Today is October 25, 1998. I am speaking with Mrs. Barbara Rayfield in Chesapeake, Virginia on her experiences as an elementary school principal.
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Q: Mrs. Rayfield, thank you for taking the time to participate in our oral history project and for sharing your thoughts and experiences on the role of the elementary school principalship. To begin, please tell us about your family background such as your birthplace, elementary and high school education and any other family characteristics that you would like to share.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Hello Jim. I am more happy to do this. In fact, I have been looking forward to doing an interview with you for a number of years to share and reminisce my past experiences. About 70 years ago, I was born in Claremont, Virginia which is in Surry County. It is a small town of 700-800, at the most, on the James River that was kept alive in the late 1890's and 1900's for ships stopping on the way between Richmond and Norfolk to load, unload things and there was also, for a little while, I faintly remember a train that came in once a day. It even had then a bank, grocery store which was owned by my uncle. I will tell you this little bit. He also owned a furniture store and a lumber yard. These folks came down from upper New York state and settled in this small town. The uncle I am speaking about that owned these businesses built his home which was my home to soon be, built another home there. He built the Methodist Church which is still active with a few folks coming, few people. He worked very hard and lived to be a very old man but still able to talk to me and actively enjoy me. He also put in plumbing at this early time which was unusual. The home was built in 1902 and my mother had to in 1927 leave her husband for a little while. She finally met him in Colorado Springs. She made this, of course, her home, her sister's home, our home. And, her sister had married this gentleman who was quite older. I called him Daddy. I knew no other. When I was just 7 weeks old, she decided to move back to Colorado Springs. She packed me up and off we went to be notified when she got off the train that her train that her husband had passed away. She loved Colorado Springs but she knew that she could not stay. She had to make a living. To make a long story short, she came back East to her sister, the one I referred to as Momma. And, her husband, of course was Daddy. They had said they would take me while she continued her education. Now she had been principal of this Claremont High School when she was 19 years old. You know, you only had to go through high school at that time and that was about it. She came back and she enrolled in Longwood College. She attended the summers. She spent the winter time teaching in a one-room school for about a year, in the country, walked across the cornfield, about a mile to a little one-room school which I have shown you the site that school. And, with a couple of her young boys, built a fire, cleaned the place up. One of the fellows later on she understood was in prison. But, anyway, they did get along fine. She was told by a friend she had known had been in schoolwork was in Richmond contacted her that there was a supervisor's position open in Henrico County. And, would she be interested? Indeed, she would. So she made her trip to Richmond and got the job in Henrico. And, was encouraged by this lady friend, I think she was a supervisor herself, the same place and they needed another one, to get her Master's. So she enrolled and started summer's at Columbia University. I remember I was 10 and spent 6 weeks with her in New York City. I attended Lincoln School. I learned all about Winnie the Pooh. And, amazing, but at that time, this school was quite modern. They had grouping. We had Home Ec. We had some fine things. It was not a bookish type of education. But, I enjoyed it. I was also homesick and wanted to get back to the country. And, I will tell you why. I loved to play school. I loved to play school by the time I was 5 years old, I remember, I would set up my big old desk in this big house, 3-story house, and I would put the cat on one side, the dog on the other, and line up my dolls. And, teach that was it. I also had a nice playhouse in the back, 2-rooms, porch. When the weather permitted, I would line up anybody that would come along. I was ready paperwork, chalkboard, the whole nine yards to start teaching. And, that was the way it was. After Mother spent 13 summers in school work, she was interviewed, at last in Norfolk apparently - I have forgotten, for Norfolk County (not Chesapeake) to be the supervisor. She accepted and stayed with them for 30 years. All in all, she put in 42 years in the State of Virginia. She was my mentor and advisor as I moved on up the scale. She did the right thing and there are still things that she told me that could be used today. I attended Claremont School back during some of this time until the fourth grade when Mother realized I was not getting what I should. There was a neighbor who drove a mail truck to Waverly twice a day. She asked him if it would be okay for me to ride on his truck. I left Claremont at 8:15 and got to Waverly at 9:00. He then carried me back in the afternoon. It was 36 miles a day. She was given tuition free, I guess professional treatment from the Superintendent there in Sussex County. So I started in the fifth grade and attended Waverly High School. It was a fine school. Garland Grey, who later became a Senator, gave money for a school addition to include a Home Economics section and a gymnasium that were quite good. I still keep in contact with my old classmates. I got an excellent high school education. I played on the basketball team and had a good time. That's about all I can give you for my cutting it short.
Q: That sounds very interesting.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: Let's move on to your college education. Maybe you would discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching, how many years you served as a teacher and how many you served as a principal.
