Interview with Richard C. Gardner


Today is June 12, 1997. This is an interview with Mr. Richard Gardner on the topic of his principalship and experiences in elementary and secondary schools.

| Back to "G" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |

Q: Would you begin this interview by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests, and development?

gardner audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: Yes, I will. My family is from this area, particularly Scott County. If the name, Gardner, comes up in Scott County, it is one of my relatives. Years ago, my grandparents moved to Indiana. That's where I was born, near Indianapolis on a farm, and grew up as a rural child. I never did do very much on the farm. I know that when I was a teenager, my father tried to get me to plow but I made the rows too crooked, so that ended that. My grandfather was, I think he went maybe to third grade in Scott County. I remember as a child, especially during World War II, watching him listen to the news. He read his newspaper assiduously. He had a map and globe, and he followed everything that happened with the war. If I didn't know he only went to third grade, I would assume he was a highly educated man in the school sense, even. He used good English and that kind of thing. My grandmother had been a school teacher, and she, I think, influenced him considerably, too. My father was a high school graduate, and my mother was a high school graduate with business school training. Her mother, my maternal grandmother, was also a college graduate. Those were influences on me that, I think, have helped me and made me able to do some of the things that I have now. As a child, I went to an elementary school near my home. It was a small township school, a county school, but we were divided by townships. It is interesting that I did not know that there were schools that did not have two grades in a room until I was out of school. It didn't dawn on me. That's why, with all the furor about double grades in classrooms, etc., I just never got very upset because I had always experienced that. I find that there are some advantages to it even though there are some disadvantages. My family has always been very supportive of me. I know that when I was ready to go to college, my grandfather gave my father fifteen acres of land on his farm. My father raised soy beans, and that put me through school. Every year, he made enough off of soy beans to send me to school and pay my expenses. I was married the last year of college. Our daughter was born just when school was out. In fact, my wife could not go to graduation because her daughter was being born. We moved from Indianapolis then to Kingsport, where I started my career as a teacher. My elementary and secondary education, I think, were very, very good. I had a excellent first grade teacher, I remember. I had good teachers on beyond that. It was the kind of education where, not only did we learn what was in the curriculum or in the books, but those people talked a lot about other things. I found that my horizons were broadened just because they shared a lot of the things they knew about and were interested in. In secondary school, I went to a very good one. It was a township high school. I think the principal there was a great influence on me because I look back, even today, and I realize that some of the things he did were innovative. Yet, they were not intrusive. He did not make things miserable by his innovations, he just thought it was a better school to do it the way he wanted it done. They did a number of those things. Even today, I think some of them would be very adequate and maybe innovative now.

Q: Discuss your college education and the preparation for entering the field of teaching. Tell us how many years you served as a teacher and a principal.

A: I went to Butler University in Indianapolis for my bachelor's degree. I took a major in elementary school, finally. I started out in English, and I can't remember exactly why I decided to go into elementary school. I think maybe my first grade teacher (I saw her once during the first semester of my college work and was talking, which sort of brought back memories. She encouraged me and said that she thought that I might make a good teacher, etc.) I went back and thought about it and decided I would try that. I did change during the first semester to elementary education and went on and got a bachelor's degree in elementary education with a minor in early childhood education and, also, in English. I, sort of, was encouraged to keep up some kind of academic area as well as the education. We had a good program with lots of participation and observation as part of the program. It was just simply...I look back and I appreciate the opportunities I had in my undergraduate work. Of course, I got a master's degree from what was then East Tennessee State College in administration and also a minor in English there. I have been to a number of places since then: The University of Wisconsin for community action work; I've gone to The University of Delaware working with elementary school French; and The University of Tennessee, etc. Some of it meaning to be worked toward a doctorate, but I always got waylaid because I'd found something that I thought was coming up in school, and I needed to take a course to sort of supplement my knowledge on that. I never did get to the doctorate, but I think probably I did the right thing because I've never wanted to do anything where a doctorate was required. That's not quite the same way it is now. The doctorate is important in many more things than it was in my day. My experience includes 45 years of classroom teaching, in which I ended up the last four or five years, I've forgotten myself--the last five years at Greendale here in Washington County as a teacher. Before that, I was principal at the two small elementary schools that were closed. I felt I wasn't quite sure when I would retire, and I felt like I would not ask to go to another school. They may not have had me, anyway, so I may have done well on that. Then, I have been a librarian in several places. I spent a number of years in Kingsport as a teacher and as a elementary school supervisor and also assistant superintendent a couple of times, in fact. I've been a part of the community action agency set up over in Sullivan County and Kingsport and that general area which is still in existence but is considerably different from what it was to begin with. I've been a division superintendent in Norton, Virginia as well as a librarian and teacher there. I have helped with a couple of government programs, federal programs or projects. For instance, I've run one in kindergarten education and one in what was called the Prevention/Intervention Project down in Nashville. That is 45 years of that kind of thing, anyway. It's been very rewarding, and while my own contributions have been questionable, I understand that. At the same time, I feel that I have contributed something, at least, to the profession and to the people I work with.

Q: Mr. Gardner, would you talk to me for a moment about the circumstances that surrounded your entry into being a principal?

A: Yes, I will if I can get my own mind straight on how this happened. I became principal for the first time in Norton. I was hired to go there as director of the Norton model kindergarten project. I worked closely with all the people on all levels there. During that time, there came a situation where the principal of Burton High School...well, they needed a principal, and asked me would I serve as principal. I did. I had not particularly planned on it. Well, I hadn't planned on it at all. When I started, I really thought, "Well, this will be good experience, and I liked the people, and like the students, and I knew many of them, so I'll try this." I did, and I liked it really...well, better than I expected to. In that relatively small situation, I felt I was successful; and they apparently did, too. I, a couple of times, served as principal. Even when I was division superintendent, we were without a principal, and in the small school there, why, I had both jobs for a while as principal and superintendent. That really was my introduction to it. I guess in some ways, even though it was not planned as such, it was a good introduction because I really got to go into it without apprehension and that sort of thing, just to help out, so to speak. I found that I did have the skills to do something with.

Q: What motivated you during that time to be a principal?

