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Q: You said you were in education for how long?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, according to the state, 45 years 4 months. That included,though, almost five years in the military. I started teaching prior to my milit#ry assignment and that caused my time to include that period. So the state gives m.e credit for 45 years 4 months, and I certainly must take in those four years there.
Q: I see. When were you in the military?
A: March 31, 1941 to December 28, 1945.
Q: So you were in WorldWar II.
A: Yes. Right in the middle of it. In the middle of it.
Q: Where'd youserve?
A: In the Mediterranean theater, primarily Asiatic theater. They're the two main ones. We covered different areas. I went to the European theater but only on a combat mission and then back through the Mediterranean and Africa and then back to Asia.
Q: And when you left you were a teacher, you were teaching and then returned as a teacher?
Q: And then when did you become a principal, your first principal- ship?
A: My first principalship took place on September 1, 1946.
Q: So, shortly after you got back.
Q: And you were principal of what school then?
A: Carter Woodson.
Q: Which at the time, Carter G. Woodson was...
A: Carter G. Woodson was at that time...We11, we called it high school and elementary, but the state referred to the combined school because we always had grades from one through what ever we had. For many years, Woodson was one through eleven. Even when the state had many one through twelve schools, when twelfth grade was in high school, we had only four years in high school and that was Woodson's status at that time. In fact, we didn't change to the twelfth grade until 1958, and we moved to the old location where the school is located now. We changed and put that extra grade in there.
Q: Oh, I see. The building that is Carter G. Woodson now was not always Carter G., well there was another Carter G. Woodson school in the city. Where was it?
A: That's the third Carter G. Woodson building.
Q: Oh, I didn't know that.
A: Yes. The school I attended, Carter G. Woodson, was back of the fire department, the main fire department, the piece of land there. An old framed building that set right beside the train track. Itwas an interesting thing, well an interesting student if you weren't too dedicated to learn because part of the t#me you couldn't hearwhat was going on. When the train came by, it would come by regularly, it would switch right at that spot and it would roar and the whistle would be so loud that the walls would rattle and the dust would fall out of the cracks. And we looked forward to that. It was sort of the thing that would liven the day.
Q: Sort of a break.
A: That was the first place, in the 1940s, of #ourse I was a boy at the time when we built the school in Davisville. They transferred Carter Woodson over there. That was, I think, in 1941.
Q: And that was where you first became principal, at the Carter G. Woodson that's in Davisville.
Q: Is that building still standing?
A: Yes. That's Harry E. James.
Q: And is the work center now. Harry E. James work center. It was the work center.
A: It was the work center. So, that's the building youwere principal of.
A: Was it new then? Well, it had...see I came there. I came to the building as a teacher on February 14, 1946 and became principal in September after the ap pointment was made in July. But I actually became principal on Sep tember 1, 1946. So I taught there for half a year before I became principal. I guess that's possibly because back then I was the only man there and only men got the principalships.
Q: And that's the way it was.
A: That's the way it was.
Q: It was all female teachers except for you.
A: Yes. I was the only male in the group. And it was quite an in- teresting thing because they were quite divided at the time. Reverand James, the old principal, had been my principal and I worked with him for six month during his last service time. He was quite feeble and the teachers were sort of disarrayed, they just had fac tions even among the 11 people, you had about three factions. And I was asked pretty quickly which side I belonged to, which side did I join. And I said I'm just with the schoo! side and let it go at that. So I more or less at that time took over his responsibilities, although I didn't have a title. I didn't want it. I took care of the discipline. Made the reports. Most often the reports were made in longhand then. You didn't have a typewriter at that time. No secretaries.So teachers wrote their stuff out in the book and the office combined it with pencil and paper and sent it up to the school board office. So that was in 1946 when I came there and we stayed at that location until September 1958, when we moved to the present location.
Q: The building then was new. That Carter G. Woodson was new.
Q: But you also served as a principal in that building.
A: From 1958 in that building to 1971, June 1971.
Q: I see. So your ten years as a principal was from 1946-1971.
A: At Carter Woodson.
Q: At two different buildings. I heard you say before that you were principal at Carter Woodson but it didn't dawn on me that there were two different Carter G. Woodsons.
Q: Well, so when I say tell me about your school, you might answer that twice.
