By Greta (Andersen) Huot – Spruce Grove, Alta.
Our principal at Calmar High School, Mr. Nyberg, advised our senior class of eight students in May of 1951 that there was a shortage of teachers in the Clover Bar School Division.
He told us that any interested Grade 12 graduates obtaining at least a 65% average could apply to receive a $300 bursary if entering the Faculty of Education this fall.
The ‘oil boom’ had just started and some of my classmates, enticed by high paying jobs ($2 an hour) joined the workforce before graduating.
My parents had different goals for me. I was sent off to the University of Alberta after receiving a bursary from the local school division.
At first, I resented that this decision had been made for me. It meant another year of keeping my nose to the grindstone. I studied hard, for I just knew that failing any subjects wasn’t an option.
After a few months I realized that maybe mom and dad were right. I was adjusting to life at Pembina Hall, the girls’ dorm, and actually was having some fun. I made sure all my homework was done so I could attend the Thursday evening dance classes.
Practice teaching Grades 2 and 3 for two weeks and later Grades 7 and 8 for another two weeks was a challenge for me, but I did well under the direction of the classroom teachers.
In May 1952, I was happy to receive my temporary Junior E certificate. Now I could embark on a teaching career.
I didn’t have to fill out any application forms because the first two years I was under contract to teach at a country school decided upon by the superintendent of the Clover Bar School Division.
My first placement was at South Busenius, a one-room country school in the New Sarepta area. Facing 24 pupils from Grades 1-8 was a tough responsibility for a 19-year-old girl since some of the Grade 8 pupils were bigger than I was.
I recall the first time the school inspector knocked on my door. When I opened it my heart raced for there was a dignified looking man standing there. He was carrying a briefcase and politely asked: “May I speak to your teacher please?”
“How could he possibly mistake me for one of my students?” I asked myself.
The school was an old wooden building heated in the wintertime by a big potbellied stove that was near the back of the room.
There were no storm windows and in the winter the icy cold penetrated the frosted windowpanes and oozed through the many cracks in the walls and floor.
A crock of drinking water sat in one corner of the room and was often glazed over with ice. It came from a pump in the schoolyard and students took turns filling the crock when empty.
An inverted apple box served as a stand for the wash basin and soap. A cloak room where pupils hung their clothing on personalized hooks was situated near the entrance.
Lunch kits were placed on a shelf in this area, but during sub-zero temperatures they were placed around the stove.
A Grade 6 girl was happy to earn $6 a month for doing the janitorial work. During the cold winter months she would be at the school by 8 a.m. in order to get the potbellied stove radiating some welcome heat.
However, some mornings this was impossible and we would crowd around the hot stove for an hour. This was a time for singing or for the students and me just to talk about problems and getting along together.
We would talk about various outdoor winter activities that they enjoyed for free. We had no indoor gym then and no TV since we didn’t even have electricity.
Three Coleman coal oil lamps were stored in a locked cupboard. I only used them when necessary. Here again my experience with coal oil lamps on the farm where I grew up became an asset because I knew how to operate them.
I did this on dull cloudy days and during the many hours I stayed after school to mark books and prepare lesson plans for the next day.
By today’s standards, these were primitive conditions, but in 1952-53, they were acceptable and we managed.