This is an interview with Ruby Hodges.
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Q: Mrs. Hodges I appreciate you letting me come over this evening and talk to you about your school and your background and what you've done for education and what you're still doing. First of all, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Hi! I'm so glad you are here and I've looked forward to your coming. I'm from a family of teachers. And that was why I always said I would never be a teacher. My grandfather was a teacher in a one room school and I had uncles and aunts and I was the oldest child in the family so I had no other siblings to say I was not going to follow, but I had determined that I would not be a teacher. My childhood interests, I've always, I started really early with an interest in theater and drama and learning, reading. I could read before I started school. And I'm a product of that skipping grade. I could read when I started school so they put me in the second grade. See I skipped, I actually got three grades ahead, so I finished high school when I was fifteen. That was interesting too. But I did grow up on a tobacco farm. My father did attend college and a lot of my relatives did, my mother did not. But, there was a big value on education in my family.
Q: OK, thank you. Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching.
A: Well, as I stated before, I did not want to be a teacher. And even in college I was enrolled in a program to do psychiatric social work. I had already planned to enter Lynchburg training school when I graduated and really did not want to be a teacher until I met this man at Christmas my senior year and decided I wanted to get married and the rest of that year I had enough for my major and I had a major in English and a major in Sociology and I did student teaching and took enough education classes the next two quarters so that I could get a certificate to teach school.
Q: You know your background led so well into the field of education. Was it English?
A: Well, it's interesting, but I really feel with this new idea that we should really take more subject matter material rather than education. I didn't ever miss those education classes. I only took the very necessary ones that I had to have. And I always felt that I spent my time better in some of my subject matter areas than by doing the education field like so many of my friends had done.
Q: How many years did you serve as a teacher?
A: I was in teaching twenty-one years.
Q: And as a principal?
Q: And that gives you a span of?
A: I had thirty-five years when I retired.
Q: OK. I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how do you feel about them now as you look back?
A: Well, I did try to stay out of being a teacher and decided that was the best thing for a wife and mother to do. You know back in those days that was really about the best thing that you could do after they decided to let teachers teach after they were married. And now how I feel about it, I guess that's probably the field that I was best suited for and after I became a principal I said I believed I really was in psychiatric social work.
Q: I agree.
A: You know, I think I had really found the profession.
Q: And you had the right training.
A: The right training, right. Now I did go into administration and I really had no intention of ever doing that. I don't know whether you want me to discuss that at this point.
Q: Yes, fine. Tell me what led you into the administration area.
A: I'd settled down into the middle school years. I'd started out teaching high school and had come on down and sixth grade was my favorite of all grades, still is my favorite grade. And I was down in those areas and Dr. Irgle was Superintendent here and he called me and this was right on the eve of integration and asked me if I ever thought of going into administration. At that time, of course, I had my masters and I had taken classes that I was interested in and I had a few hours graduate work, but not too many, and I told him that I did not really want to go into administration because I had some ideas that were different about discipline and it worked in my own room and I really had thought through some things and really had some feelings about it and I certainly knew there were many people that didn't agree with me and I didn't want to be in a position where I had to enforce my feelings on that person and I said that really I do not want to go into it. He said, "Well that's why I decided to call you in and ask you about going into it". He said those are the things, those are the very reasons. I didn't even know that he knew that I existed much less what my ideas were about teaching children.
Q: And when you got into the principalship how did the ideas about discipline change or stay the same? Was there any difference?
A: Well, I think we went away. I think the trend then was going away from being so authoritative and in thinking about children as people and respecting them and involving them in their own education and trying to get parents to take responsibility rather than trying to enforce on them certain attitudes. So I think we changed, changed, the whole system changed that way and I never did really change my philosophy. And it worked then and there are still people that maybe think I didn't do the right thing when they sent someone to the office, but I felt that if I got changes in behavior better by doing it my way, and after all, I was the boss then, so it worked out OK.
Q: Alright, when you were working with discipline, what were some of the ideas you found that worked the best?
A: Well, I did always try to run a tight ship. That was one of the words that was expressed. I tried to be very consistent. But I talked with special middle school students. "Anything that you do that would be against the law if you were an adult, you shouldn't be doing in middle school". I felt a real responsibility to train them for the adult pressure that was going to come to them soon. So, I felt that I had a strict policy about it but I also did not talk down to them. I very much have always had a feeling of respect for persons and I think children are people too and I think they have feelings so I was always conscious of the fact that here is another individual and I owed them the respect. I didn't have to treat them like they were dogs or tramps, or whatever, you know that kind of thing. But you've heard people talk to children that way. I never did that. I never, never felt that was necessary.
Q: You were ahead of your time.
A: I don't know. But the things did come around my way, not because of me, but--that's OK.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education in general and how did it evolve or change through the years?
