Principal and Teacher – Shawano High School
1925 – 1964
by Jane Glenz
This interview was conducted on August 19, 1988, at Mr. Thomas’ apartment in downtown Shawano. At the time Mr. Thomas was 89 years old. Mr. Thomas died in 1991.
Why did you chose teaching?
I majored in chemistry and chemistry jobs were kind of slim. I was interested in chemistry anyway. We didn’t have it in high school. Some of the fellows that had it in high school didn’t study it the first year so we worked pretty hard and left them behind. I got pretty good grades.
I was only a junior when I hired to come to Shawano. The Dean was a friend of mine and he said I could go to summer school and get the course I didn’t have in biology. So I picked up my diploma at Christmas time.
Where was the high school when you started?
It vs as in the old Franklin School. It was a fairly new building then. It had two rooms – a lecture room and a lab. It worked pretty good. Some of the fellows at Ripon were from Shawano and they said I would like Shawano. Guess I did I stay for 39 years.
What methods did you use to teach?
I used a combination of lecture and experiments.
Did the students have textbooks?
I did some experimenting with teaching Chemistry. My thesis was two different methods of teaching chemistry. One was using the regular textbook and workbook and the other was they could use whatever book they wanted.
When I went up to get directions for writing my thesis, the Dean was from England, a famous man. He asked me what my thesis was about and I told him. He asked what it proved. I said that the class that didn’t use the regular class text learned some things that the others didn’t learn and vice versa.
Did you notice any changes through the years in the way students behaved?
I think I was a disciplinarian. Of course, in those days you had more ability to discipline. When they passed the civil rights bills it became necessary for teachers to be more careful. I had a good faculty and that helped.
How did you handle a student that miss behaved?
I talked to them called them in. I always had someone else in there while I talked to them. We had detentions. I was very severe with people who started to throw things because I had a brother who lost an eye that way. I didn’t like fighting in school. We would usually send them home. One boy was picking on another one time, and I told him to stop. He caught this boy on the paper route and he “cleaned him up.” I called him in and said this fight was started in school. I sent him home. After a couple of hours a man came in following the boy and he was mad. I thought he was mad at me but he was mad at his wife because she didn’t take care of the boy. They were separated. The parents usually supported the teachers.
I had one boy, a minister’s son. I kept notes when teachers complained about somebody. This boy at noon hour was playing basketball and then he would go home and eat lunch instead of going to class. I called the home and the mother said he had to come home and eat. I said he can eat there or go home but he has to do it during his noon hour. She said he had to play during the noon hour. Later I put him in detention. He didn’t report and I called home. The father said he has a job. I said he has some work here to do, too. He came over to school and the boy was in the room and I handed some of the slips to the father. He read them. He looked at the boy and said, “I never want to come over here again. All these reports on you.”
What about social activities at the school?
We had some good athletic teams.
Both girls and boys?
Mostly boys because at that time girls weren’t organized into teams. Three times during my 30 years we won the state championship in basketball. Years ago one man would coach all the sports — football, basketball and track. One year we didn’t have track. They were extending the gym so there was nowhere to practice so we used the corridors of the school. We had the teachers stand in the doors so they didn’t run over anyone. They won the conference championship that year.
Were teachers required to work extra activities or did they volunteer? Were they paid for it?
We had quite a few dances and they didn’t volunteer. We had to assign them and they didn’t get any pay for it.
Did you have a dress code?
Yes, we did. The thing that bothered me were heel plates on shoes. They could wear them to the front door and then they would have to get another pair of shoes on. The girls had to wear dresses. On certain days, like Annual Day, they could wear trousers. Guys wore dress pants. They had to dress up.
What if they didn’t dress up?
They had to go home. I remember one boy came with overalls on, and I asked him why. He said he was out all night and didn’t go home. I said you got twenty minutes to go home and dress right. He did.
Did they close the schools for contagious diseases?
We had two boys on the football team that had polio. I don’t remember what we did. I think we did delay the start of school
Did you have an attendance problem at the school?
Yes, we did. The year before I became principal, the clerk in the office issued excuses because there was no principal, so there were a lot of absences. So the first year I was principal, I said if you get perfect attendance, we will excuse you from final examinations. I thought if a person was there every day that the teacher could grade them without an examination.
Did you have anybody do it?
Oh, yes, quite a few. None of the teachers complained about it. You could give a test a week before so that it really meant was that they got a day off at the end of the semester and the teacher just gave them the test a couple of weeks before. We improved attendance. One day we only had a student absent half day. Some of the parents complained because they said their kids were coming to school sick because they wanted to have perfect attendance.