Today is -August 14, 1990. I am speaking with Mr. Morris Law in his home-in Rocky Mount, Virginia about his experiences as a public sdhool administrator.
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Q: Mr. Law, would you begin by telling us about your family background, you childhood interests and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Rocky Mount. I went to elementary and high school here and then William and Mary for both bachelors and masters degrees. Rocky Mount was always my home town. My father was a carpenter or craftsman; my mother was a housewife. I have one brother and one sister. I have nothing but marvelous memories about my childhood here and what a great little place this was. Everyone knew everyone else and you belonged - a priceless kind of heritage.
Q: Do you have one special memory of your childhood that sticks out in your mind?
A: School; I loved school always. I loved my teachers and I guess that's where I picked up the flair for the dramatic. I majored in speech and drama in undergraduate work, and many of my teachers were always faced with the chore of putting on a skit or a play or a production and, inevitably, I got called on. And, inevitably, I enjoyed it. I guess that's where the liking for the theater and the dramatic all began.
Q: Did you ever get a chance when you were in college to pursue that drama career?
A: Yes, yes I did, alightly. I had one season of summer stock at the Green Mountain Play House in Middlebury, Vermont. And then I played the role of Benjamin Franklin in Paul Green's Common Lore in Williamsburg for some eight or nine summers while I was working on my masters degree at William and Mary, interrupted by a stint in the service and then coming back to complete it. I enjoyed that very much, but I learned enough of the professional theater at that point to have the feeling that I wasn't prepared to make the kinds of sacrifices and pound the pavement, as it used to be called back in those days, to want to pursue that.*
Q: What other kind of preparation did you have for your teaching career?
A: In my undergraduate work at William and Mary, thinking that this yen for the drama might not pan out in terms of career, I took a minor in education so that I would eligible for a certificate if I chose to go that route, and during my two years in the service I had opportunities to do teaching, to work with people in that sense, and all of that sort of jelled and formulated and came together and I thought about maybe that I might like to teach.*
Q: Did you have an opportunity to do student teaching?
A: No, no. I'm not even sure that in those days in Virginia we had student teaching. At any rate, I didn't participate.
Q: And how many years did you serve as teacher and as principal?
A: I was a teacher from 1953 to 19S7, and I was an assistant principal from 1957 to 1964. I was a principal at a junior high school from 1964 to 1974.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the circumstances of your entering the principalship?
A: Yes, well prior to that I had entered teaching a little bit by accident. I had graduated. I had spent two years in the Army and I wasn't quite sure about what direction I wanted to go in or what I wanted to do. I tried a couple of other jobs which I did not like and decided to come home and talk with the then new principal of the new, large, consolidated high school in Rocky Mount, Elton Bonner, by name. We struck it off together and he offered me a job, and it took, as they say. Well, it took so well, and I guess here the drama training comes back into play, a teacher in one sense is a director; a principal is very much a director, and I liked the way Mr. Bonner ran the school, put the show together, as it were. I liked what he was doing and I wanted to be a part of it, and so it was a natural thing for me when he offered me opportunities to move from the classroom into guidance and administration to follow that. Then I had been doing that for a number of years when a new, consolidated, beautiful junior high school was built next door to the high school, and I was offered a choice of two jobs - the principalship of that school or coming to central office. Well it had already jelled in my own mind that I wanted that school. I got it. I'll never regret it.
Q: So it was primarily because of the role model that you had?
A: I think somewhat, the role model plus my own desire to direct.
Q: I'm curious; you mentioned that you had tried a couple of other jobs and didn't feel they were for you. In what field had you look into?
A: Insurance and taxation. Those are a little bit removed from teaching.
Q: You said that your desire to direct and the role model Mr. Bonner kind of led you into the principalship. Did you have any other motives for moving into the principalship?
A: Yes, yes I think so, if I can recall them and put them together. That goes back to teaching in the classroom. I always felt from the day I became a teacher, and I still feel to this day after two years of retirement, that what education is all about is teaching. And in order to teach, there are certain things that have to be facilitated - an environment, an atmosphere, a stage setting with all the components. I was exposed to good situations and poor situations and I couldn't discern between the two, and I thought, well gee, I think I know what kind of environment a school should have. I think a school's purpose should be to make it possible for teachers to teach and that nothing should stand in the way of that. I wanted to try to see if I could develop that kind of situation.
Q: Once you got into the principalship, did your motives change at all?
A: No, no, just to continue to perfect it. I was blessed with a ten year tenure at a school. In fact, in those days when we opened that school, I had the very good fortune to hand pick the faculty, most of whom came from the already existing high school since we were taking grades out of that building, and to employ the remainder of the ones we needed other than that nucleus. So every teacher was employed by me who worked for me. And I think that made for a good situation. The teacher knew that I wanted her/him on that faculty. I think it gave the teacher a feeling, well this fellow hired me, so I'd better put out and show what I can do. Well, just as a commentary in knowing what I think may be the purpose behind all the questions and the uses of the tape, that's something that we've lost a little bit of that I think education would be enhanced from a rebirth in that regard. Personnel data, personnel files, interviews, committees and whatever, I think tend to distort the hiring procedure. I would tend to think that you were very fortunate in having that ability to hand pick; that had to have played an awfully big role in the success of your school.
