High School Teacher Interview – Charlotte Buckbee

Teacher & Guidace Counselor
Shawano High School
1948 – 1985

by Jane Glenz

Ms. Buckbee received her education at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Some of her education experiences include teaching grade school in Birnamwood and Mattoon; military school in Madison for 2 1/2 years and high school Civics and Guidance Counseling at Shawano High School.

You taught in the military?
Yes, during the war. What they did was take the teachers and train them in radio mechanics because they thought you would have some teaching skills. They sent us to St. Louis University for three months to learn just a specific phase. I taught a four week phase in transmitters. Someone else taught a phase in receiver, etc.

Did you volunteer for this?
Yes. When I went to my first teacher’s convention in Milwaukee, they had a man who said there was a need for civilians in Armed Forces schools.

When you first taught at Shawano, 9th grade civics, wasn’t it at the junior high?
No, when I started, we were at the Franklin building but all grades were there. When they built the new school in 1955, I had a choice to stay with the ninth graders or go to the new school. Arnie Gruber and I were the only two who stayed in that building. The rest of the staff was brought over from Lincoln or hired out.

One of the jobs they gave me was to interview about 200 girls about their future plans. I thought, what am I doing here. So, I started to take some guidance courses at Madison. I then got my Masters degree in guidance, so when I stayed at the junior high, I was half-time counselor and half -time teacher. Gradually, they took more classes away and I was full-time guidance.

In 1967, I transferred to the high school. It was a year before the ninth graders came. I worked there until I retired in 1985.

What was teaching like when you started?
When I was taught seventh and eighth grade, teachers taught the unit method minimum essentials, basic questions, outline of material, supplementary material, other activities. I thought that was a very good method because it gave me a lot of leeway to do a lot of interesting things.

Whatever method I used I always tried to give a kid leeway. I never felt you had to knock the kid up against the wall and say, “You give an oral report tomorrow or flunk for the semester.” I always felt they should have options. Some of them ought to do things that he felt he could succeed at.

How were the students, pretty well behaved? Did you notice a change in their behavior as the years passed?
I think that the more the students thought they had rights the more difficult it became. I felt that I was very much for civil rights but I certainly felt we went too far. We’ve gotten to the point where the general welfare suffers.

There were a lot of factors that entered into why young people are more difficult to handle in the classroom today such as the changing family situation, TV, etc. The student is used to being entertained now. When you are teaching you have to compete with all that other stimuli. You are trying to force him down a certain path that doesn’t interest him anymore.

Have you noticed how world events effected school?
We began to have older people come back and finish high school. We also started the night school program.

When I was a kid we always marched in the Memorial Day parade and we always had patriotic observances in school. The last few years I taught we hardly had any patriotic observances in the school. There is a whole tendency in the school system not to do any extra things anymore unless they are paid for it. Who would volunteer to organize an hour program. It was much easier the early years I taught than the last few years to get students to do things. Parent and community attitudes have changed. With Korea and Vietnam people were getting sick of war.

Why have the number of clubs and organizations dropped?
There are many factors for this. One is there are so many things that interfere with the kids doing extra things. There’s TV, jobs, cars, etc. Also teachers say why should I knock myself out to do that for nothing when someone in the athletic department is getting 12% for coaching.

People in the past didn’t have a lot of time to do extra things though. They had to work on the farm, work on jobs.

Yes, many roomed here. But there wasn’t any TV at home. When I see how much time they spend watching TV

Did you think kids are more enthusiastic about school today or less enthusiastic?
Well, they are enthusiastic about some things but I don’t know if we’re instilling a love for learning. Years back it seemed easier to create scholars simply because they had a love for learning. It’s more difficult to find that in school today.

What kind of pay did you get?
The first semester I taught third and fourth grade and I got $110 a month for nine months.

Were you unionized?
Not until later but we had a strong teacher’s association. In some ways it seemed even stronger than the teacher’s unions of today.

The first year I came we didn’t have a regular salary schedule. So each one had to negotiate for his own salary. The first few years the head of the household got a little extra on the salary schedule. They were giving this only to men and there were women widows that didn’t get this. They finally got that straightened out so that anyone that was head of the family got this increment.

Any fringe benefits?
I think we had health insurance and the school paid something towards retirement.

What was the length of the day?
We started at 8 a.m. and ran to ten minutes of four but we had an hour and ten minutes for lunch. Most left the building. Those that stayed could move around in the building and there were only two teachers to supervise.

Did you have any problems with alcohol and drugs?
Occasionally there would be a problem with alcohol but not too often.

How was discipline handled?
I think most teachers kept their own detention. You could refer a student to a principal.