A: Well, I guess the actual motivation was that I had liked the atmosphere of the high school. Of course, I had a good experiences at my own high school going way back, but I liked the atmosphere of the high school. The teachers, and the students were very, very nice there. The school board was very cordial and helpful, and I wanted to help. I really wanted to help because the situation required some help. I did have the qualifications, at least on paper. That really was my first motivation...just wanting to be of help. I've never been the kind who would decide I couldn't do something, even though I might not be able to. I still had the feeling I can do something. Then, it all worked out. It was more than a passing thing.

Q: Take us through a little tour of the school. Go in the front door and just explain so that people of today can realize what it was during that time in the school building.

A: The school I am thinking of is a brick building. We start up the sidewalk. On the right there is a sign with a flag pole. There are the usual announcements on the sign. If we look up, we see a clock that does have a gong on it, which is a little unusual and that we sort of liked except when it didn't work. Then, it was awful to try to get it fixed. The building presents a very nice appearance. The yard/lawn was kept mowed nicely. We had good janitors and custodians and had a couple of maids who worked there also. We go in the front door. Most of the time, the floors were very shiny. There was quite a bit of activity through the halls. We did not, if there were people on legitimate errands, why, there was nothing wrong with being in the hallway. You will see a few students and teachers in the hallway going wherever they are supposed to go. But, generally, as you walk down the hall...well, you would also see the pictures of former principals on the wall. You could hear the people in the gymnasium in phys. ed, etc., because that was right at the front door nearly. As you walk down the hall, the office would be over here on your right, and there were some good secretaries and good students who helped with that. We had two secretaries and then we usually had two or three students helping each time. The offices were on back beyond that. At one time, in this particular case, the superintendent's office was in the same building. But, we decided the superintendent didn't need to look over the principal's shoulder, so we moved him out. Since I was superintendent, I could maneuver that one. But, anyway, go on down the hallway. As you looked into the various rooms, you saw teachers going about their business. I think, for the most part, very cheerfully, and students who were not absolutely quiet, but certainly attentive, I'll put it that way. We would look in and some would be quite full rooms, and then we would finally go upstairs...well, I guess, go around the corner, and you would look into the home ec department, which was very popular and did not only teach the cooking and the housekeeping, etc., but did have the textiles and some things that I felt were a little, at that time, unusual to be taught. We had a full-time home ec teacher. Then, we had two other people who were certified in home ec. They helped on some of these unusual kinds of courses. At least, they were unusual at that time. Then go upstairs and you begin to see some of the rooms that don't have quite as many when we got into the Latin. We would have, especially the fourth-year Latin didn't have very many people in it, but we offered that. Going on through the building, why, we found that everybody was tending to their business. Occasionally, there might be someone who was a little loud coming down the hall, but if they were laughing, why, I didn't care. If they were crying, I tried to find out what was wrong. We let those things go there. The restrooms, if you are interested in those, were always clean. It was rare that we smelled smoke in them, but occasionally we did because...but, we had a smoking area at that time, and most of the students would, in fact, abide by what we asked. We didn't have any problem with the students because they were nice people. I thought they were nice people, and, usually, we could work out the problems that we had. I think if you came with me through the school, why, you would feel it was a rather natural kind of situation. I will admit, maybe not as highly organized and institutionalized as some people would like; but, on the other hand, it, I think, functioned very well.

Q: Mr. Gardner, what year was this?

A: This was in 1980-81 or '82, right in that area--the late '70's and early '80's.

Q: Let's go to a different type of question. Basically, give me some ideas on your personal philosophy of education. With your vast experiences as a principal and in teaching and as a superintendent, you, of course, had to have something that held you together through all those experiences.

A: Of course, sometimes, you feel like you are going to come apart, but you are not. I always knew that. That's why when I got shaky, why, I thought, "Well, this, too, shall pass." And it always did. My philosophy is that...well, I really believe that, and this is old hat, I know, but I believe it...I did believe it, and I do believe it still, our job is to see that people that come out of public schools are able to function personally as good people and function in a way that they can make a living and take care of themselves and their families. I really mean that. That includes the academics and the socialization and all of kind of thing. Now, how that's done, of course, is another matter. I guess part of the philosophy of education stems from my philosophy of administration. You see, I feel that if we were put in a line of staff chart, not necessarily in terms of authority, but in terms of purpose, then the students would be at the top, teachers next, and on down through, of course, the school board, but the principal and the superintendent would be down at the bottom rather than at the top. I mean that very sincerely because I do think that the job of the administrator is to facilitate the work of the teacher, and the teachers are there to facilitate every bit of learning they can possibly get imparted to the students or get the students to participate in. I think school should be interesting. but I don't think it should be a place of entertainment. I think students should get satisfaction from their work and really be happy that they have accomplished something, but they have got to realize that some of it is a little tiresome, and we just have to take the good with the bad. As I have told some students, if we didn't have some tiresome things, the things that aren't tiresome wouldn't look quite so good to you. I feel like teachers have to be very careful about running their rooms and their activities in a way that students get a great deal of satisfaction. But, I don't think the teachers should be expected to be an entertainer as such because entertainment in and of itself has a place, but it is still not the objective of school, in my opinion. So that, generally, gives you my philosophy of education.

Q: You mentioned teachers. What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to do?