A: Well, I guess teaching was in blood and it started at an early age. I really didn't play other things, of course. In the country, you have a good time. Nothing else ever crossed my mind and I enjoyed it. As I said when I was about 5, I'd line up the dolls and cat and anything and everybody that would come along. I really loved teaching. After I graduated from Waverly High School in 1946, I entered what was Madison College. Of course, it is a university now. Teaching was my goal. During the summer, I supervised playgrounds in Norfolk City for the Norfolk Recreation Bureau. I worked with boys and girls all summer. I enjoyed it, every minute of it. I called my first square dance and got $10.00 an hour; I will never forget it. I enjoyed people and working with them. I had patience, I did. By the time I finished Madison in 1950, during this time I had come from Norfolk to Claremont, which was Mother's and my home, went back during holidays and what not. When I graduated in 1950 from Madison, I was hired by Norfolk City Schools to teach. I taught in the classroom for 15 years, mostly fourth grade. I taught fourth grade. I had a third grade. I had never less than 38 students. We did not have remedial reading teachers and counselors. We were remedial reading teachers and our own counselors. We did have music and physical education, maybe once a week. I spent 16 years as a teacher and I enjoyed every bit of it. Wonderful principal, excellent. Then, my principal was going to retire and I thought "Hmmmm. . . ." He told me that there could be an opening for principalship in the next year and would I consider administration. Dr. Sam Ray, the greatest boss that anyone could ever have, and friend, also approached me and I told them after thinking a while that I would do it after a year. I had a young son and would rather wait to start at least a year later. Well, I did. I spent 16 years as teacher and then moved on to administration for 20 years. All in the City of Norfolk.
Q: That is very good. You have pretty much answered my next question that I was going to ask you surrounding your entry into the principalship. Well, we could go a little bit further. I have got a little bit more there. Have you ever seen a teacher that didn't have a little bit more?
A: During my last years, I was asked to intern for administration. Norfolk was working with the University of Virginia and a Dr. Lynn Canady was to be our instructor. Ten of us accepted this to learn. We hadn't committed ourselves right then but we did. All right, I immediately fell in love with Dr. Canady. What a marvelous, down-to-earth professor who knew children, who knew people. He became my new, and last, mentor for the rest of my career. In the beginning, I wasn't too excited, of course, to leave the classroom. I enjoyed the closeness with children. But my principal encouraged me and Dr. Ray. And, then my principal was getting ready to retire. And you were a very responsible young man, so I went ahead and never regretted making the move. I found that the time the classroom to teach and reading to students. I did not ever give it all the way up. So, that is really what I believe. This Dr. Canady, working so closely with him, I think gave me the little thought that I could do it. And, I wanted to do it.
Q: Your career sounds fascinating. So let's go to my next question which takes you right into your role as a principal. Take us on a walk through one of your schools where you were a principal. Describe its appearance and any unusual features of the school building.
A: Oh, this one I will love. I had three schools but my first one in the late 60's/early 70's was my first love and I still love it. Ballentine Elementary School in the early 1920's and it's set on a number of acres of land overlooking a beautiful lake. It was a good thing I was young then for it had three stories and steps to everything and everywhere. It was a typical building of its time: brick, front steps to the front first floor where there were two classrooms. Then another 5 steps up puts you into a large hallway facing the auditorium. On each side of the auditorium was one classroom and on the other side was the office and another classroom. The one and only restroom was across the hall. On each end of the long hall, that had large pretty windows and pretty flower boxes that we kept going, were many steps to the third floor. There was a small classroom on the third floor used for the library and three more classrooms. A good sized room across the hall was used for books with nice shelves and space. Of course, there was a step there too. To reach the cafeteria, one had to go down three steps to the first floor, down another flight, one on each side of the hallway, to a small cafeteria where I enjoyed usually a ten minute coffee break with my cafeteria manager. She could make the best rolls you have ever put into your mouth. You could smell them cooking all over the school. Well, I am not quite through with the steps yet. On the ground floor, next to the cafeteria was a boiler room and doors to the outside. On each side of the building, ground level, were about twelve steps that went into two classrooms, one on each side of this big building. The windows opened out over ground level. Amazingly, and I kept checking them carefully; these rooms were very comfortable and dry. It never got damp. We had lots of rain, it never got flooded. I never figured out why it stayed dry. I didn't worry as long as it stayed dry. This was Ballentine, a community school. It had been for years and years. It was held in high regard by this community. All the children walked to school, K-6. There were anywhere from 300-350 students enrolled. So, when I became principal, it stayed this way for six weeks. It was time to integrate. It was during the early 70's. It was decided that Ballentine should house only through the three grades, let the fourth, fifth and sixth go to another school. So all of the books, four through six, furniture and anything that dealt with them was sent to the other school and primary material came in. Well, I had to check them carefully. Once and a while, I would get shortchanged and had to let them know I needed something extra - desk, chair, books. Well, you know who had to pack and unpack all of this business. I was allowed to hire two young men to help. So you and your friend helped me. You got a good education on books and furniture and what belonged to what grade level. This organization lasted about through Christmas until a very disgruntled parent from one of the neighboring communities found out that there was City fire code that stated no student below the fourth grade could be housed on the third floor. Strange but this began a very purposeful thing for me because that little old library had been bothering me. Well, now see these children could not even go up to that library, not even for a thirty minute session. The public played right into my hands. I now had a reason to get a large library, work station, may be even another restroom. How great! By converting this auditorium, which served very little purpose for children, into a library. The librarian and I drew plans up which were approved. It included excellent shelves, nice work space for the librarian and an additional restroom. Hallelujah, no more waiting in line! It was not much longer before we had to move again. This time all K-3 children were bused across town and I received fourththrough sixth - graders again. Each time I was fortunate in getting excellent teachers. Again, I failed to mention, another PTA was to be organized. I enjoyed this as I always liked working with the parents. I could go on more and more about this school but I guess I better stop.
