CAREER PRIOR TO OVERSEAS TEACHING
When I had received my BA. degree from the University of Iowa in the spring of 1944, I fully expected to take the Civil Service exam for a position of public personnel administration for which I had prepared at the University. However, my mother was extremely ill, so I spent the summer nursing her after her operation and was unable to take the exam when it was offered. Since recruiting was then closed in that field someone suggested that I apply for a clerk-typist position and then transfer into administration.
But,” said I, “I can’t type.” “That’s OK,” replied the person, “the government will pay you to learn and will give you a salary while you do.” This sounded like a great idea to me, so I signed the paper that was to be my fast step toward a government career.
After four months at a business school in Des Moines, Iowa, I was told to report to Wright-Patterson Air Field in Dayton, Ohio, and on New Year’s Eve I boarded a troop train which took me to Dayton. This was my first experience with military travel. Little did I know how well acquainted I would become with military travel in the years to come. I worked at Wright-Patterson until the spring of 1945 and once again was called home to care for my mother. My best friend was being married in August to a Navy pilot in Corpus Christie, Texas, and she asked me to be her attendant at the wedding. By June my mother had recovered enough that I felt I could leave home once more, so I joined my friend in Texas and found a job working for the Girl Scouts.
In July I started receiving job offers from various Iowa towns to come and teach English in the local high school. I had no teaching certificate, but at that time there was such a shortage of teachers due to World War II that it was possible to get a temporary certificate if one had a B.A.
The salaries being offered were so tempting that I finally succumbed and accepted a position teaching English and social studies in a tiny Iowa town called Moorland. That first year of teaching was a disaster. I hated it and swore I’d never teach again. But the following year, failing to find a job that offered a comparable salary, I decided to give teaching another try. I accepted a position in Sac City, Iowa, for the second semester of that year and found teaching much easier. I enjoyed it so much that I went back to the University and took enough education courses to qualify for a regular teaching certificate.
Guidance counseling was new at the time, and Sac City was about to hire such a counselor. The acting principal suggested that I attend summer school at Iowa State College so that I would qualify for the position. This I did, and was then hired for the counseling job at Sac City.
I remained in that position for one year, but my mother died in March of the year. I felt I should go home the following year to be with my father, so I applied for a position in Mason City, Iowa, my hometown, and I was hired.
I taught English at Monroe Junior High School the year after my mother died, but I was not at all happy being back in my hometown. I longed to see the world. Besides, my father needed me so little that after Christmas he went to Florida and stayed until March. I was left to shovel snow and take care of that big old house alone.
That summer I went to Seattle to visit friends who had moved there after teaching in Mason City. They urged me to apply for a teaching position in Washington, so I did. Unfortunately, I couldn’t qualify since I had not taken two courses needed, one in the history of the state, the other in laws applying to education in that state. Hence I started summer school in Washington and took a job as a clerk at Fisher’s Flouring Mills. (My boss informed me that I was the highest paid file clerk in the whole state.)
Only one of the courses I needed was offered during the summer, so I enrolled in the University of Washington for the first semester in order to take the other class.
Meanwhile, the woman who had taken my place at Monroe decided to return to school, too, so my old job was open for the second semester. The principal of Monroe called me and asked me it I would consider returning to Mason City.
At the same time my father called from California where he had gone for that winter and said he was going to return to Iowa. He offered to come to Seattle to pick me up if I would go back with him to Mason City. I agreed to do so. I will never forget that trip. We followed the Old Oregon Trail. In some places we could still see the ruts created by the wagon wheels outlined by the snow wherever they paralleled the highway.
After completing a second year in Mason City, I knew I did not want to spend the rest of my life there, so I began looking for excuses to leave. My sister offered me the perfect excuse. She was having her third child and suggested that I come take care of the other two while she was in the hospital; so I did.
As soon as she was able to resume her duties, I applied for a teaching position in Boston and several of its suburbs. They were happy to hire me as a substitute. One of the schools in which I substituted was Wellesely Junior High and I was offered a job there for the following year, which I took. It was while I was teaching there that I saw as advertisement in the Boston Globe recruiting teachers for overseas teaching with the military. I decided to try my luck, and that’s how I happened to apply for teaching with the U.S. Department of Defense Schools and began my overseas career.
HOW THE MILITARY HAS AFFECTED MY LIFE
MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH DOD
After three months with Mr. Thistle, I decided to seek employment elsewhere. Mr. Thistle was, among other things, a thorn in my side. He was also principal of Wellesely Junior High School where I taught English and social studies during school year 1953-54.
