This is an interview with Loraine Todd, a retired principal from Dorchester County, Maryland. Today is Friday, September 25, 1987
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Q: How many years were you in education?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
Q: As a teacher, how many of those years?
A: Well let's see, 53 - I was five years in Columbia, Howard County, Maryland, and 53 and I started in 43. Ten years - ten years, I was a teacher.
Q: How many years were you a principal?
Q: Please describe the area where your school is located?
A: Well, we have a beautiful location. They used to call it the country club of Dorchester County. We have a waterfront property on the Honga River, which is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. You look out and you can see the ships going up the bay. It is just beautiful, the banana boats and the - all kinds of freighters. The children had a very scenic view. We had a huge playground in the back. I had a wonderful janitor who mowed the grass and everything was kept immaculately clean. Everybody like to come to my school because it was just so beautiful there.
Q: How many students were in your school? Could you describe the grade levels?
A: Yes, we had a hundred and three students. It was a very small school. It was almost like a private school because we could give them so much attention. We had special education and I had a special education teacher and an aide. I had a part-time music teacher, a part-time physical education teacher. I had grades one through six. We never did have any kindergarten in our school because they put it in another area.
Q: What is your philosophy of education?
A: To teach boys and girls to learn to live with one another; to be happy and to adjust to life. Reading, writing and arithmetic are very important, all the fundamental subjects, but, oh my, learn to live together was my philosophy. I used to tell my boys and girls, if you can get along together because when you go out in this world we have to learn to live with other people, of all races and creeds and colors.
Q: Thank you! What events led you to a principal's position?
A: Well, I was really surprised when they appointed me principal, because I had been a first grade teacher in Howard County and I enjoyed it very much. But it was a new field for me but I enjoyed being a principal very much because I really enjoyed counseling teachers. We didn't have a counselor but I always said an elementary school should have a counselor because when they have problems on the elementary level that is the time to straighten them out.
Q: Did anyone approach you to be a principal?
A: Oh yes, my superintendent he just asked if I would accept it. And I said yes. It was a big challenge.
A: Because I felt I could help boys and girls. I could help. This is my own community and I felt I could help my own people in this area which is very remote. Help the boys and girls find out all of the things they need to know. The colloquialisms here are just terrible. I thought I could help to straighten those out, and we did now today, out in the public, they all speak to me and say, 'Hi Mrs. Todd'. And I am proud of their speech, everyone of them, because we have old English speech here. Most of the inhabitants were from England and they murder the English language, a lot of them. My goal, and some of my teachers, another girl who taught with me for twenty nine years, that was our goal to have boys and girls go out of the community and into other communities and have them feel more acceptable and not made fun of because of their speech, and all that...
Q: What does it take to be an effective principal?
A: A kind person, a firm disciplinarian. You must get along with teachers, school board, students and parents.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?
Q: As a principal. what was your biggest concern?
A: My biggest concern was that the parents in this community didn't seem to think that the school should have the responsibility that I assumed. I thought a lot of these children. They came to school, a lot of them with very poor home habits from very poor home environments, and it was a job to be mama, papa, sister Sue, brother John, principal, teacher, doctor, everything. My biggest concern was to educate the children and have the parents respect us for that and not do it their way but do it the way it was correct to do it.
Q: At one time, I understand you were teaching the first and second grade combination, principal, and had to order food for the cafeteria?
A: That's right.
Q: How did you manage to handle all that responsibility?
Q: When did they make you a full-time principal?
Q: How many years did you do that principal-teacher position?
Q: So you did a one-on-one language experience approach?
A: Experience approach, yes, I did, and that was Dr. Stoffa's approach. Very good, because I had taught teachers how to use that.
Q: Were you still also teaching a classroom?
Q: That was when they made you a principal?
Q: Lately, research had described an effective school with several characteristics. One of these characteristics is safe and orderly environment. What did you do in your school towards this characteristic?
A: The children had to be responsible. I would not let them put any trash on the playground. I would not let them put any trash in the lavatories and in the halls. We had hardwood floors, and they were highly polished, and they were taught to take care of them. My janitor was excellent and every summer he would redo those floors and they were just beautiful, and they had to be responsible for everything - well, I made them responsible individuals.