Q: Extremely blessed and fortunate to have that opportunity, because it created a sense of family on that faculty and togetherness, and you needed to belong to that school in order to be a part, and everyone who came there very quickly sensed this feeling of loyalty and family and dedication to the job and purpose. Gosh, during those ten years I had no problem with teamwork, with people pitching in, going that extra mile, wanting to make our school the beet school around. It was exceedingly fortunate, a very real blessing for me to have that opportunity.
A: I would say that's very true, that it would make a very big difference. And everybody ought to have the opportunity to open a new school once in his life. I'm going to keep that in mind.
Q: You mentioned just a few minutes ago that when the new junior high school opened, you were taking grades from the high school. Why did they decide to open the new junior high school?
A: The high school facility, which at that time housed some of the eighth graders in the county and all of the ninth, tenth, eleventh & twelfth graders, had become overcrowded. It was necessary to make some changes and the decision, and I was not privy to the decision, I cannot tell you exactly how it came about. I was decided that a second building would be built on that campus and that we would take the eighth grade and the ninth grade out of the high school, bring in all of the eighth grades that were still scattered around the division out in the county an have a consolidated junior high school, grades eight and nine. There were a lot of facilities and staff shared in the schools.
Q: Were the eighth grades that were out in the county still part of the elementary school, K-8 school?
Q: And then the high school was the current Ramsey Hall Building of Franklin County?
A: That's right. In fact at one point in that Ramsey Hall Building, with the original agriculture building that you know about, in those two buildings there were 1400 students at one time in 1964, and we had health and P.E. classes meeting on the stage with the curtains closed, two other classes meeting in the dressing rooms underneath the stage, and 200 and 300 student study halls seated in the auditorium, all simultaneously. I can't imagine that, and I hope I don't ever have to experience it.
Q: Can you describe for us your personal philosophy of education and how this evolved, or how it did evolve over the years?
A: Debbie, I'm not sure that I can. Most of what I would describe as my philosophy has been somewhat instinctive. It was simply, again, the role model of Elton Bonner and his associate, Bruce Kent, that came into play, and good teachers. I was fortunate in that I always thought that I had good teachers all along the way. And I think some of that came from the family. My parents provided an opportunity for me to go to school. They didn't have to make me go. There was no question. There was a sense that the school was an opportunity and that I should seize that opportunity. There weren't such things as mistrust. The teacher was always right whether the teacher was right or not and those kinds of things never came into play. It was a very positive wholesome feeling at home about school and the people there. I remember elementary teachers, a teacher who was again doing a dramatic production, and my baby brother was about to be born. He was born the night before the second grade play was to take place. My second grade teacher, who by the way still lives in this town and whose yard I mow occasionally, came by my house that evening, picked me up, brought a gift to my mother and my baby brother, carried me to school and we put on our production. By the way, we won the first prize, the then took me home. And I had that kind of things repeated over those years and those things stuck. And so, philosophy has to be simply a matter of caring, caring and commitment. I really don't know how else to say it.
Q: A follow up to that - how do you, based on your experiences, how do you view that as having, has it remained the same in the, let's say in the typical family in our area in Franklin County. Do you still think that is the philosophy, if you will, of the majority of the families that we have here, that school is an opportunity, is it viewed that way or has it changed over the years?
A: It's changed. I'm not sure that I'm knowledgeable or current enough to make other than just general comments in response to your question. I'm not sure about percentages or degrees of my responses. I think that there is still, in this particular community, a large percentage of that type of family situation. Maybe those feelings don't run as deep or aren't as important or as strong, but society has changed, we must remember. There are changes; I'm sure the principals and teachers back in those days I am describing had problems, just as teachers and principals have problems now. But society as it has evolved has sort of caused us in education to become preempted, overinvolved with problem solving, as opposed necessarily to teaching. And it's hurt us in public education. If society has had an ill, a difficulty, a problem, and I understand the reasoning, the thinking and the logic they have asked us in education to help solve the problem, but that has happened so often in the last 25 years that, in my judgement at this delightful point two years into retirement, I can look back and say that in total has been debilitating to the cause of teaching in America.
Q: Did you find that when you got to open your new school and got to hand pick your teachers, did you find the same quality of teacher that you had experienced when you went to school, that the same caring was still there?
A: Well, I looked for it, and I put it together in as sufficient degree as I thought I could. I was disappointed in the quality, and probably some of my teachers were very disappointed in the quality of the administrator as well. No, I was disappointed in the quality of some of the teachers that I ended up employing.
Q: Disappointed in the quality in the sense of their preparation or their attitudes?
A: Sometimes preparation, more often than not, those qualities of caring and commitment were the problems.
Q: This one kind of goes along with what we've been talking about. How would you describe instructional philosophy of, let's say, that new dunior high school that you got to open, and how did it develop and evolve?
A: In retrospect, it probably was a mixture of pretty rigorous standards and strong doses of caring and commitment with the knowledge that we wanted our children to succeed. We wanted every child to have a success, but I think the overriding thing then at that time with those people, and certainly on my part, was that we wanted standards, we wanted to pull children up, we didn't want to bend to the children, we wanted the children to come up. Now very often we were wrong; we might not of understand problems or needs or that kind of thing. Society was different in those days, as well. We have to remember that too. We were able to hold the standards more easily in those days than we can these days.
