High School Teacher Interview – Rudy Ellis

Teacher, Athetic Director, Coach
Shawano High School
1957 – 1987

by Jane Glenz

Mr. Ellis attended grade school in North Dakota and high school in Minnesota. He received his teaching degree from Winona State University.  He taught in Galesville, Wisconsin before coming to Shawano High School in 1957. This interview was conducted in August, 1988.

What were some of your experiences in Galesville?
I thought it was interesting there weren’t many men on the faculty. There were only two of us that lived on salary, the football coach and myself. All the others’ wives taught or worked somewhere else. So when we had to negotiate, it was each one for himself and they didn’t want to upset the Board. So what really paid off for the two of us was that there was a canning factory in town and the manager made sure that we got summer jobs and good paying jobs. We were paid more in the summer than the nine months of teaching because he put us on part time in April and full time in the summer.

What was your starting salary?
$2600 for nine months and no extra for coaching. Jobs were hard to come by. When I started in Shawano I didn’t get paid for coaching. I think 1960 was the first time I got paid for coaching.

Why did they start to pay for coaching?
Because some of the larger cities paid. I got $120 for head basketball coach and $50 for assistant football.

I got a pretty good raise when I came to Shawano. I resigned at the end of the basketball season at Galesville. We had won the conference and lost to LaCrosse Central for the sectional championship. Galesville offered me a $100 raise but I figured I could do better than that.

Harold Stewart was the superintendent here and I had worked for him in Galesville before and he wanted me to come up because Walt had resigned. I thought I was coming up as assistant basketball coach but before the year was over the head job opened up and I was offered it.
There were about 640 students in the school at that time sophomore, junior and senior. The area today that is the band room and agriculture room wasn’t there. That was added later around 1970. We had two different additions.

We had about 27 faculty members. It was a lot of fun. We were very close. Everyone worked the ball games. Only one woman had to have a study hall the others didn’t. That was part of the duties of the men. None of the women had to work ball games so the men got $100 extra because they had to work all the events. When it came around to equal job/ equal pay that was the first thing to go. Then they started paying so much for each activity.

How come the women didn’t have to work?
Most didn’t want to. Most were married and had other things to do at home.

They didn’t have any girls sports?

When I came here we had a six period day with a full noon hour. We got out of school at ten minutes to 4. I think we started at quarter to nine. Our practices started at 4. We had to be done at 5:30 pm because there was a late bus that the Indians ran. That came at 5:30 pm. We had so many Indians that were out so we couldn’t do much after they left. I don’t recall ever practicing after 6.

We had five classes and one planning period. You had to give 20-25 minutes of each period for study so you could walk around and help them so when they went to study hall they knew what they were doing.

Later we went to a seven period day. Then you had five classes an a study hall. Eventually we went to an eight period day.

When did modular scheduling come in?
1969-70. The reason they put that in was to help the poor student. The faculty could give extra help. A teacher was always available.

Do you think it worked?

Yes, because you had small discussion groups. The classes had only 8 – 12 students in a class. You could back schedule, bring them in and go one-onone. Because there were so few the student didn’t feel so intimidated. All students go lots of attention.

Why did they get rid of it then?
One thing was you really had to work a lot harder then you did under the old system because you were challenged all the time. You had to have something for everyday.

We had inservice meetings before that to prepare. We sat in on classes and saw the methods. I thought we were well prepared. If a teacher wasn’t, it was his own fault. They gave us plenty of time to get ready.

I don’t think the administrators knew how to schedule. They didn’t understand what it was. Then they started to give the excuse it was for the good student and that was the furthest thing from the original purpose. There were lots of conflicts with scheduling. They got too unbalanced with students’s schedule.

What about subjects?
When we first came the foreign language was Latin. An awful lot of students took it because it helped with vocabulary.

In the 1970’s French came in. It was already started in the junior high.

U.S. History was taught at the Freshman and Junior level. They had up to Civil War in the Freshman year and Sophomore year they took Geography or World History.