Perusing the Boston newspapers for potential jobs for the following year, I came across an article that said the U.S. Department of Defense was seeking teachers for grades 1-12 to teach overseas. Interviews would be conducted at Boston University in January and anyone interested should contact the University for an appointment. So I did.
On the appointment day I presented myself at the prescribed place one half hour early and was told, ‘Take a seat, and your name will be called.” My appointment was for 11:30. The room was filled, but I finally found an empty chair and sat down. Eventually the door to the inner office opened and a young man came out. A name was called and a young woman rose and proceeded through the door, About 20 minutes later the young woman came out, and I held my breath expecting me name to be called next. However, a second young man rose and walked through the door.
It was at this point I became aware of my neighbor, a girl of about 25 whose expression was one of resigned amusement. I asked her, “What time is your appointment?” “Nine o’clock,” she replied. “But it’s almost 12:00 now,” I exclaimed. “How long have you been here?” “Since eight, ” she said. “I drove down from New Hampshire, and I didn’t want to be late.” The girl on my other side chimed in. “Me too. I didn’t want to be late so I got here early from Providence, Rhode Island, and I’ve been waiting six hours.” The man sitting across the aisle leaned forward and said, “That’s nothing. I’ve been here all night!” My appointment was for three o’clock yesterday. They closed up at six and told us to come back today.” With that, we all leaned back in our chairs and prepared for a long wait.”That’s the military for you,” said another fellow, “hurry up and wait”. As the hours dragged on we developed a sense of camaraderie and began exchanging bits of information about ourselves, where we were from, why we applied, etc. In answer to the latter, the reasons ranged from “I didn’t like my job” to “I wanted to travel.”
Eventually we began to speculate on the types of questions we would be asked. Some thought we’d be asked about our philosophy of education; others thought we might be asked to discuss our methods of discipline.
No one had the foresight to bring lunch and everyone was afraid if he or she left that would be the time his or her name would be called. So as the hours wore on we became a bit giddy, and by four o’clock we got the giggles when my neighbor, in answer to the question, “Where do you want to go?” had replied, “With my luck, I’ll probably be sent to the mud flats of Okinawa.” Thirty-five years later I still had to chuckle at that remark as I sat on that rocky island during its annual water shortage and gazed at its mountainous terrain.
By this time we were intercepting the applicants as they emerged from their interview and asking them to tell us what kind of questions they’d been asked. One girl had been asked the following: “What would you do if you had just settled into a nice room with bath, and were asked to move into another where you had to share the room and bath with another person?” “I’d move,” she answered. “Suppose you were then asked to move into another room where you would be sharing with three other people?” “I guess I’d move,” she replied. “Then after you were settled in that room, you were asked to move into a room that wasn’t as nice as others. What would you do?” she was asked. “Well,” she said, “I’d quit pressing my clothes!” Did she get the job? I never knew. I never saw any of those people again.
My name was finally called at seven o’clock that evening, and I can’t remember a single question I was asked except that fatal one? “Would you be willing to take a dormitory counselor’s position?” and my foolish answer, “Yes.”
MY FIRST TRIP ACROSS THE ATLANTIC
In May 1954, I received a telegram from the Department of Defense offering me a position as dormitory counselor in France. I accepted it with great glee – anything to get me away from Mr. Thistle – and the thought of actually seeing Europe was marvelous. I was thrilled.
After filling an old red steamer truck that had once been my father’s with everything I could think I might need, I set sail for Bremerhaven, Germany, on Friday the thirteenth, with 100 other DoD teachers. We were given first-class quarters on the Harry S. Taylor, a troop ship carrying 5,000 servicemen destined for duty in Europe.
First class on a troop ship is not quite the same as it is on a luxury liner, but never having sailed on any ocean-going ship before, I didn’t know the difference and didn’t mind. Nor did I know the difference between a ship and a boat, nor “leeward” and “starboard,” but I soon learned.
Foreign to me, too, were the superstitions common to sailors. So I was puzzled by the surly attitude of the crewmen, who were most unhappy to be starting the voyage on Friday the thirteenth, especially since this was to be the ship’s last voyage. Later in the voyage the Captain told me that he had done everything he could to postpone the departure until one minute past midnight but was unsuccessful. He also said that the last voyage of a ship was supposed to be unlucky according to sailor’s superstitions. As it turned out the sea was smooth as glass all the way across the ocean, and it was the best crossing he had ever made. What a grand time we had on board that ship even though it had no swimming pool. We found all kinds of ways to pass the time on those 10 days it took to cross the Atlantic.