Q: So you would say that you and your staff set some very high expectations for the students that were at your school?
A: Yes, we did, and even in terms of behavior, because in those days in this division without a great deal of fear about law suits and going to court and whatever I could point to the front door or put a child in my car and take him home, which I did frequently. That was the greatest problem solving device at my disposal was simply to take that child in tow and drive home. And more often than not, a parent was there. If they weren't there, we knew where they worked. There was a great deal of communication between the school and the parent, if not initiated by the parent then initiated by us.
Q: Which has obviously changed greatly.
Q: What experiences in your professional life have influenced your management? You've kind of related that to the teachers that you have had when you were going through school and their caring attitudes. Anything else?
A: I can't come up with a specific in terms of what you're saying but if you'd like I'll generalize.*
A: I believe that a good, competent, caring teacher given an adequate classroom, adequate materials and resources, left alone, and supported and built up in terms of esteem, both self and community and whatever, could make a success. So my style of management was to build up my faculty in their own minds and in the minds of the community, and we worked pretty constantly on public relations. We had two local newspapers at the time and I have three large newspaper sized scrapbooks downstairs in the archives that show the history of that junior high school from its construction until the day I left in 1974. The newspapers treated us quite well in terms of publicity for the school. We tried to portray to the community through the newspaper, in a way that I'm not sure that can be done today, what was going on at that school - pictures and stories and interviews and whatever. By having the community come into the school, we started a tradition the first year of having what we called a preholiday buffet sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we began inviting parents to come to these preholiday buffets. We invited the faculties of all our feeder schools, and that preholiday buffet got to be such an enjoyable and delicious event that people were waiting for the invitations to come. But you see something like that what it did for the faculty.
Q: How did you handle that, because I know that's a concern I have and I know it's a concern a lot of people have, that we don't have that community interaction in our schools as much as we would like. How many students did you have in your junior high level?
A: We had from 900 to 1,200 during those ten years in the two grades.
Q: That's a goodly number of students. How did you handle the parents and the staffs from your feeder schools coming in for this preholiday buffet? How did you handle; I'm assuming that you had a good turn-out.
A: Well, to begin with we had an excellent cafeteria staff who just turned out delicious food, not just for that preholiday buffet, but for those kids. To illustrate, children loved catsup, the more recent Agriculture Department catsup controversy not withstanding. You know they tried to make it a vegetable at one time, or something of that sort. Children loved catsup and the way catsup was dispensed in those days there was never enough catsup for the youngster to put on his french fries or whatever he might be eating. Our cafeteria manager, having seen this happening in other places, you can buy a gallon can of catsup and you can get a chrome dispenser, and the child can pump all the catsup out. Well, lunch participation zoomed. Back more specifically to your question, I don't know how to answer you other than to say that we worked at it. If we think that we can't do something because we're going to offend some segment or some group, or that we'll be misunderstood, if we become reticent and afraid to act because of reaction, we're doomed. Then you make no progress; you've got to take a chance and stick your neck out. Obviously we couldn't invite all 900 or 1,200 sets of parents at one time but during the two years, and we knew that a large percentage of them wouldn't accept the invitation to begin with, so as the cliche you dance with those who brung you and so we tended to dance with the parents who were bringing us, and trying to pull others in at the same time. It never became a problem and we were able to rotate around all the schools. it was an event.
Q: Why do you think schools don't do that now?
A: I have no idea.
Q: Going back to your statement earlier that your management philosophy was to build up your teachers, obviously this was one way of providing that good reputation with the community and even among your staff members, what else did you do within, let's say, within the school confines to build up your teachers?
A: Feeling that a teacher wants to teach and not be burdened with what could be classified as extraneous extra clerical paper, busy kinds of work, we devoted ourselves to simplicity. When the teachers arrived for their orientation, their handbooks, their textbooks, their materials, their schedule for the work days, everything was on their desk, and they had been communicated with prior to arriving. Most of them had been by in the summer to pick up keys or to talk or whatever. I remember one thing we did specifically - we never bored them or burdened them with faculty meetings. Brevity, as the board would say, is the soul of wit. And if you have something to say, then say it. These people have a monstrous amount of burden on their time, so take as little of it as possible. Most of my faculty meetings during those ten years were probably longer than 15 minutes. Now, we'd work in committees - curriculum, school problems, whatever. But the large faculty, a faculty of that size did not lend itself to being a committee of the whole.
Q: How many did you have on your faculty?
A: Well, we probably had about 40 on the faculty when we started in 1964 and that had risen as the enrollment had risen - probably 65 or 70 by the time I left in 1974.
Q: So, that's a good size. And you found that the committee system worked well?
A: If you put the right people on the committee.
Q: So they were hand selected for the committee?
A: The old cliche, God so loved the world that he didn't send a committee to save it.
Q: I like that one. But you played a major role in assigning teachers?
A: I'm afraid that my style of leadership was an indulgent, dictatorial whatever. There was a sign that I remember. it read, either lead, follow or get out. And that philosophy kind of prevailed in our school. And going back to faculty morale and building up the faculty, no one knows quicker about a poor teacher than that poor teacher's colleagues. Now, when we allow those good teachers to have to suffer a poor colleague, now here again though it's gotten out of our hands, in those days we had the luxury of firing people. Now, with the unions and the laws and the legalities, firing a tenured teacher is like sending troops to Kuwait. And that's hurt education. I better not pursue that one very much.