What area do you think has changed the most?
Biology changed a lot we had green and blue version. They started to change to educate everybody, slow students and good students.

All we had was Woodshop and Drafting so that changed a lot.

In English we had reading specialization but that was discontinued. I think that really hurt.

Music, especially vocal, was hurt. We use to have Boys Glee Club.
We had a lot of extra activities. Most were after or before school. Students were really involved. Many weren’t working at jobs so they got more involved. One thing I recall, you would ask students to do bulletin boards. They would volunteer, get real involved. They would be assigned each week. I had a project — there were five girls that cataloged every single World History book in the library. We made a reading list.

The faculty was very close. After a ball game we would always meet some place. Just about everybody went. The faculty wives had get togethers. We would meet at each others house and play cards. Then the faculty got too large.

How have other things changed?
The discipline was really strong. We had a dress code. Girls had to wear skirts, no slacks. They had to be a certain length. If you were a homeroom teacher, you had to check clothes. Every teacher had to be in the hall. There was no horseplay in the halls. Your student leaders really were leaders in your school. I didn’t hear the language I heard at the tail end of my career. I think a lot of that goes back to how they dressed. Guys couldn’t wear shoes with cleats on them. No rubber heels. They were sent home to change if they didn’t meet the standards.

You didn’t have to educate everybody then. If a girl was pregnant, she was done. So was the guy if she named him. They were out. They couldn’t come back to school later. They had to go to night classes.

How have teachers changed?
I don’t know if they changed, I just think money has made such a difference.

You accepted no one got paid but you all worked together to get it done. Today they want to get paid or they aren’t going to do it.

What were some of the social activities in school?
When we had the full noon hour we had intramurals. They had what was called box hockey. They used big boxes with wooden sticks. John Riley used to play with the kids all the time but he went for the knuckles.

The girls had G.A.A. (Girls Athletic Association).

The prom was big. Sadie Hawkins and Homecoming were bigger events than they are today. There was a Winter Carnival. Each had a lot of participation.

What did you do in the summer?
When I first came I serviced all the furnaces in the rural schools. We also did maintenance work. We started to build toilets in the basements. We put in septic tanks at Forest, Texas, Riverside schools. We did a lot of painting. We were paid so much an hour, tax free. After a while we had to declare it (on taxes) so then we quit doing it. They just listed it as maintenance costs before. We were paid about 90 cents per hour.

They only had one janitor per building but the high school had two. They didn’t have time to do all the summer work.

How has the administration changed?
Well, you had one principal and he had one secretary at the high school.

There was only one elementary in town and they had one principal same at junior high an one superintendent and one secretary.

Do you think you were closer to the administration?
Mr. Thomas was an educator and there was always the arm’s length. You had a lot of respect for him. In school he was all business. You called him, “Mr. Thomas,” and he called you, “Mr. Ellis.” There was no first name business. There was mutual respect.

Here was a man who was 5’4″ but no one challenged him, both students and teachers.

I thought they were more supportive of the teachers. They were a buffer between us and the parents. I’m sure there were a lot of things we never heard of that he handled. We didn’t have teachers taking kids to the office like today. It was rare. When it did happen there was action. I don’t know if a teacher would have been around very long if they had brought kids to the office like they do today.

Classes were bad in the past. We had fights between Indians and whites. Chains and brass knuckles.
You mentioned the Indians.

What happened when Shawano was charged with discrimination?
First, I felt a lot of it was brought on by outsiders. We found out that one student that caused a lot of trouble was really from Alabama. His dad had been looking for him for six months. He was the biggest rebel rouser we had. He had already graduated from high school in Alabama.

Then the television station got involved. Someone would call them and tell them what was going to happen at such and such a time. So a lot of this was staged. When the report came back from Chicago, it had to have been written before they ever came because the subjects listed we didn’t even have. They listed four languages and we only had one.

Were there a lot of problems between Indians and Whites?
I thought it had improved from when I first came here.