April 11, 2000
This is Tuesday, April 11, 2000. I am speaking with Mrs. Bessie G. Walker regarding her experiences as the secondary principal in rural Southwest Virginia.
| Back to "W" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |
Q: Mrs. Walker, please begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development. Such things as birthplace, your elementary and secondary information, and some family characteristics.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Pocahontas. My parents were Minny and George Griffith. I was the seventh of eight children and came from a family with a good family background. Regular church attendees and an interest in education. I attended Pocahontas Elementary School. Graduated from Pocahontas High School in 1947 and after a stay away from Pocahontas, I came back to Pocahontas to teach.
Q: What motivated you to enter the principalship? And, how, if at all did your motives change over the years that you were working as a principal?
A: Well, I never really intended to be a principal. I was talked into it by the Superintendent of Tazewell County. Tazewell County needed a principal, I had the credentials and I was already under contract as a teacher. The opening of school was approaching, so in 1971, when it was unheard of for a woman to become a secondary principal. They approached me to be the principal, because the State Department of Education had told them that I had the credentials. So, this happened to me both times that I was principal. I was assistant principal and was at Tazewell High School, serving as Principal of summer school, when the Superintendent called me to take the principalship again in 1987. And, he more or less indicated that that was what I was needed to do.
Q: We all know what that means, dont we?
A: And, I guess, really and truly, even though I was reluctant I came to love it. The classroom was always my first love. But, I was successful. I think I did a good job and I was willing to work hard and to work with people. So, really I was not sorry that I had taken it.
Q: Now, in 1971, when you first were approached to be principal, how long did you serve as principal then?
A: I served one year, 71-72. And, when I took the job it was with the understanding that I would do it for one year, that I wanted my classroom job back.
Q: Then in 1987, how long did you serve then?
A: Until 91, when I retired.
Q: What would you, or would you describe your personal philosophy of education and how did it evolve over the years?
A: Well, to begin with, I had always wanted to teach, so I would say that basically the first priority of philosophy of education has to be the welfare of students and you have to love students. But, basically then you have to go a step farther. You cant expect to be the most popular teacher, or the most popular principal at the time you enter. You have to be firm, you have to be fair, and above all be prepared to carry out whatever it is you have determined that you are going to tell students. Dont threaten, just promise and carry those promises out. And lastly you have to love children.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? And would you describe successful and any unsuccessful climate building that you were involved.
A: After 40 years, you would think that I would have plenty. At the time that these were developing, I really didnt know I was creating or using techniques. I think the big thing is that you have to let students and teachers know what you expect. And, in turn, you have to give them an opportunity to tell you what they expect, so that you can work with them and try to fulfill any expectations that you or they have. Another thing is that I learned in the very beginning that you have no favorites that you treat all children, teachers, or whoever the same. When I became principal, I had as many friends, personal friends on the staff and, of course, we had an understanding that that friendship was still there. But, at the same time, at school this which was business there were no favorites. The big thing too, then that was necessary for students and teachers to understand was that we would follow all rules. When we had difficulties, we would come together and work them out.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? And, describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal.
A: Well, I think that teachers are like students in that they look up to you as their leader. So they want a good leader. They want you to be fair to them. They want to be given an opportunity to express themselves. They want to know that you are there to help them with discipline. And that there is no question that if they send a child to the office that they will be backed. They want to be helped with the instructional aspects of the school program. Be involved in curriculum and development, but they want the principal to be able to give them the go ahead. And, they want you to be honest, sincere and forthright. And, really and truly, I think that an effective principal is one that is friendly, able to smile, is a good listener, a good disciplinarian, and is responsible for what he or she must do and should not ever bend under pressure if he feels that he or she is right and justice has been served.
Q: Kind of along those same lines, a great deal of attention lately has been given to the topic of personal leadership. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which have worked for you and maybe an incident where your approach failed.