A: Well, three t#mes really, Steve. Because as a student I as in the old building, right behind the track, which was a very interesting experience. Then as a teacher and principal at the middle building in Davisville. And finally just as a principal at the present site. Incidentally, I taught as principal for several years.
Q: Oh, you did.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: Principals taught classes?
A: Oh, yes. I taught. Of course the principal being the smartest person there, would teach whatever would have to be left over. If you had a class that needs a teacher and you didn't have a teacher, you taught. I taught English for a while. History, chemistry, cause I was certified to teach chemistry and general science. You just plugged your main in whatever spot was missing. I don:t think the state at #hat time made much miration about what you were doing as long as they had a teacher. Certification was not a big problem.
Q: You know that's interesting because one of the new things today is that the principal should be in with the teachers. They should continue to teach. Do you think a principal today should teach some courses like that?
A: I think so, Steve. I think every administrator should teach on a regular basis. At intervals. I don't mean day after day. But you see, you just can't keep in touch with the classroom, even as prin cipal, without some time getting in that room and shutting the door and letting the youngsters react to you as a teacher. Certainly, Central Office administrators do not have the feel...I don't care what you say, you can:t maintain the feel for teaching unless you're actually doing it. I don't mcan you experiment in every class. I don:t mean that at all. In fact, I read some fellow who is a pro fessor in English or something at a university, and he made a statement several years ago that I think is quite good. He said we teach best what we need to learn. And I really believe from the stand point of a child, that that has a lot or virtue. Some people don't think so well and its hard for them to relate to a person who has no knowledge about it at all. They:re just, 'Why can't you see this? It's so simple.: And when you don't know that thing that well, it means you:ve got to get it to the point that you're learning it and the child is learning it. And I think that is a super way to get knowledge transferred. I think that certain persons who evaluate teachers ought not to spend a year away from a classroom and go in there and bite at someone's feet. I don't think so. It's a different feeling. You sit in the back of the room with a notebook making notes on what the poor teacher is trying to do. That's good. That:s necessary. But if you haven:t some times taught that class, you don't really know what she:s trying to do or how effective she might be. I used to regularly...I assigned myself, even when I got out of the classroom, that's when I had enough teachers to schedule myself out, I assigned myself a class a week, just a half a day at a time, starting with the twelfth grade and went right on down to the first. The first grade was terrible for me. I suffered. In fact, I don't think I tried but one time for the whole day. And after about 20 minutes or an hour, I sent for the teacher. 'Come back here, honey. I can't handle it.: I was having fun, but the learning I thought was nil. 'Mr...., How do you...' I didn:t know how to get them settled. Down in the third grade, I was king. And at this first grade, I wouldn't give ten cents to teach the first year.
Q: You had a lot of respect for those people.
A: Yes. This is a skill that I think. And particularly if a teacher were having a problem in the class. Many young teachers do. And some old ones with certain children. Some children are difficult. They wero difficult then, and I think they're probably more so now. They're more inclined to have their own way than ever, so I think the teacher's problem now is, in a sense, they're problems are greater. But when I have a teacher who is having a problem, I say, 'Honey, you're not doing this well. The class is not going well. Let me teach you class. Now, you can sit in here with me, or you can go to the office and turn on the intercom, where ever you think you want to observe.: But Mr. Epps, you're a principal. It's not the same as my being in there.' I say, you know, after 20 minutes, the kids don't care who:s in there. If you're not doing an effective job at what you:re doing, you:re going to know that. So I know that for the first 20 minutes, I'll have the edge. But if I stay in there for a full period, by the time that period gets to the end, I'll be operating on my ability to operate and not on the principalship because the principal doesn't stay in the classroom. And if I stay in there, I lose that status. And quite often, I come out of that scene, when I've spent a period with those groups of youngsters, I would have a better way to think of what that teacher is going through. Now, I had 15 years experience, and I had to be on my toes to keep them guided, keep them going, keep them focused on the lesson. Now teachers were coming in with just six or seven months or a week some times. I had great empathy for her because she couldn:t draw on that wealth of experience that I had before. And 1 would go back some time and where I had said she was a failure, I said wait a minute, let me look at this thing. Maybe I'm not doing my job. I haven't given her the help she needs. So I:m going to make a harsh judgement at this point. If I had to deal with her for a year, certainly you would have to make some kind of a judgement. And if she:s making headway and making a change in what you tried to tell her, then you give her credit for that. But if she's still at the same spot, isn't making any progress at all, then you have to say, well maybe this person is not going to make it because everybody doesn't make it. Every body can't make it. But I:m saying all that to say that the classroom experience itself is one that every administrator should have and should have it in a class that he doesn't know much about. Go to the chemistry class some time. Now he doesn:t want to do anything to blow himself up, or course. Keep to the literature. And he might go to a thing in which he has expertise. The idea is not necessarily to teach the children so much, as to make sure you know what should be going on or how a teacher might relate to this particular situ- ation. And you don't have to know. In fact, I really think, Steve, I have taught some of my best classes in things I didn:t know anything about. Because if you can get out the proper questions which will make a child exert his energy, his thinking, he will probably tell you what he is looking for and you don't know what it is yourself. But you given him the right question, the right frame of mind to mak# him open up himself. Many times I:ve had a child to say now what have you been given to solve this problem. Well, the book says:I have this that and the other. O.k. Now what do you want to find? And he goes on and finally sorts that out. 'Now how do you solve it? Oh, I see.: I say, what did he see?
