meeting at Clinchco. I would like to see new buildings, but I don't see how we can financially afford it. We need 'em, but I don't see how we can financially afford 'em.
Q: What kind of things do teachers expect a principals to be able to do? And describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal including personal and professional characteristics of a good principal.
A: That's a sixty-four dollar question. Debra, I don't know that there is any, any answer [chuckle] to that question. It seems that all parents want their children to have a good education up until you ask them to put their foot down on certain transgressions and so forth and to help you to have a good, orderly school and to take part. I have found that parents, not very good participators except in athletics. You would think that all parents expect their kids to make a living playing basketball, football or something. I know I started, I was the princ--I am the principal that started football at Haysi High School. And I battled the early problems that teachers, present teachers know nothing about; I battled a lot of them. I believe in athletics, but I believe they are strictly supplemental to the academic and vocational program of the school. And they should be, in my opinion, basically thought of as tools for keeping the interest of the child and prevent dropouts by satisfying the athletic ambitions of the child. They can serve a useful purpose as a dropout prevention program. But coming back, what else was your question?
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: Walk on water.
Q: You want to elaborate?
A: Well, when you're principal. . .of course, everybody's going to have some problems. I don't reckon a teacher ever taught in a classroom that didn't have some problems; it's a natural occurence of the school system. When you work with children, you're going to have problems. Uh, we have an awful lot of teachers who expect the principal or whoever is available there to handle the problems to solve all the problems. A plain cold fact is that a lot of teachers bring a lot of the problems on themselves through uninteresting classes, the very speech characteristics, their attitude, their personality, all of lthose things affect the success of a teacher, not just the college knowledge they acquire. There's a lot more to teaching than what is passed on from the textbook. But, what else do you want me. . . did you say, please?
Q: What do you think makes a good principal- personal characteristics as well as professional characteristics, that would make what you would consider to be a good principal?
A: A good principal, of course, first of all has got to be knowledgable--academic and pretty well trained in sociology, psychology, and other phases of human behavior. Of course, you're going to have to work with all of those things. The. . . sometimes the psychology, if you're in the principalship, sometimes you have to use about as much psychology and so forth in working with some of the teachers as you do in working with some of the students. You have a lot of things out of the teachers they should know (chuckle), they should know better. But, anyway some of the, some of the work of the principal is trying to soothe the feathers of the teachers and to get them to see maybe sometimes the students' side of things, because sometimes the teachers do make mistakes as well as students. And, I might say principals make mistakes too. So everybody, I guess, make mistakes and the thing is to try to catch our mistakes as quick as possible, and recognize them, and admit to them, and try to correct them if we can, because we make 'em. All do, I made them.
Q: Would you describe some of the expectations that--both professional and personal--that were placed on principals by their employers and community during your period as principal, and how do you think they might be different today than they were when you first became a principal?
A: Well, (pause) I suspect, I know there has been a lot of change. When I first became principal, I was told very frankly by superintendent that things were kindly out of hand, and I was expected to straighten them out. Well, I. . . I think largely that did take place, not through being a dictator or playing hardball, or anything of that type, but faculty meetings in which you tried to let your teachers know the direction in which your were going and why you were going in that direction, and why it was necessary, and how they could help go in that direction. And I do feel that I did help a great deal to make Haysi High School a better, a much better school when I left than it was when I came. I didn't satisfy a lot of the people; Jesus Christ didn't either, he got crucified. And if he was in Haysi, they'd have crucified him a lot quicker than he got crucified. But that's another story. It, Debra, is a, teaching is largely anymore a thankless job in a lot of respects. Everybody wants their child to have a good education, but I honestly don't believe they are fully prepared to back the teachers and administrators and so forth to the extent that they need the backing in order to give the children the education the parents would like to see them have. This business of education is a kind of two faced affair; perform miracles on this end but just don't tell me what you've done on the other. And don't let the kids come home and say, "oh, I have to do this" or "I have to do that". You cannot run an effective school and let the children do as they please [with emphasis]. It can. . .it has never been done and never will be done that you can have an effective learning system and let the children do as they please. There have got to be directions established, goals established, and how you're going to reach those goals, everybody needs to understand those goals, and the procedures for attaining those goals, and everybody needs to work together. And sometimes that doesn't happen.