A: Of course, that depends on the teacher and the situation and all that. I think there are some who expect the principal to keep things so that they don't ever have any problems in the classroom, which is unrealistic. Although, I understand it, but you can't do that. You have some teachers who think the principal ought to do what they say. But those are really few and far between. I know I have had a number of teachers who even would discipline...would come to me and ask me about how they could handle things and this sort of thing. I've even offered, "Well, would you like for me to do thus and so." "No, he's in my class, and I'll take of it, but I do need your help." Now, that to me is ideal, and I've had a number of teachers, really good teachers, who took that approach. I certainly followed them right along. I guess I've been a little bit stubborn about some things, because if a teacher tells me what I ought to do, then I usually say to her/him, "Well, now look, if you want me to do something, I will. But, it will be my way. Now, if you want me to help me to do what you want to do, (it's legal, etc.) then I'll help you." But, I think that, generally, teachers do, on the negative side, expect the principal to do some things that he can't do that the teachers ought to be able to try to do themselves and use the principal as the resource. On the other hand, I think they have a right and should expect the school to be well organized, and to be clean, and to have all the materials that can possibly be needed there, and that the principal needs to listen to what they have to say and consider all points of view in making decisions about anything, for that matter. I think they have a right to expect a principal to use good English and be a good example for the students and to be cheerful, for the most part, and predictable to the extent that they know that if certain things happen, why, the principal will take action. They don't have to worry about it. Or, for that matter, that if they insist on telling him what to do, he tells them either to do it themselves or let him do it his way. I think all those things are what they have a right to expect, and good principals, I think produce them that way. Public relations is extremely important, and I think the teachers, parents and everybody have the right the expect the principal to promote good public relations. However, in my own thinking...and sometimes it has gotten me into trouble... is that I feel like the results of what we do are the best public relations. In other words, I can talk to you all day about this fine program and what it's going to do, etc., but, I think probably it would be better to spend the time mainly on doing the program and letting people know about the results. Then, if they want to ask about the program, itself, that's fine. So I am a little bit, well, not standoffish, but I don't spend a lot of time going around beforehand telling everybody how good they are going to be. I think we need to be good and then let it speak for itself. I think that the teachers have the right to expect the principal to support them; and, if something goes wrong, then the principal needs to be able to find out what it is and support the teacher if the teacher is right. I have said to teachers a number of times, "Now, if you're wrong or if I'm wrong, if we are wrong, then we may as well just say so and try to correct it. Let's not go around trying to defend ourselves when we know that we have not done exactly what we could have done or what we should have done." However, if we are doing what we think is best, then I think we will take time to sit down and talk to the parent or whoever it is that is asking and tell them why and how we are doing this." I'm not willing to change just because a parent does not like what I'm doing or, for that matter, even the superintendent I'll argue with a little. That's, generally, what I think teachers have a right to expect.

Q: You mentioned a great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership, being very personal to people. Did your approach include personal leadership? Talk about some things that worked for you, a couple of instances, and give me one instance, if you can, when it didn't work.

A: I do think personal leadership, yes, is very important. I think teachers, like anybody else, need to think that you see them as individuals and that you notice, bad or good for that matter, there is negative attention that, even as adults, sometimes if that is all they get, why, they are glad for something. I do think personal leadership is important, and I have always tried to understand the teachers the way I try to understand children when I work with them and talk with them in terms of what I think they will respond to. Now, you can wear yourself out with this. There is no question about it. You've got to, yourself, be renewed and not let yourself get into situations where everything is irritating you, and that kind of thing, because that is the kind of personal leadership, but it is a negative kind, I think. I was trying to think of some situations...well, I have had...I do remember that, in one case, there was a first-grade teacher who was about the worst kind of teacher I ever saw when she first came in. But, as I watched...and then, supervisors helped confirm we watched, we felt that it was simply someone who was rather low in self-esteem and just simply very nervous about the whole thing. It was not a basic lack of knowledge or basic lack of caring or anything of that sort. Over the period of the first couple of years, we tried to work very carefully so that the children were not harmed, and I don't think they were because the person was very nice to the children and worked well with them. She didn't teach too much to them unless you kept with her. To make a long story short, by the end of the second year, we could see this blossoming forth. By the end of the third year when we had to make a final decision about tenure, I really would have to put that person up into one of the top teachers. Over the years...I have followed her somewhat over the years, she became one of the very best first grade teachers that I know of. I guess that is one example of giving personal attention to someone, of listening to them, making suggestions, and even criticizing; but, nevertheless, doing it in a way that made them feel like, "I am really interested in you, and I want it to go, and I want to help, etc.," I think paid off, and we had...there may have been at the very beginning some children who had only ordinary teaching, but I think then many children, after the teacher got hold of herself, got really top-notch teaching. I think that made up for that. That's one example I think of a success. I have also had an experience where there was to be, in terms of setting up a library in a school before they had libraries in schools...there was some difficulty in convincing people that the money was really worthwhile. Of course, I felt like it was, and most people did, but there were some key people who didn't. They thought it was fine except they found out it was going to cost several thousand dollars more. But, anyway, in working with those people as an administrator, a couple of them were school board members and even the superintendent was influenced by that money line, working with them and not criticizing, and not going out and rabble-rousing- getting everybody to call them up and complain that they didn't have this and they should--I found that they were willing to listen. That kind of personal leadership on that level--that's not with teachers but with these other people--paid off, very definitely. The library is now, in that school, the center of everything. Now, one that did not work out...well, I have had a couple of teachers that I could not recommend to come back, even after a couple of years of working personally with them for various reasons, and I am not going to go into a description of that, but it was, simply, that I could not find a way to convince them that they could teach or that they should teach if they say they are going to, and they just simply didn't work out. My personality or whatever it was, I cannot explain it....I think in one case, anyway, they simply needed to be something else beside a teacher. In the other case, I'm still not sure what it was.

Q: Central office policies--they are often talked about, and some people think that those things hinder rather than help. What is your view on central office policies?

A: I have been on both sides of the thing, and I have been the complainer and, I guess, the complainee, if that's understandable. I've received the complaints as a superintendent and principal, and I've also been the one who has been complaining. The central office is extremely important. If, again, the central people will put themselves, as I have mentioned, in terms of this chart...they put themselves very low on the chart...if I am principal am to facilitate the teacher, and the teacher is to facilitate the learning of the children, then, central office should always be there to facilitate the function of the school through the principal, I think. I think, in many cases, that is the objective. However, in some cases, I think it becomes a system of its own and becomes a...well, I don't guess I've ever worked with anyone whom I thought just was there because they wanted to tell people what to do, but sometimes, there are people who see it as sort of an ego trip for themselves if they are in charge. If that happens, I think the school system can be in trouble. Generally, I think most school board policies and the superintendent's regulations and that sort of thing are good for us if we will make sure we understand them and, if we really set out to make them work, if we think they have any value at all...if we don't think they have any value, sometimes you have to go ahead and do it, but you can complain mighty loudly about it. In most cases, if the central office people are really trying to do a good job for the school system, they will listen to those complaints, especially if you are trying to do it all along. So, I do have to support the central office, but I think central office is like all of us--they have to evaluate themselves very carefully.

Q: If there was a person who came to you and said, "Mr. Gardner, I am interested in considering being an administrator," what would your advice be to that person?