Q: Well, that is interesting and feel free to tell us anything you would like to tell us. You have already touched on your philosophy a little but would take a moment to describe your instructional philosophy of your school, how it was developed, how maybe it changed over time?
A: Well, I guess I am going to start back with Dr. Canady. He encouraged me to complete my 30 hours, which I did. And, after he assured me, of course, that I would not have to take the history of education (for the third time), one of those courses that would help me with in services where I could help with my teachers. For all the new Standards of Learning testing. I imagine as far as my philosophy is concerned, I am not going to any textbook/cookbook recipe for it. You can see, I enjoyed working with people in a purposeful way. When the Standards of Learning came into being, including item analysis and testing, I felt that it was very important. I did think it was taking a little bit of time from teachers. I believe I will talk about that a little bit later maybe. No problem for my mentor so I followed him even into Williamsburg and even took up residency at the UVA for 6 weeks. We worked on and spent time on those objectives that he knew we principals would have to implement. The teachers would enjoy, hopefully, when they once realized that this was it, that good instruction is the key to learn. Even though, there were many ways to go about it, the different ways of teaching, that a child learned when things became and were made of interest to him. That was my goal - very child oriented. I don't know if I went into philosophy enough but I think that it is important that teachers be given the time to learn new ways in curriculum development. Dr. Canady came and gave in services to the teachers. It was the only time I saw teachers want to come to school one hour earlier was to listen to him. And, he was - he was great. They learned a great deal. The principal has got to be an integral part of all of the instruction and know what is going on.
Q: You mentioned teachers so let me ask you a question about teachers. What kind of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? IF you would, maybe describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of a "good principal."
A: Well, the teachers, I don't guess it has changed much through time, that there are some that want you to solve every problem they have. But, many of the teachers know from that start, and they are very perceptive, whether the principal is sincere, understanding, and really wants to be where he or she is. This couple of folks in our administration did not agree, but I will agree and go to my dying day. A teacher has more respect for a principal if they know that the principal has been in the classroom. Not for a year or two or more than three years that person has walked in their shoes and you get their respect. A principal has got to provide an environment where they - teachers, custodians, secretaries - feel comfortable. They know that someone is there to support them or take the time to listen, help solve student/parent problems when needed. Principals have got to be role models and prove that they can do it. Another thing that they expect - to be kept informed. They don't like surprises and neither did I. I always, even if I wasn't going to have a faculty meeting, an agenda would go out to let them be kept informed of things that had come from the School Board. With our superintendent's assistance, be fair and be consistent. If you do for one teacher, you better be careful that you do for another. They quickly catch on. I could list a number of good, sound academic qualifications to being an effective principal. I am not though. Everybody knows those, if they have gone through the book. Of course, you got to meet the State's qualifications. You have to have taught a certain time and all this. A principal has got to be a good communicator. That is a must. Have a sense of security, you cannot be intimated, you have got to be secure, you don't have to threaten or be a dictator either -- sense of humor, an excellent listener. And you don't give the appearance of flying off the handle if you don't like what is being said, listen. Above all, you have to have good health and a high energy level. A person has really got to want to be in the building and taking part in its daily affairs and endeavors. That is about all Jim, I can think of for teachers.
Q: That fits into my next question. As you think about answering the next question, you can forget that I am a central office administrator. There are those who argue that, more often than not, central office policies hinder rather help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue? Moreover, if you were king, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangement as a way of improving administrative effectiveness and efficiency.