Q: You still couldn:t solve it.
A: I couldn't solve it. He said, ' What's the lesson about?' I:m rambling on.
Q: No. You:re doing fine. But on a typical day you would teach. What else would go on? During the day. As a principal. You said you taught some. What else? Give me some other ideas of the duties that you would carry on.
A: Well, I guess one of the first things I did was ring the bell.
Q: By hand.
A: Yes. Get out in hall and ding-a-ling-a-ling.
Q: Oh, you don:t mean you pushed a button to ring the bell, you mean you...
A: No. You had a bell with a clapper in it. Of course some of the kids would take the job away from you occasionally. :Let me do it. Let me do it.: And they would run up to the back door because the kids didn't come in the building necessarily right away. You came and got on the grounds. You went out to play. You started the day out on the field. You would ring the bell and everyone would have a certain length of time from that ringing to get inside. Then, of course, you had.your devotional period. Each class would have a devotional period and as a part of that thing the roll was taken and the reports sent to the office. Very similar to what we've done in the last several years in the elementary schools. We haven't done it here for some time. But you had a little slip. Present or absent today, John Blow and Mary Jane and so forth. Membership and present and all that you sent in. Then in the high school, of course, the bell would have to initially be rung to change classes. That was quite often but not too long after I got back from the Army. But when I got back from the Army, we had bells in the building out here. Then your classes changed. You just went to your first period class. Of course you: started off the day with two things. Have a prayer and sing the national anthem. When that ended, we had about 10 or 15 minutes for that, then you went to your first period class. And the classes moved throughout the day and at a ccrtain point in the day you had a lunch period and also a recess period. They were sort of combined. Of course, initially they didn't have cafeterias. You brought your bag with you and you sat in the room and ate your lunch or went out on the yard in you were the larger students. The little ones had to sit in the classroom with the teacher. After you finished your lunch, now you:d go out and play. You'd run out and play, the bell would ring to end that and you'd come back in or during the hot weather you really didn:t want to do much playing because it was a little tough with a bunch of kids get out and run and get all sweaty and come back in and sit up in the classroom. And a day went all like that. But as principal. of course, I would try to schedule a class to teach at a time that convenient for me. In other words, I would very seldom teach first period because that:s your record time and your form time and your complaint period. So I:d teach a later period, maybe just before lunch and maybe th# middle one in the afternoon. You had three periods in the afternoon and I'd take the fifth period. Not always, but that's what you attempted to do. The principal was also responsible for all sorts of planning. You:d make the schedule, you set up the program, you talk with other principals to set up atletic programs. We tried to do every thing we could do. choir, bands. Well, our band didn:t do very much. The first year I think they had six pieces in the band and the next year maybe three. Then they finally got 12 and we participated in state competition. And finally every year they got a good band. In fact, I think the last two or three years of the band, we had one of the finest bands from a principal:s point of view that I ever heard.
Q: How many kids were in the school? You said you had 6 or 12 in the band.