A: Well, when I started out in school way back in 1930, John Dewey was the big person in education. And I went to a three room, well it had four rooms, the fourth room was a soup kitchen and I went to a school that had three classrooms. It had six grades, seven grades, and we didn't have an 11th grade, we only had eleven grades. We didn't have the 12th grade when I finished high school. That also helped me to finish at 15. But we had so many innovative things going on in those classrooms, in those three rooms. We made igloos and lived in like Eskimos. We went out and tie dyed cloth and picked dogwood berries and made necklaces and were Indians and sat around the camp fire. All of these things that John Dewey promoted during those years I participated in, in elementary school and I think that had a lot to do with my love of learning. And probably with my feeling the way I felt about a lot of things in later years. Of course, we went back from John Dewey and he wasn't so popular after I started teaching and all. Let's see, I start talking and I forget about the question you asked.
Q: How did your personal philosophy change?
A: Well, see, I still feel that involving students in their own learning is still very, very important and that's the way that I had learned earlier.
Q: Have your read very much about these multi-age classes that are being used now and do you think that's just going back to the one room schoolhouse concept?
A: Could be.
Q: Yeah, the only problem is when you try to enforce the realities of the ninety's with thirties practices. That's when you get in trouble.
A: See that was the one thing that I felt about skipping grades and being up with older people. I always felt that I didn't quite know everything that was going on. You know, I understood, I knew how to read as well as they did or better. I knew all the knowledge. I mean, they would ask me about what places were. I knew a lot of things. But I didn't, I think my personal maturity was still below some of my classmates. And I remember the first time I heard a dirty joke. I was in sixth grade and I went home to tell my mother and I said "What are they talking about?" They always laugh and I don't know what this is and what that is. Well, I had a wonderful mother. She explained it all to me. From then on I'd go home and tell her all the things I would hear, you know, and I could have not had that kind of mother. I could have had somebody disapprove. That would have made it even worse. But that's the only thing I feel about having children too young in with children who are older. That is a problem.
Q: Thinking back on your school, what was the instructional philosophy of your school when you ran it?
A: Well, I've been in so many different schools.
Q: How about your last one?
A: The last, well the last school I was only in one year. Let's go to Westmoreland. I was there nine years, that's the longest period at that time. We had the Southern Association evaluation team that came in during the time that I was there, in the later years. And one of the ladies from the State Department came in she said "Ruby, we have been observing your school since we've been here and we've been here two days and she said "I have never been in a school before where there wasn't at least one dog in the school." She said "there is always somebody that you want to shut the door and not let anyone go in that classroom or you don't want me to go in and stay too long with this teacher." She said "all of your teachers are so good and they are all in there challenging the children and everything is so interesting in every classroom." She said, "What's going on here? What do you do to them?" My philosophy really is to work with people's strengths. You can kick anybody to death and I know there are some people that you really can't make a good teacher out of. I know that now, I've seen some. I've really worked hard every time and I happen not to have any at that time. But I really think you can take the best teacher in the world or the best person in the world and criticize them, find fault and destroy their confidence in themselves and you can just really beat people to death. But when you work on their strengths and involving the teachers in the instructional program and students and parents, I always had a real open policy and always had a good planning council at school and had parents involved in the policy working and listen to their opinions and listen to them when they came to tell me something. You can't please everybody. I was in administration at the perfect time. I had an uncle who was a principal for a long number of years and he and I were pretty close and when I got to be a principal he just didn't think that I could do it, you know. So he told me, he said, "Ruby, be careful if you're ever pleasing all of the people." He said "If you're pleasing everybody, watch out, because you're really not doing a good job." So I knew the, the object to listening to the people and involving people was not to please all of them, but it was to work on the strengths and try to deal with something that would be acceptable. But I really wasn't trying to please everybody, if you understand what I'm saying.
Q: Right, right. I understand. What experiences or events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? When did you come to the determination that you wanted to treat people with respect or children with respect and how did you develop that management philosophy about teachers and parents?
A: That has been one of my personal philosophies. I don't know, that probably came from being a Christian, as much as anything else. I think about it you know, and I think that when you're a Christian, you have to appreciate people and you have to understand that we're all children of God. I mean, I didn't bring my religion into the school or anything, except as for who I was. I think as I grew up because once I remember a girl in college, who I was watching who was the May queen that year, that I admired a lot, and we were in a bus station and this lady who was a beggar or something, she was dressed very poorly, came over to her and she started talking to her and I was so impressed and I said "Sarah is talking to her. She could be the Mayor of the town, you'd never know it by the way she is listening to her questions and answering her back. She's treating her like she is somebody." So even that young, I think I was about a freshman in college then, even then it was important to me that everybody is somebody, and that everybody is worth something. So I guess that tied over into my school work.
Q: Translating into practice?
A: Yes. I guess that's probably the way I felt.
Q: Just the way it should be. If you were advising someone, who was considering an administrative job, what would your advice be?
A: Well, I would say, if you can't be emotionally detached from your job, don't go into administration. If your self worth is determined by what other people think of you or what they are going to say about you, don't go into administration. You've got to have both your feet on the ground and you've got to know who you are and what you are and what you believe in. It's one of the most isolated jobs that I know of.
Q: I agree with that.
