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A Career In Teaching


Rocky Bakken


In the ND-RTM (Northern Division of Retired Teachers ofMinnesota) there are over 200 members. Of these 200 members, only threeare men. In the past, few men became career educators. The current presidentof ND-RTM, O. A. Roberts is one of these.

Mr. Roberts really didn't know why he decided to teach. In his junior year of high school, his principal asked if he wanted totake pedagogy (pedagogy is the art of teaching). He told the principal"No, I don't want to teach," so he didn't take pedagogy.

He finished high school at Page, North Dakota at age 22. He started high school at age 19. "Kind of a slow learner I guess,"he said. But he hadn't planned on going to high school due to the war.

He went to school at the A.C. Agricultural College in thefall of 1922. He didn't really know what he wanted to do. He took a quarterof school anyway.

That was one of the bad years and things were kind of toughto make a living. He had to work for his board and room at the AgriculturalCollege. He did such things as set pins in bowling alleys, mow lawns, washingwindows, putting on storm windows, and shoveling snow off sidewalks.

His mother suggested then, at the end of the quarter, forhim to go out and teach.

His father had died when he was ten and it was a littlehard for his mother to make a living. So, he came home to Page, North Dakotaduring Christmas vacation. He then went up to the superintendent, Mr. Sturch,and asked him about the matter of teaching. He said that all he had todo was pass two examinations on what was called high school reviews.

He took two in arithmetic and history. His superintendenttold him to read certain books during Christmas vacation. He went throughthe books being sure he understood them. His superintendent then gave himan examination and on the results was able to apply for a rural school teachingjob in western North Dakota.

There had been two teachers in the school he got. He didn'tknow whether they got fired or not but the kids sort of took over, so hegot that school and into teaching.

He enjoyed teaching and never got out of teaching. Hestarted in the rural schools. He enjoyed teaching in the rural schoolsand taught in them for three years.

He took the job of 8th grade teacher in Hebron, North Dakota,in the fall of 1927. He had about 35 students in his eighth grade class. Mr. Shrum, the superintendent of schools suggested that he and the seventhgrade teacher departmentalize. This meant that one teach both grades English,Math and so on. And, he though that was a pretty good idea, except thatneither he or Mr. O. K. Seagle, the seventh grade teacher, wanted to teachgrammar. Mr. Roberts wasn't too good at it, but ended up saying to himself,"You just better take that grammar now and learn it once and for all"and so he did.

He went to Hebron in the fall of '27 and taught there forthree years, departmentalizing between 7th and 8th grades. Mr. Seagle wasthere that whole time and they enjoyed each other. Mr. Roberts had to say"I enjoyed those years immensely. While I was working with 7th and8th graders, I was ten years older than them but we always had a good timeand enjoyed each other. We would go on picnics in the fall, and playedsoftball and took along dinner, wieners and whatever at the time. So thateducation was important to the kids and to us as teachers and we reallymade some progress."

At the end of three years, 1930, he had two years of collegework and felt he had to go back to school. He felt like he knew what hewanted to do so he went back to Valley City to finish his degree.

At that time, 1933, during the depths of the depression,it was really tough to get a job. He graduated in the summer, in August. He applied for a position at teaching but just couldn't get one. Thatwinter and fall he picked potatoes, sold Christmas trees, shoveled walks,etc. Just peddling around all over the country trying to make a living.

He had an offer that year south of Jamestown for 115 dollarsand had been getting 130 dollars a year at Hebron so he turned it down. Not really realizing that 115 dollars during the depression was more than130 dollars a few years before. So, the next summer he thought to himself"don't be so picky and take the first job you get." so he did.

That job was a considerable distance south of Hebron atNorth Lemmon, North Dakota. That was a rural consolidated school. It washigh school grades 9 through 11. The twelfth grade had to go into townat that time. He did all the high school teaching with about 20 to 25 students. He would teach English to the 9th and 10th grades every year. He woulddo like that in all his classes. Doubling like that, he could teach a lotof work and still give the kids a foundation.