We played cards, flirted with the GIs in the deck below us, danced with the officers, organized an amateur hour, played bingo, watched movies, and shared our lives with our cabin mates who became our bosom buddies before the trip was over. We even were invited to the Captain’s cabin for a before dinner drink. When one of us asked him why he had liquor when we were told none was allowed on MST vessels, he replied, “Why, do you have some in your hold luggage? We can get to it!”
Since it was the last voyage for the ship, all the rules were slightly bent, I think. We even had a dance for the enlisted men one night, a thing utterly unheard of on MST vessels. It was okay for us schoolteachers to dance with the officers, but no fraternizing with the enlisted men.
Shortly before docking in Bremerhaven an announcement was made over the ship’s intercom telling us to report to the purser’s cabin to receive our assignments and destinations in Europe. Since I knew I was going to Paris, France, I didn’t go to the purser’s cabin until I beard my name being called with the order to report immediately.
Upon arriving there I was asked, “Why didn’t you report with the others?” “Because I already know where I’m going. I’ve been assigned to Paris,” I said. That statement was greeted with a cynical laugh. “No you’re not,” I was told, “You are going to Kaiserslautern, hear are your orders.”
Evidently I was supposed to be crushed, because everyone wanted Paris. Actually I was elated since all my cabin mates were going to be in Germany, and I was the only one going to France, and I hated the thought of being so far away from them, because we had become such good fiends, and they were so much fun. So when 1 heard that I would be in Germany too, I was delighted
My acceptance of the situation so impressed the officials that I was held up as a role model for some other poor soul who was so crushed when she found out that she was not going to Heidelberg as she had been led to believe, but rather to Fulda on the border of East Germany.
As the ship’s horn sounded we all rushed to the rail to catch our first glimpse of Germany, the land where I would spend the next 10 years of my life.
THIS IS NOT A STATESIDE SITUATION
Teaching overseas for the Department of Defense was always a bit of a challenge, but there was always that comfortable phrase to fall back on when things got too tough. We were constantly reminded that, “This is not a Stateside situation,” and then followed the admonition, “You’ve got to be adaptable.” The latter statement was certainly a truism as I soon learned upon my arrival in Europe.
When the troop ship I had sailed on for 10 days finally arrived in Bremerhaven, Germany, I was given my orders with “designation: Kaiserslautern” written on them. “But,” I protested, “I’m supposed to be going to Paris. That’s not what the interviewer told me.” “This is not a Stateside situation,” came the reply. “You have to learn to be adaptable.”
So off I went to Kaiserslautern. Upon arriving there I was told by the principal of the high school that I would be a dormitory counselor, the position for which I had been hired, but then he added, “On the boys’ side.” I couldn’t believe my ears; I thought he was kidding. Someone told me he was a great kidder. “You’re kidding,” I said, and started to laugh. “I was sure I’d have girls.” “Oh, no,” he said. “This is not a Stateside situation. You’ll get used to it. You have to be adaptable, you know.”
So off I went to meet my co-workers, all of them women. There were four of us. Angela, a tall, dark women who had worked as a dorm “mother” on the girls’ side the previous year. Eleanor, a tiny, sweet-faced, fair-haired teenager who turned out to be all of 25. Maluta, a short, thick-waisted woman nearing middle age. We met in Angela’s room the night before the students were supposed to arrive, and Angela proceeded to give us instructions on what our duties would be and what we could expect from our charges.
As she talked on and on, my attention wandered around the room she used as a living room there in the dorm. Actually both dorms were furnished with a counselor’s suite which consisted of living room, bedroom and bath. Supposedly two counselors would share this suite, but as it turned out we chose to use one of the student’s rooms as a bedroom and only shared the living room and bath. But Angela had left her stamp on this room since she had been there a year, and there were many items she had collected in her travels on display, and I was fascinated by them.
Suddenly Angela stopped talking and listened intently. “Did you hear footsteps?” she asked. “No,” we all replied “I was sure I heard something,” said Angela, and after a brief pause she resumed talking. I went back to my perusal of Angela’s collection which so intrigued me. I was especially interested in the collection of Italian pottery she had acquired. Scattered about the room were ashtrays or little dishes with verses written in what I thought was Italian and later learned was actually Spanish. Again Angela interrupted herself exclaiming, “I do hear footsteps.”