A: Well, I think that it is just something that grows. You take each day at a time and you approach the day with a positive attitude and you never know what is coming up. And, so you accept whatever situation does develop and try to give the best personal leadership that you can. Of course, this goes along with what teachers expect. You have to be fair. You have to be willing to help them and you must be willing to help yourself. I dont know, I didnt have too many approaches or incidents where I was not successful. However, I am like everybody else. I know that on one occasion, because I had made an appointment on the coaching staff that was not popular at all, I had some difficulties that I had to work through to the point that I was being. I think maybe because I was a woman. One fellow didnt want to do what I had asked, that he come and check with me periodically about how the team was doing and that sort of thing, to the point that I was being ridiculed away from the school. So, I had to take a stand. I called the principal, uh, the superintendent and I told him that I would not be, have somebody work for me and be treated that way. We had a general meeting with the superintendent, all the coaches and Ms. Walker, and had an understanding that while he would be the coach, I would be the boss of the school, and that I had to be consulted. And, so, after that, that was it. But, I was not going to be put down by a student or a teacher and be shown disrespect, because a school can not operate that way.
Q: Did you have a group of faculty members that you sort of relied on to give you advice, or did you just go to different people at different times?
A: Well, we always had conferences. Anytime we had a problem. For example, if a teacher had a problem in the classroom, he or she was not allowed to send the child to the office. If that child needed to come out, I was notified. We had the teacher relieved so that the class was taken care of. And, the teacher was always there. With the teacher, the student, and if necessary, a parent to have a conference. But, I didn't rely on just a group to hear everything. I did expect my assistant, or my guidance counselor, on occasion, I had to use her, just to sit in and witness. Because I felt that a witness to any conference was valuable.
Q: I think so, too. Did you ever have a situation where you didnt have a witness that you should have that made you start doing that? Or, was that just something from the beginning that.
A: I think I picked that up from studying school law. And, I realized that you couldnt be too careful and I was sort of , later on, after I was principal one year. And then we had another principal that seemed that he would read about you and teachers having problems or whatever. So, the principals would ask me since I was serving as assistant, if I would talk with the beginning teachers to make them realize how important it is that they protect themselves. And, so that was a job that just became mine. And then after that, I just decided that it was valuable. But, during the time that I was an assistant, we did have an occasion when the principal did not want to do that. And, as it turned out he was put in a position where he wished he had and he told me that he realized how important it was. And, so after that one incident, I sat in many sessions as a witness.
Q: Right. Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this particular time. Please discuss the nature of your student body and comment on the challenges and trials which you participated in during your tenure as principal.
A: Pocahontas was unique. We did not have societal clicks. We were more or less a community of middle class people with no upper or lower groups. So, from that aspect of the cultural side, everybody was treated the same. We had, we did have a very diverse ethnic background, because that is part of the history of this community. But, because it was a part of the history of this community, everybody grew up together there still were no disadvantages to having a great diversity in ethnic background. And, then when we integrated schools, it was very smooth. Because in the early days, we had had a small black elementary school that sent the children to Bluefield, Virginia, all county black high school. So when the time came for us to integrate, we had no problems at all. However, by that time, the number of blacks in our community had decreased from the earlier days when coal mining was so strong. But, even so, we never had any problems with children accepting the black children. Black children were elected to things, honors and that sort of thing. So, I never had a big problem. I know that it could be. You have to be careful and you have to be able to serve all different groups.
Q: Was that 1963?
A: I am thinking that was 63 or 64, sometime in that range, Im not for sure.
Q: It has been said that the curriculum has become much more complex in the recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time that you were principal and compare it to the situation as you see it now.
A: Well, of course, the curriculum has changed a great deal. But, at the time it was very, very hard for us, as a small school to offer everything that was needed. To begin with, up until nineteen, I think it was 1964, we operated under an eleven year system in Tazewell County, and in that year, we went from an eleven year school program to a twelve year. So, we had that change to cope with. Then there have been changes in graduation requirements, and then, of course, we had to work those through. Uh, and in those days, to get a master schedule or to work in all these with a very few teachers it was a problem to be sure that we had properly endorsed teachers and that we could offer our children everything and it took a long time that fell my lot, from day one and I continued to do that. To do the master schedule, because only in the last years that I worked did we get computers and a program that was fully operational from the county. So it was really a hard job. But, then as more technology came, we operated programs for advanced courses being given and we had a few that were televised and that sort of thing. But, they were not anything like the programs that you have today, and I left just at the wrong time to really get involved with all the technological aspects, because we didnt have enough computers and that sort of thing. It was really a tug of war.