A: Just on the surface, my advice would be, if you really think you want to do that, than go for it, because I do think that is sort of my philosophy and all of them, even if I'm telling you not to do it and you think it is a good thing to do, well, then, why don't you figure out a way to get around me or get me to, at least not say anything if you do what I told you not to. I really mean that. My point for saying that is that I think that someone who wants to be an administrator, or wants to consider it, that is exactly what they ought to do. Administration gives you the opportunity, if you allow it, if you plan for it, if you let your own thinking provide for it, it gives you an opportunity to be of great service. But you will also be tired many times. You will be frustrated many times. You have to understand those things. Probably, the best thing to do since you wanted to consider it is to think of all the principals or administrators, if it is not just principals, that you have had and that you know, and try to look beyond the things that sort of irritated you, which I am sure there a number of them for that person, and see if you can see how they function and would you want to function that way. I think you also need to talk with some people you don't know who are administrators. I think you might want to take a course in administration. If you work on a graduate degree, then work on a course in administration. Do some reading. Go and spend some time, if you can, in a building and tell them why you are there. Watch what goes on. You don't have to bother the principal, particularly, just so he knows you are there. Just watch what goes on and see how things are handled. I think that if you really are interested in this, you will probably become quite excited at the possibilities. If you are interested, it may wear you out just to watch or to talk, and you will probably decide to try something else after all. Also keep in mind that as a person contemplating various things in your career, I would say to them, "Remember that as you grow older, sometimes your views change. At a given time, you may or may not be interested in something. Later you may." Don't ever just say, "No, never," because that's the famous last words of most of us, in fact. I guess that would be the way I would advise someone. It's hard to tell them they should or shouldn't because they have to make their own decisions. But, I do want people to have experiences. I want them to have experiences that, if they decide, "yes," it's based on some kind of information and feeling that has a basis. If they say. "No," they know what they are saying, "No," to. I feel that way about children. That is why I like a lot of in-school...going back to the philosophy, I think there are a lot of these experiences that sometimes seem beside the point as far as the stated curriculum. But, I really believe the children need to have a lot of experiences so they know something about what they are talking about. Then, if it's not for them, they can at least say, "Well, from what I've heard, and I've heard some things, I don't want anything to do with it." Or the other... "Well, I've seen a little about that. I think maybe that is something I would like." I think it is the same way with us in our profession. Things that we had not planned on or something like that, why, look at them pretty carefully before you say "Yes" or "NO."

Q: Let's say then that we look at this person who wants to be a principal. What do you feel like the ideal requirements are for principal certification and to prepare that person as best as possible?

A: Well, I think the certification that we have in most states, at least the ones that I know about, are pretty realistic. This idea of school law which is important, and, of course, I think that when you move from state to state, this is a little difficult because, for example, I had Tennessee School Law and then came to Virginia and was principal only in Virginia. But, there is also a commonness about the law. You learn how to read it. You learn how to look it up--even that kind of thing, when you have those thing, so that's one area. I think the practicum that goes into certification is very, very important. This is something there was not a great deal of in previous years but in the last ten - fifteen years, it has been emphasized. I think that is extremely important. I think the certification requirements, even this thing of drug education, etc., for principals...I think that is important to us. I think, again, it's something, though, that you mentioned yourself when we were talking before about this thing of have to keep us with these things. So, I think that a characteristic of someone would be being willing to renew themselves and to accept the fact that they are not going to know all of it. They have to find out a lot of it. It will change almost, it seems like, overnight. They have got to be ready to accept that change and go on to another way of thinking or looking at something. The person has to be pretty healthy and strong and not easily confused or put down. I think you have to have pretty good self-esteem. I don't think a principal should be arrogant or anything like that. In fact, I think humbleness is, of a kind at least, is important with people in the administrative positions in schools. On the other hand, you've got to know that you can handle what is there, or you are willing to try to handle it. Those are the kinds of things...I think someone who is nice, I guess a decent person, and someone who understands students... That's another thing...who is not geared to only a certain type of individual that they want to associate with...that the child or the boy or girl who is in tatters is just as important, and in some ways even more important at the moment, than someone who isn't. I think they have got to have a, what is the word...compassion, for situations like this. I know I've found out about some childrens' home situations, and I've thought if I had come through that I wouldn't be here know, that kind of thing. I think we've got to be able to have that kind of compassion and uses it intelligently, of course.

Q: Let's look at the idea now of teacher evaluation. Give your ideas on how teachers should be evaluated.

A: In forty-five years, I never had known exactly how. I've done what I was told and what I could think of at the moment, but I really don't know how. It's another kind of thing that's almost an individual sort of thing. I guess I am starting out in a negative way. There are some things that I have not understood or didn't like about evaluations, especially the check lists, etc., not because they didn't have important things on them, but everything always seemed to be equal. In other words, if the bulletin boards were up, than that received the same amount of credit as actually getting the children to learn something, and things of this sort. That has bothered me. If a teacher dresses well, why, that is just as much credit as the teacher who is pretty sloppy, but, again, gets someone to learn something. Those are things that have always bothered me. That's why usually with check lists I would write a lot of notes on there and point out certain things. I do think you have to talk with teachers a great deal and understand what they are trying to do and get them to tell you what their objectives are. I think you have to have a great deal of knowledge, yourself, without teaching and be able to make, at least, intelligent suggestions or, at least, know where you can get help. That's why I, myself, have always felt that the instructional supervisors, usually central office, can be invaluable if they have a good concept of supervision. You can go to them, and they should have time to come and follow up on things that might not be in order. I think a teacher needs to be talked with. We need to see what is going on in the classroom. I am not, generally, in favor of going in there and sitting for an hour or two and then not coming back for a long time. If you are having trouble with a teacher, or a teacher is having trouble, if they can understand that you recognize these things that are not going well, and they understand it, and get them to thinking how they can improve it, then you can go back often but for shorter times, maybe even...I don't think demonstrating is quite the thing, because I don't think most of us are capable...well, even the poor teacher knows her children better than someone else does. I do think you can go in and help. I've done that a number of times. You say, "Well, let me come in during reading time, and let me help you." You hear what the teacher does and you also find out what the students are doing. Then you can talk more intelligently to help the teacher. That's not evaluation, exactly, but it is a part of the evaluation. Of course, you have to do what, finally, the superintendent sends down to do; but, I think, if you take all these steps, and the central office, for example, or whoever handles these sorts of things, really understands what you are doing, I think you can be a big help to teachers and can make a fair evaluation. I do think that you have to be honest about it. I think that if someone isn't doing well, then you have to say so. I think to give someone a poor evaluation without any kind of effort...well, any kind of effort to help them, is wrong. I think to make it something that it isn' other words, "Let's get rid of this teacher because of this," when it really, "...this over here," that we are concerned about, I think that is a very bad thing. Of course, it is downright dishonest. With all that rambling around, that is about all I can say about it. I have never been very good at evaluation, but I have honestly tried to do those things that I have said in terms of evaluation, and put down what I thought was best and the teacher knew what I had put down.

