First year teaching winds down
The Christmas holidays were juxtaposition from my college days to my first year teaching. Instead of visiting my parents as I had done as a student, I returned to Utah to see what was happening on that front. Yes, I had sort of become engaged but not really, at least not in my mind. I’m not sure what my intent was when I visited Utah – to release her from the engagement or to firm it up. When I landed in Salt Lake City I rented a Mustang and went to see Sherma. Her mother was busily planning her daughter’s June wedding and so I just went along with the program. We were both of legal age but were way too immature for marriage. Unfortunately that didn’t stop us from playing grownup.
I left Pennsylvania after the school year had ended and returned to Utah and married. Sherma left BYU less than one semester short of a degree in Sociology and went to work for her mother in the new second flower shop. Her family was mostly pioneer Mormons some of whom had crossed the plains with Brigham Young in 1847. Hardly a street existed that did not contain her relatives. We married in June, 1965, and at the wedding she was about the only person I knew and I didn’t know her very well. After the marriage I spent the summer looking for a job. I sold cars for a week or so until the dealership determined I was not cut out for that line of work. If a customer asked me what was wrong with a used car, I’d tell him. My career as an official car salesman was thus short lived. I delivered flowers for the shops and tried several other jobs but that old Bachelor’s degree in Psychology was not helping much. My principal back in PA told me that as a male teaching elementary school I'd always have a job, and that seemed to be the case everywhere but in Utah, where the boys went on missions and the girls got teaching degrees and put them through the rest of their college once they returned from their missions. No teaching jobs available in Utah.
After being unable to find work in the Salt Lake City area by August I made a decision to look elsewhere. I bid my young bride adieu, got in my car, and teacher evaluations in hand, began to drive. My plan was drive north to the Canadian border, west to the Pacific, south to the Mexican border, and east to Tucson then back up to Salt Lake City. During the drive I planned to stop at each little village and town and offer my services as a male elementary teacher. I made stops at several towns including Tremonton, UT and Downey, ID. All had their quotas filled so I continued. By noon I pulled into Pocatello and walked into the school administrative offices of Idaho School District #25. Everybody was out for lunch except one assistant superintendent who was eating at his desk. I no sooner told him that I was a male with elementary teaching experience than he said, "Don't leave this room!" as he scurried around to find a contract. I signed on the spot and taught the sixth grade at Tendoy Elementary School for the next two years. The state granted me a provisional teaching certificate and during that time I picked up courses needed to become a licensed teacher at Idaho State University. Although I started the year with one year of teaching experience under my belt, I still had not completed student teaching. I discovered that in most states, if one has three years of full time teaching under contract, student teaching is waived. Thus, my career in education that spans nearly 50 years of teaching every grade level from first to post-Doctoral level including the supervision of student teachers, never did include my own student teaching experience. I had been making $4800 a year in PA but was earning a whopping $5300 per year in Idaho. My goal was to someday earn $10,000 in one year. I could only imagine such a thing, believing that would allow me to pay off all my debts. And if my first year as an adult had put me into debt by spending irresponsibly, my second year began my long road back to fiscal responsibility.
Ah, the things a young body is able to tolerate. In my youth I was able to get by with a minimum amount of sleep. I also was about $10,000 in debt as the result of my year as a bachelor in Pennsylvania. Thus my early years of marriage consisted in large part of efforts to extract myself from debt. In my mind, that goal would be most easily achieved by increasing the family income. To that end, we found my wife a job in the Admissions and Records office at Idaho State University. In addition to my teaching, I offered myself up as an after school tutor and took a job working the night shift at a Richfield gas station just off the Interstate 15 exit. My typical day would be to teach from 8-3, then tutor for an hour or so, take a nap, then work at the service station from 10 p.m. until six a.m. take a shower, have some breakfast, and be at school by eight.
My day was designed around being frugal. At school I ate school lunches and at night filled my car’s gas tank for free. In those days the gas pumps were mechanical. Hence, after gas was pumped and the hose returned, a small residual quantity of gasoline remained in the hose. After each sale I would “drain the hose” into a gas can that I kept next to the pumps and when the shift was over I usually had a gallon or two in the gas can to add to my own gas tank. A penny saved is a penny earned.
One night about 3:00 a.m. a silver Volkswagen with Montana plates pulled off the freeway and up to the pump. The driver said, “Fill ‘er up,” and got out of the car to stretch. As I looked at him I was stunned. The driver of the car was a high school classmate from Clairton, PA. He had been living in Montana and was moving to the Bay area of Northern California and would later hook up with my high school chum and former college roommate Geno, whose career had taken him to Silicon Valley. Small world.