Q: Was any of the record keeping done on the computers when you were there?
A: No, no. Well, Ill reverse that. Some was, but the only person that could do that was our secretary and if I hadnt had her, she was a whiz, we would have been hurting. And the last few years, she did do the scheduling for me and that sort of thing after I gave her the information.
Q: Were there any computers in the regular classroom at that time?
A: A few at the time I retired. Now, we had moved from a Typing I to a Keyboarding program and we only had a classroom of computers in the Business Department. We did not have computers in the regular classrooms. We did operate programs where the children would go to the business room.
Q: And see them there?
Q: So you would say that probably the biggest difference is just the influx of technology?
Q: Ok, there are those that would argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experience with such testing and provide your review on the quality of instructional programs.
A: I know I am not by myself. I do not believe in standardized testing. I found that children tense, they get, they do not do well always and I have known children who have been very intelligent who could perform at every line, but when they went into that testing situation, they seemed threatened. They could not produce, and yet, today, we are still having to do the same thing that we were asked to do back then. Teach to a test, so to speak. While you are not exposed to the actual content of the test, teachers are expected to get children ready for the test. So, in my estimation that is teaching to a test. And, children are being deprived on being able to branch out. I know, for example, when I was doing graduate work, I presented a paper on creativity. And, I had to stay in a time line, and it just so happened that these papers had to be given orally. And, I reached the point where I said, from my research I found this to be true, creativity can not be put given to a boxed time frame. So, later, my professor said, I was going to call time on you and you gave me that point, and I knew I couldnt. Which is true. Tests put too many restrictions on children. Now, I dont think that we should do away with testing in the school. They should learn to take a test, but I do not approve of standardized testing.
Q: Would you describe some of the pressures that you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them? Describe your biggest headaches on the job and describe the roughest decision or decisions that you had to make.
A: You know that is a hard question.
Q: Every day was different one.
A: At the time, I always said, I wish I had kept a journal. That would be my biggest advice to any principal. Keep a journal. Every day you start new. You never know what is coming, but I would say that the biggest pressures is when children would get hurt. You knew you had to call parents, you had to take care of them, and you had to see that all the procedures were right. And really and truly that is the biggest thing, because children have to be kept in a safe environment. And really, as far as the educational job, I wasnt uptight at all. But sometimes, on occasions, I was afraid that people would come into my school. I had one parent that loved to come to drop her childs lunch in the locker without telling me.
Q: Today, that would be a real no-no, wouldnt it?
A: It was a no-no in my school. And I waited after I was told that this was happening. I said we will call your child to the office any time, you are welcome any time. But, you can not come to another door and go to a locker. It is too much danger. And, of course, today it is even worse.
Q: And, of course, you are looking at 20 years ago, no 10 years ago.
A: Ten years ago.
Q: You were making that observation
A: Ten to fifteen years, I was requiring it. But, I couldnt see that you could take that chance.
Q: Please discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied them during your career.
A: I think the biggest thing as a professional, teachers especially and all educators on a one to one basis and you never discuss personal things that you speak to another person about. The same with children, you have to be professional and sometimes even parents. But, you have to be honest and fair and be willing to make a tough decision if you have to.
Q: There are those that argue that more often than not central office policies hinder, rather than help building level administrators in carrying out there responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue? In other words, if you were Queen, what changes would you make in the typical system wide, organizational arrangement in way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: Of course, we need central office. I mean we need central office policy. I do think that there are occasions, and I found this to be true. I served on many committees that helped to establish some of these, especially for instruction for the county level. But, I think sometimes they forget that they were principals, they forget that they were teachers. A principal can not forget what it is like to be in a classroom. Well, neither can a central office supervisor, superintendent or whatever. So, I think that the biggest thing, if I were the Queen, just not be so secretive, use my teachers to the best advantage. Because you have a lot of talent out there. And do not skirt issues, take a stand and that is it. And, if you have decided that this is the way it goes, then you expect your principals and teachers to carry it out.