Q: We might come back to that.What kinds of things did teachers expect a principal to be able to do and what do you think makes a good principal?
A: I think teachers wanted, and I don't mean this in light of my just recent remarks, this may sound and I hope it won't be taken by any listener out of context, I think teachers want to be provided for. I think, in a sense, they want to be told what to do.They know how to do it. They're there to teach children. Certainthings are necessary in order for them to be able to do that.And they don't want to come in, or at least they didn't use to,they don't want to come in and have to plan the operation of theschool, the philosophy of the school and how things are going to be, they want someone to have already have done that job so they can come in and teach. We've fallen into this trap of too much input, too many teachers wanting to be administrators, not content with being the teacher, and the teacher is where it is; that's what it's all about. Teachers want to be supportive; they want to be upheld. Most good teachers take constructive criticism quite well if you tell them what's wrong and why you think it's wrong, and you listen. You can work out problems.
Q: And, in their opinion, a good principal would do what?
A: Provide that decent environment for them to teach in, see that they had support and that things were reasonably comfortable, that there were not distractions and disturbances unnecessarily to the instructional program, and I think they like the personal touch. I made a practice of walking my building daily, several times daily, and if I did no more than simply open the door or stick my head in the door and smile and nod at the teacher and the teachers. I think there was, on the part of many of the staff, a perception that that was a reassurance. I was there; they were in their room and working and doing a good job, and that they were important; something good and positive was taking place. The principal has to be visible. I remember when it was necessary perhaps to chastise the faculty as a whole, which I tried to do as little of as possible, because I think that's like a teacher disciplining a whole class for the actions of one child. That's always a bad practice. If the teacher can't find out which child is the culprit, better leave the thing alone other than something general. Don't punish the whole group for the actions of one. And I tried not to lecture my faculty with the problems of one teacher. We lectured the faculty when there was a schoolwide problem which we all needed to work on, but I was so sensitive about that and it became a joke among my faculty. Whenever we convened a faculty meeting on a particular day in the cafeteria at the end of school and we had refreshments, they knew that immediately following we would adjourn to the bandroom for the fussing session. Otherwise, faculty meetings were in the library.
Q: It was a dead giveaway.
Q: Do you think they expected from you the same kind of caring that you kind of looked for in a teacher?
A: Absolutely. And if they couldn't see that in me, I had no right to ask it of them for their children.
Q: Was that something important to them at that time?
A: I think so.
Q: Do you think it's still important for teachers?
A: I do. I think it's important but that many of them may not realize it. I think they've gotten maybe preoccupied or overloaded or whatever the case may be. I think that many teachers now want that and that some of them don't even know that they want it.
Q: If you were advising a person who was considering an administrative job, what would your advise be?
A: Good luck.
Q: Why do you say that?
A: Because I think times have changed a great deal. that, well, immodest as I may sound and through no fault or responsibility of my own doing, I was very blessed. We had a camelot school. In fact, there it was created at the end of that ten years. We had a camelot of a situation and there were some I don't think things possible back then, Debbie, that I'm not sure are possible now. I would like to think they are, but given the complexity of our society, the changing nature of our society, and the way education has been splintered, you see, I think much of what we've done over the last 20 years has splintered education. I'm not sure that that kind of feeling that we had back then can be duplicated now, although I see it approaching that occasionally, but some societal or personnel thing will intrude itself and throw us off track. Mandates will throw us off track. I see some refreshing signs at the state level, by the way, at this point that they are going to cut down on the bureaucracy of the State Education Department and try to restore some local control. Well that's fine if we get the standards up and do things locally that we should; it's fraught with danger, but it's a need. We have in one sense been mandated unmercifully.
Q: I'm going to go back and put it on a more personal level, I guess, and say that you know that I have just accepted an assistant principalship in elementary school here in Franklin County. What words of advice do you have for me going into this Job; I've been on the job two days. What words of wisdom or pearls of wisdom, if you will, could you offer me?
A: I'll treat you as I would treat a faculty member coming on board in my school when I was a principal or as a teacher I was employing when I was personnel director or a principalship I was assigning when I was doing those kinds of things, and my just comment that I'm not sure we can do now what we could do then is jaded by my own experience and time and my own age and all of that, and I'll answer that right now and try to make a connection. I don't have any words of advice or wisdom to you other than those things that have been implied in what we've already said, because I know certain things already. Number one, I know that you're a good teacher by reputation in this community since you've been here. I know you care about children, which you have to do. Good teachers, like good doctors or lawyers or engineers or carpenters or whatever else, if we don't have ambition, if we don't think we have something to offer, and there's nothing wrong with saying that my life is going to be given to this classroom; that's the noblest calling of all. Some of us, the lure of the higher echelon strikes us and makes us wet our lips and whatever. You wouldn't have started pursuing the preparation necessary to become an administrator had you not already analyzed and evaluated and decided that was a route you wanted to take. You would not accept an assignment if you weren't excited by the possibility of doing good and creating a good situation. That is the eternal prevailing thing in education in my day, prior to my day, and now. This is the godsend of all education, the desire on the part of people to contribute and make things better. Go for it.