A: Believe me, you or any of my other friends in central administration, I will tell you all the same way, same thing. Again, as a principal, I have feelings like the teachers. I respect those folks who have had to come up through the ranks a little bit. They have been there. They know what it takes to be a principal, and, again, I will refer to my dear friend, Dr. Sam Ray. Now I was most fortunate in having him through my entire principalship except for the last year. Someone would have to know Dr. Ray to realize that he got the understanding and if someone from central administration or in one of those departments wasn't exactly giving the support or whatever, Dr. Ray saw that these principals got it. He worked with our organization very carefully, closely and listened. Now, if he didn't think it was right, he would tell us and he would give reasons why and we accepted it, most of us did, I did. He was understanding, professional, a gentleman with whom I have ever worked. He understood the role of the principal from top to bottom. He would give advice, ideas. He would say, I remember, "I don't believe I would do it that way." He did it in such a manner that if he said jump, Dr. Ray, I would say, "how high" - at least I would. He saw that all support services were available when needed. We were very fortunate that most of them did. They realized that we had a job on our hands and we needed help. I never hesitated to call on them because I know with Special Education or when you have pupil/personnel problems. There was the nicest gentleman there that would take right over. I'd like to deviate a minute and tell about that because pupil/personnel can get kind of tough. I remember at one of my schools, there was a first grader who was quite hard to handle. Finally, he really kicked the teacher. We could never get his parents into the building. I never liked to suspend a child but I could not let it go on any further because the teacher had to go the doctor or whatever. So, I suspended him. Now, we got the parents out. Well, do you know, this is unbelievable. But that child from first grade, about 7-8 years later, that mother wanted to sue me and the teacher for suspending that child. Well, of course, Dr. Ray needed some backing. The chairman of the department had the lawyer and I thought "I don't believe this." Well, it came out fine. But if you don't have immediate support, you are in bad shape. They put a new program in a school. I believe that pilot schools should be first used to try the programs. Instruction should see that the other schools have the opportunity, teachers and principals, to see what is this about. We were fortunate in having central administrators in instruction that did that. Prompt attention from Personnel. When you had ten more bodies and five desks in a classroom, you need help and you can't wait forever and a day. Once, I had to wait a little too long. And, of course, we had to do something about it in a hurry. But on and on, I was fortunate in having good support services from the central administration. I really don't have any except for Special Education, once in awhile, you had to work on them. But other than that, it was nice experience with good working conditions.
Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative position, what would that advice be?
A: Well, think carefully. I know the idea of being a principal sounds very prestigious, a bit more pay and whatever. And again, I am going to tell it as I feel with common sense. Are you in good, excellent physical, mental health? You don't have any personal problems weighing on you. Lots and lots of energy and patience. Can you make changes? And, you know, that you can't make changes overnight in instruction. It takes time. Working with folks that, you know all take the Standards of Quality when we started. If I had not had the background with Dr. Canady in what was coming down the pike in the Standards of Quality, it would have hard without his guidance. It cannot be accomplished overnight. There are teachers who are set in their ways and don't particularly want to change. And, a lot of them are not good ways. And you have got to convince them that they want to be involved. It takes time. Are you ready emotionally to deal with that? The last five years of my principalship, principals were being evaluated on test scores. How much of that can you take of that stress? I would think about it carefully and take it from there.
Q: You referenced the test scores and that leads to another question I have. There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those who suggest that, realistically, this person must be, above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?
A: Well, I tell you. The principal makes the school. I don't care what instruction or what it is. You have got to manage everyone from the custodian all the way up. Your school is built for children. They must get a good education, the best. The school, from top to bottom, every brick reflects and is the principal's responsibility. We were even evaluated on our electrical bill. I remember mine went over. And they said "you've got a larger electrical bill this time than you did last time." I said, "Well, it got colder and we are not going to freeze." Well, they went around to the thermostats in the City of Norfolk. They were lowered and could not be changed. Now, here kindergartners had to lie down on that floor every afternoon, take naps. And let me tell you, the windows were not good windows like we have today. You could feel the air through them. Now, I did not believe in going to parents when you had a problem. It just depended on what it was. I thought that a principal was head of the school regardless and they had to take care of the problem. I went to Dr. Ray. "Dr. Ray, I am freezing out here. So are my teachers. And you know that no good instruction can go on and I do not want my thermostats to be set way down to 65 or 68 when I have got air coming through these cheap windows." Well, I finally got the folks to fix the thermostats so it could be warm. Who can learn and teach with a pile of clothes and coats on? Nobody. Physical conditions affect learning and teaching. You have got to manage that to get the instruction across. A principal must have the best and it must fit teachers that you can get. You have got to have time to work with instruction. So you, I, tried to be very careful - hire, interview carefully, folks that I did not have to always be breathing down their backs. So, it would free me for time. That is a hard one to learn
Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those who suggest that, realistically, this person must be, above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?