Q: Would you give me your views, also, on the ideal of career ladders, differential pay plan for different teachers, and merit pay--how it applies to teachers and the salary scale.

A: Let's take merit pay. I think the idea of merit pay is right. In other words, whoever is doing a really good, as opposed to someone who is only doing ordinary assuming that we don't keep people who are not doing any kind of satisfactory job at all. I think merit pay is good; however, I've never, yet, found one where they were doing it that seemed to work. It will work for a while, and then again, you have all of this talking about how, "Now, we've got this set up and these teachers who do well are really going to be recognized, etc., etc.," and, yet, you go back in a few years and, "We've decided that was not the best thing to do, after all." I may be wrong because I haven't kept up with all that, but I don't think we find very many that stay very long wherever they are instituted. That's merit pay. Now, I do think if people have different jobs, if there is someone who is like the head of a department or responsible for things that the others in the department are not responsible for, or that kind of other words, if the job really requires a kind of qualification, a kind of work, etc., then that person ought to be paid for that. In that way, I do think that differentiation is worthwhile. I think we have people who say, "Well, I can come to school and I know what I am doing, and I will do it well, but I don't want to be a part of all the trappings of school." Well, if that person's job allows them to be that way, and they are willing to take less money and we have the other people around who make more but who do some of the other things that need to be done, then I will be very pleased for them to be paid more. In fact, I think they should be. I do think it ought to be under a plan. I know in high school, it used to bother me when we would sit down and decide we were going to give the cheerleader sponsor $50 and we were going to give somebody else $100 for whatever they did, etc. I thought that was going in the right direction, but it just bothered me that there was no real plan to it. I would like to see this kind of thing...recognize everyone for the job they do and pay them for it.

Q: Parent Involvement. Give your views on how, not only parent involvement coming to the school, but parent involvement at home with their kids.

A: There is just not, in my experience as principal, teacher, and anything else that I have had anything to do with, in the homes where the parents are interested in what their children do and organize themselves somewhat so the children can do the homework and do the activities that are not always done right in school, etc., there is no question that those children have an advantage. I don't just mean the affluent or the highly educated home. I don't mean that, because I have found some children from...well, from what we call the projects, whose parents did see after them, who did set an example, had a place for them to study, even though it was not a plush room somewhere...they did have a place for them to study. When the teachers in school said that something needed to be done, they were right there trying to do for their children, etc. I don't mean that. It's the individual parents who love their children in a way that they will see that, to the extent they possibly can, they have what they need. For example...sometimes these are the parents who are uneducated themselves, they know what they have gone through, and they want their child to do better, I think that kind of involvement is extremely important. I think the involvement where a parent will sit down, or the teacher will sit down with a parent...the parent with the teacher...and will go over what is happening. If we listen to the parents, we often times, even if the parents don't realize they are telling us, we find out why a child has an attitude like he does or she does, or why they express certain points of view, etc. I really think that the involvement of parents on all levels to the extent that you possibly can, is extremely important. I have to say that from a selfish point of view, not just the point of view of the child or the parent. I think that as a teacher, in the long run, I can be more successful and have more satisfaction in my job...and as a principal, I have found that. You do run into people, obviously, who don't want to say much except what they think is wrong with you, and in very graphic terms, that happens occasionally. Even there, I have found that if I listen to what they say and then try to very evenly without negative emotion explain my point of view, I have found, really and truly, that nine times out of ten, things calm down and I have felt at the end, even though we haven't solved the problem, we are beginning to gain a friend. Once we can get that attitude...that's why sometimes, I have to give up some things that I think are important. Once a parent realizes that they are not...that you do have some flexibility, why, I, really and truly, have found that more times than not, some progress can be made. I just think that...and then the child profits from that.

Q: Mr. Gardner, would you give me your view on what the role of an assistant principal should be.

A: I think probably the role of the assistant principal has changed some over the years, at least, in my experience. I think there was a time when an assistant principal was either someone who simply was there to do whatever the principal asked him or her to do at the time something arose, or they were given one specific assignment such as discipline and that is all that they did, or it was someone who was there waiting to be principal either at that school or another one. There is anything wrong with any of that, but it seems to me that now, the assistant principal is a position in and of itself with things that identify with status all of its own, not leading to something else or not just that its necessarily someone's will at the moment. The way I see the assistant principal is that the person becomes another arm of the principalship, not necessarily the personal arm of the principalship, but they obviously, he has to be beholden to the principal and follow the principal's directions, etc. It is a kind of things where the plans are made so that the assistant principal knows what his or her jobs, are and what he is responsible for, and what he does need to ask about, and what he can go ahead and do, etc. In a very large school, now I have had some experience...well, I went to high school in a 3,000...well, I went to school part time in a 3,000-pupil high school in Indianapolis. Also, I have visited the 5,000-pupil school in Nashville some years ago. There, the principal, himself, actually had very little to do with the students because it was so large, and there was so much going on, that the principal had to be an administrative person almost entirely. That is just the way it was, although, the students recognized the principal. I don't mean that, but he simply did not have the same job that someone in a much smaller school would have. The assistant principals, which they had another name in Nashville, but I have forgotten what they were...they weren't called assistant principals...but, anyway, they have then more of the responsibilities that a principal in a smaller school would have. In the smaller schools, which most of us have...smaller than that, anyway, it seems like the assistant principal and the principal have to work together to define his role. It may be that the principal, obviously, is going to do the major planning and fit the assistant principal into it, whether it be that he handles discipline plus other routine things or whether or not he does curriculum work or whatever. I think it does behoove the principal to think through his own..that is, the principal's own strengths, as well as the assistant principal's strengths and not be a traditionalist and say, "Well, the assistant principal is supposed to handle discipline, and I don't like it, so I'll give it to him." If the principal is better at that than the assistant principal, then that is what he ought to do. I have known several places where I think the principal was very honest, and he took on the disciplinary duties and gave some curriculum duties, etc., to the assistant. I think it is a fluid kind of thing, but I do think that the assistant principal's job now has more substance to it than it once did, but it does have to be planned very carefully.