A: Well, if I go back to 1946, Steve, I had 89 people in the high school. And the whole school covered grades 8-11. And there were around 200 kids in grades 1-7. I'm not certain I can:t figure out what happened to all of that number in the high school. Well, they must have dropped out and of course you had a lot of that. Go to work, lack.of interest and that kind of thing and the law did not deal with it too much. In fact, I happened to think we mentioned the number of students we had. At the time we had 89 students, we had a choir of 75 voices. So you didn't count the choir. You counted the 10 kids that weren't in the choir= So when we had choir practice, we did it on a special schedule. Everything ceased for the choir because that's all. We didn:t have anybody left. Except the monitors. But at the same time, we won superior ratings in the state for choir. I would some times fuss with the teachers. I fussed with the maestro. 1 said, :Maestro, we don't need that many in the choir.: 'We need the volume, we need... He made them sing. He.could sing like the very devil. At least it sounded that way to me. And the state evidentally thought so because we never won anything less than excellent. Of course then, thc numbers began to increase and I think when we came to the present location, we had about 300.
Q: The Carter G. Woodson building now.
A: Yes. About 300 high school folks. And about an equal number of elementary. Of course, at that time, Harry E. James had a few students down there, which were the feeder for Woodson and Arlington was also a feeder for Woodson when it came here.
Q: So the three schools in the system that you were working in were Arlington School, Carter G. Woodson, and Harry E. James, but I:ve got them in reverse order. Would Arlington feed to Harry E. James and Harry E. James...
A: No. They both fed to Woodson. James had 1-5. Arlington had the same thing I believe.
Q: And they all came to you at Carter Woodson.
A: They:d come to me in the 6th grade. And also, shortly after that though, Woodson picked up the 1st graders in Highland Park, which was the little area directly across from the school. For#e first several years, they went down to Harry James. So we had, I guess about a class of#udents of first, second, third, fourth, and fifth graders. Just one class from that area. A class of about 30 students a piece. Interesting enough, when people think about class sizes, I have a picture home now of a first grade class at Carter Woodson of 5# first graders.
Q: One teacher.
A: One teacher. In fact, the smallest out of every class we had at Woodson at that time was 12. A small class. That was the second grade. The third grade had 40.. I don't remember the fifth and sixth graders.
Q: It's amazing you remember the numbers that you do. Was that good? Do you think it:s o.k. to have a first grade of 50 kids?
A: No. That's not good at all, Steve. It would be a disaster now because at that time we had much more control over the students than you have now. See, the teachers said.do so and so and you did it. At least you tried to do it. But there:s no way you can get around to accomodating the needs of all those youngsters. Many just sat there. You said be quiet and you're going to be quiet. But you're not learning so much being o.uiet. I would never recommend that. I do not think that you necessarily have to have 20 to be effective. That depends, in my judgement, on the skill of the teacher# plus the level of interest of the student and youngsters come up with different answers. You see, a child who knows from scratch that he needs to learn, that:s a part of the growing process, he comes to school with a lot more material ready to be developed. Other stu- dents come just because mom wants to get rid of them or they get out of the house so she can have #ome peace. Learning is not of in- terest. The child has a hard job overcoming that getting in a new situation. I:m convinced that most children can learn if we can ever get the interest in learning. To me it's the key thing. If you ever get a child dedicated to working# most people can learn. Not all of them, some have brain problems and that sort of stuff, but I mean in normal situations I think the difference betweeen a good student and an average or poor one is energy.and direction. I'm sure we have children who come here right now who really don:t want to be in school. They resist your efforts to teach them. The biggest tI#ng the get is to foil your attempts to make them learn. Because that's the way they perceive life or think that life has nothing particular to offer. I don't how to overcome it, certainly unless we create a new set of parents and that:s difficult to do.
Q: That brings up an interesting question. As a principal, what did you do in the school to create what I guess they call today a climate of learning? What did you do to try and help the teacher get the kids in the right environment to learn? Were there some things you could do as a principal?
A: I think so, Steve. First of all, we have to sit down as a faculty and discuss what we expect the children to bring to us. Now we will agree that we couldn:t control at all what they would bring. But we would agree that we would have a lot to do to make sure that when they went away, they had something better than what they came with. A teacher has to believe, and I think that it is part of the princpal's job to have a teacher believe she is important.. That she can and must make a difference. I would say to any teacher when she first joined at Woodson, :You have two jobs at this place. Two mains jobs. Number one, to make sure your class has the best teacher and the best school in the city. Number two, make me look good.
Q: And if she did the first, the second would happen...