Q: If you were advising a person, who was considering an administrative job, what would your advice be?
A: The biggest thing is to be sure that you want that. It is a hard job, you can not put in a six hour day. Regardless of how many people you can delegate authority to, and you must do that, learn to delegate. The principal is responsible in the end for whatever takes place. So you have to be on hand, be ready to assist, if that is necessary and the public expects to see you. Treat all children and teachers fairly. And, you might as well expect to be unpopular at times, but you sort of grin and bear it and you are still friendly and cordial with the public.
Q: What did you see as the major sacrifice that you had to make with your personal life when you became a principal?
A: A great deal of time.
Q: Ok, there are those that would argue that the principal should be an instructional leader and that suggests that realistically speaking this must be above all a good manager. Almost that it is two different things. You are either a strong instructional leader, or a good plant manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe how you managed to balance those two leadership roles?
A: Well, certainly you have to be an instructional leader. If you dont know curriculum, if you dont know how to implement it, how to get your teachers to use their talents and to appeal to students, you can not be a principal. At the same time, you have to be a good manager. You are always in need, you are always struggling to keep your plant in top notch condition. And, if you are not a good manager, you will find that students and even teachers will not take care of property. So, you must do both. I just forgot that I had an office, and the time that I spent in the office, during the school day, was time that a teacher or a child needed me. Other than that, I was out and doing and I was very persistent when I requested to the county that I needed something for my school that I have it. And I was very persistent in requiring students to take care of their school.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and community organizations. Which community organizations or groups was the greatest influence on the school when you served?
A: Well, I think you have to be very careful with community groups. I mean by that, I dont think that the principal has to join any club or organization, simply because you cant join all and if you are not careful, you can get totally involved on a one to one level. However, you do need to indirectly just work with all of the civic groups and to be supportive and in return expect them to be supportive.
Q: I know now in this area the Womens Club and the Center of Christian Action are very good to help support us and do things like that.
A: Well, they supported us too.
Q: The same group?
A: I think that you have to be careful that you dont find that they think that they have a priority over controlling activities. I dont like that type of responsibility really.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy on the value of such an evaluation?
A: Well, that is a hard job. First of all, I think that the principal must observe and know what a teacher is doing. Always ask the teacher to fill out an evaluation instrument, the same that I was going to fill out for them. Then we had a conference and went over these. Ive done mine, theyve done theirs and together, you know, we talked about what we agreed on and what we didnt agree on. And, of course, I made my evaluation. But, I think you have to be very careful that you dont belittle teachers. You dont want to make them feel threatened.
Q: Ive heard people say, well, you should come up with a positive comment for every negative. Did you try to do that? Or, did you just try to give a good overall.
A: If a comment is not deserving, no. But, if you have to explain your position and you have to appeal to the teacher to look at it from you aspect or position and then you work out a happy medium. But, I think you have to be as positive as you can to let the teacher know that he or she is backed and most of the time you can be positive, but I wouldnt say every time.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones?
A: Good strong discipline is the best. You can not let teachers or students run wild and then expect to pull in the rein. You can always let up, but you can not. And you can be fair and honest at times, but you have to be a good disciplinarian. And, let people know what you expect.
Q: Yes. You mentioned a number of changes here that happened during the time that you worked with the school system. One of course, was the integration. Another one that I just thought of as you mentioned discipline, it was during the time that you were working that we no longer could use corporal punishment in the county, wasnt it?