Q: A lot of things have changed through the times. I would like to ask you to please discuss how the salaries and other compensation have changed since you entered the profession.

A: I started out in 1951. I was in Indianapolis, and we decided we wanted to live here because this is where my family came from and my wife's family, also. I applied in three systems and went to Kingsport at $2,700 a year. That was also, it was interesting how things change related to salary. For example, you did not get paid until three days after the month ended because they would not pay you until you had worked all the days for a given pay period, etc. That is what I started out at. Now, obviously, salaries have..well, gosh, I guess the beginning salary would be ten times in some cases or more, or eight or ten times that. The other side is, of course, that you don't have hamburger for twenty-five cents a pound, either, or bread for a quarter. Those changes have been made. I know people that...and in relationship to Kingsport at that time, was the highest paying system in the area because I applied in Washington County. If I had been hired I would have made $1,800. In Bristol...I'm not sure whether it was Tennessee or Virginia now...but anyway, was $2,200 then as a beginning salary. I know older people at that time who talk about starting out at $50 a month for nine months. So salaries, obviously, have changed but then so has the cost of living...that is the other side to that. The other kinds of compensation...there were not the fringe benefits that we have now. On the other hand, we had Blue Cross/Blue Shield that first year for my family. That cost me $15 a month. There are a few things like that, that have to be taken into consideration. It paid the hospital bills. When our children were born, it paid for that, too. I think about that every month now. There were not the kind of compensations then that there are now. On the other hand, you understood it and chose to do that, and that is the way it was.

Q: Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paperwork, the paper shuffle, and the bureaucratic complexity that comes along with it. Comment on that situation throughout your career.

A: I think it is like people complaining about young people. Go back 3,000 years ago and there are quotes of people who said that young people were going to the dogs, etc. I think probably for all the time that we can think of, everybody has complained about paperwork and the increase in paperwork. I do think that in the last 15 years, it has become tremendous. If it serves a purpose, I don't mind it. I don't dislike paperwork. I rather enjoy when I can get settled down to do it, I rather enjoy the detail of it, etc.; however, I do think it wastes time. What I do object to, and this does happen, we are asked for the same information over and over again. I think someway, surely, if they can do all they can do with computers, etc., there can be some way that information can be entered one time and then be used for any project that comes up, but it doesn't seem to be that way. That I object to more than anything. I also object to paperwork that is for things that I never, ever hear anything about later. They ask you how many times someone has stuck out their tongue at you, etc. That's alright. I'll keep track if you are going to use this, but I don't know what happens to it. I guess I'm not as supportive of all of that, but if it is necessary, and I can see results from it, I think it behooves us to do it. I also think that central offices need to be very careful, and principals, too, in not taking teaching time for filling out a form. I really feel that way about it because I have had a couple of experiences where someone has come and said, "I have got to have this form filled out right now." I said, "But, yes, I am teaching reading, or whatever," and they said, "Well, just give the children something to do and fill this right out." Again, if it were an emergency, I understand that, but those things are not usually an emergency...just someone has not gotten the paperwork there in time. I really resent that, and I don't think that should happen. That is really all I have to say about that. I don't know what else to say.

Q: In recent years, more and more programs seemed to be placed on the schools...special groups, the L.D. groups, gifted and talented, bilingual speaking, etc., have been developed. What is your experience with those types of things with these special student services and what is your view on today's trend in that area?

A: I guess my philosophical outlook on this, I guess it is philosophical, is that all children, all students, all people should have an opportunity to do whatever there is to be done, whether it be educational or other things. If they need special...well, if they need certain kinds of accommodations, then they should be provided. I do feel that way. Now, I think the other side is that sometimes we do not make...when we accommodate, we really don't accommodate. I think the planners need to make sure the buildings and other kinds of facilities, the insides of buildings are arranged so these accommodations can be made. And, I think that society has decided through their representatives that these, by law, these things must happen, then I think they must be willing to pay for it. I'm afraid that I think that it does fall short in that way to some extent. It bothers me when I hear, for example, I used to...every once in a while we would be asked to or get information to tell us how big our building was...that it should accommodate so many students. I've often thought, "Well, yes, I can find a place for all those, but then they can't get up and move anywhere. They will just have to sit there all day and go home after they come in." It's true, and I think that when we do make plans like that and projections, we ought to think in terms of programs as opposed to just numbers of students. I think that the special provisions are...well, I think they are right, but I think we really need to provide for them and not have them just be in name only and have unqualified people working with them or have something there...and again, we have this program but when you get into the program, it doesn't amount to very much. It's wasted for everybody. I do not, I will say this, I am not...I want to be careful because I don't feel negative about it exactly, but I don't think this thing of main streaming is what it is described to be. I really don't. It may be in some cases, but I really find that if you do for a main streamed child what I think ought to be done, and I have had this experience, myself, in the classroom, I think that you take away from the other children. In one situation that I was in, I had a child who was emotionally disturbed, and that child took a lot of time. In fact, I finally kept track of some of my time spent, and I was spending like an average of 40 - 55 minutes a day with that child. Of course, that had to be taken from other children. I think those kinds of things have to be looked at, and I object to that. The other side is that if a child can be successfully mainstreamed, then I think that is right to. So, I'm for the special provisions if they are really good, solid provisions that are financed like they ought to be. I, myself, am in favor of the bilingual programs. I know this is not popular now, but we spend a lot of money trying to get children, or people,...when I say children it's because I was in elementary school so much, I recognize the difference there...but, anyway, students... (This is Tape Two, Side One) ...we spend a lot of money on foreign language departments for students who require it in college or require it in high school, and, yet, we seem to, at least many people do, resent the fact that here we have someone who speaks another language and can learn English, and if we give them help, we have people who will grow up speaking two languages, and we won't have had to have waited until high school and do it, in some cases, poorly. I feel that way about several kinds of things, that, if we do it right and recognize what we actually have, we will have some good done.

