Oral Histories

Clara Copley Shafer


Clara Shafer

A: I started out with 25 first graders, and I could see the progress these children were making from week to week. I could see the progress they were making and I was quite enthused and quite encouraged by it. But then, it seemed like every time I turned around I would get a new kid or a couple of new kids. We ran out of desks. They had to bring in desks that wouldn’t fit the children. They were too big. The room space kept getting smaller and smaller and I was getting there towards the last six weeks of school   I was getting kids in the first grade that couldn’t even read.

As I said, I started out with 25 and I ended up with 40. Mrs. Flint (?) had the other first grade and she had 30. She was given a bigger load because she was experienced in the first grade and I wasn’t and she ended up with 50. No parent volunteer, no teacher’s aid. You were expected to handle the recesses, you were expected to handle the lunch duty, the whole works, and I felt like the kids were sitting on my lap. I had no room to move around behind my desk. There weren’t supplies. We were just making do. The people were living in tents. They were living in dugouts. The lady that I rented from, rented the other bedroom to two little girls whose parents were living down at Dead Horse Point in a tent. They would come in on Sunday night and the parents would pick them up on Friday night and take them back to where they were living and then before the year was out, she rented her shed, just a shed, to another gentleman who couldn’t find a place to stay. She would give us breakfast and supper and then she did my laundry but she didn’t have to because I was perfectly capable of doing it myself. But she just picked it up with hers and did it too.

Q: Where in town were you living?

A: I was staying with Mattie Holyoak. It is there on 4th East across the street from Milt’s Stop and Eat, right by the mortuary (west side of 400 East at Locust Lane). The house is still standing. Her granddaughter lives in it now.

Q:   Were all of the classes being affected similarly?

A: Oh yes, every one of them. As I said, with the first graders I ended up with 40+ and the other teacher ended up with 50 when she started out with 30. They took what is now the DUP hall and made two, and then I understand later, three classrooms in there. Everybody was being affected the same way. People were living everywhere. My brother-in-law, John Henry Shafer, converted the chicken coop into a duplex and rented it out with no problem whatsoever. The first year I lived in an apartment above Riley’s Drug Store. It’s now a t-shirt shop. I just moved out for the summer and when I came back he’d doubled the rent and wouldn’t rent to me. He said he’d rented it during the summer time and he wouldn’t rent it to me. So I lived in a room that was in a house that Madge Cunningham Ward had. She just died a little while ago. I think she would be 99 years old. She had a room in the basement. State Farm is there now (30 W. Center Street). I lived in that room until she had friends of hers that needed a place to stay and told me she would rent to them and asked me if I could find another place. That’s when I moved in with Mattie Holyoak.   That’s when all the trailer courts grew up. Anybody that had any extra space put in a trailer and was renting it out. 

Q: Was there just one school at that time?

A: There was just one school where the Middle School is now. Upstairs was the High School. Downstairs was the elementary. Kindergarten was held in that building that burned down where the library was. I don’t remember but it seems to me that the band and music was also there, although they might have moved the band and music to Star Hall. I don’t remember that. But I do know that the kindergarten and cafeteria and music and band was there the first year I was here. And, as well as the gym and the library, PE classes and things like that were over in that area. Shop was held in the basement of Star Hall, I think. When the high school got out for lunch or at the end of the day, I was afraid the little ones would be trampled. The lunch hour and dismissal times were staggered but the halls and stairs were still congested and I worried about the younger ones.

Q: Did you continue teaching with these crowded rooms or was that when you left?

A: I left in the spring of ’54. I taught two years here only. I was told that they were going to go on half-day sessions and I had worked in half-day sessions in the Granite School District in Salt Lake and I could not see that the kids were advancing; I couldn’t see that they were progressing as well as the kids out there in Coalville where I lived and had done some student teaching and I thought, well, I don’t want to teach under those conditions. As I said, I wasn’t too happy with the success   I couldn’t see the progress in the students with having so many. I know Principal Sundwall came in and talked to me and he said, “Don’t judge your teaching skills by this.” Of course, I told him I didn’t even feel I was doing a good job baby sitting and he said, “Well, don’t judge your teaching skills by this and don’t get discouraged.” But I thought I didn’t want to work under half-day sessions and I had always wanted to learn Spanish. We came from such a small school that you’d have the l0th, 11th and l2th grades in one class to make enough to teach and so additional languages were out of the question. I didn’t avail myself of the opportunity at the University of Utah so that’s when I accepted a Mission Call to Mexico with the idea I would learn Spanish down there, if nothing else.

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