She was mistaken for one of her students

From our March 2013 issue

By Greta (Andersen) Huot – Spruce Grove, Alta.

In May, 1951, our high school principle in Calmar, Alta., informed our senior class of eight students there was a shortage of teachers in the Clover Bar School Division. He said any interested Grade 12 graduates obtaining at least a 65% average could apply to receive a $300 bursary entering the Faculty of Education in the fall.

The oil boom had just started and some of my classmates, enticed by the high-paying $2/hr jobs, joined the oil field 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 this decision had been made for me. It meant another year of keeping my nose to the grindstone. I studied hard because I knew that failing any of the subjects wasn’t an option. After a few months, I realized maybe mom and dad were right.

I was adjusting to life at Pembina Hall, the girls’ dorm, and was actually 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. I did well under the direction of the classroom teachers. In May 1952, I was received my temporary Junior E certificate. I could now embark on a teaching career.

First placement picked for her

I didn’t have to fill out any application forms. For 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. 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. 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. It was heated in winter by a big potbellied stove 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 and was often glazed over with ice. It came from a pump in the schoolyard. Students took turns filling the crock when empty.

An inverted apple box served as a stand for a 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.

Huddled round the wood 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. to get the potbellied stove lit and radiating heat to warm the room. Some mornings, this was near 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 they enjoyed. We had no indoor gym and no TV – we didn’t even have electricity.

Three Coleman coal oil lamps were stored in a locked cupboard. I only used them when necessary. My experience with coal oil lamps on the farm 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.

By today’s standards, these would be rudimentary conditions, however in 1952-53, they were deemed acceptable and we somehow managed.

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