Paynesville Press - August 28, 2002

Community Perspective

Teacher reflects on her school 'firsts'

By Julie Bast

This fall will be the beginning of my 'first' year of retirement from teaching. Thinking about that made me realize that there have been many 'firsts' connected to my many years of teaching full-time as well as subbing in various schools and in all grades K-12.

My 'first' school year was in 1951. I began first grade at District #133 in a country school between Lake Henry and Spring Hill. There was one other student in my grade and 20+ students in the school, which included grades 1-8.

Our teacher lived in a very small mobile home on the school premises; her home and the school building did not have running water, but both had electricity. We pumped water from the outside well and carried it, by bucket, into the school room and poured it into a large fountain.

We had three hand signals, which we used when we needed to sharpen our pencils, go to the outside biffy, or talk to the teacher. We didn't do a lot of talking, except when we were reciting lessons and/or helping the younger students, but we always talked softly. We needed to be quiet for the other students who were working on their lessons or reciting lessons to the teacher.

I remember that we always started the school year after Labor Day and ended in the middle of May. Our vacations consisted of two days at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, and a week at Easter.

My 'first' year of town school was in Spring Hill for my eighth grade year, in 1957-58. Several country schools consolidated to form the one new school. Since the new school wasn't completed until mid-year, we met in the church basement and in the closest local country school.

After Christmas, we moved into the new building. Then we had two grades in each room. We, now, had 20+ students in our seventh/eighth grade class.

Oh, by the way, along with having a new building, we not only had electricity, but we also had running water, which meant having indoor bathrooms. Wow!

Another 'first' was that we attended daily mass at the church across the street from the new town public school.

Eighth grade graduation in May 1958 was a very important day for us, and I missed the occasion because I had the 24-hour measles. What a bummer!

My 'first' experience at Melrose High School lasted four years, which included a lot of changes. We now had 98 students in our class, but we were divided into several groups, which included a high, a low, and several average sections.

Within these groups, we felt like we were, again, divided - town vs. country. Some of this division might have been in our minds, since most of us were quite shy.

Today, when we get together for our class reunions, we don't notice that division. Instead, we enjoy visiting, catching up on grandkids, and talking about retirements and joint replacements. By the way, a very important reunion, our 40th, was held on Saturday, Aug. 3. What fun! College was a totally different 'first' experience. First of all, it meant moving away from home, all the way to Duluth. This was quite a trip for a family who lived on a farm and had milking chores both in the morning and evening.

I attended St. Scholastica - an all-girls school then, co-ed now. Differences were living in the dorm; having roommates; and having almost everything under one roof (classrooms, dorms, dining hall, library, chapel, and the convent, though the gym, bookstore, and post office were outside, up a hill).

By the way, our room had a view of Lake Superior, which was awesome even on foggy days. All of my belongings fit in the trunk of my parent's car; we had no telephones, radios, televisions, or mini refrigerators in our dorm rooms. We did have a telephone booth on each dorm floor, and we had a television for the entire dorm hall.

Don't worry; we weren't bored. We studied a lot, talked even more, had part-time jobs, and did our own laundry.

My 'first' teaching position in Hastings was a real challenge - 36 third graders, 24 boys and 12 girls. In those days (the fall of 1966), the classroom teacher had the students for the entire day - no prep time.

All of that work was done before or after school hours. Do we wonder why teachers weren't married? There was no time for family life from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. I often wonder when we had "biffy time."

In the fall of 1971, I stayed at home for the 'first' school year since 1951. My husband, Roger, and I were expecting our first child at the end of September. During those years, teachers had to resign their teaching positions when they were five months pregnant.

It was a very difficult time for me. I remember seeing the bus stop to pick up the neighbor boy at the end of our driveway, and I began to cry. After Sept. 23, I didn't have time for tears - Gene kept me very busy. Fourteen months later, David kept our family busy, and fourteen months after that Steve joined the family. I had no time to think about returning to the classroom, and I enjoyed my time at home with the family.

After several years of substitute teaching (both daily and long-term) and taking many classes, I returned to the classroom. It was my 'first' experience of working with junior and senior high students.

I taught developmental reading, general math, algebra, and literature classes for the past 15 years in the New London-Spicer School District.

The last eight years were in an eighth grade classroom, which had a sink and running water. I thoroughly enjoyed my eighth grade students. They were open-minded, very inquisitive, and eventually learned to appreciate literature. When a student commented at the end of a class, "Jeez, Mrs. Bast, that was kind've a neat story," then I knew that the story had been enjoyed by the majority of the class.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to my 'first' year of retirement; it will allow me time to spend with my family and friends, travel a little, read books, play cards, and do crafts. Ironically, Grandma Julie's 'first' year of retirement will be when her granddaughter, Kalley, will enter first grade.

Bast retired this year from teaching, the last 15 years in the New London-Spicer School District.

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