No Greater Reward

PARKER H. KENDALL, who lives on Long Island, teaches in the New York schools, where the rewards are material as well as psychic.

Although teachers are not given generous financial rewards for their labors, they arc compensated for their economic deprivation with psychic rewards. A psychic reward is that warm feeling of satisfaction a teacher experiences whenever she realizes that the chore she is performing for society is onerous yet noble. Of all Americans, only teachers are entitled to psychic rewards. Occasionally it is argued that all people who work with children are eligible for psychic rewards. But this is not so. Psychic rewards are not given to child psychiatrists or pediatricians. Nor to guards at reform schools. Not even to parents, for that matter.

The all-time record for psychicreward reception is held by Minnie Bancroft from the Iowa town of Perkin Flats (pop. 1029). When Miss Minnie retired at eighty-seven after teaching sixty-seven years in the town’s elementary school, the Perkin Flats Gazette ran two full pages of testimonials. At the retirement ceremony, she was showered with awards, both financial and psychic. More than five hundred Perkin Flats citizens who had Miss Minnie in the first grade presented her with a twenty-four-foot-long “Best Wishes Upon Your Retirement” scroll. Thomas Randolf, lawyer and town clerk, promised Miss Minnie he would prepare free of charge the necessary legal papers anytime she wanted to apply to the County Farm. A local fraternal organization gave her a $5 gift certificate toward the purchase of new glasses — or, more correctly, a new glass, since one of Miss Minnie’s eyes gave out some fifteen years ago. (Out of deference to the memory of Miss Minnie’s good eye, electric lights were installed in the local schoolhouse four years ago.) The town’s merchants told her they would grant her a 2 percent discount on any purchases over $10 and a 5 percent discount on anything over $100. The local Grange promised her a month’s supply of fresh vegetables every summer. Dr. Blackwell said he would accept three jars of Miss Minnie’s home-canned piccalilli in lieu of cash the next time he treated her for any illness classified by Blue Cross as “generally not incapacitating.”

Howard Crosley, an insurance agent, presented Miss Minnie with a $2000 life insurance policy, the beneficiary being listed as Mr. Crosley’s favorite charity. (She was never married and had no known relatives.) Evelyn Wheeler, president of the Perkin Flats Teachers Association, came on stage and gave Miss Minnie an orchid corsage and two ball-point pens, plus a year’s supply of refill cartridges, in honor of Miss Minnie’s leadership in rallying opposition against a representative of a teachers’ union which a few years ago tried to organize Perkin Flats teachers. Finally, Harold Adamson, president of the Perkin Flats Farmers’ Savings and Loan and president of the Board of Education, announced that, with Miss Minnie’s consent, he could now reveal that Miss Minnie would be no financial burden on the town after she retired, since she had, over the years, been setting aside every payday 10 percent of her salary. Miss Minnie’s account at the Perkin Flats Farmers’ Savings and Loan now totaled $12,863.29, a sum, Mr. Adamson assured the assembled, that would easily see anyone who lived as frugally as Miss Minnie through another ten years.

Now these material rewards, though revealing the love one community had for its first-grade teacher, were nothing as compared with the psychic rewards that accompanied the giving of the gifts. Miss Minnie, it is said, went home that evening and cried three days straight, so great was her gratitude. And, some Perkin Flatsers say, it was out of gratitude that she decided to die when she reached ninety-seven, exactly on the day her savings at the Perkin Flats Farmers’ Savings and Loan ran out. Nobody had told Miss Minnie, but the “charity” beneficiary of her $2000 insurance policy was the funeral parlor of Samuel Underwood, who, through an understanding with Mr. Crosley (who had bought the insurance with nickels and dimes collected from Perkin Flats Elementary School firstgraders), buried Miss Minnie in a casket for which he charged only the wholesale price, turning over the remaining money to a civic committee, which arranged for the burial ceremony and purchased a headstone befitting a schoolteacher. The remaining $1900 was donated to the elementary school for the installation of indoor plumbing. On the day of interment almost every citizen of Perkin Flats filed past Miss Minnie’s grave. Posthumous psychic rewards were bestowed upon her for three solid hours.

American schoolteachers today, caught up in hollering and picketing for higher pay and improved working conditions, would do well to remember that their profession is the only one that entitles its practitioners to something that money cannot buy. Any American teacher who worked at it diligently might even end up being her community’s Miss Minnie. Could there be any greater reward, psychic or otherwise?