Q: In general terms, what was your relationship as an administrator with the superintendent and the school board?

A: I have been very, very fortunate. From the very beginning, even as a teacher starting in 1951 with Kingsport, I have always been associated with what I consider top-notch people in terms of superintendents. They have not always agreed with me and I haven't with them, and those are stories that would take a long time to tell, but I've always been treated well, and I have always been listened to, and, for the most part, if I could present my case reasonably to the superintendent or to his representative, things worked out the way that I really thought they ought to. When they haven't, I have had to admit most of the time that they were right and I was wrong. The superintendents that I worked with as a principal...well, they have just been top-notch. I have had five, I guess, altogether that I have worked with as a principal. They just simply were top-notch people. Then, because they were top-notch people, why, they were pretty good administrators, too.

Q: Would you discuss your participation in handling the civil rights situations that came up--integration. Describe how you were involved with those types of situations.

A: As principal, I have not been involved in the actual integration when it first happened. As a supervisor in Kingsport, we did, in fact, integrate the schools. I found, again, that in terms of the principals in these integrated schools, the principals were just wonderful. They recognized the fact that there needed to be some special attention to the new students coming in just as there is to any new student. But, they did not emphasize the racial issue. With only rare exceptions, was there any real difficulty there. Again, I think it was because it was planned and all that kind of thing. Now when I was in Norton, integration had already taken place and there we had a fine group of people including our integrated people...well, I guess everybody was integrated, but, including all races, there were sometimes there were questions raised about things we did or said. I found that, if again, I would sit down and explain exactly why I did what I did or said what I did or if I was wrong just say...I've said several times, "I'm sorry. I see now exactly why you are concerned. I don't have anything to say except that it was not intentional and it won't happen again." I meant that and I tried to abide by it. Then, if that wasn't the case, I found that sitting down and talking to parents and others who have raised questions, I found that, really and truly, I did not have any trouble when they understood. I think the key was to make them feel that whatever was done was not done because of race. It was done because people are people and that kind of thing. Now that is easier said than done, but it takes a lot of time. But, I think that may be a key to a lot of it, is being willing and able to take the time to sit down and explain yourself or to explain why other people have done what they have done. So, I, myself, personally and individually, did not ever experience anything that was unpleasant in those terms. I did have once an organization write to me about some grades that a child had gotten. I got all of the information together and sent back an explanation in writing. We never heard anything more about it. But the explanation was there, and I talked with the child involved. I read to him the letter that I wrote, and then I called the parents and asked them if they would like to come in and listen to the letter I was writing. They said, "No." I can't remember exactly what they said, but they were very nice. They just said, "Well, if you really think that is the way it is, the way it ought to be, then that is fine." I told them I would read it to the child, and I did. Nothing ever came of that, but that was the nearest I came to having real difficulty in my experience.

Q: There are those who say, or argue, that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Discuss you experiences with those types of testing and give us your views on what you think the effect of those tests can be.

A: I don't know. I came through the times when standardized tests were the thing. As superintendent and principal, I have upheld this thing of testing. We would go over the tests with parents and everybody else, etc. If we are talking about purely academic other words, knowing the facts of something, I guess I would say that, yes, the standardized testing does give us a relative bit of knowledge about a student in relation to the other students and in relation to students throughout the country if it is a good test. However, there are so many other factors that are involved, and unless we sit down and take the time for each individual student and consider all the things that go into this testing, or that might have happened to him that would relate to this testing, I think, probably, we waste our time pretty much. I really think that. It is, again, a matter of individualizing your evaluation of it and taking the time...I know I keep saying that, but that is why your timing...I'm sure you know your time better than I did...your time goes from early in the morning to late at night with all kinds of things going on until finally you just simply collapse on the weekend and dare your family to bother you. But, yet, that is the way you have to do it.

Q: Go through and describe a workday for a principal...what it would be like. List out some things such as the number of hours you might put into it in a week.

A: I think one thing...and I want to say this because I don't think it is particularly a compliment to myself, but, when I was a principal, I always felt the obligation, personal obligation, to be there when anything was going on. I know that is really not realistic, but I did. That's why I spent many long hours, and I, then, decided that I would best not be a principal simply because, as I got older, I could not maintain all go from 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning until midnight, or anywhere from 10:00 to midnight at night. As so, I just didn't do it anymore. I did feel that was important. The hours are very long. Usually getting to school first thing in the morning and just going through the building, maybe at 6:30 or 7 o'clock or something like that. Usually I was at school by 7:00 and go through the building and the custodians usually were coming in at that time, if not before, and we would go through the building to see that everything was in order and did have a time to talk with them when we both could talk some. Then, just simply from there on, it was whatever came up--telephone calls that began coming in, especially in the winter time wanting to know if we were having school. Of course, sometimes I was there and I didn't know, yet. But phone would start ringing, and I would tell them to call the superintendent's office. I got word one time not to do that again. Then, as they began to come in...we had a breakfast all the schools where I was a principal, we had a breakfast program, and I involved myself in the smaller schools was checking in children for that, and things of that sort. Then, as the teachers, themselves, began to come, why, whatever I had or whatever they had would take some time to talk. Of course, in the smaller schools, it was very easy because you just walked down the hall a few steps, and you could talk with someone. They didn't have to come in. You just were there. So the morning up through about...well, school taking up, why, that was the way I spent time. Then, if we had a principal's meetings or something like that, I wanted to make sure the secretaries understood what had to be done, etc. They sometimes knew more that I did, but, nevertheless, we came to an understanding about what was going to happen. Then, from 9:00 on up for about an hour, if I was at school, and I was most of the time, I would try to attend to things that the secretary thought was necessary and things that we had put off that were due this time of reports, etc. Then, I tried before lunch to spend an hour out in the classrooms, not necessarily sitting and watching for very long, but going through and checking on things that had been mentioned to me by a teacher before and sometimes talking with the students I had not had a chance to talk to. If a student had some difficulty prior to this, even many days before, sometimes I would take time to talk with them during that time. If there were reports, then, starting about 11:00, I would be at the lunch room, usually around in there, walking around. Right after lunch, I usually would work on some reports we had and begin to confer with parents and all that sort of thing. Then, the reason I am sort of rambling here is because there is so many things that seem to come up--that I can't even think of where you plan out your day, and that is one thing I did try to do each evening or early in the morning. I tried to jot down for the day, the things I hoped to accomplish...things that I knew about. So often, there were things that came up that changed that. The afternoon was spent with parents, and telephone calls, and by that time the teachers may have a few children they might want me to talk with. If we had meetings, I would try to prepare a little bit for that. It was that constant kind of thing. I did try...I would say this, too, there was a time when I was working in two schools, half-time in one and half-time in the other. So that schedule or that kind of thing that I just gave was even more pressing when I was in a school because I wasn't there all the time. I tried both ways of being there a half-day in each school and alternating morning and afternoon, but the distance was such that it made it a little bit wasteful. Then, I tried to do it two and one-half days or at least two days and three days, etc. That worked out much better. Then, of course, in the evening, the elementary school did not have as many activities as high school. The high school had many things, as you know, and I did try to go to all of those. Sometimes, when I went to things, I would be in the office and be working on things that had nothing to do with the activity. But, I wanted them to know I was there. Some teachers, most teachers, in fact, when they were sponsoring something, appreciated my being there. I had one or two who felt that I didn't trust them, but that wasn't the case at all. I tried to explain to them, and they tolerated it. Of course, they didn't have any choice, I guess. I know, this is difficult for me because I cannot describe all that went on. Those were the kinds of things that I planned to do and eventually got done. When the aquarium breaks in someone's room, and the teacher and the custodian are trying to get it cleaned up, sometimes I would go take the children outside for them or say, "You take them out and let me clean this up," or something like that you can't even know about. So, I don't think I have answered this very well because it is a tremendous job, and you are busy constantly. Yet, it is so diverse that without sitting down and working on it a while, I don't think I can describe it adequately.