Q: I'm thinking back on one of your comments a few minutes ago in saying that you're not sure that we can recreate or have again what we've had before because of all of the mandates and the bureaucracy and whatever; this is just kind of a comment of my own. I hope you're wrong in that sense and I think that's one of the reasons that I have gone into the principalship, to recreate some of those things that I had, I felt, when I was going through the school systems and all of those good teachers that I had and the good principals that I've experienced. I want that caring to be back again, and so I hope that in the next few years that I can maybe prove that statement wrong, at least here in Rocky Mount, and take it from there. Get back to those feelings that I don't think they've disappeared but maybe they've been pushed aside or fallen by the wayside. You see what a visionary I was about your progress and possibility as an administrator was for the future?
A: I kind of got sidetracked there.
Q: There are those who argue that a principal should be an instructional leader and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person must above all be a good manager. How do you feel about that statement?
A: I think the principal must first of all, without a doubt, be a good manager, but I include in that the management of instruction as well. I don't think it's possible to separate the two, even though we've tried to do that. We have principals and assistant principals, and some assistant principals are curriculum people and some assistant principals are management people. Here again, that ties back into that feeling that I spoke about earlier that we've splintered education. A good principal is going to be able to manage it all, including the instructional. I think first and foremost he must be a manager of a good environment and a good situation. We hire professional teachers. These are people who've made a decision to go into teaching, into education, and they've pursued a career, a degree, at some expense and personal effort. And with that expertise and the expertise of the State Department of Education, with the expertise of textbooks and their authors, with the expertise of all the various curriculum mandates that have come out in recent years - basic standards and standards of learning, etc., etc. - we have enough knowledge about curriculum that I think we've largely killed it. We need to put the curriculum back into perspective. A good manager is going to see to it that his teacher, first of all, is well rounded. The teacher must know what to teach. The teacher must know how to teach. Then the teacher must teach.
Q: Would you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?
A: That's a tough one.
Q: Let me ask this too. Do you believe they exist now - the way principals are licensed, let's say in the state of Virginia, are those the ideals? Do we have them now?
A: I doubt it, just the way that I doubt the licensing of teachers is effective. You see this is one of our problems in public education; there are so many of it. There have been, and continue to be, shortages, and so we let our standards down in order to staff classrooms and schools with both teachers and administrators. I don't know whether the licensing procedures right now are desirable or not. I tend to think they are not.
Q: If you could set up a principal preparation program, your own principal licensing program, what would those people going through that program requesting a license have to show in order to get that license?
A: I don't know how I would measure it or how I would get it but I would want it to be shown those caring qualities. In other words, let me back up a moment and I'll come back to this. The tendency has been, at least in this state and I suspect it to be true nationally for 25, 50 whatever years, we've taken our best classroom teachers and made administrators out of them. Why? Simply for several reasons - one, they were caring people, generally. They were committed people, generally. They had some ambition and dedication. They thought they could make things better, generally. Those are the kinds of things I would look for and I'm not sure licensing procedures and so many courses in this and so many courses in that or whatever always give us those. The best manager, the best executive, the beat administrator in any operation, institution, whatever, his success is going to be largely determined by surrounding himself with good people.
Q: One of the, this is kind of related to that question, one of the things that the state of Virginia is doing or planning on doing in the upcoming years is insisting that there be an internship involved in the principal preparation. What are your feelings on that?
A: I think that's excellent.
Q: How would you structure that?
A: The ideal for me would be for anyone wanting to enter administration, first of all have about five years of successful classroom teaching experience before they were even given the opportunity to do it. Administrators need to know what goes on in the trenches. In fact, I suspect that many administrators need to be put back in the trenches every now and then so that they remember what it's like in the trenches. And that's not good terminology; the classroom is not a trench. I'd want some successful classroom teaching before consideration, and I'd want that internship to be lengthy, rather than three months, eight weeks or whatever the case may be. It should probably be a year, in order for the person to get a grasp or feeling of what's going on. It should be made a responsible kind of internship. That person needs to have the opportunity to learn by observing and seeing and, as well, by doing. Basically that would take care of it.
Q: Do you see the internship as someone going into a school and assuming some of the duties of an assistant principal in that school level?
A: We don't learn as much by .
Q: It's been said that there's a home/school gap and that more parental involvement, and this goes back to the other question we were discussing, with the schools needs to be developed. Could you give your views on this issue and describe, aside from your preholiday buffet, how you interacted with the citizens in your community?