Q: Well, on that point then, some people argue that, and I'm sure you've heard it too, central office policies hinder rather than help the building level administrators carry out their responsibilities. What's your view on that?
A: Whose policies?
Q: Central office.
A: That may be true. My problems have never been central office. I've never had any problems with central office. My problems have been community. Politicians, jackass politicians, ignorant politicians, on the community level. People who knew little or nothing about the goals of effective education, cared less. I have found that the more ignorant people in the community are your greatest politicians or think they are and even though they themselves had difficulty reading and writing they think they can tell you how to run a school effectively. And I have had my share of problems along that line. I have never personally had any great difficulty with any superintendent, in fact, I have never had a superintendent who didn't in effect back me in all that I have done. My problems have been ignorant people in the community. With the emphasis on ignorant.
Q: If you could have the power to make whatever changes you wanted in terms of organizing administrative duties, what changes would make to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of administrative responsibilities?
A: Oh, goodness. Debra, that's a question that involves a great deal of deep thinking. For one thing I definitely feel like that we are not pushing education requirements as much as we should be pushing them. I have specific reference to attendance and disciplinary problems. It seenms that the answer to a lot of disciplinary problems is just to send the child home, and I've never yet figured out how to educate a child and them sitting on the posterior end of their anatomy at home! There's a lot of disciplinary problems that I don't pretend to have an answer to, but I still think that there's got to be some answer other than the ones we have here in Dickenson County right now. And, well, what else do you have there?
Q: Okay, let's just go on with this next, because this sort of has to do with that. Some authorities suggest that a principal should be an instructional leader. Others argue that the principal should be above all a good manager. What do you think about that, and describe how you view your own style as principal.
A: Debra, I'm a thorough believer that a good principal's got to be both, instructional leader, school business manager. You can't separate these phases of school leadership. A good principal's got to be understanding of both students and teachers and their problems. You've got to work with their problems because everybody's got individual problems. I know that some of the bigger schools have their administrative personnel categorized into instructional, assistant instruct- er, uh, assistant principal for instruction and assistant principal for behaviorial problems, and assistant for this and assistant for that. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, 'cause in a larger school that may be an absolute necessity. In smaller schools I think maybe the problems are interwoven with each other, and, you've got to a large extent handle one in the process of handling the other. What else did you say you. . .
Q: I ask you how did you fit in between the two, in the instructional leader, how did you work out, balance the two when you were principal?
A: the instructional leader and uh?
Q: And a good manager.
A: Well, of course, I, school management largely and in many instances is tied in with available finances that you have to work with. There's really not a great deal that you can do in managing except in the athletic fields. I know that I had an awful problem when I became principal. I inherited about a twelve thousand dollar athletic bill when I became principal. And some of these bills had been laying there for several years. So we had an awful hard time there paying off our bills. Of course, I do think that you can run into some problems sometimes in getting all your teachers to working together on certain goals that lead to instructional programs. Teachers are oftentimes trained in a lot of different schools, have varying opinions on the best way of doing this, and best way of doing that. Each one have a tendency to want to go their own sweet way and sometimes it is necessary for a good principal to call them together to get their opinions and discuss the problems over, but oftentimes in the end to say "well, this is the way it is; we're going to have to do it this way, and we're going to do it this way." So to a certain extent most good school administrators, in my opinion, get some reputation for being a little bit dogmatic and dictatorial in the way they run the schools. But I find that teachers that I have worked with, and I've worked with maybe seventy-five different teachers, and oftentimes each one has his own idea on the way things should be done. And I'm not saying my way of doing them is the best. I generally always tried to have faculty meetings at least once a month and sometimes twice a month in which these problems were brought out to the teachers. Here is the problem, let's look it over, see what. . .analyze it, see what can be done and what we should be doing. And usually decisions made in faculty meeting in which all teachers had a participating part generally led to fairly good cooperation out of teachers. I have found over the years that somewhere out there you'll have one or two teachers that don't care whether it's daylight or dark as long as he thinks or she thinks she can get her way. Those are difficult ones to work with, but you do have them, they show up. Of course, I've heard a few principals that are pretty dictatorial too. At least the teachers thought they were, and that may have been the opinion that was attached to me, I don't know. I would that God the gift to give me to see myself as others see me.
Q: That's true, the same for all of us. Well, how about the teacher evaluation? Did, I know that there has always been some kind of process or procedure for evaluating teachers. How did you go about handling that part of your principal's job?