Q: Based on your leadership styles and the way you have lead people, and the way people followed you, what would you tell us is the key to your success as a principal. Then, if you had to do a couple of things better--to do it all over again--what would you do?

A: First, I think I like what I've done. I think that, right there, is one key. I hadn't planned it to be one of those, but really it is if you like it and generally like the people involved, I think that is one key to success in anything whether it be ditch digging with a group of fellows or being a school principal. But liking it, or at least feeling that it is worthwhile is something important. I think also that if I can take credit for any kind of success, I believe that trying to be as personal as possible, and when I say personal, I mean looking at each person as an individual and approaching them as an individual and trying to see their point of view, and trying to take time for them to understand my point of view, and then we come to whatever compromise, if there can be one,...whatever compromise we can work out or to make sure people understand that they have to do it a certain way, if that is true, or that they know more about it than I do, then decide what you are going to do, and I will help you. That happens more than occasionally with me. I think, perhaps, that, if I have been successful, that is a key. Then, I think, too, that the teachers, the students, and the parents were aware that I genuinely liked them. I used to say with children, particularly...well, in high school, too, but mainly in elementary, I guess it would be more obvious, I used to say that if I had the money and the situation required it, there is not a child in this school that I wouldn't be willing to take as my own. And I really meant that. I think that once parents and teachers and children realize that you really care about them, then you can really do just about anything that needs to be done. Some of it can be pretty bad and they will still accept you. In fact, I have had parents tell me that they didn't like what I did, but they said, "I believe you do like my child." And that was enough said. I think that probably...that's one thing that if I've been successful, why, I think I value that characteristic in myself more than any other. Now, if I could change some things, I think I would try someway, I don't know how I would do it...try some way to do things a little faster. You see, I don't know what your experience has been, you have probably been told that when you go in as a principal or into a new job that in two years you ought to have things in pretty good order. Well, mine is more like four or five years. I have been criticized severely for that, but they have turned out well. It just took me longer to do it. I guess I would try very much to speed things up a little and not be quite so contemplative about it along the way. Another thing that I would change is, I would like to have more patience. I think I have always been a fairly patient person with teachers and particularly with children, but I also found that I allow myself some time to be ruffled by things and show it. I usually get hold of myself, but I think that is unfortunate when we use our time for that. I would like to make sure I didn't do that as often as I have, even. If there was anything else in terms of...I guess with the teachers, I would try to have...well, I'm not sure exactly how to put this, I would try to develop more independence than I have with them. I think those are the things I would try to change. There are probably a lot of things that ought to be changed that I am not either willing to admit or, at least, I don't recognize. That's my point of view there.

Q: What suggestions, Mr. Gardner, would you offer to the universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions--if there is a weakness in a traditional program that you went through or should it be in the training of administrators?

A: I think as I mentioned before, I really am an admirer of the programs the universities and colleges have had in the last few years. I think one thing that I have noted, and what I am going to say just applies to certain people just like teachers in public school or teachers in college, I think sometimes the courses that are given in administration are a little bit offhand. I guess that's what I mean. They don't focus on how important the administrator is, and, I think, it's more of an exercise than...and you learn something, but it is more of an exercise in learning something about administration than it is learning administration, if you will. I think they need...whoever does this kind of thing in colleges and universities, to make sure that the people who teach these courses or lead the some cases, I think leading is the word that you would use with their courses...that they really have had experience and that they really have a point of view that is compatible with public school, and that they don't spend their time just on the theoretical issues, but they can talk about hands-on things. Then, I think the universities, as most of them do now, need to emphasize this idea of practicum and observation, and let the prospective administrators have as much connection/relationship/visibility with and conversations with people who are in the field, both bad and good. You have to recognize some poor practices in order to appreciate the good ones. I think those are the things that should be emphasized. I don't know that they don't do that now, because I don't think they do for the most part, or try to, but I think those would be the things they should emphasize. I think this personalization of administration and supervision...and, I do believe that...and I don't think this is always done, there should be some kind of way of letting a person who is interested in any particular kind of administration understand the whole gamut of administration. If you were working on a principal's certificate, let's say, you need to make sure that you understand the superintendent's role, the instructional supervisor's role, and how they work or can work. I think that may be a weakness that, unless I just don't know what goes on, I think those are rather separated. If they were some way integrated so everybody, no matter what position, could have a real basis for understanding the other position, why, I think that would be real good.

Q: "Mr. Gardner, I would like to thank you for your time and participation in this interview. The oral history of the principalship is an important research tool for future studies about leadership."

Mr. Gardner: "Thank you, for inviting me."

| Back to "G" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |