Whenever we hear or speak of the term, “A Vanishing Species” we are inclined to confine our thinking to that of a vanishing plant or animal species. There are several other vanishing specie of the “Homo Sapiens” variety…..World War II Veterans and Permit Teachers….and the two are connected much more closely than most people expect.
Although the history of permit teachers dates back prior to the 1940’s it was during the war years of 1939-1945 that the move to employ permit teachers was accelerated as replacements for regular teachers because many qualified teachers enlisted in the military or had taken military assignments.
According to Margaret (Szwaluk) Lesperance who taught at Keyes Union School,
“It was the patriotic and popular thing to do.”
Cathy (Madill) Orchard taught at Excelsior School from 1945-46. “It seems strange to thank the war for anything, but I can say that if it hadn’t happened the way it did, I might not have experienced teaching and the enjoyment I have had during my years in the classroom.”
Anne Yanchyshyn, another permit teacher of this era is quoted as saying,” Simply put, they are the teachers (mainly teenagers) who kept our schools open during World War II to aid Canada’s war effort.
Without the Permit Teachers, many schools would have had to close.”
Many of the Permit Teachers had completed their Grade 11 or Grade 12 and some were fortunate
enough to enroll in a six week “quickie” Teacher Training Course to prepare them for the “adventure ahead”. Others went directly from being a student in the previous year to becoming a teacher the following year. One aspiring young teacher expressed his experience this way,
“I was working on the CN Railroad as a section hand pounding spikes one day and several days later I was pushing chalk at a one room rural school called Tartakiw, located northwest of Gilbert Plains.”
The experiences these novice teachers endured varied as did their number, some estimated as high as 250 during the peak war years. There is however a common thread of shared experiences shared by these young aspirants to the teaching profession.
Irene (Arnal) Kuhl shared this experience,
“At seventeen and a half, I began my teaching career in a one room rural school in the Glenboro district. I had sixteen students from grades one to nine. This was quite a challenge but very enjoyable. I had come from a home that had electricity and running water, so the lack of these in my school presented a challenge. I was faced with the challenge of learning how to light gas lanterns, coal oil lamps and fetching water from a well.”
Other challenges and new experiences faced by these teachers would fill volumes and could hardly be related in an article such as this. Some of the common themes included homesickness, being overwhelmed trying to teach 8 or 9 grades in a classroom, disciplining students, some not much younger than the teacher, getting to school, enduring cold classrooms…malfunctioning or temperamental stoves…..remember the “Waterman Waterbury Stoves? Of course teachers also had to prepare a Christmas concert that rivalled other schools nearby and also make sure the students kept up the requirement for sports excellence at the local Field Days! Sometimes the living quarters known as teacherages left much to be desired….no indoor plumbing, poor construction, etc.
Another event during the school year was the dreaded visit(s) by the school inspector who always seemed to manage to show up at the most inopportune times!!!!! Many were kind, understanding educators but there were some who could almost be described as tyrannical. One teacher recalls his days as a student in northwestern Manitoba seeing his teacher sitting at her desk sobbing after a visit from one of these latter type inspectors.
Despite many of the difficulties faced by Permit teachers in their initial year of teaching, they were not dissuaded from continuing on to “Normal School/Teachers College” to become qualified teachers and have left a legacy of quality education delivered to hundreds of Manitoba students.
To commemorate the contribution of Permit Teachers, Dr. Louisa Loeb, a retired University of Brandon professor who once taught on permit initiated in 2005 a Permit Teachers Reunion, solicited articles about Permit Teachers’ experiences and compiled them into a book called, “Manitoba Permit Teachers of World War II”
These Permit Teachers’ Reunions have continued on an annual basis since the initial one and this year Permit Teachers are gathering for their Dr. Louisa Loeb 12th Annual Permit Teachers of Manitoba Reunion on July 14 at the Viscount Gort Hotel, 1670 Portage Ave., Winnipeg. All former Permit Teachers and former students of Permit Teachers are invited to attend, hence the theme, “Students and Teacher Together Again”
For more information on this reunion, please contact the Registrar, Edith Alexiuk at 37 Weaver Bay, Winnipeg, MB. R2M 2G5 Tel: 204-256-6484
This article submitted by the Dr. Louisa Loeb 12th Annual Permit Teachers of Manitoba Reunion Committee