A: You know you just, you can't take a teacher on as a confidant. I never did. You can't take a parent on as a confidant. You can't with anybody at your office. You can't . Sometimes you have other principals you can talk to, but even that isn't a wise practice all the time, because sometimes it gets a little competitive, or whatever, and I felt the isolation. that's something I think everybody would have to deal with before they go into this type of job.
Q: And that's hard to convey to someone else. I had someone at the school last week staying with me all day who was a prospective administrator, and it was hard for me to talk to that person about when you go into this position how it will be different and this is the way you will feel. And I talked to her about the isolation. And she really didn't have a frame of reference. She didn't understand. I could tell by the way she reacted.
A: No, that wouldn't be a problem for me. (laughter)
Q: Right. Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation, and give your philosophy of evaluating teachers.
A: OK. I think it is very important, I really do. Because - I felt, you know, I should be evaluated too. I think we all are. I think that self evaluation is a part of someone evaluating someone. So I think self evaluation is a big part of it. I think as an administrator, that we have to be very visible. And we have to know what is going on. You can't tune out and you can't be lost and not know. Formal observations are necessary and I think it's important to do those, but that's not the whole story. I think I had my best successes with evaluation that improved performance by being up front at all times. And by having quiet talks with people. I tried not to manipulate people and not do things that would cause them to do things. I don't think that's a good way to deal with people to bring about improvement in performance. I always found I always hated it when I was a teacher, and I was at a principal's meeting, and the principal was talking, to everybody, about what shouldn't be done, when I knew all the time that I was the one who had done it. When she could have called me in, and said "Ruby, you did so and so the other day, let's don't do that anymore," or "you probably didn't realize the repercussions from what you did" or whatever. So when I got to be an administrator, I said that's something I'll never do. I'll never stand up at a faculty meeting and say what should be done or what should not be done and all that kind of thing. You know, if there's something with someone behind my door in my office, or in their classroom, we will discuss that, not like it's the end of the world or anything else, but I'll just be up front about all of it. And I felt, that by doing this, I probably got a better performance. That's a form of evaluation.
Q: I agree.
A: It brought about better behavior than some of the times I sat in a classroom and observed performance, although I think that's important. Teachers are so unappreciated and I know there were some times when I was doing things in my classroom that I wish somebody could have seen. I thought, Oh! this is wonderful! I wish someone could have seen this. But there was no one there, no one I could tell it to. So I think, as a principal, if I could go in that classroom and observe them they were putting on something special that would serve a lot of purpose. You know, the kids were showing off for me, the teacher was showing off for me and you were reinforcing very positive behavior. It was something that was very good.
Q: Did you feel uncomfortable at any time, and feel as if you were ranking and rating teachers? That's what we hear in the research, and that's what's touted as the reason for changing evaluation procedures, is that we're ranking and rating, and instilling fear. Did you feel that way?
A: No, I really tried not to rank or rate. I tried not to say "I didn't really like the O or P, or 1,2,3." I didn't like that at all, I really didn't. And I didn't like, we had, the Master Teacher Program. I didn't really think that was .......It did probably improve some performance, of the people who wanted to be a Master Teacher, who probably wouldn't not have done those things if they had not had it. But overall, I did not think it was a good way of improving the teachers. I tried not to compare teachers with each other. I never told, you know, this teacher to try to be like one across the hall, or you know. I tried to treat each one like an individual. I tried never to do that. I don't remember it ever being on my mind, that I was comparing teachers. Each one had their own strengths to improve on, or weaknesses to improve on or their strengths. I just don't remember doing that.
Q: The feedback part was the most important to you?
A: OK. Uh huh.
Q: What, in your view should be the role of an Assistant Principal? What did you do with one when you had one?
A: I guess the most successful time I had with an Assistant Principal was when Stanley was my Assistant Principal. He did the first two years that I was--OK the first two years I was an Assistant Principal with Mr. Stanley and that was the first two years of integration. He was a black principal. He had never had an Assistant Principal, and certainly didn't want a white woman up there. And I grew to love him so much and he was a dear but he resisted me like crazy. He wouldn't let me do any discipline. All the kids that Mr. Stanley would have to come sit in my office and I would have to take them to lunch and I would have to stay with them all the time in the office, but I never made any decisions on what was to be done with them.
Q: He didn't really know who you were.
A: I know I know. Well I certainly had to (both talking at same time). But we had a time there establishing what I could do and I'd just do whatever I could do. I did go around a lot of times and help teachers. I did go in classrooms and assist with teachers that needed some help, or whatever. But when I did really get an assistant principal, and I had several others, other than Stanley, but we agreed so much on philosophy of education and how to handle children. We really did. that, I allowed him to do anything that I did. We shared. If I was in the office I handled the discipline that came in when he was in the office he handled the discipline that came in. And if there were touchy problems, we would often discuss it with each other. In fact, anytime there was a problem when we really didn't want a confrontation, we discussed it. And I would usually, I don't think...I can't remember a time when I didn't agree with him, and he with me. We both had the same freedom of speeches. Stanley had the same. He was very up front and, in fact, he amazed me sometimes, how he would mention things, that probably someone else would have been embarrassed to mention. He would just....