Q: How did the teachers help?
A: Oh, they were great! My teachers were wonderful. I had one of my teachers that was leaving to go to Delaware to teach, and my superintendent said, 'Mrs. Gordon, why are you leaving? Don't you like Mrs. Todd?' and she said, 'Anyone who couldn't work with Mrs. Todd couldn't work with anyone.' So I thought that was quite a compliment. Yes, that is.
Q: Another characteristic is frequent monitoring of student progress. How did you manage this characteristic?
A: Oh boy, we really knew what they were doing. We tested our children in Dorchester County. We constantly tested them, and we knew the children as individuals, and we watched their progress, and when I felt they needed help they were pulled out and put in the remedial for certain periods of the day. We had two teachers plus an aide in there, and they really helped out. Because we had a lot of children that had very low I.Q.'s and it really helped. Reading was a big problem. If you can't read, you can't do anything, you know.
Q: Are there any other characteristics that you believe may create an effective school?
A: Oh yes, a clean, happy environment. If the children aren't happy, they can't learn. We were very strict but we made them very happy. We had an open door policy. All of the classrooms were open and you could walk in there and everybody was so happy and worked together. Yet we did many activities. It was a very peaceful environment, you know.
Q: What kind of special activities did you do for the children?
A: Oh, all kinds of creative things we did. We had all kinds of programs like, um, special things like operettas. We had a made-all things, like in this area they have driftwood paintings, driftwood stripping-down, and varnishing it. All kinds of creative arts, like people who came in from 4-H that did all kinds of cooking, and we just used different people from different areas like Blackwater refuge, which is very near us. We showed films, and they did all kinds of art work. I had a black teacher who was very artistic, and he would take sand and color it, and make all kinds of things. We did a lot of beautiful artwork. I have some driftwood at my home right now that some of the students did in the sixth grade class. It is beautiful.
Q: How did you handle the civil rights issue?
A: Oh, I knew my students were coming in June from St. Clair integrated. We have just a few colored, excuse me, we don't say that word any more, we have just a few black students. So I told the children, this is really a funny approach that I use, but, anyway, I said, we have some black students coming next year because this community was really against integration and I knew it, and I said I want you all to know if I hear anybody on the playground or in the classroom call anybody Niger they are in trouble with me. So school started, and everybody knew they should never say Niger. So anyway, a little student came in one day and said, 'Oh Mrs. Todd, one Niger called the other one a Niger. Hahaha'. But I never had any trouble, and the black parents were just wonderful. And later I got a black teacher. He loved it so much here. His wife was a teacher also in the Cambridge area and he drove twenty-five miles every day here and his wife said, oh, when they moved him back to Cambridge, I am going to send you back to Mrs. Todd because you haven't been happy since you left. We treated him just like one of us. He was just wonderful, and he was very good with our black students and we never had any integration problems.
Q: Do you remember what year that was?
A: No, I really don't. No, I really don't remember what year it was, but it was when the government said you have to have so many ratio of black and white. Then I had a part-time black teacher that did art for me too.
Q: But you can't remember what year?
A: I believe the court case was in the fifties. I can't really remember. I am sorry but ...
Q: What procedures should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?
Q: How would you suggest the central office personnel get to know principals?
A: I think they should observe them in the school for one thing. I think they should come in and have several conversations with them; see how they feel about different topics and different things. How just talking to people I think you can sum up their personality, and if you are cold and reserved. You have to be warm and understanding to be a principal.
Q: How did you handle any teacher grievances? Or did you have any grievances?
A: Only one time in all my years of experience that I had one teacher that wanted to boss another teacher around at the lunch line because she took her place in the lunch line. It was a mix up when the children went down to the cafeteria and I had to call her in. It made the other teacher cry, and I said I am very sorry that you have done this, but you made another teacher cry, and you know you shouldn't have done this. And she cried too, and I said I wish you would apologize, and that was the only instance that I ever had in all the time I was teaching. I think that was remarkable, and they became friends after that.
Q: So you never really had to fire a teacher?
A: No, no. Q: You never had to reprimand anyone or had to write one up?
