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A Teacher’s Challenges Sixty Years Ago

January 17, 2013

petralia soprana

Teachers never stop teaching – They just switch audience!

I start this new category on the stories I have heard in the course of my explorations around Sicily from people that I just happened to meet, but that have left an impression on me.

During my visit to Casa Madonnie, on the Madonie Mountains, while visiting Calogero, I met a lovely 81 year old lady, his mother, Pina. During my visit, I had several opportunities to interact and talk to Pina, and was intrigued when I learned she too had been a teacher. While we were talking, I realized she had that “inner greatness” and that I wanted to hear her story and share it, thus I got her permission to do so.

At first, Pina told of the times, sixty years ago, when she started her teaching career in that remote area, right there in the middle of the Madonie Mountains. She spoke of the challenging circumstances she endured and her story certainly proved to me that it was her will to succeed, her perseverance and strength that made it all work out for the best.

Pina is 81 years old today and she is such an interesting and charismatic lady that her spirit still brings joy to those around her. As we sat at her kitchen table, I asked how she had started her teaching career and immediately Pina started sharing her story. She started her teaching career in that mountainous region of Sicily where transportation from one area to another was certainly a challenge sixty years ago. In order to acquire any teaching assignment, teachers needed some experience which would give them credentials. Consequently, Pina started as a substitute teacher in the areas surrounding Petralia, her hometown.

As a substitute teacher, she would travel seven kilometers to teach. At times, she walked a good part of the way, but she soon had a friend who would give her a ride on his motorcycle. Soon, she realized she needed to acquire experience as a teacher with her own students so she sought her own students. After finding a group of students to teach, she started teaching and would go to their homes to teach. She was not paid during the assignment, but would get paid only at the end of the assignment, after the students passed an exam, which was given formally by an official of the school district. By teaching this way, the teacher earned the credits required to obtain her own teaching assignment in a school.

The following year, Pina got a teaching job in a town called Verde, 15 kilometers away from her hometown. She was so proud to recount how she travelled to the town on horseback, with her infant, both wrapped in a cape. At this point, I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind: A mother and her infant, both wrapped in a cape, riding a horse across the mountains! It was at this point of Pina’s story that I realized what a strong woman I was talking to and the richness of her life experiences. Pina told me how she rode the horse for three hours across the mountains and felt triumphant when she entered the town. Her word choice emphasized the sense of pride she still feels today in recalling the experience. In that assignment, she was teaching a total of ten students and they all ranged from first to fifth grade. Everyone worked together in a one room schoolhouse. Pina’s husband collaborated, as he taught History and Science, whereas Pina taught all the other subjects. Pina slept in the classroom and she explained how the effort was put forth by all the families of the students and how they would help with the caretaking of the infant and provide food and any other necessities for the teacher. Pina stayed in that place for months and it was at Easter that she returned for the first time to her home in Petralia. On that first trip home, she recalled, she rode with her husband, on a motor-cycle. When they rode home, there were four passengers on the motorcycle!

At this point, Pina explained that the motorcycle they were riding was a Harley, which had been left behind at the end of WWII by the American troops. As Pina explained some details regarding those times after the world war, she mentioned that when the war was over and the Germans and Americans had left, their vehicles quite often were left behind. The locals would then take these vehicles and fix them to use as transportation. Consequently, there were German DKV motorcycles and American ones available as the Harley Pina rode at that time.

After completing the academic year in Verde, Pina returned to the town adjacent to her hometown and taught there, in Madonnuzza. There she lived in a building she showed me, which used to be a clinic run by her uncle. Uncle left his practice in Madonnuzza and moved to the United States, exactly New Jersey, where his family still lives today.

Looking back, meeting and talking to Pina was a great pleasure and made me realize there are so many Sicilian stories to discover and share. As I travel off the beaten path, I realize how challenging life was for so many when transportation was surely not as accessible and easy as it is today. As I was parting from Pina, I learned that she is a writer and has written many of her own stories and poems to pass down to her family. What a lovely gift to have met her and I look forward to seeing her again when I return to Petralia.

6 Comments
  1. pamela permalink

    What a fabulous story! I had vivid visions of her on her horse, cape flying behind her, her baby in her arms….wow!

    • Yes, Pamela. As I was listening to the story, I had the same visions and realized I wanted to share this story!

  2. bellissimissimo ci siamo commossi tutti grazie rosanna

    • Calogero e Pina,

      Grazie a voi per aver condiviso questa storia che tanti hanno dichiarato e’ stata letta con molto piacere. Personalmente, e’ stata una gioia conoscere Pina e spero rivedervi tutti presto.
      Rosanna

  3. Tascha permalink

    I am of Sicilian descent, a teacher, and a former San Francisco dweller. Thanks for posting this!

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