Q: Can you tell me what became of this individual?
A: Well, we were together, we were assistant principal, and principal together for about five years and after that they transferred him to Gibson School, and then he became principal of the school after that.
Q: A wonderful ending. Alright, as you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools and what features characterize less successful ones?
A: I think most effective schools are those that challenge the students, teachers and administrators to do their best. I can usually walk in a school, and there is a feeling in the air, of some of the schools that are most effective. I think that the ones that are least effective are the ones that are probably more autocratic, and top-heavy, and kind of ruled by everybody. You go in and there's a very autocratic type principalship in the school. I think that's the least effective. And then I think when hands are off, and people are allowed to do as they please and teachers are--you know--that type school, I think is least effective. When you can reach that happy medium in the middle where everyone is challenged and accepts responsibility.
A: That may be kind of up in the air a little bit and not be viewed as practical, but---
Q: No. I think you gave me a good answer.
Q: Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your system, during your early years as principal, and give your views on developments in this area since then.
A: OK. The first year I taught was 1948/49 at Gretna High School and I got $1800 for 10 months, for the year, averaged about $180 a month. I took my whole first paycheck and went out and bought a dress, and a coat and a hat and a necklace and earrings and shoes. That $180 ran right up. I spent the whole thing on clothes. I worked--that was at Gretna High School. I also was secretary to the principal. Now just imagine the only secretary he had was one of the teachers, and I wasn't even a typist.
Q: Oh my.
A: But I did do all the registers for the whole school, and I got $20 a month extra for doing that.
Q: All the registers?
A: All the registers.
Q: An arduous task.
A: Plus, I had to do a lot of his paperwork, and things like that. I would go every afternoon and do whatever he had to do after school was out. So that was a long time ago, you know, and it came up gradually, as did the price of everything.
Q: Did you ever think at any time that it made just a real leap, in the amount that you were getting paid?
A: Not really. I did change school systems, but I didn't really see that much change.
Q: Still crawled along?
A: Still crawled along. Really and truly. Now the first year that I was a principal, I still didn't get very much. I found something the other day- I think I ended up with take home pay of $890 some dollars that first year that I was principal at Woodrow Wilson middle school. Of course, I put some back for the credit union, and for my insurance and things like that but that still isn't very much. I think I saw the biggest jump in my salary after I had been principal for a while when Dr. Truitt was giving out those raises.
Q: Exactly--those 10 and 12% ones.
A: Yeah--that was the biggest raise that I got for the whole 35 years for that section of the time. I did end up with stock and $40,000 when I retired which made my retirement better so---
Q: Mmmmm- definitely--every little nickel comes along.
A: Of course it takes more to buy since I've retired. Gosh, prices have gone up, way up in the last five years.
Q: Most systems presently have a tenure or continuing contract system for teachers. Would you discuss the situation at the time you entered the profession, and comment on the strengths and weaknesses on such a system.
A: Well, of course, there was no tenure when I started. I'm not sure--I don't know when I first became aware of tenure. I really don't remember. But when I got into administration, and after integration, I think I realized how a lot of people had gotten on tenure that probably should not have been. I think that was a real problem there for a while in Danville, and probably other places too, because when they first started having tenure, rather than evaluating the person and trying to improve their performance or get them out of the profession, they were shifted to another school and they were just shifted around to this level and that level and another school until finally they were on tenure before you knew it, and they still weren't doing anything but keeping them. I sort of think that here in Danville now that most of those teachers have gone to early retirement have gotten out. There are probably only a few of those left. And I think the teachers that are on tenure now are those that deserve to be.
Q: What do you think would be the weakness of a tenured system? Just having these people in the system and not being able to deal with them?
A: And not helping them and not dealing with them.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the Superintendent in terms of his gentle demeanor towards you and your school? Maybe at the school at which you had the longest tenure as the principal.
A: See--that's the easiest one to do, because Dr. Irgle was the first one that put me in, and he wasn't there much longer and then Dr. Truitt became the Superintendent. So most of my years were under Tom Truitt, and he was very much my instructional leader as a principal. And he chose a lot of people who had been classroom teachers and strong in instruction. That has changed in Danville in the last couple of years.
Q: He was the person who put one in.
A: Oh, really? He was really good for that and he supported me in every way. I never felt that I wasn't supported. He was an up front person. If you said something that he didn't agree with, he'd talk to you about it and, I felt that I could disagree with him. He's one person that I always felt I could disagree with, and not get in trouble. You know, well, he seemed to like it, when you had an idea that was different from his. And that did happen several times. But that was good, and I think most of the principals enjoyed serving under him. See, I retired, the man that followed him, Larry Leonard was the man in charge of the next year. He was the only principal while I was, I was principal at Gibson that one year. But I was old enough, I would have retired anyway--that wasn't the reason.
Q: Right. OK. Would you discuss your general relationship either pro or con, with the Board of Education, or the School Board, and comment on the effectiveness of the School Board operations in general.
