Millie Chastain is the director of the Protocol School of Alabama. A teacher for 30 years, she wanted to do something else productive during retirement and trained at the Protocol School of Washington in D.C. Chastain will lead a “Thoroughly Modern Manners” class for 4th-7th graders from June 4-7 as part of The Donoho School’s Summer Odyssey program. Contact the school at 256-237-5477 for more information.
What is your educational background? I went to the University of Alabama, and I ended up teaching in Marietta, Ga. I got my masters and specialist degree at the University of Georgia, although my heart belongs to Alabama. I taught home economics; now they call that “life skills.” I had the most wonderful career anyone could imagine; I loved my job.
Why did you want to work in education? My mother was a teacher. I started out thinking that I would go into aerospace engineering when I was at Alabama. The space program was just hitting it off when I was a child, and my mother is from Huntsville. We would always see my great uncle on television monitoring the flights. After taking the classes, I realized that it wasn’t my love, and it was great that I had the opportunity to find that out before graduation. I love children, and I love teaching, and I ended up doing that.
How did you get into the field of etiquette and protocol? I retired after teaching for 30 years, and I thought, “What on earth am I going to do?” Children must have manners, because they cannot progress at all if they do not have them. I tell everyone in my classes that 85 percent of why you get your job, keep your job and get promoted is your social skills. It came to me that I would teach children and adults about manners and protocol, and my husband gave me a reality check; he asked how I would get the children to come. I went the education route; Jacksonville State University “adopted” me, and I did continuing-ed programs in the summer for them, then I began doing a summer class at Donoho.
What are etiquette and protocol? Manners and etiquette are everyday rules that must be followed. I believe my students have to have fun while they are learning, but they had better learn and get down to business. I am very strict. I tell my students about all the rules, but I also remind them that they are not the etiquette police; they are supposed to be the example.
How do you get your clients? It is mostly just through word of mouth. The Poarch Creek Indians called and asked me to do a class, and that was a great experience for the high school students and also for me to learn about what they are doing for the state of Alabama.
What is the No. 1 question you get from your students? Surprisingly, many of my students do not know to RSVP to an event; they will say, “Oh, no, they know I am coming!” No, they do not, and you need to let them know.
What do you see as the biggest etiquette faux pas? Right here [points to cellphone]. I believe in technology, but I do not believe it should distract. Your phone is not a part of the place setting. When they come into my classroom, my students check their phones into a shoe organizer. One of the hardest things they have to do is make eye contact, and one of the first things I make them do is learn about how to introduce yourself and make your presence known.
Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.