Q: That sounds great.
A: It was great. I say my people worked very well with me, and I was kind to them. I treated them not like I was a superior, but like I was one of them, you know.
Q: What leadership techniques were successful for you?
Q: So you let them have input into decisions?
A: Oh definitely, oh definitely, I think they should.
A: Well, they know that I would always tell them how I felt. That I was very strict and very firm, but very kind and gentle. I let them have input, and then I would say, 'The law says we have to do it this way, or our school is best done this way,' and they all agreed with me. I would like to tell you one thing that I think you would be interested in. Mr. Bill Conish, who was my music teacher, came to me. He was Czechoslovakian, and he came and he said, 'Mrs. Todd, I am so poor, and I am this and I am that.' He was from Pittsburgh, the slum area. I said, 'listen, forget it, you are a person; just make it happy here.' He told me after I retired I saw him at a wedding, 'Mrs. Todd, I would give my first pay check if you could just be in the school I am in now, and I could walk in and see you in my office so I could talk to you. I counseled him many times. He has turned out to be one of our most wonderful music teachers. It makes me feel real good, you know. He is still in the system today.
Q: So, counseling teachers.
A: It helps. They have problems too, you know. They have problems just like children's problems, and I try to help them. I used to tell them, after all, your families really come first. Your families; I will understand if you have a problem, and you need little bit too, you know. You can't say this is this. No matter if somebody dies, you are going to be here, like I know, one principal in my county said, 'my brother died, and I didn't go to his funeral.' Well, that is not very human, you know; We all have feelings.
Q: Did you ever have or use any leadership techniques that you decided later were not so successful?
A: No, I can't think of any.
Q: What is your personal leadership philosophy?
A: Live and let live. I really believe that we educate boys and girls to live. To live happy lives, and have them attain the full potential - much as they can possibly attain.
Q: How about just your leadership? When you were the leader, what was your philosophy?
A: Well, you mean when I was leading my teachers or my children?
Q: Your teachers.
A: My teachers; oh, I had them feel that I was not perfect. I was far from it. I made mistakes and I showed them my mistakes. I said, 'We all make mistakes. We all make mistakes and if we did not make mistakes, we wouldn't be human. I don't expect you all to be perfect, any more than I am perfect, but I do expect you to do the best you can make the best of the situation.
Q: What techniques did you use to make teachers feel important? We may have covered this.
Q: Okay. How did you evaluate your teachers?
A: I had to go in every month to evaluate them with the list that the Board of Education supplied. I didn't always tell them when I was coming in. Some principals did, but I went in at different time and saw them at work with different subjects, different times of the day. You know that teachers are not always at their best. I think the only way you can find out how a teacher really teaches is to go in many different times and in many different situations because it is hard to evaluate a teacher on one visit a month.
Q: That's right - now, did you have a checklist?
Q: Can you remember anything on that checklist?
A: No, I am sorry, I can't. It has been too many years.
Q: What does it take to be an effective principal?
A: Well, you have to be firm. You have got to be strict. I was a very strict principal, the students really knew they had better do what was right. You have to maintain discipline. My philosophy is if you can't discipline, you can't teach. Like I used to tell my teachers, if you are in this profession for money, forget it. It is not that great. Unless you are a dedicated teacher, I don't think you should be in it.
Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?
A: Oh my, pressures all the time, with the federal government sending in so much. I had on my desk in and out all the time - mail - everyday I had mail to finish; everyday, with only a part-time secretary. You can imagine what I had to do. I felt like I was never caught up on book work. After the federal government - I used to tell the teachers when the federal government took over - Look Out! We would be loaded with bookwork. One of my supervisors said, 'Loraine, part of it only goes in file thirteen. Why do you worry so much about it?' But I did, because you had so many things to write up.
Q: So you think, maybe, one of the biggest pressures is paper work?
Q: Well, how did you handled this pressure you faced as a principal?
A: Well, I just had to do it. Every night when I went to bed I would think what I had to do the next day. You know, I took it home with me, I really did, because paper work is something with the federal government when you don't have a full time secretary.
Q: Did you ever have a full-time secretary?
A: No, I never did.