A: Yes, you are right. I was in the classroom and then in the principalship for 40 years. I never laid a hand on a child. I did not believe in it. And I did fine. I was one of the best principals that they had in the county. But, you have to let children and parents know what you expect and when you take a stand and you feel that you are right, you stick to it. You have conferences with children, you have conferences with parents and I didnt allow.. in 71, 72, when I was a principal, I did not allow the teachers to paddle. And I know, that before that the classroom teacher was paddling. Then, through the years I had to witness when the principals would paddle. But, I did not approve of it and when I became principal, I let them know that I wasnt trying to whip anybodys child. Once I had a father that insisted that I paddle his son, not expel him. I said, I dont want to. Then you could expel. He had done something that would almost deserve expelling. I said, no, I would rather have in-school suspension, but if you want your child paddled, I will let you paddle your child in front of me, or he will go into in-school suspension or you can take him home. Well, the father said, I dont want to, but I will paddle him. But, he wanted me to paddle him and I wasnt going to paddle someone elses child.
Q: A lot of people that you hear talking say that was the downfall of education, when we could no longer use corporal punishment in the school. Did you see a big change in student behavior from the time that you started teaching until the time that you retired, or were they all pretty much the same?
A: I think it is pretty much the same. I dont really think the paddling was the big thing. I think really and truly that was just one of the instruments that they used. But, that just weakened, really, the principals position when it was taken out of the school, so people took advantage of that. But, I did fine. In the classroom, I had a classroom, which was one of the best classrooms around. My children would learn, but I didnt touch one. But, I had control.
Q: In recent years, more and more programs for special needs groups have been developed. Please discuss your experience with special student populations and special services and your views on todays trends in this regard.
A: Well, I think any time that you have special needs groups, certainly anything that you can provide should be provided. We had a hard time most of the years that I worked because the county had programs but they werent fully funded to the point that we could offer what we needed to offer. And, so in that case, we had to do the best we could. We had to try to work around those hardships and difficulties and we had to make revisions that would take care of the children. If money is available and the, and you can have those services we certainly should have them, because you cant do too much for children.
Q: You were working during the time that Public Law 142 came into effect. Was that 1973?
A: The Title programs?
Q: Well, where special ed students had to be served through the schools. Did you see a larger number?
A: I dont think we had so many more, it was just that, you see, the regular classroom teacher was having to take care of those children. So, there were two groups not being served, the special needs child was getting too much of. Lets say that you had 30 children in a class and 55 minutes, that wasnt two minutes per child. So the special needs child was really taking up a vast majority of the time. The regular student was losing out. So, something needed to give. And that was the biggest change, when we could give. When we had special ed teachers, we could take those children for special ed or for LD out of the classroom, give them one to one, so to speak. That helped them and that also helped the regular classroom teacher, she could teach to the children that could handle a regular classroom situation.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the Division Superintendent, in terms of his or her demeanor towards you and to your school? Who was the Superintendent for most of the time?
A: Well, Lester Jones was Superintendent in the last realm of my teaching and when I became principal. Ill back up. When I was a teacher until about 1970, Mr. Jones, was the Director of Instruction, and he was a very good leader. And, then he became Superintendent, he is the one that, the first Superintendent that talked me into being a principal. I think I had his respect, because I knew I was a good teacher. Then, later, when Mr. Cosby came, a lot of people couldnt get along with him. But, I respected him and he liked me and respected me and we got along great. Now, we had our disagreements, but I was willing to back up what I had to disagree with and stick to it and the same was true with Mr. Jones. I would say if I disagreed and I think they respected that. And, I think to that you have to do it in the right manner.
Q: Would you discuss your general relationship with the Division School Board at the time of your principalship and comment on the effectiveness of School Board operations in general?
A: I always had no difficulties in operating or working with the School Board. I think sometimes you just have to be willing to let them know what your wishes are and you cant take advantage. I would say that I had a good working relationship with them. And for the most part they are usually willing to listen.
Q: Did you see the kind of. I dont remember growing up when I was in high school. You didnt see as much about the school board and the school system in the newspaper and on the news as you do today. Or, maybe I just wasnt in a position to be interested in that. But, it seems that public education has become more public now than it was.