That's where he met his wife. They had a vacancy in the5-6-7-8 grades. She applied and they hired her. Mr. Roberts and she gotto be friends and in the spring in June they were married.

They moved from there and it was really tough going, reallytough. They moved to a place in South Dakota and taught there for a coupleof years. They then moved to a place south of Jamestown.

The superintendents of schools around there, five of them,decided they had to go back to school. They talked about it and figuresthey would have to go on every third Saturday in Grand Forks. They decided,since Grand Forks was quite a distance from Jamestown, they would save expensesand drive together. Every 15th week, Mr. Roberts would drive. He wouldhave to get up at 3:30 those mornings, eat, then drive from town to townto pick everybody up then go into Grand Forks.

That was hard education. Mr. Roberts taught five daysof the week, and he was basketball coach so he was out a couple nights,and then get up early Saturday morning was hard work.

He put in part of his fifth year and two summer sessionsand he got his degree at Grand Forks.

He was at Adrian, North Dakota at that time when he wasgoing at Grand Forks. He decided then that he should make a move. He toldthe school board "I have to have more money, I can't support my familyon 1,100 dollars a year. It's just totally impossible."

A few years later, while he was at Denhoff, North Dakota,they asked how much he wanted. He said hundred dollars, they thought hewas a little bit batty but they ended up giving him the 1,600.

The next year they asked how much he wanted.

"2,000" he said.

They turned it down.

He just simply pulled stakes and started applying at schools. He got the position of superintendent at Kennedy, Minnesota. He got paidmore than in North Dakota and even more than he asked for.

"I enjoyed teaching at Kennedy, although I had towork real hard. I was the only man there during the war. I had to do thecoaching the physical education, I had at least four subjects I was teachingall the time, so it was really tough." said Mr. Roberts

He enjoyed teaching in Minnesota because the superintendent(head of the school) was accepted much more by the boards here than in NorthDakota. In North Dakota, the boards thought they knew everything and mostweren't more than 8th grade graduates. You can see how they would kind ofrun against you a little bit.

He worked at Kennedy for three years, then went to southernMinnesota at Storden. He didn't take any further work. He would just goto superintendent meetings, and workshops, and things like that, they helpeddevelop your "know how.:

At Storden in southern Minnesota, he became involved inthe consolidation law. That was passed in 1947 the year he left Kennedy. There was a lot of consolidation going on in October of that year. Theschools around here, Kennedy, Humboldt were also being consolidated at thattime.

Mr. Roberts was doing the same thing in the schools byStorden. Since the rural schools were closed, the kids would have to comeinto town. They would be in Junior High at seventh grade instead of 9thgrade.

He was at Storden for six years and Gray Eagle for threeyears, mainly consolidating schools in the southern part of the state. He then broke his leg and came up to Humboldt in the fall of '56 and hasbeen here ever since.

He retired in 1964 and built his rock shop and had funwith that as he still is.

One day the phone rang, it was Mr. Bergan, auditor of RoseauCounty. He said, we've lost our County Superintendent, will you considerthe job.:

He laughed at him and said "why would I want to getback in that rat race again.

They talked about pay factors and the fact that it wasninety miles away and Mr. Roberts decided to attend their meeting.

He was there at ten o'clock that day and met with the commissioners. He had a good time with the fellows and they were interested in education.

The commissioners were in charge of the rural schools andhe knew that when he had a talking with them that the rural schools wouldhave to be consolidated in the next two years, 1970 would be the last year.

They got along quite nicely and he got paid a worthwhileamount.

He went over there in June 1968 and he was there for twofull years and seven months. He did like he did in southern Minnesota andgot all the schools consolidated except now he was the County Superintendent.

All the rural schools in the state are now consolidatedand are a part of a high school.

Well, that is about the end of Mr. Roberts' experienceof teaching school and as an administrator.


Roberts, O.A.Roberts, Humboldt, MN, Interview, January3, 1974

Roberts, Martha, Humboldt, MN, Interview, January 28, 1974


Roberts, O.A.Roberts, Humboldt, MN, Interview, January3, 1974

Roberts, Martha, Humboldt, MN, Interview, January 28, 1974