A: Well, there has got to be balance between instruction and manager. Again, I lean more toward the instruction. I did not rule by being a hard nose. You can lead, a little saying goes, a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. And, I will admit that I had definite goals and objectives that needed to be accomplished. We all did. We had to put this thing together. I had always been a person who cares about people. Getting them to believe it was their idea. I would say, I was a human relator, trying to keep people happy so I could squeeze more production out of them. Now I have let out my secret. I put my foot down but you did it in such a way that you have got to convince the other fellow that this is a great idea. It does not take place overnight. Some folks are afraid of this for fear that they will get taken. Well, being friendly and understanding are good tools if one has a genuine self-esteem in the way you are going and how to get there. Self-confidence. And, I felt self-confidence. I am not a know-it-all. I let it be known that I had to learn some things too. We all did. I had master teachers in most instances and I used them. I made them feel important. All of us can learn, from even the students. Well, I had project children and I have got to tell this one. Back then always, and I learned, at least, these children came from drugs, the whole bit. I learned street-wise from Edward. I will never forget it. I wish we had time talk about that especially when I rode the bus back to the project after a PTA program for the (band students). We stopped on the corner, here in this project area. There were teenagers on the corner. They started rocking the bus. I started to get up. Edward said, "Mrs. Rayfield, just sit down. They aren't going to hurt anything, they are just playing." Well, I did what Edward told me to do. Edward helped me an awful lot. He studied me for a month before he decided he was going that too. There must, again, be a balance between a consideration of/for people and getting the job done. If there is a problem with work performance, staff morale, it has to be taken care of. I tried to find new ways and ways to eliminate the problem. I had a way and if I wanted and decided specifically and it was a rule not a policy. Now if it was a School Board policy, of course, you do as they say. But if it was something that could be between the staff and myself, I, and I don't think the teachers ever caught on and if they did they never let me know it. I would talk to each one of them and see how they felt about such-and-such a thing. I got their feedback and from there, I would then use my good judgement. When personnel, that's all of them, regardless, custodian everybody, cafeteria manager, secretary, all see that they can influence the outcome, they will support you. Creativity and enthusiasm must be fostered. It depends upon the situation just how you do it. I genuinely feel that most of this cannot be gotten from books or really taught. You have it or you don't. You have to be genuine, sincere. You can't go greeting somebody saying, "How are you this morning?" and leave them alone and never speak to them again. It's got to be a part of you, day-by-day, and not half one day and off the next.
Q: Thank you. We talked a little about teachers and principals. We have touched on students. Maybe we will talk a little about parents. It has been said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and community members who were important to the well being of the school?
A: Oh goodness me. Even as a classroom teacher, I enjoyed my parents - going to PTA functions. When I became principal at Ballentine, there was no PTA. I found a president and she and I started one. Small, but we did start it. And, of course, there was beginning of talk of volunteers. There were still some teachers that did not any parent in their classroom. Well, I thought regarding this change, it might take me a year but it is going to have to be changed. The school changed and I had to start all over again. Another PTA. I had a president, the same one that said she'd help me out until we got it going. It was not until the 4th 6th grade children came in, that I got a real president and officers organized. The children that were bused into this section were from some of Norfolk's most notorious projects. In fact, I understood the policemen would not go in there, even with the dogs, after dark. Well, I got in the car and started with a few home visits. I remember this older gentleman was stretched out under a tree, "Lady, what are you doing here?" I said, "I am here to visit some of my parents." "You won't find any parents. If you do, you'll find drunks." I said, "Well,. .." I didn't find any drunks. I found the nicest grandmother who took care of these children. One lady, I remember, cooked the best collard greens I had ever smelled. And I thought if that lady asks me to sit down to eat, I sure would. And, I knew I had to get these parents to school with me. And you know, I learned these parents had a different life than what we school people lived. And, they knew it. It had to be changed. I had a garden club friend who was out making candles that were all the rage. I got her to set up a candle making class there at Ballentine on the top floor. When I look back now, I don't know whether the firemen knew that or not. If they had, I would have been put underneath the jail. But anyway, the place didn't burn down. We were given what was called the Home School Community Worker who was a liaison really between the school and the home. She was a smart, creative, down-to earth gal. I loved working with her. Between the two of us, we got the mommas coming. She would go pick them up and we would bring them to school. Most of them, fortunately, could walk. They could come over the railroad tracks, a short cut. And, they, I'll never forget it, told me. There was a group of them that came up to me, "Mrs. Rayfield, we have never been in this school. We were afraid to come to school." I said, "Why?" "Because," I deep down knew why, but I wanted to hear it from them. "Why?" "Well, we don't have the pretty clothes." I said, "We all don't have the pretty clothes either. So don't worry about it." "And, ya'll are so educated." I said, "Not really, not really. Don't think it for a minute. I have learned more from you ladies from listening upstairs to you and I mean it." So you have to, as a principal, put on a different hat. And, I always knew it. I would wear one hat for a group of parents like that and possibly another one when I had some of my University's professors children. But anyway, we all got along fine. My PTA officers were always invited to any social functions. I had a teacher representative on the board in each school. We were always at the board meetings. We took an active part in their fund raisers. I always attended my board's meetings. At another school where children, Primary 1, 2, 3, were bused in, I talked Dr.Ray, again, into giving me a bus on PTA nights. Most parents didn't have transportation and it got them in. In the last two schools, my reading teacher worked with me to get parent volunteers. The librarian got volunteers. We eventually showed these teachers that volunteers could help them. They were not going to run the business. Of course, we had a session on what volunteers should speak and do in the classroom. The rules were laid out. We always recognized them with a reception at the end of the year. I remember one of the schools had a senior citizens' group next door and every spring, they would have a king and queen crowning. Well, I remember the little ones would give little skits. The band would play. The chorus would sing, and get the senior citizens to join in. We became very involved, and I enjoyed it.
Q: That was interesting. We'll move to a question that deals with the personnel function and the role of the principal. Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of teacher evaluation?