A: I really had no relationship with the School Board, at any of the places that I taught as a classroom teacher. For some reason that wasn't important to me....
Q: And the relationship with the School Board?
A: As a teacher, I really was not aware of School Board policy that much. They didn't seem to influence my life or have anything to do with it, my teaching, as far as I could feel or tell. When I got into administration I was much more aware of the School Board. They would come visit the school, and I knew that they had no authority--they were with the Board, and as individuals they didn't have any authority. But all of a sudden I found myself friends with most of the members of the School Board, and I knew them from other ways and I had not before. The School Board is very important and I never really let them influence. I had never felt any real influence from the School Board, they never tried to do anything one way or the other. It was that they were people who could make my life easier or better by getting more money or materials or, helping in relationships with the public, I guess, more than anything else. That if the general public had a good feeling about us, part of that was due to the School Board and their reactions or actions, or whatever. And if we had --well, if schools were not, thought well of a lot of times, it was left back up to the School Board and making policy.
Q: Do you see a difference now in the effect and influence of the School Board, in the last few years, since you've retired?
A: Well, since I've retired there's been a lot happening and I think the School Boards are really being more aggressive now. I think there's been a lot of things that have been hard for me, as a retired person. I really don't go in and try to talk to them. I retired, I'm retired. I help and I do things like that, but I don't go in and start messing with who did this, who shot John, or whatever. But there have been a lot of things that happened since I've retired, that are either--well, they have to be School Board, oriented and I just feel that they're a little more aggressive in doing things.
Q: Do you think it would change if we had an elected School Board?
A: Well, you see, I'm not for an elected School Board.
Q: How about an elected School Board with taxing power. Do you think that would change it?
A: Well, that would be a different thing now. But the big thing that I would happen--I got out and handed out leaflets last election time for people to keep the School Board appointed. Because I think that then it gets to be a political football. There have been so many places where you can't do anything good or bad because you can't agree because you've got people from all these different wards setting their own agenda. So rather than working together and compromising, everybody is tooting their own horn or placing people in their particular places. And I've never felt that they were advantageous. I might be wrong, but I don't think that is the answer to the aggression that we have.
Q: What do you think will be the ultimate result in the next 3-4 years with our School Board? Where do you think it will go? Which direction? Do you think it will become more, and more you say aggressive or intrusive into individual schools or do you think they will move away?
A: Well, I predict that they are going to do what they need to do to keep them afloat. I believe that they are going to bring it on the ballot again, and I think it may cause some changes in the behavior of the school board.
Q: You may be right.
A: But it may not it may not even be what's necessary again
Q: I think time will tell, I think you're right. Talk to me about your participation in handling integration, and describe your involvement in the busing, your experience with Mr. Shavley.
A: I did start my work in administration during that time 30 years or so. I'm not one of those people who thought we had it separate but equal. We didn't. And when we integrated that first year that I was the assistant principal, the first year of integration, I actually brought 6th graders, about three or four at a time in my office, and worked with them, trying to get them to learn how to read. There were so many things that some of those kids were so deficient in, and we did not have separate racial schools. And some schools I'm sure, were better than others in places, and I'm not talking about just black schools, but there was a lot there that had to be done that you don't have to deal with now. I think these kids are coming up and I don't believe that middle schools have to do that now. I don't know if they've had many 6th grades that can't read.
Q: I think they'd be very few and far between.
A: But you just did what you had to do back then, and I do think that it was good and if it was bad or if there were a lot of bad feelings and vibes and there we had establishing who was the kingpin and we have a lot--especially with little school children. A lot of people tried to establish themselves as the king of the school room, school yard, or whatever. So there were a lot of problems involved then, but it was a necessary, necessary thing to happen. And I think we worked through a lot of it and I think it improved. Danville has really had more of this to deal with than a lot of places.
Q: Oh, really?
A: Yes--see, we had the court ordered busing and since we were court ordered busing, you know, we had to keep our schools more racially equal within the counties. And, when I go to some of the places now and go into some of the schools and I see the situation where there's almost a whole white school or there are three or four blacks to each room, or you go to a classroom that is almost all white, you know that they don't have integration or what's really going on there. So my daughter who lives in New Jersey,--there's only one black family in their children's public school. So they're finding all kinds of ways to get around it in a lot of places with local schools, or whatever. So I think Danville has had a bigger share then, and I'm not sure that we're not better for it. I'm not sure that we don't have these schools to (phone ringing covers up rest of response)
Q: In considering handling integration and the system in which you worked, over the next 20 years or so that you worked, did you see the problems even out? Did you see the busing situation calm down? People adapting to it and working?
A: Yes I did, I really did.
Q: And you thought the schools were better and stronger because of it!
A: Oh yes, definitely, I really think so. I'm, I'm a real believer in the public school system. I'm a real believer in living in the world that we live in, and not hiding your head in the sand and I've definitely had my children in public school, and I think they are stronger people because of it. You know, I just think you've got to give everybody a chance to live in this world. I'm just a firm believer in that and I do believe everybody's good and that's why we got the Senate Productivity Award last year.
