College days end – but now what?
By April 1964 I was getting desperate as I had no solid job prospects. I was a Psychology major with a bachelor degree and no desire for the pursuit of an advanced degree. That combination qualified me to sell cars, which I did for a while, or enter some sort of management training program. My only management training was one semester of Air Force ROTC where I was told I was not leadership material. All three of my sisters attended (then) Millersville State Teachers College, a few hundred miles from our Pittsburgh home. My eldest and youngest sisters became educators and my middle sister married and went into the restaurant business. When my eldest sister left for college, my parents took her to get settled. My father befriended a young professor and they became close friends and remained so for decades as the young professor became a Department head, administrator, and eventually the president of the college. So when I was looking for a job prior to graduation, my father called this family friend who in turn phoned another longtime friend of his, the superintendent of a small rural school district in Southeastern PA. I received a phone call from the superintendent. He made small talk for a while and I was trying to figure out why he was calling. Finally, he popped the question; would I consider coming back to PA to accept a teaching position? I was a little taken aback, but gathered my wits and explained that I was a Psychology major and not an Education major. He asked how my job search was going facing a life with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. I had to admit he had me there.
He continued in his recruitment mode, “There is an acute shortage of teachers these days. If you would go to the nearby college this summer and pick up a couple of education classes to show you are working toward a teaching certificate, I’m sure I could get the state to issue you an emergency certificate that would be provisional.”
I thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know how to teach.”
He had a ready response, “I assume you went to school for 12 years before attending college for the past four. Am I right?”
“Yes,” I answered slowly and suspiciously.
“Well then, you’ve been observing good teaching practices for the past 16 years. Certainly you know SOMETHING about what makes a good teacher.” He had me there.
“What would I teach?”
I could almost hear sarcasm in his voice, “Hmmm, after 16 years of education I would assume you have at least mastered the sixth grade curriculum. We will place you in a brand new middle school that contains grades six, seven, and eight. There will be five other sixth grade teachers to help you. What do you say?” I paused, processing what he said when he added, “Oh... and you will be getting full pay. The state minimum is $4500 per year but our district will start you at $4800.” I agreed. I had just been out looking at new cars (a hobby that still is part of me) and knew that a new Cadillac cost about $ 5,400 in 1964. So my logic was that if they were willing to pay me nearly what a new Cadillac cost, I could live quite well.
The superintendent told me one more thing that stuck in my mind. “As a male teacher, particularly in grades K-8, you will always be a valuable commodity. Your options for promotion are better, as there are fewer male teachers but more male principals at the elementary level.” His words eventually proved prophetic.
Sherma, the girl who I’d met through the radio station, and I had dated perhaps a dozen times over the semester and when it came time for me to leave for Pennsylvania she said, “I know I’ll never see you again.”
In my best “It’ll be alright, Little Lady” impression of John Wayne I said, “What you mean. I’ll come back after my year in Pennsylvania and we’ll be married. I’m not sure where that came from as we had been dating exclusively but had not discussed marriage. But I had made a commitment of sorts and perhaps I figured “out of sight out of mind,” but in all probability did not think much about it at all.
Sherma was planning to return to her home in Salt Lake City at the end of the semester to live with her parents. Her mother owned a flower shop and planned to purchase a second one that her daughter would manage. Even though she would be a semester shy of graduation, she agreed to move back home with her parents.
Sherma was the youngest child and had been a menopause surprise. Her brother was 20 years her senior and her sister was nearly nine years older. Thus she had been raised as an only child. We decided that she would need transportation of she was to be a working girl so I scoured the area for a good used one. I found a 10-year old green Pontiac with just under 100,000 miles. It seemed to run well and the price was right – about $300 as I recall. The car lot owner allowed me to put half down and pay the balance in monthly installments which I agreed to send from Pennsylvania. It turned out to be an excellent purchase, as that winter was an especially cold one in Utah and the Pontiac was the only car at her parent’s house that started every morning. So with the Sherma living at home and in possession of a job and a car, I left to cross the country for my first real job.
For the previous four years as a college kid I had shucked and jived and flimmed and flamed, worked in the library, and did all manner of entrepreneurial activities to help pay my way through college. My parents, of course bore much of the financial burden but I was very sensitive that three other family members were in college and I tried my best to take some of my financial burden off them and place it on me and I graduated debt free with a nearly new car that had been purchased the summer before my senior year. To have a real job with real responsibilities in the real world was something I had neither been trained for nor considered. I would have more money than I ever had in my life without any school-related obligations. I may have been graduating debt-free but would soon find myself deep within the web of financial morass as my money management skills and training were nil.
The day before the Superintendent’s call I had been out window shopping cars as previously mentioned. Ford had just released a new sports car called the Mustang. It cost around $2,000. A new Chevy could be had for under $2,000 and a Cadillac cost about $5400. New cars cost considerably less than today and with a little searching, used cars could be found for less than $100.
The summer in Oxford, PA flew by. I took a couple of basic education courses at the college all three of my sisters had attended, and in early September showed up for my first real job – a sixth grade teacher in the Oxford, PA Area School District. I usually joke that my first job out of college was a teaching position at Oxford.