A: Well each year, we had to formally evaluate one-third of our faculty. However, I always did this myself, even when I had assistants later on. I let her and wanted her to go into the classrooms but I did the evaluations. Many times, I would have her to sit in for that side-by-side with the teacher. I visited every classroom, during the formal evaluation, at least every other week. I would leave a note, usually positive, if there was something I questioned. I would say, "let's, I'd like to explain this further at a meeting, can I come down after school, let me know?" If I questioned something, I would ask something like "why did you do that" but not in a way that would intimidate her. I always left a note after each classroom visit - "I liked your bulletin board. I know that you will keep it changed. It is such an instructional bulletin board." We were not going to have, and we were told, and I did not want teachers to have, these commercial things, we had art teachers, had parents to come to help them so we could put a bulletin board right. Informal evaluations are most important. How else will you know what else is going on? Well did I say formal, I said informal too. The physical environment, bulletin boards, no commercials, used for instructional purposes, interest centers, the ventilation, and I always looked at the lesson plans carefully. They were always to be on the desk and I reviewed them. Several times a teacher would have an emergency, so I would take over until she came into school. Like an early doctor's appointment or something. And, this quickly spread. I told them that I wanted those lesson plans on the desk because I would have to follow them. Otherwise, I wouldn't know what to do. And, I needed something to go by. The last ten years, it was mandated by the superintendent that those lesson plans be on the desk and be around. In fact, our assistant superintendent would pop in anytime and go around and see if it they were. Well, now we are going a little too far. But anyway, it can really upset a teacher. Of course, she's supposed to have them but, anyway that is another story. There was a definite format that had to be followed. We were going through the Madeline Hunter. Madeline Hunter was Norfolk herself to conduct an in-service. We had to follow the Madeline Hunter to a "t" and I looked at and thought "you know, some of these, Madeline Hunter, my mother said she did fifty years ago." Not stated all this well but relevancy is relevancy and checking for understanding is checking for understanding. I don't care if it is 1900 or 1980. I did not want these visits to be a threat. I did not want to be fearful. I wanted it to be a means of working together and a means for me to learn. I could find out what supplementary materials would help them. If I didn't have them, I somehow found money to buy them either through my funds or through the PTA funds. I remember going up to Madison and, maybe about once a year, they had a wonderful bookstore. I would get a couple of hundred dollars worth and take them back into the library. I would invite the teachers to come in during free time, or whatever they had, so they could review them and see what was there. These things helped. I did not want the teacher evaluations to be a threat to teachers.
Q: While we are talking about teacher evaluations, would you discuss the topic of teacher dismissals and any involvement you would have had in such an activity?
A: I would. . . I have been there. I went through all procedures of evaluation. The, uh. . . I had, in fact . . . let me think. Teacher dismissal is not a very easy thing. Dr. Canady always said he had to prove murder or some kind of terrible thing to get the teacher out. During my years as principal, I had to dismiss four. All four of these teachers had taught over fifteen years. These teachers had either been placed in my school through the closing of a school or put into my building through what is called an administrative transfer where I had no say. At Ballentine, and this was my very early years as a principal. I remember well, she was the wife of a very prominent minister in Norfolk. She was a fine lady but she had been transferred from a number of buildings for a reason that she just could not handle children. Well, here she was teaching and had been put into my school's third grade. She had the most beautiful lesson plans you could ever wish for. She was a smart lady. She would get up there and teach a gorgeous reading lesson to a group of remedial children. Although there were ten children, not one was listening. A couple over in the corner playing with something. A couple others had a toy. I told her, I went up to her nice and said, "You know, you better start again, these children need to get in their seats and listen." So I got them in their seats. And I thought, "Oh, I better start documenting." And that is you write yourself. You start documenting. Kept evaluations. Gave her improvement plans on how to improve. Went in there. It went on for several months. A child waiting in line downstairs for the cafeteria kicked her and kicked her hard. She wasn't angry or whatever but she was upset. Well that was just one incident. The crowning blow came from Michael. Michael was, no one would believe me, unless you knew him, a second-grader that had been smoking behind the Dairy Queen. He would get out of his window at night time and roam the City of Norfolk at all hours. The police knew him and would bring him home. The parents couldn't keep him there. Step- father and mother couldn't do anything with him. And, uh, a child came to me hurriedly one day. "Mrs. Rayfield, come down here to Mrs. L's room quick!" I went in and Michael was standing on the chair with yardstick in his hand trying to get his shoe out of one of the ceiling lights. Mrs. L. had hold of his coattail trying to pull him down. We had a long talk and finally at the end of the year, she decided to retire. So that turned out nicely if you have to go. The other was a 23-year teacher and I had an excellent assistant principal. If I hadn't had her, I don't know. It took me a little over a year to document. We had to get plans of action, which was right. With a plan of action, you helped that teacher. At that time, Norfolk City had helping teachers that would go directly into the classroom 2-3 weeks to assist the teacher with certain things. This teacher was a smart lady, a kind lady to children. But her discipline, none whatsoever. And this went on for a year, this try to help her. I went in. My assistant went in. The straw that broke the