I returned to Rock Springs with another lady, whose name escapes me right now. I had a slightly better idea of where I was going this time and about mid August we arrived back so I could begin teaching Navajo children.
When you drove into the mission grounds you entered a circular drive. To the right was the school building and beside that was McCormicks house. On the right side of the circle were several parking places and on around toward the back was a small house. Following the empty house around the circle came Lorene Brown’s house and on to the left side we came to the playground and the dormitory building.
The dormitory, kitchen, dining room and the church building were all part of one large comples. and from there we were back to the front gate. In the center of the turn-around was a ring of young cotton-wood trees and the well house.
I settled into a room in McCormicks house and began looking over the materials on hand for starting school. The school building was not completed yet so we began classes in the little empty house at the back right side of the circle. My chalk board sat on the kitchen counter and the first grade faced it. The second and third grades were in the living room facing toward the chalk board but separated from the youngest ones. The Kindergartners were in the bedroom with sister Lorene.
Nothing in my four years of college or my one year of teaching in public school had prepared me for this! This was the one-room schoolhouse of the history books! How to organize the group so I could effectively teach 24 children in three different grades. I left the kindergarten up to sister Lorene. Her major task was to give the five year-olds a solid basis in English and basic facility with writing and numbers. For this first year I had to trust her to follow through alone. I had my hands full handling the other three grades.
The missionary had given me a basic roster of children’s names arranged into the age and grade groups he had established the year before. some of the kids weren’t on the roster because they were new and I put them in whichever group they said they were in. Some were right, others I had to move.
The Major Problem, thought, was not the multiple grades or the strange classroom arrangement or the confusion of a new school year or the multiplicity of texts. The biggest problem was connecting the individual children with their names. We don’t realize how much we rely on visual cues to help us remember names. We hang names on the tags: blond curley headed, blue eyes-black hair, big brown eyes and blond, freckles and red hair, gray eyes and dish-water blond. Suddenly I had an entire group, all of them with straight black hair and big brown eyes! What was that about!
I keyed in on the most obvious indicators first. One little boy had a huge inverted V-shaped scar over the bridge of his nose. It literally appeared that someone had tried to slice his nose off. That was John. Later I came to call him John-John because I always had to say his name twice before he listened! There was another little boy who had kind of a scrunched together face–not unattractive but with a pugged nose and a wide mouth. That was Leo. And Rita (not ‘ree-da’ as we called my cousin, but ree-tah’ ) had lighter colored hair almost a light brown. Those were the first three I learned to recognize.
And the names! Kee, Pete, Peters, Petersen…. One family was named Tom. That was their last name. I was totally confused because I found the one brother’s name first. He was Nelson. When I saw that I assumed it was a typo. The name must be ‘Tom Nelson.” Okay, going on down the list to the next grade I found Leo. Well, Tom Leo didn’t make the least bit of sense. And on down the list was their baby brother, Robbie, in kindergarten! I finally figured out the last name was Tom. It was easier after that. The first names were a little different after all the Joe’s and Judy’s and Helen’s and Billie’s but I could cope– Mae, Laverna, Rita, Cecelia, Phillip, Leonard, Thompson, Chester, no nicknames–if the name was Phillip, you called him Phillip… Even after all these years their faces roll up in front of me. But right then the whole thing was a jumble.
I sat down with my plan book, divided each page into three columns-one for each grade. What a staggering prospect. My plans were a mass of finely written notes. For that first week or so I was establishing a base line for where each student stood in his grasp of academic subjects. We did a lot of drawing and illustrating stories and basic math worksheets. I kept a grade book as much for my own benefit in grouping the kids on their educational levels as for recording their progress those first weeks.
The text books were kept on shelves at the side of the rooms these first weeks because the desks were soon to be moved to the new school. And all of the materials, supplies, pencils, crayons etc. were stacked on the counter. None of the children brought their own supplies. I handed out the ones that were sent by mission supporters for the school or purchased with money sent for that purpose.
I had access to a mimeograph machine. In the days before copy machines all the reproduction for class work had to be prepared by the teacher or maybe purchased from the publishing company, but in the same format. I planned my activity and first wrote it out on a on a double paged master that transferred a dark line of ink from a messy purple sheet onto the back of a heavy weight page that was then used on a round drum to transfer the writing to plain sheets of paper. The original master sheets were at a premium and at first I used a lot of them in teaching three grades with limited materials. Then I came up with an idea to reuse the purple backing sheets.
I would make a math worksheet (usually by hand) and then after separating the transfer sheet, I could make probably two more by putting a sheet of heavy- duty typing paper on top to write on and transfer the same way as I did with the original master. Since I only made six or eight copies of any one sheet I could do that easily. I also learned to sandwich the master copies between sheets of used papers and file them away for another time. They lasted a couple years years.
My ‘desk’ for those first weeks was one of the kitchen drawers and the dish cupboard above it. I didn’t sit down. I didn’t have a chair. Each of the kids had their own desk with an appropriately sized chair. I didn’t have any at first. I managed to get the whole thing organized with a minimum of hastle, but it took about six weeks to really get in the swing of things.
Then we moved to the new school.