Retired Professor of Education, Andrews University
How the "hard knocks" a young dean received made a difference in her life.
My first position after graduating from college in 1940 was as dean of girls in an Adventist academy. There were regulations outlining what was expected of students, and it was the responsibility of the deans to see that the regulations were respected and honored. My twenty-third birthday had just passed and I was serious about my responsibilities. I wanted to do good work and be proud of the behavior of "my girls."
The rising bell began the days movement in the dormitories. Morning worship followed, then breakfast and classes. Each day, when the students were in their first period classes, I went through the dorm and checked every room for order and cleanliness. Students were rewarded by the room check cards which I left in their rooms: Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor. If a bed was not made the room always received a "Poor," but after the first room check of the year, most rooms were either excellent or good.
There was a work program in the afternoon. After supper the deans conducted evening worships in their dorms, then study period followed. Bedtime was filled with activity and the lights went out at 10:00 p.m. It was my practice to pass by each room every evening to chat a bit and find out how the day had gone for the students, wishing them each a good night. I was energetic and active with the girls. I wanted them all to do well and also to conform to the school regulations.
Not Perfect. It did not take long to find out that not all the girls were perfect yet. For example, at the first morning room check, I found one sleepy-headed girl still sound asleep. After arousing her, I asked if she were ill. "No," she said, she just could not wake up alone. Her mother always had to come and awaken her in the morning.
"You are always going to have to get up every day of your life," I said. "Wouldn't you like to be able to do it by yourself?" She agreed and I assured her I could teach her. "How long does it take you to get ready for the day?" I asked, and she told me. Then I explained the procedure. I would come to her room with the master key, knock on her door, and if I got no response, I would unlock the door and walk in. I would call her by name. If no answer, I would get a wash cloth with cold water and wash her face. If that was not enough, I would douse her until she was awake. She agreed to the procedure and I left.
The next morning I was at her door at the appointed time, knocked, and was invited in by her roommate who was already getting up. But Alice was sound asleep. I called her by name but got no response. So I continued with the promised procedure. She squirmed and protested a bit. I asked if she was ready to get up and she agreed. I said, "Good, Ill be back tomorrow morning at the same time." In three or four days she was up dressing herself when I arrived at her room. I congratulated her on her improvement and said, "If you need help again let me know." She had conquered her first big problem.
Dress regulations called for the skirts to reach the middle of the knee. As the year progressed skirts crept up. Sometimes it was because the girls were growing taller but at times the skirts were being rolled up around the waist. I was conscientious about the regulations and my responsibilities. This became a continual problem. But I loved my girls and was happy with my work.
Tricks. Of course, girls played their little tricks. One Sunday morning the trash barrel came rolling down from the third floor and landed right in the middle of the first floor parlor, spilling its contents along the way.
Saturday night after the evening program, it was my custom to stand by the front door as the girls entered from the evening program. When they were all in, I locked the door. One night at room check I noticed several girls were missing from their rooms on first floor. Then second floor had a lot of girls missing. I wondered where they could be. I knew they were in the dorm and there was no way they could have gotten out, as the door to the basement dining room had been locked after supper. The only place they could be was in the dark attic.
There were two rooms on third floor, one on each side of the attic. These were large rooms with four girls in each. There were small crawl spaces from the rooms into the attic. I opened the attic door. All was quiet but there seemed to be a slight movement among some of the boxes in the attic.
"You can sleep here in the attic if you want," I said, and closed the attic door and locked it. There was no noise in the dorm. I waited up until midnight but heard nothing. Then I went up with my flashlight to the attic and unlocked the door. But there did not appear to be anyone inside. To this day I do not know if they were in the attic or under their beds, but I think they crawled through to the rooms on each side and quietly went to bed. I never mentioned the incident as I did not want to give them the satisfaction that they might have disturbed me. And no one commented about the incident thereafter.