camel's back, that really did it, was one afternoon at about 1:30, a parent called me, "Mrs. Rayfield, is school out this afternoon?" I said, "No, why?" "My son's come home." I said, "What? Send him right back over here!" The children told me. He told me. This lady was standing up next to the door and this child crawled through her legs and she didn't know it and went home. Now, now. We had a long talk and we said things had come to a head. She decided she would retire. The next one was a little bit harder. This lady had been placed in my school. "Maybe, Mrs. Rayfield can help her." I told personnel that I wasn't helping anymore of their people, taking my own. But anyway, she was very poor teacher. She was out ill for about a month when I had to bring in a long-term sub. The long-term sub had to . . .excellent, she was excellent. I had her. I had her on my list. She had been a teacher and had gotten out for her children. And, she was my favorite sub. She would call me down there that she couldn't find this or all of this business. So she brought things to the library and my librarian said, "I've been looking for these things for months. Where were they?" They were down in Ms. So-and-so's closet, stacked up - audios, videos. New things were coming to light. There were old report cards that she, I don't know how she, I will never figure out how they got messed up. But anyway, she belonged to one of the teachers' unions. It wasn't the E.A.N. The president had been a former teacher of mine. We had a good relationship. She taught in the school and did fine. But anyhow, that would have no bearing on it. But anyway, she sent in this teacher that had the union folks out and that . . uh. . . they came out, these young men said Mrs. Rayfield, and came to the office. And I had on my desk, all displayed, all the documentation. And I said, "Now here it is, you can see right here." They said, "would you give her another chance?" I said, "Yes, under one condition." I knew they had small children. "You bring your child, each one of you, you've got a primary child, I think they are first graders too or second graders which is what this teacher teaches. You bring your child over here and let her teach them." That was the end of that. And, she left the teaching profession. Thank goodness. These two gentlemen, now I invited them over to lunch. I said, "Come on to have lunch with your friends." There was nothing ugly about it. And, there was no way to be ugly. So, it is not right, for children are not to get a full education. I looked at it as well. I want these children to be taught the way I would want mine. And, I . . . also, it is not fair to other teachers working day-in and day-out for someone to get by with absolutely nothing and unprofessional business. Do nothing, no way. I was not going to let children suffer. But, dealing with personnel is a very, very important thing. It is what really is the backbone of the entire faculty, staff, the whole nine yards. If you cannot surround yourself with good people, custodians, secretaries, cafeteria, teacher. . hmmm, you've got a problem. If you can surround yourself with good folks, you can do a lot more.
Q: Well, let's leave the personnel area and let me ask you a curriculum question. It has been said that the curriculum has become more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's schools, citing positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now?
A: Yes, I think it has become more complex because we as a society have become more complex. Now, when I went to college I did not even have to have a typewriter. Look what you have to have today. Technology. What I taught in the 6th grade, the old country, Egypt. Now in the third grade. Well, that's fine provided who is going to see that the money comes down for the materials that will be geared to the interests of these children on this level? That seems to be a great problem in most of our school system around here. The past ten years since I retired, I have been supervising on a part-time basis, student teachers from Old Dominion in the Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Suffolk areas. And that is a worry, and I talk to the principals, a worry with them. We have got to teach this but we do not have the necessary materials to go with it. We have got to go send our teachers out to find things. This is time consuming. I think in the field of Science. It has, of course, more complicated. But look what we have been doing in the field of science, medicine, space. So, you roll with the changes, the punches. You have got to. But School Boards, City Councils, the whole bit has to realize that the teachers cannot, and principal, cannot do it alone. I do feel that the hands-on approach is very good. I know in one school system, they had money in a couple of schools, they have science rooms. I worked room, for student teachers. In the science room, there are microscopes for each child to go in there. All of the science materials! I didn't have that, they didn't have a rich PTA and I don't think our schools should be governed by that. The perceiving of the learner now as an active and purposeful human being is so much better than just giving a poly parrot feedback, memorization by helping children cope with, as much as you can, the real world and show them, and they understand, that it is purposeful, that it's reasonable, and it's very important that they get this. The thing that does bother me is that testing many of the curriculums, reading in particular, and to kindergarten/prekindergarten, it can be too early. I have seen it. You can, many a child, a number of children. Oh, "my child is reading in the first grade". Then the child gets to the third grade. It happened to me several times. "Mrs. Rayfield, my child's reading in the first grade. The third grade is slowing him down" And, I knew exactly, it was memorization. It was not real reading. They can call words but did they understand it? It has to be geared to the age, to the interest of children. We can go too quickly. I think this testing business. I might be stepping on something that you might be asking me a little bit later about testing.
Q: Go ahead and tell us little about your views of testing. I know that you are aware that Standardized testing, especially as the tests relate to the Standards of Learning, are very much a part of public education and are in the news quite a bit right now. So why don't you discuss your experience with testing and provide us with your views on the affect of testing on the quality of the instructional program.