Q: Living up to it. Right. Do you draw any parallels between the disparity funding today in the State of Virginia and the way that they say schools used to be separate but equal and you didn't particularly think they were equal.
A: No they weren't--can't anybody think that, that's really knowledgeable.
Q: Do you draw any parallels with the disparity funds and the disparity debate now? Think there are any parallels between the richer districts and the poorer districts?
A: I can't understand. I really can't understand why there's such an argument. It's politics. I really think it's politics. They can't have the educational system some of the places in Southwest Virginia, that don't have the money, that can't provide the educational opportunities that say -the schools in Northern Virginia.
Q: And when that disparity runs from about $2400, which could be a baseline in Virginia up to $7000, there's a big difference isn't there? It's hard.
A: I had an opportunity to go to Wytheville to a Southern Association Evaluation Team. I'm not sure, but there are several places out in that area, I can't remember names. I probably shouldn't mention the names anyway. But it was almost like going back in our school system 15 or 20 years. You know--the instruction practices, some of the materials and the way the school was handled and all. It really was like going back several years. And I bet if you were to go , say to a school in Arlington, and then to a school out in Southwest Virginia and then observe one day and then observe them the next day, you'd really feel like you'd gone back in time.
Q: I think you're right. I agree.
A: I don't know what will ever come as a result of that, but I'm just really out of politics (laughter) I don't want to get started on that.
Q: Think back when you were a principal and describe to me your work day. That is, how did you spend your time, and what were the normal number of hours per week that you put in?
A: I tried to get to school between 7 and 7:30, that's probably about 7:15 or something like that, and I would be at school until 6 or 7. In a middle school, I heard this once and it really stuck with me. "It's not keeping up with kids in middle school--it"s staying in front of them" And if you don't stay in front of them, you know, you go down. And I said, "When you get there in the morning, you push that automatic button, and it doesn't slow down one minute, all day long." And I like to have a list of things I need to do today. Well, my list needs to be shortened by two things, and I've added five or six others, because my day was spent dealing with students, parents and teachers. My faculty has planning periods so all during the day, there were teachers available for me to work with. So that's the way my day was spent. And you never knew with parents. You never knew what the day was going to hold. When I was in my classroom, I had more control over my day. I had more control over what I did and I could sort of set my agenda. But when you're an administrator, you're not in charge of your agenda really, and I'd really like to know if some administrator has perfected that "being in charge of their day and agenda" (laughter), because I felt it was important if parents came in with their concerns I thought it was important to see them. And things come up with children that you can't wait until tomorrow to deal with. You've got to deal with it. So my day was spent more with dealing with people and then my hours before school and my hours after school I did my paperwork and my planning on paper and my dealing with letters I wanted the secretary to write or whatever things that had come up. So it was a full day.
Q: Did the amount of time that you spent on any one area decrease or increase over the tenure of your principalship?
A: I think the longer I was in the school, you know, the first year I was in a lot of schools. I really went to a lot of schools. In the first year I was there, I had more parents coming in, and demanding of my time. They needed to get to know me, and I needed to get to know them. So, I spent more time and then less time each year that I stayed in a school, with parents and probably with faculty. As I've stayed with faculty, the time would decrease. We would get things taken care of. With children it's different. Things are going to come up. With middle school age children things are going to come up anyway. And it would have been nice--you see, we didn't have a guidance counselor. I had one assistant principal. In some of the schools it was as though I didn't have an assistant principal. One year at Westmoreland I didn't have a superintendent. Don't ask me why! Being a woman, you're supposed to handle a lot and take care of it.
Q: How many students did you have?
A: I had between five and six hundred, most of the time about six hundred. These are grades 5,6 and 7, ages 10 through 14, 15.
Q: That's a lot of bodies. What do you think was your key to your success as a principal?
A: Well, I'm not sure I was a success as a principal. The key was my years of being a teacher, I think the key was my experience in a classroom. I'm not forgetting that. I think that helped equip me more than anything else.
Q: And during your administrative tenure, did you feel yourself pulling back, and thinking about things from the perspective of a teacher, from the perspective of a principal, or a combination of the two?
A: Well, a combination, but I would say more often a teacher. Ah, definitely. I was aware, I was aware that I wasn't hard. You feel very much the responsibility, and I knew that I had that responsibility and the ultimate responsibility was mine and I knew that I was in charge. I never doubted that I was in charge but yet I felt most of the time towards teaching.
Q: I think that's an important perspective to maintain. If you had to do it all again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship? And would you describe your feelings, knowing what you know now about entering the principalship yourself if you were given the opportunity to start anew.
Q: Would you still do it?
A: Yeah! (laughter)
Q: If you know what you know now?
