On an afternoon in mid-August 1950, emotions were running high as the troop transport, General George Goethels, slowly pulled into the port of Bremerhaven. Many of the 75 teachers abroad were feeling some anxiety at facing the unknown awaiting them as teachers for Dependent Schools in a war-torn country occupied by Allied military forces.
A few of us had become friends in the course of time from leaving Los Angeles Union Railway Station until debarkation at Bremerhaven. Our greatest desire was to be assigned with those we had gotten to know so well. However, this was not to be.
Some of our apprehensions were readily dispelled, though, by the warm reception received from representatives of the military European Command and Dependent Schools Division. They met with us shortly after the ship docked to outline procedures for the coming days ahead and notify us of our teaching assignments. Arrangements had also been made for us to travel by a specially commissioned train to Frankfurt and then on to Bad Homburg for several days of orientation.
The trip through the British Zone of Occupation was a nice introduction to Germany. The countryside was picturesque. Quaint villages, small farms, with men and women working side by side raking hay in the fields, windmills, rivers and canals with houseboats and barges floating upon them, presented a picture of beauty and serenity. There was little evidence of the ravages of war until approaching Frankfurt. The city lay in ruins.
The reception awaiting us on arrival at the railway station in Frankfurt was overwhelming. As the train pulled into the station MP Honor Guards dressed in shiny crash helmets, wide leather belts, highly polished boots and pressed uniforms stood at attention on the platform ready to escort us through the station to waiting buses that would take us to Bad Homburg. The procession through the station was undoubtedly an impressive sight as everyone stopped to stare and wonder.
As soon as luggage had been loaded onto the trucks and everyone seated in the buses, the parade began. The Honor Guards, mounted on motorcycles, led the way for three buses and two trucks. Sirens blew to clear the way. Traffic stopped. The way was uninterrupted through the streets of Frankfurt and on the road to Bad Homburg.
There were two days of conferences before being sent to our assignments. On the first day, officials greeted the assembled group. They told us teachers had been chosen by design and were considered to be the “cream of the crop”. Although rumors circulated a few had received contracts through political connections.
Mr. Miller, Director of Dependent Schools Division for European Command, was formerly Superintendent of Education for Kansas. He had written the course of study for the state schools as well as many workbooks to accompany basic textbooks. Consequently, the curriculum for Dependent Schools was based upon the philosophy of education and instructional guidelines of the Kansas Department of Education.
My assignment was in Mannheim, a city in ruins. Eight teachers were assigned to the school. They were from all parts of the country with different backgrounds, interests and educational philosophies.
Our living quarters were in a three-story house located in an area designated for dependent housing. Each of us had our own rooms. Rooms were selected by seniority. The oldest teacher on the staff had fast choice. Since I was the youngest, mine was the room no one wanted-an attic room.
Since a large Army Supply Depot was located just outside of Mannheim, there was a large contingency of Negro soldiers stationed there. Therefore, many dependent families were Negro.
The classrooms were integrated and students of diverse racial backgrounds got along well together. The conflicts encountered in my classroom were between two Negro girls from different social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Many times I kept one or the other girl in at recess under the pretext of giving me a helping hand.
The two-story, wooden school building was a converted Army barrack. It was drab, drafty and noisy. The bare wooden floors creaked with every footstep. The steam heaters hissed and crackled. Footsteps and voices of those walking down the hall reverberated in the classroom.
There were few amenities in the classroom. It was bare with the exception of the necessities-student and teacher desks and a blackboard at the front of the classroom. Supplies were few outside the basic textbooks and accompanying workbooks. Coca Cola Company contributed tablets, pencils, rulers and maps to supplement the meager supplies provided.
German teachers were assigned to teach art, music and German. A librarian was also on the staff. These women were not trained as classroom teachers and, therefore, lacked necessary teaching skills, techniques for motivating students, and maintaining effective discipline. These teachers, along with an MP assigned to the building, supervised children during recess. This was greatly appreciated by the stateside teachers. Unfortunately, the German teachers had the attitude American children were spoiled, disrespectful and undisciplined.
There were thirty-four children in my third grade classroom. The German teachers were amazed I was able to maintain discipline with so many children to teach. As in schools everywhere, though, this number fluctuated during the school year as families came and left.
Classroom teachers were required to eat lunch with their students to teach good table manners and maintain order.
The European Command encouraged military and civilian personnel, as well as dependent families, to develop good will with the Germans. All kinds of contacts were stressed and cultivated
My third grade students instigated a plan of their own to this end. At Christmas time, they decided to give a party for orphans rather than have a Christmas party for themselves. The children planned all the details of the party-refreshments, games and gifts. Those invited would be the same ages as themselves. Since most of the children were able to speak fairly good German, it was strictly their party and their responsibility to entertain their guests. One boy, Roland Seanz, with strong leadership abilities, was in charge of the event. He coordinated the activities and acted as Master of Ceremonies at the party. All the children were enthused and eager to show the orphans a good time. They proved to be perfect hosts and hostesses. Parents were invited to attend as passive participants and the German teacher was on hand to help with translations when needed. Everyone had a happy time. This was a memorable, heart-warming occasion in the true spirit of the season.
I think the goal of the European Command was fulfilled in many diverse ways. Through the efforts of the Americans who served and worked in Occupied Germany and dependent families, a knowledge of the German language, an exchange of ideas and social contacts with the Germans brought about understandings and appreciation of one another’s cultures.
Teaching in Germany was a very rewarding experience that enriched my life with lasting memories.