A: Automatically. Yes, automatically. I think that the main thing if teachers believe that they can and must make a difference, that:s a whole lot of things. But if they can convinc# thcy chiL, and we need to do that. Of course, a part of our meetings and we had an assembly every Wednesday right after lunch, and a part of that as- sembly had to do with our presentation of ourselves, good citizens, good people, the need to help each other because I think, I thought then and I still do, we are our brothcr:s keeper. Anything that I can do to enhance the value of my brother, helps m#. By the way, 1 had one requirement in an assembly. We had to do the National Anthem and all of the items and every child there knew that when you heard the first bar, and you had to listen for it, you jumped up at attention. And I mean right then. There was no hesitating. We had to do that, we had to have the Lord's Prayer, always prayer, and then we included the negro national anthem. I love that song. The National Anthem, the negro national anthem, and the Lord's Prayer were a part of every child:s assembly. And we started the assembly this way. If we opened school on Thursday, school opened on a Thursday, the senior class new that when they left there in June, as rising seniors, that they had to have the program for that opening day. 'When do we get together?' I said, :You decide.' You get together, I'll be here all summer. You get your class together and come in here and get your program work done and that:s that. And they do that. We started off with that. They always had some kind of a little skit or something to welcome the young kids. First grade was new then. We had them to stand and make them a part of Woodson and let them know they belong here and they were part of a new family now, a new situation, the.best school in the state. They new that. The next week, the juniors right on down to w# finally got down to the first graders. That was some time back in April. They knew that on the calendar when they:d be on the podium. It has something to do with making them believe, I think, particularly I was concerned about the teachers t!#n the children that this place is good because I'm here. I can't escape it being good because I:m a part of it. And for the most part the students believed that. Boys respected girls. If a boy went into a room at Woodson, this was because I was old-fashioned as the devil, he knew that if the seats gave out and a girl came in if she stood near him, he got up from it. Now he probably wouldn:t do it some times if I didn't look at him. And they didn:t wear hats in the house. They.knew they were expected to be clean. I don't care if your clothes are ragged or patched or not, you can take them off at night and wash them. You don't look right. It seemed to me this is pride. In a hall, that kind of thing, I think, the principal is sort of the cheerleader in a sense. And yet, he had to be so firm that they know exactly what would happen if they didn't do right. I remember seeing this boy telling him one day, 'Boy I:m going to take a strap and whip you.' :Mr. Epps, I:m a senior.: 'Oh, you are?. What did you do?: And he told me. I said, 'That sounds like a second grader to me. So when you act like a second grader, you're treated like a second grader. You understand that?' :Yes, sir.' So what ever the punishment for a second grader is, is what you get. We had some children, or course, who broke the rules, but very sel- dom did anyone ever get sent home. One reason I guess theydid it because those who needed to be sent home, their parents weren:t any good. So the only thing we really did then was probably get some relief for the teacher. So we kept him there. Doing things like picking up paper, washing windows, scrubbing floors. And they complained a lot but I just laughed and said, :Well, the place is dirty, you need to work on it. You just want to do a good job. We want our place to look nice. So it's not punishment. We just need some extra help for the day.
Q: You were telling me about things you think I need to be a good principal and I believe you were in the middle of one of the traits. You were talking about...You said we have a tendency in education to point out our successes and never act like we have failures.
A: I do think that the person ought to have the right to fail without being condemned. But I think some time that a good success has come from failures. By looking at what we wanted to do and how it came out, from that we learn a whole lot. But if we always have to guaran- tee success, we:re going to succeed very slowly because we're guarding so much the idea of succeeding. That we're not gambling at all maybe to be the bigger successors. Well, you look at the sports. Well a fellow who strikes three times out of ten, gets three hits out of ten a#t bat is a high-pegged man. He:s failed seven times out of the possible number, but he succeeded three. When we have a tendency not to come out well, we try to justify it by the weather, somebody had a cold or things of that kind. Never the fact that it just wasn:t a good deal. And a thing that:s not a good deal today, might be good tomorrow. But we tend to justify when a kid's only made two points but they hadn:t been prepared for it. The black kid some times if he were white he would succeed. And I think the good people though, those who are dedicated, who are going to do it, do it because some time of. the difficulties. That:s what makes them different. Makes them better. But we tend to we can't be comfortable with it, can:t get the success we want at the particular moment, then some sort of way somebody has to bear the blame and not ourselves. I'm going to accept the blame for my failure. I:m goin# to put it on something else. As I listen to people talk about the condition of the building, the building is terrible. I know that. But that is not going to change learning. Most people who succeed, do it because of their efforts to do that. We are so concerned with being comfortable, some times we can:t do so much. I:ve got to have the right temperature, the right ventilation, the right light. And I suspect many people who made the contribution have done so in cause, sitting alone, cold feet, and empty stomachs. And not that I don:t think they should be comfortable, certainly be- cause it:s a different age. But I don't think that they should be excuses for failure. And I think that when you make one failure, it shouldn't condemn you for life. Why did you lose? How did you fail? You look at that.and try to correct it.. Now if you keep failing the same way, I wouldn:t give much credit for that. If you know the board is broken and you keep on scratching your ankle through that hole, then I say that:s not so sharp. But if found there:s a crack there and you change directions, then that's...
