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BACK TO SCHOOL--Teaching in the 1940s


My first day of public school teaching was on September 3, 1940, and I showed up at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School with two black eyes and a wide bandage across my forehead. It was not a promising way to face a new class of fourth graders.

During the Labor Day weekend, preceeding that first day of school, my husband, Jim, and I decided to celebrate my new job by going to the Hayward swimming pool with friends. We were horsing around, playing "people water polo." Two people sit on the shoulders of two other people, and each one tries to push the other one off. Ellen was on Bruce’s shoulders; Jim was on mine. Jim was pulling hard on Bruce, his hand slipped, and his elbow crashed into my forehead. I went down and came up with blood streaming down my face.

We rushed to Hayward Emergency and found the only doctor on duty over the Labor Day weekend to be an intern from India, who told us that he could not give me a local anesthetic because the skin on the forehead was too thin. After swallowing as much brandy as I could hold, Jim, Ellen and Bruce held me down while I was stitched up. Our good doctor kept saying: “Be sure you see your own doctor tomorrow. . .be sure. . .” He also warned me that I would probably have two black eyes.

The next day my own doctor reassured me that the cut was well sewn and that I probably wouldn’t have much of a scar; however, he repeated that I would look as if I’d been in a fight. And that was how I looked on my first day of teaching at Piedmont Avenue School; a wide bandage across my forehead, two magnificent shiners, facing a fourth grade class primed to torment a new teacher.

Rhoda P. Curtis

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John Oughton

John Parker Oughton says:

Good story!

I hope you told them "You should see the other guy!"

Thu, 09/03/2009 - 2:13pm

Rhoda Curtis

Rhoda P. Curtis says:

New Back To School

Dear John:

Thanks for your comment. At 22, a newly minted elementary school
teacher, I was anxiously trying to figure out how to teach the mandated curriculum.

I had just gotten my teaching credential from UC Berkeley, transferring from Northwestern in my senior year. Didn't know much about California; most of my upper class students had been back and forth to L.A., to Yosemite, etc. They knew a lot more about California than I did. One of the mandated parts of the fourth grade curriculum was to create a relief map of California using papier mache. Can you imagine the mess? Most of the stuff ended up either on the students or the blackboards. I would spend at least an hour cleaning up the room after class and before the custodians arrived.

The solution to managing the class involved an elaborate scheme, which I've written about in my first book. However, I could retell the story if you're interested.


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first day of school

You don't say how the class went, but I'll bet those kids were stunned into awe, if not submission. I'm sure you captured their attention fully and held it from then on out. For you, it could only get easier.
Bridget Hardy