Q: So you had to take work home at night and do it?
A: Oh definitely, I had to take it home.
Q: Because you felt paper work kept you away from ...
A: From...l like to be with the students and teachers seeing everything is doing just right, and paperwork was taking away from the counseling I could have been giving in my office with the students that were sent to me by other teachers.
Q: Would you say that you were in your office what percent of the time, and out of your office - what percent of the time?
A: Of course I was twenty-five miles from the Board of Education. They had a lot of meetings before I retired. We had lots of meetings, and I had to be out of the school sometimes, and I had to leave somebody responsible.
Q: But I mean just in your school. Were you an in-the-office principal?
A: No, I went all over the school all of the time. They never knew when I was going to pop up from the kitchen to the...
Q: What was the toughest decision you ever had to make as a principal? Why was it difficult?
Q: So they actually came up to you at P.T.A...
Q: After they accused you of this, what did you say?
Q: As a principal, what do you think consumed a majority of your time?
Q: You know lately there is this merit pay issue, where teachers get paid for better work or good teachers are paid more than teachers who don't do as much work. What do you think of merit pay?
Q: What else would it cause between teachers?
Q: As a principal, how would you like it if you were under that system?
Q: Any reason?
A: I don't think you do your best work under pressure. I think pressures make it very bad for you to do good work.
Q: What was your key to success as principal?
Q: What would happen if you ever made a decision that the central office didn't like? Did that ever happen to you?
A: No, it didn't. They went right along with me, and my superintendent. My husband is on the school board now; he was a teacher also. The superintendent that is in now was just a teacher when I was a principal and he said something to my husband, at one of the meetings that made me feel very good. 'We didn't have many Loraine Todds.'
Q: What do you think makes a good superintendent?
A: Oh, somebody that will help their principals. We have some wonderful superintendents here. In fact when I retired we had a Mr. Shilling who is on the Board of Education now for Maryland. He was our superintendent. We had our luncheon at the country club when I retired. He got up and he said, I have to say one more thing about Mrs. Todd and another teacher who worked with me because our children were so low in I.Q.'s and how we brought them up. You know those tests you give in third grade? I don't know if you give them in your county or not?
Q: California Achievement Tests?
A: Yes, and they had come up so high on those tests that he wanted to tell 'em in front of the group that he was so proud of us.
Q: What kind of help can a superintendent give to principals?
A: Oh my, be able to talk to principals. I would call the central office and say I have done such and such, how it may be right or wrong but I have done it. He would say, 'That's all right, Mrs. Todd, I think you should inform your superintendent of your decisions.' Not all of the time because it is too much to do it all of the time, but a great decision that you think may affect a parent or may affect the school board getting a call about, because school boards get a lot of calls, you know I know my husband gets a lot of calls.
Q: So, in other words you are saying one thing that makes a good superintendent is when you can pick up the phone and talk to them.
Q: And have him listen to you.
A: That's right. Because you need to talk it over with someone, you know. You need to talk it over with your superiors at some time.
Q: Did you have a code of ethics as a principal?
A: No, I don't really think I did.
Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship.
A: Nothing, I was very happy in the principalship. I gave it my all. I neglected where home comes first, but my mother kept house for me or I would have never made it. I would walk in the door and she would say, 'Loraine you look so tired' and I was, because I gave it my all. It was an around-the-clock job, because when I got home the phone would ring with information. The parents think they could just call you up at the drop of a handkerchief and you can give them all the information that they need about any subject or anything. You know, I was one of those listening principals and I tried to be accommodating.
Q: So, in a small community, they knew where you lived and your phone number. So they felt free to call you?
A: At any time.
Q: Can you give us an example of what they might ask?
A: Well, to show you how hard it was at times. This is a terrible case, but I had a parent to call me up because she didn't get to be president of the P.T.A. and curse me out. You can imagine some of the problems you might have. They would call up and want to know what was on the lunch menu for the next day, or about insurance. They didn't understand it. So, as simple as what is being served for lunch, they would disturb you at home. Because the child forgot to bring the menu home.
A: Yes they did, and today it makes me feel real good when they say Loraine Todd...