Q: Then that's o.k. If you could give any advice, and that's really what we:re doing here, if you could give to somebody who's about to become a principal, in some way, shape, or form, what would you tell them? You:re about to become a principal, and you have been a principal,
A: what do you tell that person? Steve, I would tell him t!#t I think he is getting into one of the# most#important assignments that he can get into. And that he must be willing to give 110% of himself all of the time to make sure that the role he has taken is one that he is determined to succeed in. So many people depend on him or her. I think that it's like I:m volunteering to take a leadership role to be the spearhead for an attack on ig- norance or whatever it is. And if I:m not willing to take the kicks and knocks, and to give of myself completely to that, then I am not committing myself to the extent I should be committing to take this job. I just think that the principal is just a super job. Although as I said to you earlier, I think the principal should teach some time too. I mean directly. You:re trying to convince somebody that what they have to do is a mighty important thing to do. And you:re trying to tell the teacher through the children. But some time we got to get in there and teach ourselves to rcally know how the shoe fits on that person's foot. That:s about the way I would see it, Steve. I don:t think there:s a better way to say it. That:s the only way I can think of right now.
Q: That's good advice. What have I not asked you about that you would want to say? I certainly haven't even touched all the ex- periences you've had as a principal in our limited time, but maybe there's something in your mind when you came in you thought, :I hope I can say this and I haven:t even asked about it. Anything you know of, any area that I didn't touch that you feel like you want to...this is our data bank.
A: Steve right now I'm certain I:ll think of what you:ve asked me later on, I purposely knew the fact that I was going to be here this morning I want to take it from the cuff and I think I may have put too much on the cuff. I can:t think of a specific thing I want to say that we haven't touched on in some vague way. I certainly have enjoye the experience that I've had. I think I have been blessed to have the opportunity to work with children. To me it's the most wonderful thing in the world, and the principal maybe has a little bit more bigger scope than the teacher, yet her role is crucial. She is sort of the one that puts the ends together sothat the number one spot... Except to say that I have thanked the Lord many times that I:ve had a chance to work with children. I have sat in my office at the end of the day some times and look back and count the number of limited mistakes I:ve made and I:d be so stiffled because some times you make mistakes and don't intend to at all. You never intend to make a mis- take. But like I said, I think that every child that I spoke with that day, I said, 'How did I speak to that child? What did I say that may have helped that child to grow or what did I say to crush that child?: And if I have said more positive things and am satisfied with most of the things I:ve done, I'm thankful. On the other hand, when you realize, and I've gone back, Steve, I don:t know, many prin- cipals, teachers have condemned you one time for doing this, and when we had our assembly, I talked about our assembly, we had over 600 kids in there in grades 1-12 and the only noise was supposed to be that person on the stage. That:s all. If a child made a noise in the room and I'd seen him, he would come up on the stage. That was cruel I guess in a way, but they knew it. I told them. I remember one day I called on Richard McDugel. I said, 'Richard, come up here.' I just stood where I was up toward the front and I heard his voice I thought. He went up on the stage and I said, 'Now, tell me, tell the auditorium why your speech had to be made at that moment.: He said, 'Mr. Epps, I didn:t say anything.: I said, :I heard you. Well, if you can:t tell them, then apologize for disturbing them.: He said, 'I apologize to everybody.: And he went back to his seat. When I got out of the auditorium, a boy came up to me and said, :Mr. Epps, Richard didn:t do that.' He didn:t. 