A Career in Teaching The First Year

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Graduation and First Teaching Contract

In May 1966, I graduated with a BA degree in elementary education from Western New Mexico University in Silver City, New Mexico. I was young — only 20 — and ready to begin what I thought would be a short career in teaching since I always assumed that I would get married and have a family; I thought I would be a stay-at-home mum when the time came.

My sister and her husband were living in Kansas City, Kansas, where my brother-in-law was attending dental school at the University of Kansas. At the beginning of my senior year of university, they invited me to join them in Kansas City, perhaps teaching in the same district where my sister was teaching.

This seemed like a good idea and so I applied and was accepted for a teaching job with Corinth School District in Johnson County in Shawnee Mission, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas). In 1966, Corinth School District only had four elementary schools. Just three years after I left — in 1969 — it would amalgamate with several other districts in the area to become the Shawnee Mission School District. 2 I have looked for this school on the internet and I have been unable to find it — it's possible that it is now closed, or being used for other purposes.

Although I was not yet married when I applied, this Kansas teaching certificate shows my married name because it was re-issued after I changed my name.

This is how Wikipedia describes this area:

"Johnson County is included in the Kansas City, MO-KS Metropolitan Statistical Area. The county contains many of Kansas City's affluent southwestern suburbs. [It] has the highest median household income and highest per-capita income in Kansas and is among the most affluent in the United States, with the 19th highest median household income in 2000 and the 46th highest per-capita income in 2005. In 2010, Money magazine, in its list of the 100 Best Cities in the United States in which to live, ranked Overland Park 7th (ranked 6th in 2006 and 9th in 2008) and Shawnee 17th (ranked 39th in 2008)."

I knew at the time that I taught there that my students were coming from affluent homes. Apparently, nothing has changed!

Choosing to be a Teacher

I had always wanted to be a teacher. I was a member of the Future Teachers of America in high school, and was president of that organization when I was a junior. Both of my parents were in education; both of my sisters had earned BA degrees in teaching. In those days, as well, young women were strongly encouraged to choose one of two careers: teaching or nursing. And that assumes that you were not going to get married immediately after high school and start having a family.

I graduated from high school in 1963 and started my university studies in the summer. Attending school through all four seasons allowed me to finish a four-year degree in three years. I was all of nineteen years old, therefore, when my university advisor asked me what grade I would like to teach during my student teaching experience.

I was getting my degree in elementary education so it was obvious I would choose either primary or intermediate grades. I was intimidated by the older children, so I jumped at the chance to work with first graders. I never regretted that decision — it was the right "fit" for me at that time — even though I would teach much older students during the second half of my career.

My student teaching was done at Santa Rita, New Mexico, with a group of first graders. I don't remember how many were in the class, but my supervisor, Mrs. Bearup, was superb and gave me excellent advice and assistance. After trying out my skills for a semester with her class, I was sure I was quite ready to teach a group of first graders.

August 1966

I had flown to Kansas City in the spring of 1966 to interview for a job — I applied to four different districts. All four of them offered me a job, but I decided to take a position with the same district my sister was teaching in. Once I was accepted, I stopped worrying about my future career and got on with the business of finishing school.

In August of 1966, my sister and brother-in-law picked me up in Silver City, New Mexico, and together we drove back to Kansas City. There were many things to do, once there: a bedroom suite to purchase and set up, an opportunity to meet the principal of my school, and time to decorate my classroom before the first day of school.

In about a week, I was settled and ready to greet my first classroom of students.

First Day of Teaching

Although I don't have it written down, my first day of teaching was undoubtedly the day after Labour Day — September 6, 1966. At the time, I did not realize how lucky I was to have only 17 students. I would never again — in my 32-year career — have a class that small.

I quickly fell into routines and behaviours that were typical of classroom teachers of the 1960's. My students were young, eager, and interested in learning. Teaching children to read was extremely satisfying and in that first year I learned the best ways to interest students in learning, though it was never hard with first graders.

Below was the class photo we received towards the end of the year: the principal of the school is in the first space, and I am in the second.

They were young and they were eager. I was delighted to teach this small group of students for a year.

Memorable Moments

Even from that first year, I recall some special students and some special experiences.

I was Miss Overturf to my students until Christmas break, but afterwards I was Mrs. Ingraham. Many people told me they thought the children would not adapt to the name change, but they never once made a mistake when I came back. I showed them my wedding book and the photographs of my wedding, and perhaps that helped them to understand and remember the change.

The entrance to my classroom during Parents' Night.

Somerset School had a yearly tradition — each class "travelled" to another country and learned everything there was to learn about that country (its food, its culture, its traditions). The rooms were decorated to reveal all of these things, and parents were invited to come and see what their children had done and learned. As you can see, my class studied Japan.

There were three other first grade classrooms, all taught by experienced and highly effective teachers. I felt somewhat incapable of competing with them, but I learned an amazingly amount and they were extremely helpful to me.

My desk at the back of the classroom. The children had made Japanese lanterns and fans — some are on display here — and I had many artifacts which my husband let me display (he had spent two years in Japan with the US Navy).

I don't think I could have had a more supportive and helpful first year of teaching — my memories of that first year are completely positive.

If I were to return, it would seem very different, I suspect. The school itself is no more and, as I said earlier, the district amalgamated with several other districts. Unfortunately, I have not been able to be in touch with any of those 17 students I taught during that first year.

This is what the Shawnee-Mission School District says on its website:

For more than 40 years, the Shawnee Mission School District has been dedicated to guiding students to success.

Located in suburban northeast Johnson County, Kansas, ten miles from downtown Kansas City, Missouri, the district is the third largest school district in the state of Kansas.

As of the 2014-15 school year, approximately 27,509 students attend 33 elementary schools, five middle schools and five high schools.

Ever since 13 individual school districts unified in 1969 to become the Shawnee Mission Unified School District No. 512, the district has consistently been ranked among the finest school districts in the nation earning praise locally, regionally, and nationally for its commitment to providing excellent educational programs and services for students.

The district is proud of the impressive achievement of its students as reflected on state and national assessments. The district has a graduation rate of approximately 91 percent. Shawnee Mission seniors in the class of 2014 earned more than $47 million in scholarship offers.​

All in all, I'm rather proud of being a part of those early years. However, it was necessary to resign at the end of the year because my husband transferred from the University of Missouri at Kansas City to the University of Missouri at Columbia. He would go on to earn his journalism degree there while I taught more first graders at West Blvd. Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. The districts that combined were Greenwood District 39, Shawnee District 22, Lenexa District 500, Districts 10 and 90, Valley View District 49, Overland Park District 10, Linwood District 1, Roeland District 92, Merriam District 99, Antioch District 61, Westwood View District 93, Prairie District 44, and Corinth District 82.