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Teachers never learn

Posted: November 22, 2013 11:39 a.m.
Updated: November 25, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Teachers, arguably the most influential people in a child’s life, receive the poorest pay and little respect. They work in less than acceptable conditions and must deal with many individuals who are intractable, some even mentally unstable. Yet, most parents believe their own children to be paragons of behavior and virtue. Today’s financial crisis illustrates this point, but not as much as does the past.

Scrip was sometimes the pay in olden days. This scrip was a piece of paper which the teachers traded to stores, often for less than face value. The economy was even worse then.

Many schools had one room for all classes. May aunt, for example, taught all grades with those students not reciting keeping quiet. No wonder one of the requirements for her was being able to whip the largest boy. I remember seeing a picture of her behind a desk, the side of which held switches of varying strengths, some akin to rods. A strong and a good stick were probably as important as credentials are today.

Both parents of one of my friends taught school. She laughingly told me, when she saw a gourmet recipe for nasturtium sandwiches, that her mother had fed the family that concoction years previous when she only had enough scrip to get bread. The mother did have a flower garden.

Restrictions were numerous. Earlier, female teachers could not marry and keep their jobs. In fact, they had so little money, male and female, that they either had to live at home or board at the home of one of their students! They were exceedingly brave even “to keep company.” Of course, male teachers had to wear coats and ties, and forget that their pay was so low. Female teachers, naturally, wore longer dresses buttoned to the top, despite the fact that no fan or air conditioner lessened the climate’s warmth. In addition, keeping the pot bellied stove, the one item attempting to dispel the cold of winter, was the teachers’ responsibility as was keeping a fresh pail of water for drinking. All children and the teacher drank from the same dipper or gourd, something that would horrify the health conscious parent of today!

When I began teaching, I received the annual sum of a little more than $2,000. For that, I taught whatever class was demanded as well as oversaw the Beta Club, all essay and speech contests, and the debate team plus other chores. Although I looked far better than today and held much more unrealistic dreams, I did not use a paddle or brute force. Some of the students were taller and bigger than I, and I knew I would have lost them by using force. I also had a dress code. Female teachers were to wear dresses, slips, bras, stockings and high heels. Of course, school started in the hottest part of the year and lasted into the summer with no air conditioning. When teachers were allowed a free lunch period, I would go home, bathe again and change clothes, only to be drenched in sweat in a few moments. When an acquaintance asked me if I had ever had medical “hot flashes,” I had to laugh. My whole life in the warm times was a hot flash!

I did have two ceiling fans to stir the stifling air. The windows were of no avail since some student was always allergic to bee stings and, can you believe it, teachers were to inject him if such a fiasco should occur in class. Tolerating heat was preferable to giving injections to me. My fans would periodically fail to activate when I flipped the switch, but would start for no reason later. I reported what I was certain was an electrical short. When the electrician finally came, the fans worked perfectly! The fans operated well for a while, then started their unacceptable behavior. This time the switch did not work, even for the electrician. He moved the switch to the fans, both of which began to operate after a few minutes. He looked at me, still standing at the desk. His correction of the problem was to remove the fans! They stayed in the shop for weeks -- an unreliable fan is better than no fan at all -- and came back as only one fan, the other fan being reassigned to detention hall! That one fan worked when it wanted to until the county razed the building and built a new school.

Today’s teachers have furloughs, lowered salaries, meetings and totally unnecessary paperwork. They also face violence far more advanced than in the past. However, they should be aware that worse tortures exist, even though it seems teachers never learn.

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