A: That sounds like maybe several questions. Now is going to be the most heretical part of the tape, and I'm referring to home/school gap, that whole broad area of relationships, communication and responsibilities and interplay, whatever, because I think it's at the heart of part of our problem. shall propose a most radical solution. We need to go back and rewrite the constitution of Virginia. The new constitutional provision for education needs to provide for a system of free public education for all students K through a bachelors degree with certain provisions. Now you see we mandate compulsory attendance, but this is a farce that is not being enforced. There are any number of legal loopholes; there are any number of other illegal loopholes. The compulsary attendance, here this all of you people who are listening to this tape, the compulaary attendance law in Virginia is a farce. I would take it off the books. I would remove the compulsary attendance law and in its place by providing every youngster for an opportunity for a free public education K through wherever he can go, up to and including a bachelors degree, with certain responsibilities - the responsibility to try, the responsibility to behave reasonably well, responsibilities in that area. Now if we're going to have those responsibilities, we know that for a period of time until we get the thing sorted out, it isn't going to work. So we have to have some interim sort of arrangements. We've got to get the laws and the courts off the backs of school people, teachers and administrators. And if we have a youngster whose behavior is not reasonable then we need to be able to have that child be taken out of school by his parents. We don't need to suspend him or expel him or throw him or kick him out. The law needs to say that if your child isn't functioning at this level, in terms of those basic things I was referring to - effort, behavior, responsibility - the parent must do something else with that child. What does any youngster or his parents have a right for that youngster to disturb or disrupt the education of 30 or 60 or 90 or 100 or whatever other students? I think that right now in our public schools, not only here but nationwide, the most debilitating thing about education is classroom discipline. More teachers spend more wasted hours and time and effort on trying to maintain a sense of, you know if you can't have order you can't teach. I suspect that it may be as high as 50% of our time and effort in certain situations is wasted, flushed down the drain, with incessant, stupid, ridiculous discipline. Now, I have to bring in a whole spectrum of things here. I said that we had fragmented education earlier. We have grouped and trapped and labeled and tagged ourselves into oblivion. Children are just children. Some can function up to a certain level, some can function up to a certain other level, some can function up to a still higher level. We have tried to make it possible for all children to be equal in all educational facets and opportunities and this is just not possible. The only way that all children are created equal is in the eyes of the good Lord in their personal worth and dignity. But along comes society and we in education and we're going to make all children equal. We're going to create special programs and special this and special that. We've forgotten the universality and the common denominators that most all children have. So, here's the heretical statement again. Take the compulaary attendance law off the book. Allow teachers and administrators a voice in saying who can remain in school. I would predict, I would even wager, that if we took steps of that sort we'd probably have five years of traumatic hell to deal with, but then following that, if we got our house in order, we'd have all parents knocking at our doors - please let my child back in school; I'll see to it that he does so and so. Weld have all parents knowing that we're trying to do something for them and for that child. They would be more supportive than maybe some of the are now. So much for Law's theory.
Q: Are there any other ways that you would get the community involved in your school system? Let's say you can't change that compulsory attendance law and you have to go with things as they are, how are you going to bring the community into your school and make it a positive interaction, get them involved?
A: I'm going to look with keen anticipation and much relish at what you all are going to do to bring that about. I don't have an answer. It's complicated; I don't mean to make light of it. relish all the things that I see you all are attempting to do to bring that back. I hope you find the key or the keys.
Q: Do you have any ideas as to what a key might be? What is it that you were doing when you were a principal to get the community there, to get that support there for the kids, that even within the restrictions that we work with now we're not doing that we could do?
A: I don't know that the answer lies in anything that we were doing that you are not doing now or that you can't do now as much as it lies in the fact that we have been so splintered, we have been so mandated, we have been so super-imposed upon that it's difficult for us to know how to get back and start at square one. We never bothered very much with parental committees in those days. We sort of had the feeling that if we were honest, if we had care and concern in that we wanted to do something for that child, that the parent was with us and behind us, and we didn't expect them to come in and rewrite the new math program or the sex education program, or be on the school committee for this or the other. We felt that they felt that that was our job. You see, I think we have given the public the impression that we don't have a notion in hell of what we're doing because we're constantly reinventing the wheel. I expect I'd better stop there.
Q: I'm still going to attack this a little bit. Why do you feel that parents aren't willing to come into the schools and be active, and take an active role in their child's education?
A: It's a multiple listing of reasons and I'm not sure I know any of them of even very many of them.
Q: What are your feelings? What are some of the things you think are?
A: This is an age of busyness. Everybody is busy. This is an age where many many family units have crumbled. The family is not the family, basically, that we had a majority of. We have a lot of one parent families, a lot of no parent families, a lot of grandparents are raising or attempting to raise children. Society is much more permissive than it was. It has, I'm not sure that we in education today have the same, well let me try to illustrate this way - I came home to teach in the fall of 1953. I was given a job. I had been hired. The very fact, the simple fact that I had been given a job and employed as a teacher in the Franklin County public school system, gave me a certain degree of stature and prestige and significance and importance in this community at that point. Not total, but overwhelming, it made me somebody. I'm not sure today that 60, 70, 80% of the people in this community even know who's being employed for what and to do what and could care less, that's it's somebody else's business.
Q: Is that because teaching is not viewed as a profession anymore?
A: I think probably that's certainly a factor in it. You know, teaching, we call it a profession and we want it to be a profession, but it has never been. I don't know whether we'll every make it or not. I hope we can because it is an art and it is a science, and it requires some human characteristics and traits that God must have put here; no one else could have. All that is worth something. I hope we make it but I think you described the problem. Many many citizens don't look on teachers as professional educators. They look on them as punching the clock. Go to work at a certain hour, get out at a certain hour, rather overbearing, uncaring and rude to their children at times. You see we don't fool the children. We can bring in all the State Department and national committees and experts and whatever, and they can tell us what's going on in our local school system or what's wrong or what we need to do, but all we would have to do is to get the children to tell us what's wrong in the right framework and in the right circumstances. We don't fool the child. The child knows when he has a good teacher or a poor teacher. The child knows when that teacher is a bluff. The child knows when the teacher is in it for the paycheck and nothing else. The child knows when a teacher union works to the contract and won't do certain duties and responsibilities and that they don't give a hoot about the children and the school system; they're interested in their own. There's nothing wrong with being interested in your own personal welfare; you have to be, but professionalism has been subjugated by a lot of factors.
Q: What can teachers and administrators in Virginia do to change that perception?
A: Pray. Pray continuously. Take the compulsory attendance laws off the books and rewrite the constitution and pray.
Q: Well I hope it's not all up to the good Lord above to change it.
A: It would be in better hands in his than ours.
Q: I'm going to change gears here a little bit. What was your approach to teacher evaluation and give your thoughts about the whole evaluation process.
A: I'll try to give you a two faceted answer. I felt that I knew what teaching was all about because I enjoyed my teaching experiences and was told by some people that I was a good teacher and I believed them. I took pride in what I did. In my daily travels around my school in observing teachers, I always felt that I knew more about what a teacher was doing and what kind of teacher that teacher was and how effective they were by casual observations as opposed to formal classroom visitation. The classroom is altogether unique and it's almost a sanctified kind of aura and air and environment, and it belongs only to the teacher and the students, to no-one else, not to the principal or the assistant principal or a supervisor or a parent or anyone else. The moment a third party walks into that classroom situation with that teacher and those students, it becomes unnatural, affected and artificial, so discount any evaluation you are going to do. Oh, that was a marvelous lesson; you did well; the children behaved beautifully; hog wash - it just doesn't hold water. So I thought that I could tell more about what my teachers were doing by walking up an down the hallway, listening to the environment, listening to the give and take and the responses, seeing the dullness or seeing the excitement, seeing the happiness and the inquisitive or whatever on the part of the youngsters, seeing the confident, in control, caring but firm classroom authority and control. Now, the other facet. I had the good fortune and the blessing of not having to deal with a formal evaluation system, except in the latter stages of my principalship, and it was a very simple formulation at that point, but every teacher received an evaluation and it was a personal, ongoing conversation and communication between us. if I saw a teacher doing something exceedingly well I took the opportunity and made the opportunity to compliment that teacher, not only to the person but to someone else, so the word got around. We'll put her picture in the paper this week; she's doing a super job. Then not only have I evaluated that teacher and told her what I thought of what she's doing, I've told the community what an exceptional person she is and what she's doing for these kids. On the converse, if I saw a teacher who could not control a class, whose lessons were not well planned, I'd bring them in and sit down and talk about it honestly and openly. Look, I'm not very happy and I really don't think you're happy. A teacher who is trying to bluff must be God's most miserable creature and more often than not I was able to persuade those kinds of teachers to leave on their own. If I didn't, I made them uncomfortable enough that they did leave. So much for teacher evaluation.
Q: What do you think of that model, if you will, or that format that is now used? Is it a true evaluation of what the teacher is doing?
A: It is a good model. It's workable and usable and viable, but not of and in itself. That model is no better nor any worse than most other existing models, and they're an infinite number. The secret to the teacher evaluation is the interpersonal play and communication between the evaluatee and the evaluator. The evaluatee knows when he or she is being evaluated properly. if they evaluator doesn't know what he's doing, you're sunk before you start. If he knows what he is doing, he's going to find a way to accomplish what he thinks needs to be done with this model or without it. Now the model serves legal purposes. So much for the model.
Q: What do you think the role of the assistant principal in any school should be?
A: God help any principal who has an assistant principal who is either incompetent, ineffective and, worst of all, disloyal. if a principal has a competent, effective, dedicated and loyal assistant principal, he can just have fun operating that school. I think it's an assistant principal's job to be a jack of all trades, to help set the tone of the school, to be a part of team leadership and whatever, but keeping in the back of his mind I'm that gal or that fellow's assistant. I owe certain things first.
Q: Did you ever have the opportunity to have an assistant principal?
Q: Can you think of one, and you don't have to mention a name unless you'd like to, but is there one who stands out in your mind as being exceptional and, if so, why?
A: The ones I had were exceptional in one way or another. The most exceptional one, no I can't say that because there were several and they were all equally important to me and to that school and to the well-being of that school and whatever. I never really had a bomb, a bust as an assistant principal. The one person who was about to jump out at me, and who is still jumping out, was a science teacher who was a marvelous, dedicated, caring, exceedingly competent and wise person, older than I was at the time. He came to my school at my request to head up the science department the year we opened. Guidance was just coming into being in this community at that point. After a year or two I needed a guidance director and I prevailed upon this science teacher to become the guidance director. Well in those days we had trouble with the Department of Education in coding responsibilities and duties and whatever, and for some reason I couldn't effectuate his being called a guidance director; he had to be an assistant principal for guidance or something of that sort. So he was going to do everything anyway so we made him an assistant principal. Not only was he instrumental in the success of that school, he was terribly instrumental in my success and he was, as well, my father confessor, being an older man and being wise and knowledgeable in the ways of life and the world. I had someone I could really talk to. That's extremely important for any administrator. It's doubly wonderful if you have that same person on your own staff. Everyone needs someone you can go to and tell it like it is and be told like it is. You don't want any lazy people; you want workers. An assistant principal can make you or break you.
Q: If you had to name, well let's phrase it this way - if you had six candidates for an assistant principal's job and basically they were all equal in their preparation and their personalities were very similar, what's the one quality that would separate one out from the others?
A: Because that word charisma conveys to me all the things that are going to be perceived by the students, fellow teachers, parents, the school board, whatever. I mean the right kind, I'm not talking about a comedian charisma, I'm talking about again those characteristics that we want in good educators - caring, competence, confidence. We've not mentioned that word and that's awfully important in teaching and in administering, is confidence. Charisma.
Q: I know that I've come close to taking up almost two hours of your time,but I was just wondering if there were any last remarks thatyou would like to make or any last comments. We haven't hada chance to touch on a lot of things. I know that there is in your vast experience I'm sure that there are many many things that you could tell us, but is there anything that stands out, perhaps, in your experience, especially in your experience as a principal that you'd maybe like to tell us about?
A: I don't think so. There are so many marvelous and wonderful memories, well I have that of my whole career of teaching and being a principal and working in central office. Well in a selfish personal kind of way, yes, I'll cite you one. When Leonard Geroe came to this county, the superintendent, well he came down before he took office and made a speech to the entire assembled educational staff, all the teachers, principals, the whole staff. I still have a copy of that speech. He gave it to me at my request. I show it to him occasionally and remind him of what he said. He spoke to the assembled professional educators in this county on that day. It was the opening of the school session in the year he was not to take office until November and he brought tears to my eyes and to many other eyes, and received a long standing ovation at the conclusion of those remarks. Now we talked about commitment and caring and charisma and competence, all those things came together. Well, what did that character do but very shortly thereafter ask me to be an associate superintendent. So all of my years in education were joyful. The first years of teaching were just indescribably joyful working with the youngsters. A few later years when I was into guidance and counseling I thought that was just the end all be all, there was just nothing like that one-on-one personal relationship with that student. They know you, they trust you, they like you and they can come to you and ask you questions and whatever. I thought that's the end of it all. Then being into an assistant principalship and being able to structure the school and work on schedules, make things work and if they didn't work, fix them. Gee, now, this is really the icing on the cake. And then, to become a principal of a school, a brand new school, and to have your own staff with no traditions, no customs, no restrictions, just free, open, the sky's the limit kind of feeling - absolutely, incredibly mind boggling. Then to go to central office and work in a supervisory capacity, get a different perspective, a different view of how this whole monstrously complex thing works, and maybe by that point with age creeping upon me and becoming a little tired and jaded and whatever, then suddenly to have a person come in who affected me the way Len Geroe affected me, I can truthfully say that the last five years of my 35 year career were the most splendid misery of it all - the hardest working, I felt, contrary to what I'm sure many people felt, the most productive, but just joyful. Here was a visionary, a man after my own heart in terms of philosophy and direction and care. Shoot, man, I retired.
Q: Let me ask one last question. What motivated you to retire?
A: The same thing that had motivated me to change directions in my career all along. After about five years in the classroom other things called me and I thought you'd better pursue those. I was not the type of person, I felt, that I could lock myself into that classroom and stay there the rest of my life. And I repeat, for the record, God knows they're the most important cogs in this whole procedure - those people who can do that and who do do it. After some counseling and guidance, administration beckoned me and the principalship. At the end of ten years I knew I had peaked. I felt I had done what I could do for that school, for that staff, for that group of people. You can see when the ennui is setting in. You know when the situation is no longer alive and vibrant and flowing, that is if you're honest and whatever. Every time I made a change it was because I felt I needed to make a change because I had peaked. At the age of 60, after 35 years of experience, having the need and the longing to look outside what I had done my whole life, and be absolutely at the peak or the top of whatever feelings I might have about my career and myself as part of that career, I knew it was time to go. There have been no regrets. I miss the people; I miss the interplay; I miss the communication and that kind of thing, but I don't miss many of the other aspects of it. But it's Just thank you good Lord for all 35 of the years.
Q: Well, thank you very much for the last two hours of your time. You've been a very gracious host and I appreciate the opportunity for being able to talk with you and you've kind of given me a big boost personally in the sense that I feel I'm doing the right thing and it's always wonderful to hear someone who has been through all of those steps and has the same feelings and the same ideas and the same philosophies that you have at the present moment, and that what was true in 1955 or 1956 is really still true today and maybe we need to work a little bit harder, not harder, but work around different obstacles than were in place in 1955 or 1956, but we can still accomplish the same goals. It's kind of a boost to me personally, a boost to my morale, if you will, to find out that there are other people who think along the same lines as I do and it just kind of reinforces that, and I thank you for kind of unknowingly doing that for me and also for taking up or for giving up your time to devote to this interview. I really do appreciate this.
A: I must thank you. I had no idea this was going to turn out quite in this direction. I sort of envisioned a very cold and staid question and answer, and this been a nostalgic and enjoyable beautiful evening. I thank you for stirring those feelings in me. It's good to know that we have people comingalong like yourself, and I want all of you to get out there together and shake this animal up.
Q: Well, thank you.
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