A: Well, I think more people want to have a voice. But, we didnt get as much publicity. When you went to meetings and different issues were discussed, they had good representation for the cause. But, you just didnt get the kind of publicity that you get today.
Q: So the interest was always there, it just wasnt covered by the media.
A: By the press, thats right. But, too, one other thing along with that. You had an appointed school board.
Q: Mrs. Walker, since School Boards were not elected in Virginia during the time of your tenure in administration, do you see elected School Boards as having a positive or a negative effect on local school divisions and please explain why?
A: I think they have both positive and negative effects. When school boards were appointed, if you didnt like what was happening, people complained to the Supervisors, because Supervisors complained to the School Board and it seems that while teachers and educators could not dominate them necessarily, they respected the position of the educator and the opinion. Now, since they had been elected, I have had an opportunity to be involved with two sets of elected school board people and my objection mostly is for a big part, too many know too little about education and are too quick to make a decision, a final decision before they learn the details. I am sure that those very people could be good board members, but I think they could be helped out by learning to listen and react to some people that have had some experience in education.
Q: So the argument then, that an elected school board brings too much politics into education, do you
A: I think definitely because they want to be seen, they want to make a name for themselves. So the people will come back and give them that vote.
Q: What impact, if any did being the first and only one at the time, female, secondary principal in your school system have on the expectations of your school board, your community, the parents of your students, and your students toward you?
A: Well, I think at the time, most of the school board knew that I could do the job. However, the first time that I became principal, we had one school board member who thought that it was unheard of for a woman to be a secondary principal and that was his statement, but the rest of them disagreed and they appointed me as principal. So, I think I was under his watchful eye. It didnt bother me, because I knew what I had to do. My community was proud of me and the parents and students were too. And, as the years went on, some of my parents were my former students. And, so I think basically people knew and respected me as an educator. And, certainly I had served this county when I was Supervisor of English for the State Department of Education. And was always welcomed back to the schools, I was well known. So, I knew what I had to do and I was expected to do well, and I did.
Q: When you would have meetings, say principal meetings with the Superintendent, was it ever difficult as possibly the only woman in the group?
A: No, they were real nice to me. That was the same way with my work with the State Department of Education. I was the only woman in the Radford Regional office. I learned to work with men and they respected me. And, I was never shy about offering my opinion. Especially, if I thought that it was educationally sound. And, I think for the most part, they always respected me.
Q: How did your experience as a Virginia Department of Education Supervisor impact your work when you came back to be a building administrator?
A: Well, I think it just gave me a broader look. I had served on many evaluation committees, because with the State Department you have to do that. I was able to come back to this school and lead them through two or three evaluations and that was helpful. I had extensive work with curriculum, so that was helpful. It just gave me a broader view and understanding of the total educational process in the State of Virginia. I knew all of the rules and the laws and I did, from the class that I took on school law on this work. I came to the conclusion, I dont know why they havent done it, that all teachers when they prepare to be a teacher, should be required to take school law.
Q: I agree with that.
A: At the under-graduate level. It is vital, I think. But it will be.
Q: Please discuss your style of personnel management. That is, what approaches did you employ that contributed to your effectiveness as a manager.
A: Well, we had every position had a job description. And, where it was necessary and expected, I delegated the authority and I was on hand again, not just in the office but all over to see and observe that things were being carried out. Teachers always knew that the office door was open, that I was there to help them. I think that really and truly that was the biggest help for my being able to handle the job.
Q: It has been said that good personnel managers encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations for their successes. To what extent did you engage in this practice in your tenure as a principal and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness?