A: Debra, the system I guess that you have reference to or a version thereof, I don't know, I haven't seen the forms and so forth that are presently being used. Of course, I've been away. I spent eight years in the central office, then I've been retired for five years, so I haven't seen any of these forms [chuckle] in some time. They, in one way, the last forms we had, about the last nine years I was principal I considered a bunch of hogwash. That's a nice term for you-know-what. For the simple reason that they were too bulky, they were--in the process of filling them out they become too opinionated as to what the principal or assistant principal thought. I don't think the forms with which I am familiar, now they may have been changed, but the forms that I was personally familiar with was rather bulky on each teacher and involved quite a bit of opinion of the teachers. Based simply on the fact that no principal, and I had thirty-two teachers when I was working, there is no principal that can do his own forms and take care of all the hundred and one things that he has to take care of and can fill the forms out on thirty-some teachers, and give them a fair evaluation. It can't be done. I think the system of evaluation is too bulky, too. . .involves too much opinion rather that factual information and the only way a teacher, er, a principal can have the time to do them would be to just close his eyes and blindly mark them. And that, of course, doesn't serve any useful purpose whatsoever. I'm not against evaluation, but I think an evaluation has got to be very objective and kept as short as possible, and as free as possible from personal opinion. And the forms, the evaluation forms that I worked with didn't necessarily solve that purpose. I--if they haven't been changed in the last fifteen years, they certainly need it. The--one of the big problems that goes along with that is much of the time that I was pricncipal, I guess for a third of the time I did not have an assistant principal, other than just whoever had an empty period and would help me do this or help me do that. It is almost impossible for a principal to spend as much time in the classrooms of the teachers and to know the techniques and exactly what each teacher is doing and how they're progressing and what kind of participation they're getting out of the students. When you've got thirty teachers, roughly we had about thirty teachers when I was working with it, and I found that oftentimes I was lucky if got to spend an hour per teacher in a classroom, each teacher's classroom, a month. And I think it would be money well-spent if an assistant principal was employed to do nothing but classroom to classroom and work with teachers, sit down with them and to work out their problems. And to keep the principal informed as to how--what's progressing and where the hangups are and what needs to be done. Teachers, in my opinion, through lack of supervision of principal or lack of work from the principal, which the principal just didn't have time to do, I think it hurts the school. I think we need more direct supervision of teachers. And even when you've got one assistant, when you've got thirty teachers, which I had most of the time that I worked, it is very, very difficult to spend any time, when you've got thirty teachers. You don't get around to seeing them very often. And you've got children's disciplinary problems all day the principals have to take care of or assistant principals whichever. You've got five hundred things to do and youv'e got two people there to do them, and it's just about an impossible job. And consequently, you're going to have assistant principal making mistakes, principal making mistakes, and everybody's hunting for mistakes whether you make them or not. And it creates problems. Being a school administrator in plain cold English is one hell of a way to make a living.
Q: All right, Mr. Mullins, what advice would you give to someone who was considering going into an administrative job?
A: [chuckle] Someone considering going into an administrative job. Well, Debra, administrative is not an easier job, that's for sure. There is a lot of responsibility. You probably are expanding the contacts you're going to have with parents and you're maybe decreasing the direct contacts that you have with the students. But administration is hard work. The expectations of principal or some other position in administration are pretty well outlined by the State Board of Education, and yet the parents of the community don't often see the responsibilities the same as State school officials see the responsibilities. And I don't know of any way of educating the parents of the way it is supposed to be. So consequently on one end you have to meet the expectations of the State and on the other end you have to try to make as many excuses as you can for not doing it the way they want it done. So people in administration are walking a tightrope, that's what I'm trying to say. You're trying to satisfy the parents of the students of the community on one end. You have to conform to the requirements of the State on the other. And most people working with administration are strictly on a tightrope between the two. Now I have never, and I don't think that I will ever see the time when the requirements of the State and the expectations of the parents are one and the same. I've never seen that and I don't think it'll ever happen. The State requires what they think is best for the overall system and for the school, and the parents, they think in terms of what's best for my child and [chuckle] to hell with everybody else. It creates a problem.
Q: Okay, it's often said that the principal should be active in community affairs, as I know you were, and probably still are maybe to a lesser extent. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations, and which of these do you think had the greatest influence?