As spring approached, my principal asked me to come to his office. He expected the deans to take care of student problems and discipline. Very rarely did students have to be called into his office for discipline. They knew his word was law and evaded encounters of that kind.
Shocked. When in his office, he said to me, "You work awfully hard, but you do something that antagonizes the kids. I don't know what it is, but find out what it is, and quit it." Then he told me he had hired a new dean for the next year. I could be her assistant and continue to teach the French classes, physical education for girls, and sponsor the school paper as I was doing. I was shocked and stunned to say the least. I had had no assistant. I knew the person he had hired. She would be graduating from college that spring and was known for all her activities at college. I imagined that I would be doing most of the dormitory work and she would be involved in her interests. She was a pleasant person but I was not sure I wanted to be her assistant.
When I left for the summer vacation, I packed all my things and addressed them for my home so they could be shipped home if I decided not to come back. I said to myself that if I got an opportunity to take another position in another school I might accept.
I did receive an invitation to the academy in my own state and accepted. I would be dean of girls and teach English and girls physical education. The next two years were very good. My principal was strong on recreation, good relationships, and spiritual development of the students. We had good times together.
Then a letter came to me from one faculty member at the former school stating that my former principal was looking for another dean of girls. He had had two different deans since I left. If I would write him that I would be willing to return, he might hire me back. That was a challenge. I enjoyed where I was, but if I could prove to him that I could handle the students without antagonizing them, I felt I would like to do that. So I wrote him.
I was now seeing things from the perspective of the students, trying to imagine how they would like to be talked to if they needed improvements. I put myself in their place.
I was now seeing things from the perspective of the students, trying to imagine how they would like to be talked to if they needed improvements. I put myself in their place to understand how I would feel if in their circumstances. Regulations were important but the feelings and attitudes of the students were more important. My perspective now was to reach the hearts of the students rather than be overly concerned about their outward appearance. He did accept me back. The students I had had as freshmen were now seniors.
Needed. We had three more good years together when the principal called me in again. He informed me that he was holding a call for me to go to Argentina to be dean of women in the college there. But he said, "You cannot go. You are needed here. There is no mission field as needy as right here." He recounted that for the last eight years either the dean of boys or dean of girls had changed after one year. The dean of boys promised to stay another year. If I would stay we could have the two deans working together for at least two years in succession.
I had already heard about the call to Argentina from someone from the General Conference. The call was important, they said, because I was a native born Argentinian and the Argentine government would only accept native born workers under the Peron regime. I felt I must accept.
My principal said, "Well, maybe if they can wait for another year you can go then but you are needed here at least for one more year." I appreciated his trust in me and I did stay another year. And the call to Argentina did wait for another year.
Challenged. The lessons I have learned from my two principals have been very valuable, and I appreciate having had the privilege of working with them both. They had different strengths which helped me to grow in my methods and in my spiritual outlook. Throughout the years I have praised my first principal for pointing out my weaknesses. He challenged me to examine myself and make changes that would put me in closer touch with the feelings and attitudes of the students.
It is natural for us to think we are all right but to be blind to our weaknesses which hinder our effectiveness. We do not like to be accused of errors or weaknesses. It takes courage to face a person and point out needed changes. I am forever grateful my principal called me in and told me directly to my face to find out what it was that antagonized students and quit it. Yes, I was shocked and stunned. But that set me to thinking about others and not myself.
Thankful. I am thankful that during my first year out of college as dean of girls, the principal gave me the incentive to see myself as others viewed me and to grow and improve in methods and behavior and in my spiritual responsibilities to God and my fellow beings. I wanted to work for the Lord and to honor Him with all my energy. But my perspective needed adjusting, and I was determined to find out how I could better have rewarding, satisfying relationships.
God can make a new creature out of every person when that person is willing to submit to His guidance. I have witnessed His creative power in the lives of many students, friends, and myself. I praise God every day for His goodness and mercy and for His everlasting kindness and love.