A: Yeah, I sure would, I would, yes I would. It's worth it. But, ah, when I, when Dr. Irgle asked me to go into this and become an assistant principal, I served two years as an assistant principal and those two years were to get your Masters in a hurry So, I, ah, I made the decision to do it, enrolled in UVA graduate school to get my master's in administration with elementary major cause we just had middle school, but I concentrated in middle school administration and there were a lot of classes that I took for the, took the ones that were for the middle school principal and put them together. They were sometimes with the elementary but sometimes we were by ourself. I think that did an excellent job of preparing me, because those classes were pertinent, I was right there in the assistant principalship. I didn't know when a job would come open in being a principal, but the next year was, I was two months, I was able to put that on my resume, two months I was principal at Bellevue Elementary and then went into the middle school for when Mr. Cuthrell resigned. But I didn't know how soon it was going to come up, but it did happen to coincide, the first year I got a job as a principal was the year that I did get my degree. And those classes were very relevant and it gave me a lot to think about and I just wish that I could have put more of it into practice. See, at that time I thought , I'm sorry but anybody else here?, and those people here in Danville just don't know about this, and we ought to be doing this, I was a little bit itchy to do things I didn't do, but did get to try a lot of things.
Q: Did you have to drive to UVA or did you take regional classes?
A: Ah, OK, I went up to Lynchburg College and then I took classes in extension. I drove to Roanoke for one class at Cave Spring High School that UVA was doing up there. I just, Dr. Stanley was my advisor and we cut out the role of what I had to have, and ah, it was my job to go to where they were teaching that class however I could get it, and to get the ones that I couldn't get in extension. I carried, I think two classes at all times.
Q: Whew--tough load.
A: Yeah! Really it was. Well, I know that this didn't cause it, but you know the first year I got to be a principal, I divorced. But, I don't think that, I really don't think that had anything to do with it, because he was reaching other decisions and wanted to continue with my classes. You know, we did that but I really think that I gave him freedom to maybe let him do what he wanted to do all along and I had a 12 month job. (laughter)
Q: You may be, you may be right.
A: I think they did a good job of preparing me. You asked me a question at the end, what I would do differently.
Q: Uh huh.
A: I really couldn't have done anything differently I don't think. I never wished that I had. I knew more than I could put into practice though.
Q: That's a wonderful way to look back on it, that really is, without regrets.
A: Uh huh.
Q: Since you have had some time now to reflect on your past career, I wonder if you would share with us what you would consider to be your administrative strengths and your weaknesses.
A: Oh my, probably the weakness--trying to be too much, probably spreading myself too thin. It, it comes along with the job but you can't hold back. That was the, that was the weakest thing at the time. I probably didn't do as good a job as I could have done on some things because I was spreading myself so thin in other areas.
Q: Did you ever feel guilt from not being the "classic mommy", guilt about the time that you had to spend at school and school work and then what you had left over for your children?
A: Oh, I felt guilt all the time.
Q: Uh huh.
A: Well, he, ah, when I became principal my two older kids were married. They were through college.
Q: You didn't have, they weren't in their home...
A: Uh huh.
Q: You didn't have that worry.
A: I had a 13 year old, I had Ruby Ellen. We were very close then, and are now, and she got mono too and, see, that was the year that we divorced and she got mono and got real sick and, ah, I've dealt with guilt when I was in my early thirties. I had big problems with guilt and I had to tell myself, "You do the best you can with what information you have and what resources you have, at that moment you make that decision and that's the best you can do." And so, I learned always, when I started feeling guilty, I said, "you did the best you could with what you knew at that time and you couldn't have done any differently."
Q: That's a good way to look at it.
A: So, I've really, I, I had a real problem with guilt. It's kept me from functioning a lot of times. And I had to deal with it head on and that's kind of the way I dealt with it by saying that over and over to myself. Ah, my children were always proud that I was a teacher, ah, they were very proud and I think, I tell other people who go into it, they may complain. They'd complain because I wasn't here to pick them up at that time or whatever, you know, but at one time I had to stop teaching. I was pregnant and I had to stop teaching and the two older children cried and cried and I said, "Honey, what's wrong? I thought you'd be glad I'm home." And they said "Oh, but mommy we can't brag about you being a teacher now." (laughter) And, ah, so, so I really felt that even though they complained about me working, I was with them until I got into administration. I was, everything was fine. And, ah, I was part of their life because I knew their teachers and the teachers knew me and even with Ruby Ellen being the only teenager I had at home after I divorced and got into administration, ah, I think, I think she was still proud. I went with her on some of her band trips in school, ah,
Q: Aren't they fun!
A: Because of being divorced I did more with her. See, than I would if I'd had a husband at that time too. But, but you know, we ah, I don't, I don't think I really did feel that way. I do not, now I don't see, I used to think about it. I couldn't have done it when I had those children, those little children at home. I just don't feel I could have done that. I had a husband who couldn't take care of them. I think it would be a lot for a woman with a young family, and you may have gone through that and you probably feel and you know the it's possible to do it. I just had always thought about it and said, "Oh gee, I just couldn't have done this." My kids were real active in school as cheerleaders and all kinds of things and it took a long time to take them places and pick them up and I just couldn't have done that and been an administrator. Although I did it as a teacher.
Q: That's true.
A: Uh huh.
Q: You're right. What were your administrative strengths?
