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Soup Swap/ In Praise of Teachers

Last month, at the end of my son's third grade year, parents were asked to bring soup one day for teachers to swap and take home. I looked through the list of soups people had already committed to bringing, wanting to do something different, and decided on Czech Lentil Soup (recipe below).

At the same time, for months now actually, I've been working on illustrating and self publishing my great grandfather's memoirs--that is, illustrated with photographs and personal papers of his that I've scanned. (Link below to purchase it, if you're inclined.) He was a schoolteacher in Fayette and Lavaca Counties in Texas from the mid 1890s into the 1950s. His personal papers and memoirs are a rich trove of information about Texas rural schools in the early 20th century and the Czech community at the time. From student attendance rolls to his work contracts with trustees to poems written out for students to copy for practicing handwriting, he saved an amazing number of historically-significant pieces of paper.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

As I attended end of year awards ceremonies at my son's school, sent money with him in his backpack for the class pizza party, and glanced at the livestream on Facebook of the 5th grade graduation, the contrast between Texas public school in 1917-18 and 2017-18 was remarkable, but so were the similarities.

Teachers are, a century later, still shamefully underpaid. Below is my great grandfather's teacher's contract for the 1917-18 school year when he taught in Ammansville, Texas. He made $80 a month for the months that school was in session. (In the summers, he supplemented whatever he'd saved from the school year by teaching night classes to adults in English or Czech or arithmetic.) But unlike teachers today, he was able to raise a large family (10 children) on his income. 

Teachers are still buying their own school supplies and making do with what they can pull together from the school, the parents, and their own resources. About his first teaching job in 1891, my great grandfather wrote "In those days the children did not get their books from the state, nor was there any requirement that the books be uniform. Each child learned from what was available. My pupils had McGuffy, Swinton, and Appleton readers, all in the same grade. Regular attendance was not obligatory, and children belonged in school (came of school age) at the age of 8. In country schools you would see no children over 14. Few of the children got as far as fifth grade. The teacher who would work the cheapest was hired; there were no funds for a decent salary. Few schools had living quarters for the teachers, so they took room and board in private homes." 

Teachers still send home "souvenirs" of the school year, but look at the difference below in a hundred years.

My son above with a souvenir of his 3rd grade year... an envelope covered in positive words that his friends identified with him and an "award" inside for being voted the Best Teller of Stories in the class.

At left, is the souvenir my grandfather paid to have printed for his students in 1908, which, in contrast, is so formal and serious. The souvenir is two pages, the top page is on the left, and the page on the right was underneath. A ribbon was tied through the holes at the top to keep the two cards together. A plain sheet of vellum was sandwiched between them. (If your grandparent or great grandparent attended Grieve school in 1908, contact me and I'll send you a scan of the image above. The pupils' names are listed on the souvenir.)

My great grandfather doesn't mention whether students ever brought food to him at school, but I always try to oblige when my son's school hosts lunches for the teachers, has potlucks in class, or asks for pies for teachers to take home at Thanksgiving. And by dishing up something Czech, I'm honoring my son's family heritage. I think of my great grandfather wrangling kids of multiple ages in an unairconditioned school house in the Texas heat with limited resources. (See photo at the top of this post of my great grandfather's class in Praha, Texas in the early 20s.) All praise Texas teachers, past and present!

Czech Lentil Soup
by Joe Novosad
from Travis-Williamson Counties Czech Heritage Cookbook, 1996

1 (8 oz.) pkg. lentils
1 qt. cold water (*I used chicken broth)
1 lg. carrot
2 sticks celery (opt.)
1 T. cooking oil
1 med. onion, chopped
1 T. flour
salt, to taste
garlic (opt.)

In a pot, soak lentils overnight with just enough water to just barely cover lentils. Then add cold water, sliced carrots, sliced celery, and bring to a boil. In a frying pan, saute onion with oil and add flour and cook until brown

Add this thickening to boiling soup and then bring soup to simmer, and simmer until lentils and carrots are tender.

Note from J. Novosad: In the Czech Republic, they add finely chopped clove of garlic to the soup with the carrots.


  1. I'm going to have to try that soup, definitely with garlic! Fascinating to read about differences and similarities in teaching now and early 20th century. Can you link to your Great Grandfather's memoir?

    1. Hey! Thanks for reading. Right now I'm selling the book on as an in-hand book (not an ebook). I added a button to the page on the off chance you want to own one. :)

  2. . Really many thanks! Hold writing. I'm so happy for the blog. Actually thanks
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