Throughout her 47-year teaching career Thelma Stamps of Clarinda followed one basic motto she learned from her favorite teacher.
“My teacher in rural school was Miss Irene Olenius. I loved her. She made learning fun. That was always my motto - learning can be fun. I wanted my students to be safe in my room and have fun,” Stamps said.
Stamps, who will celebrate her 95th birthday Saturday, Nov. 30, taught in Shenandoah for 26 years. Prior to that, she taught seven years of rural school in Page and Taylor County; spent five years in New Market; and taught in Clarinda for nine years.
“I miss teaching a lot, even now. It’s the working and planning with children, communication with parents, knowing what’s going on in education and keeping up with the time. I miss not being with groups of teachers where you always learned something new,” Stamps said.
As a young girl, Stamps lived on a farm south of Villisca and attended Baker Cut Rural School in Montgomery County. Olenius served as Stamps’ teacher through seventh grade.
“I cried when she left in seventh grade. Back then you had to go to Red Oak to take a test to graduate from eighth grade and enter high school. I didn’t think I would pass once she left,” Stamps said.
However, Stamps passed the test and attended Villisca High School. Inspired by Olenius, Stamps took normal training to be a teacher while she was in high school. She graduated from Villisca in 1942.
With the normal training in high school, new teachers could start their career at the age of 18 and had two years to earn their college degree in education. However, Stamps was only 17 when she graduated from high school.
Stamps was issued a waiver by the Iowa Department of Education to start her teaching career in September at the age of 17 since she would turn 18 at the end of November. Stamps spent two years as a teacher at Dallas Center and then taught at Glasgow for two years. Both rural schools were located in Taylor County.
Meanwhile, Stamps joined a group of other young teachers from the area who attended Northwest Missouri State University during the summer to earn their Bachelor’s Degree to continue their careers as teachers. In 1973, Stamps also earned her Master’s in Education from Northwest Missouri State University.
Stamps married her husband, Jack, in 1946 after he was discharged from the military and the couple moved to Clarinda. Jack worked for many years with Iowa Power and Light in Clarinda.
Stamps was hired to teach at Norwich. She spent three years at the rural school. As a rural school teacher, Stamps taught all subjects for students of all ages through eighth grade.
“When I was at Dallas Center and Glasgow I stayed in a home and walked from their place to school. When I started at Norwich, they had cement roads so I could drive to school. I did not have to walk in the mud, so that was a plus,” Stamps said.
In 1949, Stamps joined the staff at New Market. She initially taught sixth through eighth grade and then moved to a first and second grade position.
After five years at New Market, Stamps was hired in 1954 to serve as a fourth grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School. She later moved to second grade and spent nine years in Clarinda.
While teaching in Clarinda, Stamps and her husband were contacted by the Christian Home, an orphanage in Council Bluffs, about their interest in adopting a child. The couple adopted their son, Steve, when he was a 4-year-old and later adopted their daughter, Annette. Since Annette was an infant, Stamps was released from her teaching duties for two years to care for her child.
“I hadn’t planned on going back to teaching, but the superintendent in Shenandoah contacted me and needed a teacher. He said I had been recommended by the staff there,” Stamps said.
Therefore, Stamps returned to the classroom in 1964 and stayed at Shenandoah for 26 years until she retired from teaching.
Stamps started her career in Shenandoah as a fifth grade teacher. She quickly made an impression on her students as she and another teacher were asked to serve as chaperones for a day trip to Chicago.
“Burlington Railroad offered an $18 trip to Chicago. We had to board the train in Red Oak. Once we arrived we went to several museums and had lunch on the lake,” Stamps said.
The next year, in an effort to strengthen her knowledge of science, Stamps enrolled in a series of classes on the subject. At the same time, the Shenandoah School District was departmentalized.
Stamps was assigned to serve as the new sixth grade science teacher. Drawing from the classes she was taking, Stamps introduced units on insects, metrics and the dissection of a rat.
“I learned a lot with the kids,” Stamps said.
However, near the end of her career, Stamps decided she wanted to teach a lower grade level. She moved to fourth grade and taught an upper level reading group.
Stamps divided her class into four groups. At the end of the year, each group would write and perform a play based on a story they had studied. The plays were performed in the lunch room for the students’ parents, grandparents and other guests.
“I have all these letters from my former students and all they talk about is how much fun they had with the plays. They really learned from them. That was the culmination of our reading book,” Stamps said.
While serving as a fourth grade reading teacher, Stamps was also selected to attend an international reading conference in Canada. “That was wonderful getting to meet those authors and hear their stories,” she said.
Over the course of her 47-year teaching career, Stamps saw many changes in education. The most significant was the shift toward the use of electronics, ranging from calculators to computers, in the classroom.
As a result, Stamps said there has been shift away from handwriting to keyboarding along with a change in the way students do research.
“During the second semester of second grade we moved from printing to cursive writing. Now, you don’t see that beautiful handwriting,” Stamps said. “I also don’t think they do as much deep reading as we did. Every room had a set of encyclopedias, but that is not the case now.”
Still, looking back on her career, Stamps said she was pleased to have as positive an impact on her students as Miss Olenius did on her when she was a young girl in rural school.
“I always loved being a teacher because every child was special. It makes you feel good to impact so many students. It’s always a thrill to see my former students and see how they have succeeded in life,” Stamps said.