'No, sir. He didn't do that.' And he gave me the name of the culprit, you know. I said nothing about it until the next assembly. And after the youngsters got up to go to class, I said, :Hold it just a minute. Richard, come up here. : He looked. I said, :Gome on up here.: And he came right up to me. I said, :Last Wednesday, I made you come up on the stage and apologize for being rude or whatever it was. I was told and I believe now that I made a mistake. I am apologizing to you for doing that.: He looked at me and the whole auditorium was looking and I said, :Will you ac- cept my apology?: He says, :Yes, sir.: And I said, 'Thank you, I'll try not to do that again. Go back to your seat.: But when I got out of the auditorium, a teacher said, :Mr. Epps, you shouldn:t have done that.: 'Why?: :Well you could have called him in the office and told him.: But I didn:t embarrass him in the office. I embarrassed him on the stage. And if I:m wrong, I want to live with it because I em- barrassed him. I accused him wrongly. And so where I made the er- ror, I had to correct it. And of course, we got to the point then that I apologized to them, not on the stage most of the time, but some times I just fussed at the wrong child, you know or some times fussed too hard= Just get all to pieces= And I:d say honey I didn:t need to do all that. I take back all the rough stuff but I meant the facts now. The facts are good. But I take back the rough stuff. Will you excuse me? Yes, sir. And the kids got to the point, because I:d make them apologize to each other, I have had a child to come back to the classroom and say, 'Mrs. So-and-so, I apologize. I shouldn:t have made that noice. Will you excuse me?: And she doesn:t excuse you, you:re going to have some trouble. You:re going to be going home or I:m going to beat you up or something like that. You got.your choice. If t#:ey didn:t go back to the classroom and apologize to the teacher, so everybody can hear it now, no whispering. Don:t go up to the desk and say I apologize. Or, if you refuse that option, then I will make the option. And I don't know what it's going to be right now. And it got to the point that many youngsters sort of got the habit because we discovered that it:s much more difficult to apologize than it is to offend. It takes much more strength to back and tell a person I:m sorry for what I did# than it is to tell them they're a nitwit or some kind of asinine creature. And it had an affect, I think. I thought that any thing that I expected to be done by anybody, I should be able to do that. Of course, many people look at the prin- cipal and say he's above everybody. He doesn:t stoop down to do that. But I think some time when you stoop, you really elevate yourself. Particularly if you do what:s right. I could just run on and on like that, I guess forever like that. Amen. Without making a point that is worthwhile to talk about.
Q: No, I disagree. I think you:ve made quite a few points. I do appreciate your time and I want to thank you while we're on tape because I would have hated when this was first discribed to me by our professor they set it up as you should get with some one that you respect and that you feel would have a contribution to make that:s a retired principal. Really, you were the first person to come to my mind because I:ve had several occasions to chat with you informally, and I was really impressed with the thought that I wanted to get some of your experiences in this data bank because I think you have a lot to offer for all young principals and to day has not changed my thoughts in the slightest. Many of the problems you described, many of your feelings are the same things I carry home with me at night, and it sort of makes me feel good to know that the things I:m worried about are the things I:m supposed to be worried about. And I think that:ll be real reinforcing to a lot of young principals.
