Pochop, Elizabeth Schlesser (Teacher)
Posted By: Linda Ziemann, volunteer (email)
Date: 9/22/2015 at 13:58:48
An Interview with Country School Teacher
Elizabeth Schlesser Pochop
April 12, 2007
Brentwood Good Samaritan Village
by Linda Mohning
Elizabeth’s room at Brentwood was warm and inviting. Pictures, afghans, her recliner, a stack of letters and a small sofa greet her visitors. She grew up on a farm near Struble in Elgin Township (the same Plymouth County township in which she would later be a teacher). Her parents were Nick and Mary Schlesser. A younger sister, Vivian Schlesser, would follow in her older sister’s footsteps and also become a country school teacher. Elizabeth and Vivian attended Elgin #2, the school in the north-central part of the township. “Vivian is now staying in a retirement home in Estherville…something like this” adds Elizabeth, a bright 88-year-old resident of Brentwood.
Why did she want to become a teacher? “Well, there were not many professions back then,” she said. And she had a favorite teacher—Elvira Schemmer—who inspired her to join the profession. [The records show that Elvira taught at Elgin #2 from 1924-1928.] Elizabeth attended Elgin #2 for all 8 years of grade school which prepared her for high school in the town of Le Mars. Elgin schoolhouse #2 has been saved and is located in Pioneer Village at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds. Elizabeth has had the privilege of being present in it one more time during the fair and she was able to answer some questions that fair-goers had. “It’s so small!” she said of her old school. She remembered the shelf where the children put their lunch pails. Another reason she chose teaching is because she likes kids…all kids. The ages didn’t matter.
It was the time of Great Depression and in those years many children who would have liked to have gone on to high school were not able to because there was no money for the tuition. Elizabeth was fortunate to be able to go to Le Mars High School and graduated in 1936. She had taken two years of Normal Training and then took the state tests and passed them. However, she was too young to get certified to teach so she stayed at home for another year and then received her certification. She remarked that being that young in high school probably made it a little more difficult.
She really didn’t have to interview for her first job. The directors just “sought you out”. Her first job, according to the teaching records, was from 1939 to 1941 at Elgin #8 which was located close to Highway 60. Her other school was Elgin #5 which was located in the center of the township, about 2 miles southeast of Struble, and she taught one year there from 1941-1942. Of course it was war time—the war to end all wars. One of the war-time projects the children helped with was picking the fluffy stuff out of milkweed pods for use in the war effort.
What were some of physical items in her school when she was teaching? She remembered the stove of course. She always had to bring in coal and cobs from the coal shed and get the school warmed up for her pupils. The families often brought in the coal and cobs to fill the coal shed. She remembered one poor family who had a terrible time during the depression. She just hated to have to call them for wood and coal, so she brought in a little on her own instead.
She also remembered the stone water container, something like what a crock is made of. It had a little faucet. They would get water from the nearest farm. There was also a piano, although she wasn’t able to play very well. Sometimes there was a girl who was able to play. There might have been a Victrola too with records. Books were kept in a bookcase. The children brought their own tablets, pencils and colors. Most of the desks were single desks, but there also some double desks with benches. They had ink wells and straight-point pens that screeched when being used. She remarked that she was so thankful when ball-point pens came out. They had a blackboard up in front of the room and she had a bell. Did she use it for recess? “No, not always because I was often out playing with the children.”
Yes, they had outhouses. They were in pretty good shape. She remembers one school which had a bigger building with the boys’ part on one end, the girls’ on the other and the coal and cobs in a middle section.
Most of the time Elizabeth was lucky enough to have only 6 grades to teach instead of eight, but it still kept a teacher busy. She was sure that the kids learned from each other. Her favorite subject to teach was reading. It was important to teach phonics, she added. She kept all the attendance and grades in a teacher’s record book. The book was passed on to the next teachers until it was filled. The last teacher would often write notes to the next teacher to help them get started.
Recess was a fun time for all and she joined in the fun with her pupils. In the spring they had a great time drowning gophers and playing baseball. She was the pitcher for both teams. In the winter they played fox and goose. She thinks it helped keep discipline problems away by being with the children at recess.
We talked about the “children’s blizzard” in South Dakota and I asked if she ever was concerned about the weather. She said she always watched the weather because a storm can come up fast. She had her mind made up that if a blizzard hit quickly she would keep the students in school. “We had coal and we could keep warm.”
Christine Petersen was the county superintendent at that time and she always stopped out un-announced. She “went by the book” Elizabeth remembered, and her eyes rolled slightly heavenward. One time a parent complained to Miss Petersen about something to do with Elizabeth’s lesson plans. “I wish the parent would have come to me first,” said Elizabeth. She also told about the superintendent in Sioux County (where she taught later on). “He was the kind that would let you know when you were doing a good job.” Ever since then Elizabeth makes it practice to let people know that too—even with the staff at Brentwood. When she taught in Sioux County she rode a Shetland pony to school one day. During the day, one of the students noticed that the pony had disappeared. “Don’t worry about it,” said Elizabeth, “he’ll find his way home.” And he did. How did she get to schools when she was teaching? Most of the time her younger sister, Rosine, who was attending high school in Le Mars, dropped her off.
Special days in the school year were the end-of-the year picnic with the parents and the all the kids and that was a great time. There were also times when the children put on programs and this would be at night. They would have to light the kerosene lamps that hung on the side walls. They would have a make-shift curtain up in front to make a stage.
She remembers her teaching days with great fondness; although she thought the pay might have been better…only $55 a month when farm laborers were being paid $35. Back in those days, teachers were pioneers. Yes, they were.
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