A: Ah, I think being able to detach myself which is a weakness in a way, but in administration I was able to detach myself emotionally from a lot of decisions, from a lot of things that I had to do. And I think that was a strength as well as a weakness, but after I retired it took me two years to get my feelings back--now that's the truth. You know I wasn't really happy about things and I wasn't really sad about things, because I could, I could, I really learned to detach myself and say,"OK, I said this is the way it was going to be this is the way it is and people learned to take me at my word and ah, I was, I was able to do that. But I, ah, I also was a caring person too. I did feel that part of my, ah, it's hard to get those two together. But you know, I guess it's what you call tough love. It's what I'm talking about with detachment and this feeling here I was caring but I like to think I wasn't a pushover, right to that point and I did do a good job.
Q: We, ah, being in an isolated position you learned to develop that thick skin.
A: Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.
Q: And I think that's what you mean.
A: Yeah, that's what I'm trying to say, yeah.
Q: You didn't take it personally...
A: That's right.
Q: ...when a teacher got mad and angry and said things, you didn't take it as a personal affront...
A: Huh uh, huh uh.
Q: It was just a teacher reacting to a situation, same for child, same for a parent. Many times they come, totally blow up....
A: Uh huh.
Q: ...and will come back and apologize later.
A: Uh huh, Oh sure.
Q: And you can't carry that grudge inside.
A: Uh, uh, no.
Q: You just let it go...
A: I did, I did.
Q: I think you're right.
A: Yeah. That's one thing that I was able to do and ah, I had a lot of empathy with the children. I had grown up during the depression and I knew what it was to be poor and I knew what, you know, I think I was able to understand a lot of the parents problems and children's problems, some of those especially low economic children. It may be somebody who had always been affluent and had always had plenty, yet he wouldn't understand.
Q: Ruby, it's hard for a child to come up now and be poor. It isn't like it was years ago. I, I remember as a little child, we didn't have a lot but we were just as happy as we could be.
A: Uh huh, uh huh.
Q: No one had a lot. Everyone was just about the same.
A: That's right.
Q: In the school, in general, the populations were more and more alike than different and now populations are so different and it's hard not to have anything.
A: I think that Danville has gotten bigger between the have and have nots.
Q: It has.
A: The haves and have nots
Q: And there aren't any in the middle, very few in the middle and it's really hard for a little child to come to school every day and see another child who has anything and everything. And they don't know how to get that other than one or two different ways.
A: Yeah, yeah.
Q: You either take it, or determine some way to do it that's not right.
A: Uh huh.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice you wish passed along to today's principals.
A: Oh, my goodness. I think one of the big things is don't lose sight of who the schools are for. Schools are for children. Schools are for the student. And I think we make a lot of decisions at times that are not in the best interest of the student. And so I think we need too keep that in mind and especially as administrators do we need to have that focus in front of us all the time. Ah, another thing I think is important is to remember that children don't always think like we do, and we expect them to. We treat them a lot of times like they don't have feelings, but they do have feelings like we do. I think we need to remember they have feelings like we do but they don't always think like we do. That would keep us out of a lot of trouble. Ah, let's see. I think those are two of my peeves. And then, they take care of your own personal needs and make sure that your own child's needs are met so that you don't, ah, become so engrossed in your work that it will consume your whole life, and you need to keep a separate life.
Q: Do you think it's easier now or was it easier when you came through to get consumed by this professional persona of a principal.
A: Gosh, I don't know. I always felt, I always felt that a real big problem. With the hours that I've spent and the nature of the children that I've dealt with, I always felt it was a really big problem, but I talk to principals now since I've retired and they said, "Ruby, you just don't know how it is, you just can't understand, you have no idea the way things are. You thought we worked hard then. All the things they put on us today!" so maybe it's getting worse from the sounds of people who worked with me who have not retired yet.
Q: You may be right. Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there's probably something I've left out. Is there anything that I haven't asked you to comment on that you'd like to say.
A: The joys of being retired! How about that?
Q: I think that would be wonderful.
A: I, ah, it is and there are, today when I went to McDonalds a kid came out from the back, "Oh, hey Mrs. Hodges, I'm so glad to see you." And you know when I go out and see them working places I'm so proud of 'em and they have to tell me what they're doing and they recognize me. "You haven't changed a bit" they tell me. But I know I have. But, ah, and sometimes I have to ask them who they are. But there's is a lot of pleasure in seeing parents and children that you worked with and that you helped through the years. And there's nothing that makes you feel so good or that your life meant something, after all. Cause, I don't think, there's not many professions I think that you would reach. Of course, if I moved to a retirement community, see, I wouldn't get this now. But staying in the same community where I taught, I do get feedback every day and feel good about it, and oh, I, I think it, I think retirement, if you don't work too long so that you are worn out, when you could still do a lot of volunteering and still do some things.
Q: I agree.
A: That, I reckon, is good for everyone.
Q: Ruby, I thank you so much for all of your comments. I appreciate you letting us come into your home and allowing us the chance for you to respond to these questions and for us to record everything.
A: It's been my pleasure.
Q: Thank you so much again.
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