A: We try not to worry about them, yet we...If you:ve done the best you can with a thing, and some times your best is...I:m talking about the moment that you do it because you could do it better later on, or course. But if you:ve done your best and your intent was good, then do your level best to share that. Don't load up with those problems. That's easier to say than it is to do. Particularly, if you offend someone unduly, it:s a burden. Or we let somebody get by with something that we shouldn't have.Children will some times tell me, I know they'll go back and laugh and say I got one on him today. They didn't get it on me, but I didn:t feel like tackling it, you see. So I take the easy way out and go around and give them a chance to recover. But it:s a job,.after you've done your best, to put those things aside. Just get rid of them. Because you can stack yourself down so heavily that you can:t operate. You can burden yourself unduly. It:s a thing I think some time that you practice. How do I get rid of this thought? How do I share this note? I think if we do the level best we can each day, I:m some times emotional, I some times say things right off the bat. Don:t mean any harm, but it:s hard not to do harm when things don:t come out correctly. It's like picking people up in the wind. Once you put them out there in the sky, you can't get them back. Even when you apologize, that doesn't get it back. and got so emotional some times, I've had to do a lot of apologizing because not that my heart was wrong, but my tongue, my mind, the thing you got from me was wrong. Some fellow said that we see things, and of course it depends some times how a person is looking at you. Because I think we see things as we are, not as they are some times. It:s quite different. And I know when I:m talking to a person, I:ve got to try to understand what that person is seeing in me. Because what he sees in me, is what he has in him. But you can:t burden yourself with too many of those things because in the course of a day, you can end a day and say I have not inten- tionally harmed anybody. If I have done some things they perceive as harm, that I can correct the first chance I get, then I:ll cor- rect that. The rest for the following way is experience and let it go at that. And as I say, most things are easier to say than they are to do. As I:ve looked back and said with the best intent and for days, some times I think it's by accident that they come out beautifully. Some times you best plans go awry and that:s the way life is. You still go back to what did I intend. If Israel was not saved, Jacob would not lose his reward. I think that's a good thing to keep in mind. I some times, you know, I like the patriotism. And people are so peculiar now. They fight you about everything. They take you to court and you may lose in court, too. I like patriotism, I like religious things. I thought the religious moment that we had in school was.a time to stop and thank God for the day. Now you can't do it. I always did it. I did it up to the time I was at Patrick Copeland School. You couldn:t command it, but that time most people were used to it. But I say to ask a teacher to do that who doesn:t believe in that would be harmful. Particularly since it is not legal. I thought that we need to think that there's somebody greater than we. Because of the fact there:s some power way beyond our powers, beyond the powers of man. And if we lose connection with that, then we become so selfish and so self-centered, that we make the journey rough. Life now is so often, :If I can make it, to heck with you. I:ll step on your shoulder, on your head, on your fingers. Anywhere as long as I can keep myself in good shape.' And I think that's a little bit sad because I don't think that good people ought to be that way. That I should be concerned always with you welfare and your cover and your chance to exercise your gifts and your strength.
Q: That:s what we should be teaching our kids.
A: I think so. I think so. I:m more concerned, Steve, of that than I am standard test scores. Because if we could live together right, we wouldn't need all these scores. How much of the knowlege goes to the structure. Even the stuff about the SDI. That is designed to keep us from being destroyed. If we didn:t have the devil to do that, we wouldn:t have to be worrying about being destroyed. I don't have the answer to it, but I do think some time that if we could channel ourselves to feel that I am responsible to do what I can to help everybody I can. We wouldn't need all these things. If we only put God in the picture. I ask the Lord to bless me, but I'm going to try to kill you. And I don't think God works that way. I think he loves the Russians, he loves the Afghanistans. He loves every- body. But he wants us to use our skills and our strength to make life better for everybody in the world. We:re not going in that direction I don't think. I don't think so.
Q: Certainly not in schools we're not.
A: No. We:re not. I still believe ... as I said this at Patrick Copeland as I first went down there(I was principal there for two years)and I said to the parent. Of course, I guess the whole audi- torium was stacked with people that night. It was the first time a black principal had been down there and I didn't know the people. I told them about my age because you see I:ve been in business a long time and I still believe in prayer. Nobody can teach me when to pray, how to pray, and I thank God I can sit quietly in prayer. So nobody can sit and tell me when and how to do that. The school is open for children to take part in prayer. Not in the eyes of the court, no. But only in the guideline that says nothing prescribed is the way that I would interpret it. And then I said one thing, you know wouldn:t it be wonderful, wouldn:t it be cute for me to be put in jail for praying? And they laughed. And of course I don:t think anybody would do that necessarily, because heaven knows I respect the court. I love the court. But I really think that for people to bring that before the court and cut out the masses from recognizing that moment, I don:t think that:s right. And yet, I don't think you need to be authorized to pray. I don:t think that. I think if you want to do it, you want to do it. But to say that we can:t take a moment to publically acknowledge God in the buildings, I thought we were losing something.
Q: Same way with the National Anthem or Pledge of Allegiance. A lot of the things that we:ve cut out. I understand that.
A: I think that these certain things abide in us as a people.. But I don't think we're beginning to go in that direction at all. But I think we should. I think before we:re going to get much better, we'll have to. See, we are one nation under God.
Q: Well, maybe I:ll start a campaign to get you on the Supreme Court. I thank you, Mr. Epps.
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