At this point Maluta spoke up and said, “So do I”. So we all listened I heard nothing, and evidently neither did Eleanor. But we listened, and listened, and listened. The tension in the room was rising. “There,” screamed Angela, “I heard it again.” She jumped up, ran to the door, locked it, and with Maluta’s help pushed a heavy armchair up against the door. “Don’t you suppose we ought to call the police?” I asked. “Sh!” she said in a whisper, “we can’t because the only phone that’s hooked up is the one in the office.” And the office was across the hall on the other side of that locked door. So we all sat there holding our breath and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer and announced, “This is silly. I haven’t heard anything; have you, Eleanor?” “No,” she said. “Well, I’m not sitting here like this any longer,” I said. “What are you going to do?” asked Eleanor. “I’m going out there and see if there is someone in the hall.” “Well, you’re not going alone,” she said. So the two of us pushed the chair back, unlocked the door, and peered into the hall. There was no one there. “Girls,” cried Angela, “Don’t go out there, there might be a man out there.” “Well, let’s go see,” I said to Eleanor. “You take one side of the hall and I’ll take the other and we’ll check every room.” We proceeded to do so. We opened the door to each room, flicked on the light, and proceeded to the next room. When we got halfway down the corridor, we discovered there was a stairway to the second floor, and a short hallway to a side door. As Eleanor started down that short hallway, she suddenly stopped, and in a cool, calm, collected tone of voice said, “Here he is,” and out stepped a German worker.
I’d often heard the expression “So frightened her hair stood on end,” but I’d never understood exactly what was meant. I do now because I could feel the hair on the back of my head, just above my neck, causing a strange sensation that could best be described as standing on end.
Then I heard a voice, equally as calm as Eleanor’s, saying “Well, he’ll just have to come with us to the office.” Finally I recognized the voice. It was mine. In his heavy accent the man pleaded, “Don’t call the MPs”. “Sorry, ” I said, “You will have to come along,” and I turned my back on him and started toward the office. Eleanor was right behind me, and behind her was the intruder.
Never have I seen such a long, long hall. I thought it would stretch out forever. As we walked, Angela’s head appeared in the doorway to her living room. When she caught sight of the man walking behind us, she let out a piercing scream and ran toward the main exit door, where she paused, realized nobody else was running, stopped screaming, turned back into the office which was beside the main door, and called the MPs by the time we reached the office.
While we waited for the MPs to arrive, Angela tried to question the intruder in her limited German. To each question he simply replied, “I need air,” and moved closer toward the window which was open and had no screen. As he jumped out the window, Angela made a frantic effort to stop him, but, of course was unsuccessful. He had been gone several minutes when the MPs arrived, and by that time I had had time to realize just how stupid my actions had been, and just how frightened I actually was.
As I sat in a chair trying to calm my shaking hands and knees, and trying to recover my powers of speech so I could tell the MPs just what had happened, I had to laugh as I thought to myself, “This is not a Stateside situation.”
THE TWENTY-ONE DOOR SALUTE
Life in the boys’ dormitory was always an exciting adventure, but I was happy when my year as a dorm counselor was up. Teenage boys even in 1954-55 were a bit much to control.
It seemed that we went from one crisis to another that year – my first and only year as a dorm counselor.
My first shock came when Mr. Stickiness, principal of Kaiserslautern American High School gave me my assignment. “You,” he said, “will be an the boys’ side.” I laughed; everyone had told me what a kidder he was. It had never occurred to me that I would have boys when I agreed to take the assignment of dormitory counselor. I laughed on the other side of my face when I met my wards for the first time, 80 boys ranging in ages from 13 to 20 years.
Maluta Reed and I were there to be their “mothers,” and we were to be on duty from 3:30 p.m. until 8:30 a.m. during school days. Since Kaiserslautern was situated in Germany and some of these students lived (at least their parents were stationed) in France, meaning they lived too far away to go home on weekends, we were required to keep them seven days a week. Nearly half the dormitory went home for the weekend, but the other half stayed in the dorm. That meant that one of the counselors had to be on duty every other weekend.
In order to make sure that all boys were in bed with lights out, a bed check was made at 10:00 each night. The boys who were members of the Dorm Counsel made the initial check and one of the counselors made the final check.
The Dorm Council issued “giggs” for infractions of the rules. If a student wasn’t in bed on time he was issued a “gigg,” and there were various offenses for which he could receive one or more “giggs ” Our biggest job was to make sure the council members weren’t too hard on boys when they issued punishment as a result of those “giggs.”
This system seemed to be working quite well, and we settled into a routine by Thanksgiving vacation, the first time the dorm was closed and all students had to leave. Those who couldn’t reach their own homes stayed with students who lived nearby.
When we returned from our first long trip, I think I went to Paris, Maluta and I discovered we had a third counselor – a male. At first we thought this would be great, but after the first night he was on duty, we decided we had been better off on our own.
It seems that the boys had enjoyed running their own dorm and resented the new counselor since he wanted to impose changes. Mr. E. announced that when he was on duty all doors would be open during study period. This sparked a revolt, so the first night he was on duty alone, they gave him a 21-door salute.