A: Well, I dont know what you mean exactly by a celebration. I dont think it has to be big. I think by coming together, a thank you, not just to a single person, but in front of others. Special recognitions. Everybody likes to be complimented and praised. And if it is deserving, it should be given. One thing that I always like to do. And, I found this to be true. Maybe I was the only principal that really did that in the county. Two or three times a year, there were occasions when it was popular to have a faculty get together, but we resorted to the type of get together that would involve everybody. We just didnt have faculty, I invited bus drivers, custodians, all of the personnel and so it was that, you know, we just all came together as one family. It worked best. People learned to be more considerate and get along better with the people who came to service our schools. I really think, I know I had, one summer I had a group that came and said Ms. Walker, we like to come to your school, because they were cleaning, painting and doing floors. Because you treat us so nicely. My bus drivers came and told, ooh, they dont do what you do Ms. Walker at other schools. The bus drivers are never invited to the breakfast or dinner. And, you know, things like that. But, I think you have to let everybody know that every job is important and you can not make big differences. You do not have to have a snobbish faculty.
Q: Some principals believe that teachers and other staff members are, in general, well motivated and reliable self starters. Others feel that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees. What approach did you customarily use during your administrative career?
A: Well, my first reaction was to give the teacher an opportunity to show me that they could handle the classroom, they could follow policy and do their job. Once they showed me that they were having problems, if they asked for help, I gave help. If they didnt ask for help, then I was on hand when I found out about it, I asked them to come and let us work out whatever the problem may be. It, some teachers just require constant help. And, every principal is going to get weak teachers. That is what that is. They just cant handle the classroom. So, when you find that is true, it is a hard road to travel, but you have to work with them very closely.
Q: Did you ever have to encourage a teacher to get out of the profession, or have one transferred because they didn't fit well in your school, or anything like that?
A: Most of the teachers did fairly well. No, I never did make that kind of recommendation. On one occasion, we were sharing a teacher with another school. The principal there, wanted to be rid of the teacher, so he wanted me to join in and not recommend that teacher. But, I refused to do that, because for me, he was having a struggle, but he was working hard. And, trying. And I was not going to go along with anyone elses recommendation. As it turned out, the man did not get a contract, but it was not because of me.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time that you did? Give your reasons and the mental processes that you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down.
A: Well, I had never had any thought of retiring when I retired. I took the early retirement program that was offered by the State of Virginia, the early incentive, of being given five additional years. I had worked forty years. The first year that I taught school, the old retirement system failed, so only had 39 _ years of service in the retirement system. I could have taught. I was 62 when I retired. I could have taught three more years, at least. But, with five additional years, it was not advisable for me to pass that up. So, I decided to take the early retirement and ended up with 44 _ years credit in the Virginia Retirement System. So, I did it with great hesitation and I had many reservations about it. Because, I loved my career and maybe I would not have had as many years, had my husband lived and we had children. But, under the circumstances, it became my center for life and I have so many former students that I call mine.
A: So, all of that. I had reservation, but everybody has to step down some time. So I decided that that was the opportune time for me.
Q: Have you had any regrets?
A: No, not really. Oh, I miss the school. And, I wasnt too welcome that first year. In fact, we had a principal that didnt believe in the same type things, but he didnt last long. He didnt believe in the same type of approach to education, nor was he too kind to the people that worked for me. But, I missed it. But, I adjusted. Im busy.
Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something that I have left out. Is there any aspect of the principalship that I have failed to ask you about that you would like to comment about?
A: Well, I think you did a good job, Kathy. And, after 40 years, it is hard to separate different phases in my career. I think you covered it well, though. I still miss the daily contact with students and educators. I love coming back and I would remind any principal that it is necessary to be willing to say to students, I love you. Now, when, I say that to students, which I did many times in the auditorium or anywhere. I reminded them of this because everybody wants to be a part of a group. And, it is like I told them, we were like parents. We loved them, therefore we would make requirements and demands. Truly the greatest reward that any teacher or principal has is the respect that follows. Not for popularity today, regardless of where I go, it is a daily thing. I have encounters with so many former students and they are grown men and women.
A: They are my friends, as well as my former students and them calling. Or, they see me and they say, or their wives will tell me that your boys are interested in how you are doing. And they are 55 and better aged men. So, it is just a wonderful relationship and again, I thank you for the opportunity.
Q: Well, I certainly thank you. I know that the incites that you have been able to share today will do a lot to help students in the future that are thinking of making the same decision that you made. Thank you very much.
| Back to "W" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |