Another of my high school teachers passed recently after 92 years of a life well lived. Rest in peace, Mrs. Charlotte McCullough McQuary.
I went to pay respects, but the people I didn’t know outnumbered those I did, so I soon retired to share my memories of her with my sister. After several minutes of sharing recollections of Mrs. McQuary and her no-nonsense approach to life, teaching, and interpersonal interactions, I ventured the opinion that of all the teachers I’d ever known, she was one of the best. Without hesitation, Sis (who had majored in Mrs. McQuary’s discipline in college and reported that she was two years into her course of study before she encountered anything new) replied without hesitation, “THE best!”
Rankings always involve a modicum of subjectivity, but the incontestable level of Mrs. McQuary’s preparation, technical skill, knowledge, and adaptability must be acknowledged. Given that fact, and the fact that she spent her entire career in the classroom begs another question: Due to her demonstrable mastery of every category of successful teaching, intelligence, organizational and communication skills, and firm yet fair and consistent discipline, why was she never “promoted” to administration so that the entire school could have benefitted from her remarkable ability?
True, among career classroom teachers, the move to administration is not universally considered a “promotion,” but since it involves a substantial pay raise, and that some individuals promoted during her tenure were less impressive, I revisit the question.
Until the 1950s, school administrators came from a class of gentlemen of a scholarly bent, often clergymen. Due to depression conditions, most males left school before the secondary level, and “everybody knew” that the school principal-ship was a “man’s job.” Early in the post-war period, there may have been a certain rationale for this thinking. Young males faced with competition for jobs with returning veterans chaffed at taking instruction from 4-F’s and other assorted folks unsuited for military service. As positions opened, war veterans with degrees earned via the GI Bill were often employed for coaching and/or administration. As they moved up the pay scale, they lifted “old boys” in their wake. Many were competent, others adequate, but some were hopeless. Nevertheless, school administration remained a male-dominated trade.
The sine qua non of a “good school” was order. Principals patrolled the halls, often with paddle in hand or pocket, listening for disorder in classrooms. Even into the ‘70s, many administrators “evaluated” their teachers by lurking in hallways. Quiet classroom = good teacher. Noisy one =poor disciplinarian. Learning (or lack thereof) never entered the equation. Some of them were adequate administrator/disciplinarians, but some were petty tyrants, or outright bullies. To them we may credit a generation of minor constabulary, Army corporals or shave-tail lieutenants, and graduate assistants who think that being petty, officious, and obnoxious are manly behaviors.
In the ‘80s, this dismal scenario began to change. Intelligent and forceful people of both sexes began to study theories of education, psychology, and principles of the science/art of administration. Non-traditional early hires had to be not equal, but superior to their male competitors to earn their shot, but a generation later, school administration largely consists of intelligent, well-trained, and dedicated people. Public schools have a lot of problems, but vestiges of the “Ole Boy Network” with paddle in hand, inferiority complex, and junk-yard-dog attitude are seldom among them today. Many of the changes of the last two decades are bad. This is NOT one of them.