Miss Sudlow was the first – she taught kindergarten. She was lovely, a blonde, I was smitten. I could see my future as a teacher. Then came the others. Mrs. Johannes (had her twice), Mrs. Roatche, Miss Applegate, Miss Waughtel, Miss McAfee, Mrs. Harding (our roving music teacher), Miss Taggart, Mr. Dirk. The latter two were principals, the former were teachers and, yes, I forgot a few because, well, they were forgettable.
They were on the staff at Glenside Elementary School (now long gone from the corner of Easton Road and Springhouse Lane in Glenside) where my education began. I lived on Oak Road, a half-a-block from the school. My mom had gone there as had her seven siblings. It was the center of our very small universe. Our Cub Pack (38) met there, I was captain of the school Safety Patrol in sixth grade.
Miss McAfee taught us a valuable lesson. From her we learned that we’re not immortal. She was a Glensider, like all of us, quite young and in her first or second year as a teacher. She was nice and we all loved her and then, one day, she didn’t come to school. I remember Miss Taggart (Esther) coming in to the classroom and telling us that Miss McAfee had died. We were young and I don’t think it really made sense to us. How does someone so young die? But she did and we had a substitute teacher (name escapes me, but she’s in our class picture).
As kids I don’t think we ever considered that our teachers had real lives outside of school. At least I didn’t. We held them to a higher plane. I failed to consider that they had families, friends and other interests besides teaching stuff to us. One day my mom and I encountered Mrs. Roatche shopping at the Acme. I was surprised. She had a cart full of groceries. What was she doing there? Why wasn’t she home doing teacher things? The feeling was that most teachers were spinsters – never married. But of course some were called “Mrs.” so they must have married at some point. They mostly graduated from colleges called “Normal Schools”. I pursued my goal of becoming a teacher and went to a State Teachers College that had, at one time, been such a school. My teaching career ended in December, 2016, when I retired (for the third time) – a long path from kindergarten.
The other day I got a copy of a teacher contract from 1923. It was amazing. It filled in the blanks about what kind of a person became a teacher in those days.
The first paragraph of this contract reads “This agreement between Miss (fill in the name) teacher and the board of education”. It goes on to say that said teacher will be employed for a period of eight months, commencing September 1, 1923. For her efforts she will earn $75-a-month. Note, it says “Miss” obviously no man would take such a job.
Item one explains where the “spinster” notion got started. The teacher agrees not to marry. The contract becomes null and void if she does. Item two states that she agrees not to keep company with men. It gets better. Item three states that she has to be home between the hours of 8 pm and 6 am unless she is attending a function at the school. And that’s where the notion that teachers had no life outside the classroom likely got started.
Item four prohibits “loitering” at downtown ice cream parlors. Further, in item five, said teacher cannot leave town without the expressed consent of the board of education. The teacher agrees not to smoke cigarettes, not to drink beer, whiskey or wine and if she does, she’s fired. Sounds like a real fun job to me.
The teacher cannot ride in a car or a carriage with a male unless said male is either her father or her brother. She cannot wear bright colors, must wear at least two petticoats and cannot dye her hair or wear makeup of any kind. A sure guarantee that this young lady is on her way to spinsterhood. She also agrees not to wear a dress more than two inches above her heel. Obviously wearing those legendary old lady shoes.
And when you think the contract couldn’t get any worse, it does. The teacher agrees to keep the schoolhouse clean (look, no need for a janitor). She has to sweep the classroom at least once-a-day. She has to scrub the floor once weekly with soap and water and she has to clean the blackboards once-a-day. That’s what kids were for.
In cold weather she was expected to be at school by 7 am so that she could warm up the room for an 8 am class start. Of course that meant bringing in firewood, stoking the fire at the beginning of the day and carrying out the ashes at least once daily.
So when you look back on all your teachers you may give them a little more respect. Why anyone would agree to that set of rules for $75-a-month baffles me. I suspect a lot of teachers had short careers.
Listen to Ted Taylor on WRDV FM (89.3)Tuesdays from 8 AM to Noon and Wednesdays from 10 pm – 1 am or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org