Q: Loraine, when the tape ended on the other side you were saying it makes me feel so good when they say.... Could you repeat that sentence for us, please?
A: Yes, it makes me feel so good when they say Loraine Todd made me do it. She made me learn. She made me do it because now they are adults, and they appreciate the fact that I made them responsible individuals.
Q: Loraine, what is it about your personality that allowed you to be successful as a principal?
A: Well, I think I have the patience of Job. I never got really upset with any situation. I really tried to keep a level head at all times, and I am an easy going personality, really. I am very understanding; I don't mean to be egotistical but I really like people.
Q: What advice would you give to a person who is considering an administrative position?
A: I would say be sure you want to assume a lot of responsibility for people, parents, students, central office, the government, the state, and your own personal life. You have to have stamina and good health to do it. I had very good health.
Q: What aspect of your professional training best prepared you for a principalship?
A: Well, I was over in Howard County, where we had seven hundred boys and girls in the Ellicot City area. We had four fourth grade teachers and a class called Junior Primary which were children who were tested and not ready for the first grade. Being over there, and seeing all the grades junior primary through sixth. We had a lot of people who came from West Virginia and defense factory workers during World War II. When I was there I dealt with very very poor people in that area at one time. Also, we had some very high class people in that area. There were all levels of people, and when the time I was there I taught every level because we used to grade them according to their ability with the Pittner-Cuningham I.Q. Test, and we didn't put them in the class as we do today in different groups. We put them in according to their ability, and if they didn't have the ability, they went into Junior Primary. I felt then I had forty-five first grade students, and I had to cope with that during World War I, it prepared me to do anything that I would have to do later, because you really had to be able, to be very very good to be able to handle forty-five first graders.
Q: Did you happen to have the lower level?
A: I had all levels while I was there.
Q: What suggestions would you offer universities that would better prepare candidates?
A: Go out and observe schools. Observe teachers. Observe principals. Go into many situations: not only the big schools but the little schools, because some of these little schools, of course we have a lot of consolidation now, its all over, but some of the little schools, the school that took over for my school, is still little. My school is closed now. They only have two hundred and some. The schools are still little and they do bang up jobs, some of these little schools, because it is more like a private school. When you get masses it is hard to deal with them. You don't know them as one-to-one like I did my students. I think principals should go to many different school situations, and observe weeks on end before they ever think about taking over a job as a principal. Because you will see techniques that you can use and some thing you won't want to use.
Q: So are you suggesting they should perhaps shadow another principal before they become a principal?
Q: And spend days or weeks with them?
A: That's right, because we learn by doing. We learn by seeing. You remember more about what you see than what you do.
Q: Would you enter administration on the principal's level if you had it to do over again?
A: Definitely. I like it better than being a teacher. I liked working with individuals and students and solving problems. I really did; I liked it very much. I liked being an administrator.
Q: How was it different than being a teacher?
A: Well, I think it gives you a better overall picture of education. I think you have a wider scope in helping more students, more teachers, more people. Your problems are many, many more than being a teacher, but you can help education. You can help people.
Q: What is the biggest thing the principalship can help people?
A: Oh, I think it is to be able to have a warm loving understanding school that students can go to make the parents feel happy, and make the students feel happy.
Q: Do you feel that the principal sets the tone for the building?
A: Oh definitely, definitely.
Q: How can this be?
A: Well, if the principal is a very flighty individual and is somewhat emotional him or herself, you know people react to tension. If you are tense, you should never be a principal.
Q: Could you tell if you went into a school what the principal might be like?
A: Definitely, just walk in the halls or in the lavatories. Chaos in the lavatories and in the halls. Commotion when there shouldn't be. In the classrooms, the teachers are tense when the principal is not doing a good job.
Q: Would you discuss for us the five most pleasant principalship activities that you did?
A: Well, all my relationships were just wonderful. I can remember one time we put on an operetta in our school which was wonderful. All of the teachers worked so hard and we were so happy. We called in the school board to see it. We had all these beautiful lights and costumes and the parents came in and made the costumes. I would meet at night to work out the kind of costumes I thought they would need to make. The teachers were just happy with me. We were all happy. We shared so many happy things together. We shared our activities. We shared. I would always say that everybody had to be included. In many of our activities we never left anybody out because everybody has a place.