A: Debra, I have worked with several organizations. I'm a member of the Alpha Zeta, I've worked with Phi Beta Kappan. And a lot of these organizations are good. I have--I'm still, I'm not active right now, I'm still as far as I know one of about three life members of Kiwanis International. I'm a life member through merit. It's an award that's given out by the International office for meritorious work. But I'm not working with Kiwanis now for health reasons, well, I've just generally had to slow down, but these things, these organizations and so forth can further the needs and the welfare of the school are good. I think that a lot of organizations are more or less, well, they are more social than they are academic. Well, one of the organizations that I belong to, Alpha Zeta, is pretty well that way. You had to be in the top ten percent in the nation, in grades, before you could be eligible which I'm proud to have been an Alpha Zetan because to know that you're in the top ten percent in the nation is pretty good record, especially when I did four years of work in three years, as I told you. I worked like a dog for it. I lost thirty-seven months in World War II, and I had to make up time. I'm a South Pacific and occupation of Japan character, and Air Force. [Chuckle] I didn't have a lot of time to fool around, I had to get busy. Well, I was Boy Scout leader for thirteen, fourteen years. Started the troop. I have served in about everything in the community that there was to be served in. I believe we all have a duty, an obligation to try to make a community a better place to live as well as school a better place for students to learn, and it all goes hand-in-hand, one's not separated from the other. Give me a specific question there if you can.
Q: Okay, let's get to the one we mentioned earlier. Salaries and other compensations have changed a good deal since you first began your teaching. Would you discuss your recollection of the compensation process during your early years including as a principal, which you have alluded to, and what are the primary changes you've observed over the years in the salaries and compensations?
A: Well, I began with a bachelor's degree at the fabulous salary of $214.93 a month, with a bachelor of science, with a cerification at that time in agriculture, general mechanics, English, biology, and all sixth and seventh grade subjects [chuckle]. Over the years, of, course, school administration and school supervision was added in the course of doing graduate work. Salary went up very, very slowly. I started out at $214.93 a month and after thirty-nine years in administrative, supervision I went up to about, I don't remember exactly, I'll say forty-six, forty-seven thousand on a twelve-months basis. Compensation in the teaching profession is poor. I could have been a doctor or a lawyer, most anything for a heck of a lot less [static?] than I put in being a teacher, and I'm sure I'd have made a lot more money. But I've enjoyed working with children. I haven't had the same pleasure working with some of the parents. If I had not. . . There was nothing that kept me from working with students except that I just plain liked to work with students. My father's a schoolteacher. Back in 1917, 1918, 1919, and my great grandfather was a schoolteacher. I'm not saying I inherited a love for it, but I stayed over the years I did because I loved to work with children, and I thought I was doing a lot of good. There was a lot of times financially I wanted to kick myself because I had a hard time paying the grocery bill and probably wouldn't have made it at all if it hadn't been for my wife working. That's the only that kept our heads above water, I guess, for several years. I still don't have much. My home here is nothing to brag about, I certainly wouldn't hold it up as any showpiece in the community. But it's all right, I don't plan on taking anything with me when I leave this world anyway [chuckle]. But I'll get by, I hope [chuckle].
Q: What about the compensations regarding, say for example, insurance and that kind of thing when you started out?