Kids were better behaved, mannered?
Yes, they were not so outspoken. You go into the high school today and listen to the foul language. I don’t recall that kind of stuff.

Any attendance problems?
There were some. When I first came here there were 29 one room districts that were sending kids to Shawano. Plus, the Menominees could chose to go where they wanted Shawano, Antigo, or Suring. The tuition was paid for them. Some of the rural students could also chose.

There have always been attendance problems. But the freedom kids have with cars means more attendance problems; more working mothers, the more kids you forced to stay in school, the more problems you have.

The rural kids always had the excuse of farm work. I can remember we went through a little to do when they told them that is not an excused absence.

One thing you had in the past that we don’t have today is a full-time school nurse.

What did the nurse do and why was it discontinued?
The school nurse would be in charge of the vaccination program, health records. If they thought a kid was being truant, they would go to the house to see if they were really sick. For years they had some programs taught by the nurse like home nursing. For a while they required all senior girls to take that course. The boys had first aid. If a kid was sick, he went to the school nurse. Most of what the school nurse did is now done by the county nurse. (Note: Shawano still has a school nurse, but the job description has changed considerably and one nurse covers the entire district.)

Did you see much child abuse?
Not much. Once in a while a girl might come in with her hip all black and blue. I would report it to the Social Service Department. All too frequently someone would make a home call and say the counselor said their child was black and blue. The next day the child would come in and say, “My father will
beat the hell out of me if I ever talk to you again about this.”

Sometimes Social Services really carried through but I would say I didn’t see a lot of physical abuse. Mental abuse an neglect is very hard to verify. What was an adult graduate?
Those were people who took classes at night. At first the high school conducted the classes now the vocational school does it. Years ago, they use to receive their diploma at commencement, now they don’t.

What were some of the biggest changes you witnessed during your tenure?
The biggest changes were flexible modular scheduling and the way the computer has now gone into all departments.

Different courses?
Home Economics courses are going out. They had different languages German and Spanish. They also had Latin. We have more vocational now than in the past. That’s partly because they want to keep the 16-year-old in school now.

How have the teachers changed?
Not much. They are not as willing to work for free. You can get by with teaching without putting much work into it. That was true years ago and it’s still true today. If you are a dedicated teacher, you never run out of work and that’s still true.

I think it’s more difficult for women to get into administration today than it was years ago. There use to be county and state supervisors that were women.

Do you think teachers had to follow a stricter moral code in the past?
Society as a whole is not as demanding or strict as they were years ago. Divorce is accepted; living out of wedlock, etc.

How has the administration changed?
I felt that years ago administrators were more concerned about is the child learning and how can I help that teacher be a better teacher. Now days, and this is because colleges are doing this, they are emphasizing financing, budgeting, labor negotiations. Now they are taking a lot of their time with legislation, finance and negotiations and have given up trying to be experts in learning and creating good teachers.

What do you remember about consolidation?
The first year I came here they had 29 schools. I had a 35 mm camera and I went with the superintendent and photographed all these schools. I had to take pictures of the lights, toilets, etc. He used these slides in talks he gave to service clubs when they were trying to get the community to accept closing some of those schools and sending them into town. Some of these schools had kerosene lights, no running water. They had stricter requirements for hauling milk than they had in the schools. It was a long, slow struggle to get them to accept the move.

Were there dress codes in high school?
Yes, and the men teachers hated to enforce it. They would have to get out their rulers and measure. No long hair for the fellows — that was a battle. Once in a while we had a girl with a see-through blouse.

Any stories or incidents you remember?
One time, the fire alarm was right behind my door. I came out one time and I swung the door too hard and it hit the alarm and it went off. There were only five minutes left so the gym classes were changing. That was embarrassing.

One time when Mr. Jacobson (English teacher) came to town he had a real sporty convertible. So, at Homecoming there were four of us women teachers standing there and he told us to climb in. So, we did. Rode down Main Street in the parade. We got back to school and there sits the queen and one of her court crying because their ride didn’t show up.

Was it worth all the years you put in?
Yes, but if I did it over, I don’t think I’d be a counselor. I’d stay in the classroom. I never realized the extent of problems that kids would have drugs, pregnancies, home, etc. So often I felt inadequate. The classroom teacher only had to worry about 150 kids but if you were the counselor, you had to worry about 500. There was so much responsibility.

When they started this special education, I had to go back to school to take more classes. When I look back at the growth of counseling, psychology, special education, it’s been tremendous. Some of it has been good. But I question what we’ve done with special education. The teacher is trained to teach them and pretty soon they are back in the regular classroom and that teacher is not trained to teach them.

I don’t think we have adequately put money into research. Most of the research you put into a Masters paper is not contributing to better education.