This consisted of the first door downstairs being slammed shut, followed by each door in order being slammed shut. When every door on the first floor had been slammed, those on the second floor followed suit. All of this took place in complete darkness, since someone had pulled the plug that controlled the lights.
Once all the doors bad been shut, the radiators were attacked with anything that would create noise. This continued until Mr. E. found the control for the lights. Once the lights were back on Mr. E. went from room to room and found the boys hard at work on their lessons, each one wanting to know in wide-eyed wonder what had happened to the lights.
Indeed, life in the boys dorm was never dull.
EXPERIENCES UNIQUE TO TEACHING OVERSEAS
There were many experiences that were unique to teaching overseas as compared with teaching in the states or “stateside” as the military was want to call it.
Perhaps my first inkling of how different it would be came during my interview with the recruiter, which took place at Boston University. The questions asked me seemed to have more to do with how well I could adjust to living conditions in a hardship area than with my philosophy of teaching. Although in all fairness they did ask about that as well.
My interviewer was swamped with applicants, consequently I waited something like seven hours before I got to see her. In the meantime, I became well acquainted with the people who were waiting with me, and as each person emerged from the interview I asked that person what he or she had been asked. It was a bit of a shock to hear that I would be asked if I were opposed to other people’s drinking alcohol. I expected to be asked if I drank, but not my opinion of those who did. However, my first PTA meeting clarified that mystery for me when I arrived overseas. The PTA gave the teachers a welcoming party during the first month of school, and we were served champagne. Having taught in two small towns in Iowa where I was required to sign a statement saying I would neither drink nor smoke. I was absolutely amazed at this treatment
Speaking of teaching in hardship areas, I must confess I was never in what could be termed a real hardship area, but I was faced with a good many challenging situations. There always seemed to be some difficulty to overcome. For example, when I was teaching in Kaiserslautern High School in Germany one year, the building was enlarged and some rooms that had been classrooms were made into labs. My English classroom was changed into an art room, and it was necessary to install sinks for water. So the principal told me I could expect to be interrupted by workmen in my classroom for the next few days. It seems the military never could arrange to have such changes done during school vacations, so I soon became accustomed to having things done during school hours, although I wasn’t quite prepared for the disruption caused when a man with a jackhammer walked into my room. The principal was good enough to allow us to move out into the hall for that operation, “Just for one day, Miss Aucker ” he assured me. Next morning I found a huge hole in the front of my desk and it was three days before we could return. A hallway is not the best place for teaching English I discovered.
Once back in the classroom it took a bit of doing to settle back into our routine, but things soon settled down, and everyone seemed to accept the idea we were back to normal. Suddenly the door opened and a workman came in and said something in German which I didn’t understand. Shortly thereafter another German with a long pipe over his shoulder walked through the door, followed by a third man carrying the other end of the pipe. The first man left the room and returned with a ladder which the others used to climb on to the top of some cupboards that were situated against one wall, from which vantage point they were able to insert the pipe into two holes that had been made in the wall. This done, they climbed down and proceeded to extract from their “schnitzel bag” some food and beer, and while having their lunch, avidly watched what was going on in class. I continued the lesson, and, once their initial curiosity was satisfied, the students settled down to continue our class discussions.
Another example of the types of disruptions one learned to live with was the noise level at the various bases. In Kaiserslautern we had to adjust to the maneuvers of the cavalry, sometimes called the “Third Herd”, which was stationed there during the “Berlin build-up.” The cavalry consisted of armored tanks, and when they moved out on maneuvers, they went right past the schoolhouse. It took them hours to roll by, and no human voice could compete with the rumble of those monsters.
There was a third distraction in Kaiserslautezn that year. One of the helicopter pilots had a crush on one of the teachers who taught in the room next to mine. That year I was on the second floor. The helicopter pad was just a short distance from the school, so the pilot made a point of flying low enough to wave to her. Needless to say, both she and his commanding officer took a dim view of this, and it was not continued.
I was always amazed at the ability of the students to adjust to these strange intrusions, and perhaps the greatest tribute to their powers of concentration was manifest in RAF Lakenheath, England, where the school was situated at the end of the runway.
Almost every day the fighter planes went through a routine where they would take off, circle the base, land just enough so their wheels touched land, and off they would go again. This would continue for what seemed like hours. Every time they took off anyone in the classroom who was talking would stop, wait for the noise to abate, and then finish the sentence. We all became so proficient at this that seldom was anyone asked to repeat a sentence. As I said, I wasn’t stationed in what could be called a true hardship area, but teaching under these circumstances wasn’t always easy and was certainly unique.