A: If Standardized testing is used to discover the strengths and weaknesses that a child has, fine, well and good. The school adjusts their curriculum and instruction to it. Once upon a time, back in the 50's, I would be giving the Iowa test to sixth graders. The standards of tests would be in an excellent. In the late 60's, it was Standards of Quality, item analysis, how to give tests, charting schools, map on walls, charting them all out. Who is up high, who is down low? Looked like a race track. Dr. Canady taught classes in all this and it was a godsend. Now, and we used those tests back then, up until about early 70's, to help us change curriculum instruction to meet the needs. But now primary children, K-12, are under pressure to score, to score. Published in the paper. I was fortunate. Mine were like they should be. But that is great pressure on everybody. It is pressure on principals, teachers and parents. And all children don't learn at the same rate. Everyone is evaluated on scores. Now the principals, here lately, tell the teachers that their jobs could depend on these scores. Now that is going a little far. If they are not doing the job, it is up to the principal to see about it. If they are doing and doing it the best they can, and there is improvement being shown, fine. I have seen parents get so uptight that children were so scared to death the next morning for fear that they were going to fail the test. Well, we were defeated before we started. Those parents, some of them had been working in the more affluent schools that I had, "Does my child do this? He's got to reach this score." So, what about the other things that your child can enjoy and do? Well, we all were concerned. But to me, it was going too far. Many children have parents who get the material, that have the money, they are at home, they can come and work with their child. And, many a child does not have this privilege. Both parents work just to get food and shelter. The schools could have all materials, everything, have less than twenty children so they could teach everyone and discipline them, have no problems with their safety, the disruptive folks could be taught somewhere else for a while. If we had such conditions, maybe we could make a difference. Every time I think, someone says testing, I have to mention this. Back to Ballentine again. I'll never forget the little boy's name was Paul. He was in the third grade, working hard and he could have, well I think, worked in and out of remedial reading and the child couldn't read the test that we were about to give to him. We knew he couldn't but we had to give it to him. We couldn't take him out and hide him some place. We knew it had to be given. The librarian and I were monitors for that classroom, and I was watching this little boy, and he went down that test and just started checking answers. I motioned to my librarian, who was working with me, to come over. I wanted her to see too. He just went on down that test for 10-15 minutes and then he was finished. You know, that child scored 85% on that test. Well, that was an unusual one but it can happen. And, there are smart children that cannot take these tests and we don't measure those things that some of those children can do. I don't know but I guess that this too shall pass. It is like my mother used to say, "you have to go with the changes and, in 10 years, it will all change to something else usually." I have seen that happen too. I don't know. I think this scoring. . . I think there should be good standards. I don't mean to just pass children along or let them be if they can't do certain things. I think they should know, be good in all areas, math, reading, science, social studies but there is a little bit of pressure on schools. I do not miss that part.
Q: It is a good time for me to ask you this next question. Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire?
A: Ah, the. . . what made me want to retire? He-he-eh. I guess the thing that is utmost in my mind that made me retire, I was enjoying it. I really was. I liked working with children, teaching the parents; however, as you get older, maybe your tolerance level is not as great as it once was. There comes a time when one realizes that you don't have as many years ahead as you have behind you. When my mother was quite ill, she told me to think about retiring at 60, your father. . . life is short, you should enjoy the rest of it. As I reached that age with 36 years, I discussed this with Dr. Ray that I thought it was about time. He told me that he was going to retire the next year. I said, "all right, give me one more year." Because I would miss him. And, when he told me that he was retiring, I knew that I would be following in his footsteps soon. You know there is a saying, "you better stop when you are ahead." Things are quite different, a little bit, nowadays. Just before I retired, there had been a meeting with the O.D.U., Dean/Director of Education, student teaching who asked me what I was going to do when I retired. I said, "Nothing. Buy my first pair of blue jeans" that I had bad-mouthed. And get behind my Honda, self-propelled lawn mower and take the phone off the hook. And they said, "Oh, we have a job for you." And, I said, "Really?" They said, "How about part time?" I said, "I will listen to part-time." They then asked if I would supervise student teachers on a part time basis. I did that for the past ten years and then decided it was time to retire there too. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed working with people. I enjoyed watching children grow mentally, physically, meeting challenges and working to overcome them. As I said, it was in my blood. Today's principals do have more pressure - testing scores, students and drugs, safety, guns. We had to have fire drills and now some schools are having hostage drills. Can you believe it? I don't miss such things. Today's principals have to face such realities. If they are in good health and can deal with the stress, have good support services from their School Board, then I say stay on. There is no more rewarding job, I feel, than teaching. It is fun. It is fun to be around children. They can make you laugh. There are some very sad cases and if you can help them, or you can help their parents, they will do fine. You will feel very good about yourself. I have enjoyed it. I cannot go back and think of any time that I wished that I hadn't gone into that field. Nope, no way.
Q: Thank you for taking this time this afternoon to give us your views as an elementary school principal. I know that I certainly learned a lot. This is going to be a valuable experience to be part of the Virginia Tech oral history of the principalship.
A: I was privileged to do it and I enjoyed every minute of it. I always like to talk school.
Q: I hope we can get together again soon.
A: I will see to it.
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