A: There was none. Insurance is a "johnny-come-lately" situation. We had no health insurance, no hospitalization insurance, or anything until, oh, first, I'll say roughly the first twenty years I worked for the school system. Nothing at all. We had a poor sick leave day system and that has improved a great deal. And, of course, that is carried by the school board, our hospitalization insurance is a great benefit to teachers, no question about it. I hate to think, my first wife is deceased, and the last time she was in the hospital for nineteen days, cost me twenty-one thousand. I'd hate to think where I'd be if I hadn't had the insurance [chuckle]. So the teachers are lucky to have the insurance they have, and they have good insurance, teachers have good insurance. I'm still carrying the insurance, costs me $288.00 a month out of my own pocket in addition to my Medicare. But can't afford not to. The compensation for teaching is greatly improved. I have a daughter that's teaching. It's still not a decent living in comparison to the effort that's put into being a teacher. It's still a poorly compensated profession. And the public needs to realize that if they've got a good teacher, they don't know how lucky they are at the price they're paying for that teacher. I don't know of any good teacher that isn't truly earning twice what they're being paid. I believe that honestly and sincerely. But I don't think. . .One of the problems, Debra, that's John Q. Public doesn't realized is the amount of time a teacher puts in to being a teacher. We go a minimum of four years. That's four years a teacher could have been earning, maybe in industry, a good salary, instead they're paying it out for an education instead of earning. Most teachers as a beginning salary far less than a skilled person would working in industry. And another thing they don't realize is he gives up four years of his life preparing to be a teacher, that's four years he could be earning a salary at something else, but instead he's not earning anything. So he's really, earning-wise, they're donating four years to the public, but people don't see it that way. That's a plain cold fact when you get down to it. Teachers are not given the standing in society for the amount of time that they put in on being a teacher, the loss of salary of studying to be a teacher, the cost that they put in to being a teacher. They come out and they're expected to live on a welfare wage. And our society today is getting, for the money, out of good teachers they're getting three times what they. . .they're being paid out three times more than what they're putting in to the teacher, in my opinion.
Q: I guess I would have to agree. This next question is about your relationship with the school board. Would you discuss your general relationship--pro or con--with the school board, and comment on the effectiveness of the school board operations in general.
A: Well, Debra, I don't think much of the school board system because I've had problems with the school board system. I left the principalship under fire. There's no point in hiding that fact. It was a fact, but not a single school board member came to me and told me any way on earth they were dissatisfied with my services. Never discussed it one time. I knew nothing about their being unhappy until I was approached by the superintendent for an explanation. The hearing process brought the fact that I had been mistreated and been unjustifiably discharged. I'm happy to say the school board was very happy to give me another job paying about ten thousand a year more and get rid of me until I voluntarily retired. But there is, what I'm trying to say I guess, Debra, is that school board in so many of the cases are uneducated people, relatively uneducated, themselves. Very seldom, right now for the first time in the history of Dickenson County we have at least two school board members that have advanced education. All the years that I taught I had seen people serving on the school board that couldn't read and write. And hardly any of them of ever had any college education, several of them had high school education, but no true understanding and insight into what good, progressive, modern-day education was all about. And they were appointed by politics, they stayed in office by politics, and they ran the schools by politics. It's wrong. To me the Republican child has got to be educated and needs the same education as the Democrat child, and vice versa. But that's not necessarily the way it's viewed by the school board. But, of course, we're going to the elected system. I'm for the elected system. I don't know whether it's going to improve, but I do think it's going to force school board members to stand up on their hind legs [emphasizes with fist rapping table] on table and say "here is my qualifications". My politics, Democrat, Republican, doesn't matter. Basically I was moved out of Haysi High School by the Democrats. My dad was an old Democrat registrar, if you'd have called him a Republican he'd have hit you with the first thing he could've got his hands on. I didn't play politics. To me every child--Democrat and Republican child from a Democrat home, a Republican home--has got to be equally educated as productive citizen in our society. But it seems that some of our school board members don't see it that way. That's one of our differences. I'm glad to see elected system come along, because I think it is going to force for the first time to say [rapped table again for emphasis] "here is my qualification; here's what I'm going to try to do; and here's the kind of school system I think we should have". In the past nobody has had to answer those questions in order to be a school board member. Now I think this is the greatest thing that's ever happened myself--that is the elected school board. If they can't show how they can help and can't verify what they stand for, throw politics out the window and work for the good of all children--Democrat or Republican--then they've got no business in the system. That's the way I see it. My granddad Mullins was a fanatical Republican and my dad was a fanatical Democrat. I've heard them sit and argue with each other for hours, nothing was ever solved. Me, I'm not. . .I've never considered myself either one. I've been accused of being everything but.
Q: Obviously some of your time as principal was fairly stressful. So what were some of things to relieve your stress when it got intense and keep your sanity?
A: I'm not sure I kept my sanity. [Chuckle] I've been accused of the fact that I didn't. Well, I'm not trying to be funny, Debra. First place, I think under the system we've had, which currently exists, until we maybe change systems and I hope a change willl maybe make a better system. But I don't think there's any place in the school system for politics. I think everybody needs a personal politics, in the form, "I believe this for good. . . in order to have good government. Beyond that I don't think it needs to be brought into the schools. I am hoping that in the future school board members are going to be required to say what they believe and what they are going to stand for in order to try to have a better school system, and what they're going to work for in order to have a better school system. I can see the possibility that the school board members are going to find it necessary to stand for something more than they ever have had to stand in the past.
