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My First Teaching Year

By Ruth Demarest Godfrey

This photo was posted on Facebook last week, and people wanted to know the story behind it. It shows my aunt Ruth in an Austin that her father bought for her in, I think, 1942. How do I know this? Because Ruth wrote about that little Austin in one of Korongo's writing workshops. The house in the background is the farm residence where Ruth's grandparents lived. The following excerpt is from Ruth's book, An Ordinary Woman.


My first teaching year was the only year I ever taught in Vermont, the only year I ever taught music, the subject for which I was prepared, and the year in which I fell in love and married. It was an eventful year for me and for the world. The world was at war. Life was changing for everyone in the country. I had just turned twenty and was up for just about everything and anything. This story will tell about some of those things.

I had signed a contract to teach for the princely salary of nine hundred dollars. Each month one of the school boards would send me a check. Or perhaps they wouldn’t, as they occasionally forgot. If they forgot, I reminded them. My financial situation, during that year, never became secure enough that I could afford to let them forget me! I was to teach and supervise music in fourteen schools. This was decreased to thirteen schools when the enrolment in one tiny town was so minimal that they were not going to open the school that year.

Of course, I needed a car to get from school to school, and of course I had no money. I cannot remember a time when my parents failed to rescue me if they thought it was needed, and they came to my rescue as usual. My dad bought for me, from a former school friend, a little used Austin, a little box of a car. It didn’t cost much and it wasn’t worth much, as it turned out. But it ran. At first, that is. Of course, the little car was a source of interest and curiosity to the children when I started teaching. I was taking a course at night at a college in the town. Sometimes when I came out to get in my car I would find that the students had lifted it up and turned it around.

A week or so before the day when I was supposed to report for work, I went to the town where the superintendent of schools lived, and he took me on a guided tour to show me where the schools were located. If he expected me to remember all the locations after one trip around, he didn’t know me, and I spent much of my first week wandering around lost, looking for my schools.

On the appointed day, I reported and found myself a place to live in the old town hotel, a big old barn of a place, little used and in poor repair. There were a few other teachers living there. I became acquainted with them and enjoyed them, but I didn’t want to stay there indefinitely. The cook, who was probably eighteen or so, provided me with lunch to take with me. It was always a fried-egg sandwich. Have you ever eaten a cold fried-egg sandwich? After a couple of weeks, I heard of a house down the road where some of the other teachers lived, and I was able to rent a room down there.

The house was owned by an older couple. The lady was very motherly and was nice to all of us. She was particularly nice to me and did many things to make my life pleasant and comfortable during the year I lived there. I know that she and my mom developed a friendship over the phone when my mom would call her on days when the driving was hazardous to find out if I had got home safely.

One of the other teachers who lived there nicknamed me Cyclone, because she said she didn’t meet me for a while because I left so early in the morning and came in so late at night. She only heard the door close as I went out! The reason I was out of there so early was because I had received permission to use the piano in the school next door (not one of mine), and I went there an hour or two before I went to school in order to practice. I had taken on several pupils for private lessons, which I did after the school day ended and on Saturday mornings. I needed the extra income, and the kids needed a teacher. Neither Lily Pons nor Rubinstein had anything to fear from me, but I was cheap and available. Many times I would be invited for dinner or lunch if I happened to be at a pupil’s house close to mealtime. I got to know many of the families that way, and I really enjoyed it. They were farm families, and I felt at home and on familiar territory.


Ruth's book is available in paperback from Amazon. We will publish the ebook version this spring. Follow this blog for updates.


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