Willa Cather taught high school from 1901 to 1906. Her first position was at Central High School in Pittsburgh; two years later she transferred to Allegheny High School. Her students remembered her as a stimulating teacher, and one, Phyllis Martin Hutchinson, wrote: "She knew that the only way to learn to write was to write, and she set us to writing themes, one every class day, usually in the first ten or fifteen minutes of the period" ("Reminiscences of Willa Cather as a Teacher," Bulletin of the New York Public Library, June 1956). During the summer vacations, at Christmastime, during the spring, and even after graduation, Cather entertained her students at tea in the McClung home. She was said to be interested always in what they were doing and if they liked it. One of her more famous students, Norman Foerster, the critic and teacher, said, "Her teaching seemed natural and human, but without contagious sparks." (Quoted in E. K. Brown, Willa Cather: A Critical Biography, p. 72).
After S. S. McClure came to Pittsburgh to recruit Cather for his magazine she decided to leave teaching. At the end of the school year she wrote an open letter to her homeroom class that was printed in the Allegheny High School newspaper at the beginning of the next term. The letter was reprinted in Chrysalis: Willa Cather in Pittsburgh, 1896-1906, by Kathleen D. Byrne and Richard C. Snyder (Pittsburgh: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1980).
Dear Boys and Girls:
Now that I find that I shall not return to the High School next fall, I have a word to say to you. A number of my pupils in various classes, and especially in my Reporting Class, asked me, when I came away, whether I should be with you next year. At that time I fully expected to be. The changes in my plans which will prevent my doing so have been sudden and unforeseen. I should hate to have you think that I had not answered you squarely when you were good enough to ask whether I should return, or to have you think that I put you off with an excuse.
I had made many plans for your Senior work next year and had hoped that we should enjoy that work together. I must now leave you to enjoy it alone. One always has to choose between good things it seems. So I turn to a work I love with very real regret that I must leave behind, for the time at least, a work I had come to love almost as well. But I much more regret having to take leave of so many students whom I feel are good friends of mine. As long as I stay in New York, I shall always be glad to see any of my students when they come to the city.
I wish you every success in your coming examinations and in your senior work next year.
Willa CatherWah Hoo, September 1906.