Q: Were there any unpleasant principalship activities that you had to do?
A: Oh yes, bookwork. I despised bookwork, most of all.
Q: So, we are back to bookwork.
Q: Did you have a model that you patterned yourself after?
A: Probably some of my elementary teachers.
Q: Anyone you can particularly remember by name?
A: Oh yes, Miss Georgia Abbott. She taught me in the first grade. She was just wonderful, kind and loving. An excellent teacher.
Q: So you think she may be one of your models?
A: Yes, I really do.
Q: Any other characteristics about her?
A: Always anxious to help students.
Q: A benevolent leader, because earlier you did say let them have input into your decisions.
A: I always had a firm hand.
Q: What in your own experiences did you find more beneficial in helping you maintain a "sane" attitude toward being a principal?
A: Well, I think every principal needs some weekends. I forgot school. I took weekends off. I would go to Baltimore. I would go shopping. I would do the things that made me happy. I would go out to dinner. My husband, my mother, and I, we all enjoyed ourselves. I came back Monday all refreshed. On the holidays, I would go to New York or Florida. I would take a vacation during the holidays. So you think it is important for a principal to take some time... To relax.
Q: How often, just on weekends?
A: I couldn't do it during the week. I was too tired.
A: Oh yes, I really did. I remember one time I went grocery shopping in Cambridge with my mother, and parents would walk up to me in a grocery store. My mother disliked that so much because it would take time to discuss some problem in the store. It got to the point that I was buying my groceries in Baltimore, or in Easton. That sounds horrible but you need some time for yourself. Because when you go out shopping you do not want to talk about school, and when you go to Church you don't want to talk about school. You have to have some life on your own. In the small communities, you don't get it. They think that you want to talk about school; that is all you want to talk about. You have other interests, you know.
Q: What are some of your other interests?
A: What are some of my other interests? I like shopping very very much. I like to go out to eat dinner. I like to collect jewelry and I like mink coats. Anything else you want to know?
Q: When you retired, was it because of administrative burnout, or age, or for going into another occupation?
Q: Does that mean going to school? Did you like school as a child?
A: I liked school very much. I was at the top of my class in college.
Q: Could you explain a little more about the World War Two cadet teacher?
A: Yes, during World War Two they needed teachers so badly that you had three years of college and two sessions of summer school. Then they put you out in the field to do your practice teaching. I went to Howard County. I wanted a job in my own home town but they were overstaffed, so I said give me the next best thing to Baltimore, because I spent my life as a child in the Baltimore area, my childhood. I really got a job right away in Howard County. I had to go back to six weeks of summer school, and then I got my degree. Of course later on I worked for another degree at the University of Maryland. So the war was actually going on when you began to teach? Oh, yes. I went out for one thousand dollars the first year I taught. So you have to do it for love and not money.
Q: When did the war end?
A: I went out in '42 or '43. The war ended in '45. I think I am correct on that.
Q: Did it make any difference after the war was over in education?
A: No, I didn't see any difference, except that cadet teachers only made a thousand dollars. It was difficult to get your room or board wherever you were. I was in the city. I had to get another job and work weekends to make money enough to live on.
Q: When you did this cadet teacher, when was that over? Did you teach for so many years?
A: No, I was only a cadet teacher for one year. You see, I had three years of college and twelve weeks of summer school. Then I went out as a cadet teacher and then I came back and I did twelve more weeks of summer school following the one year of cadet. Then I had my degree. I was a full teacher.
Q: Did you go on for any other degrees?
A: Yes, I did. Masters equivalency at the University of Maryland.
Q: Is there anything that I haven't asked you that I should have asked you in this interview?
Q: So what would you say to people who are thinking about principalships?
A: Be sure you want to do it. It is a tough job, but it has great rewards. self rewards, not rewards from the public, just in knowing that you have done a good job. It makes me feel real happy when I look back and think of my past experiences. They were all - I had very happy years as a principal.
Q: Thank you very much for your time.
A: You are quite welcome. It was nice having you interview me.
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