Q: Well, obviously you didn't do that. What kind of things did you do to get your mind off it when it got really bad? (Pause) Did you have hobbies?
A: Well, I shot archery tournaments all over the country. I fished a little bit when I had time. I traveled a little bit when I had time and could afford it. And a variety of things. I have a good collection of guns. I let to get out once in a while and burn quite a bit of powder and lead. The situation does get stressful and I don't know that school people are always going to. . .have in the past and maybe going to continue in the future. . .are going to find themselves under pressure at all times. I dare say many times you do. What do you teach?
Q: History and English.
A: History and English. I'm also certified in English but not history. But I never taught English, but I'm certified. Biology, English, general mechanics, agriculture, school administration, supervision, school evaluation. But that's beside the point. Debra, I don't know.
Q: Let's just kind of tie it up here. Is there anything that I didn't ask that you would like to tell us about?
I tried to cover a lot of bases, but I may have missed something that you had hoped you would get a chance to speak to.
A: Not really, Debra. I guess I've already come across as some kind of sore head, disgruntled misfit, but that's all right, now that I'm retired, I can get away with it. I'm very much concerned about the future of our school system and this that's being forced upon the school system by society. I have reference to the lack of discipline and the school system can't meet the expectations of society if the only course that we have for the troublemakers is to send them home. We can't educate them sitting on the posterior end of their anatomy at home. Yet if we leave them in the school system, they become a hindrance to the good student learning because they interfering with the ones who seriously want an education. Now as I see this situation I was just outlining as the number one problem in the school system today. What are we going to do with the troublemakers and so forth. Now most of our schools don't have the so called detention halls and they have not proved effective and necessarily wouldn't have set up detention halls. I think the school system in trying to decide just what they are going to do with the troublemakers. They have been in our society since the beginning of time and they're going to be here until the end of time. And we have not in our school really satisfactorily found the answer about what to do about the segment of the student body that's interfering with the educational progress of those that want an education. So I think that that is the area right now that needs some of the deepest study. Anything that is political. I see it as the number one problem of the school system of not only this county but of the United States as a whole. And we are thinking in some areas about alternative education, that may be a partial answer. I guess maybe we could take a drastic step, and just take them out here and shoot them. (Smile) That wouldn't go over too good. We've got a lot of problems right now with half our population trying to knock the. . .that don't want an education are standing in the way, hindering the progress of the other half that does want an education. I think that is one of the number one problems facing education today and nobody's got an answer to it. We're no closer to it now than we were twenty-five years ago. And somewhere along the line the kids are dropping out of school, we no longer paddle, and I'm not saying, I'm not debating whether paddling was ever effective or not. I reluctantly had to do some of it. I'm not saying it was effective. As I was saying, Debra, I think one of the biggest problems we have in the school system today is to try and find some type of an answer of what to do with the child that for one reason or another does not want to conform to the school system as we are now running them and who are stumbling blocks or hindrances to the segment of the student population that does want an education. I see that as the number one problem we're facing today. And I don't think that we, it seems that maybe the trend now is toward just taking them out of the school system. Well, we find that they are becoming thugs and so forth on the street, and the more we take out of school the bigger the prisons come, that's true. And I'm not sure that I have any suggestion or answer to it, but I see it as one of the biggest problems facing our society today. I think we can have the ability and the knowledge and the teachers and the leadership to have unquestionably some of the finest schools in the world, but in order to make those schools topnotch there's got to be something done with that segment of the school population that are troublemakers, their sole purpose for being in the school is to see how much, if you'll excuse the term, how much hell they can raise. We haven't found the answer to it. They are driving good teachers out of the profession. They are destroying the educational opportunities of the students who do want to get a good education. They are interrupting the programs of the school, they are hindering the learning progress through tactics that destroy the effectiveness of the class. They are one of the biggest problems I think we have today, and I don't know what's the answer to it. I don't think anybody else does either. I'm just glad I'm out of the school system.
Q: Well, Mr. Mullins I really appreciate you giving me the time to do this interview. I have enjoyed talking with you and I'm sure that your insights well be as interesting to others as they have been to me. Again, thank you.
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