Friday, July 2, 2010

Walk a Mile to School: A One Room School

When I think of being a teacher, I don’t expect to get up at four o’clock in the morning, walk a mile to school, and then get the wood burning stove ready. I don’t think any of us would be envious of that job. After doing my research on one room school houses I realized how the teachers of that time played a huge role in how students are taught today. Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you my interests in one room schools houses and the teachers of that time. I would like to inform you of the requirements of being a teacher, their general lifestyles and their roles.

By Alycia Fritzen
Southeast Community College

Before the 1900’s there were hardly any requirements for being a teacher. I know that sounds crazy to us considering all the education and experience a teacher needs today. According to Bobbie Kalman, the author of a One Room School (1994), a teacher needed to be able to read, write and be ready to handle rough and ready students. So therefore most teachers were men and they were called school masters. If a teacher was female, she was not allowed to marry and if she did, she was not allowed to teach.

By the late 1800’s parents did want teachers to have more training. Schools opened up on the East coast and offered a two year training program for their education. Some teachers took normal training at local high schools (Graves, 2002).

Now that I’ve told you about the requirements of a teacher I will tell you about the way a teacher lived. David Steinecker, the author of A Frontier Teacher (1994), says that a teacher’s salary was low so teachers had to “board around,” meaning they lived with their students families. This boarding technique left teacher without a place to call home. In addition, teachers had no privacy and they were always under the watchful eye of the families they were living with. This also meant a teacher’s job was never done because they had to tutor the children at night as well.
Like I said the average teaching salary was very low. Since money was scarce a teacher was paid in goods rather than money. This was a challenge as well. Most teachers tried to exchange their goods at a local store for money, but that didn’t always work (Steinecker, 1994).

So, now that I’ve shared with you a teacher’s way of life I will tell you some of the roles a teacher was faced with. Obviously a teacher taught reading and writing but they were also expected to teach everything from manners to hygiene. My generation would be offended today if a teacher told us to pull our pants up or take a shower.
According to Kerry Graves, the author of Going to school during Pioneer Times (2002), first thing in the morning the students showed their manners to the teacher by bowing or curtseying to the teacher. Boys and girls were punished for not having good manners.

For an example: arriving late and falling asleep in class, or answering questions incorrectly could leave you wearing a dunce hat. I thought it was interesting that one of the punishments was to write the same sentence over and over, and I can actually remember doing that in elementary school (Graves, 2002).

Just like today some students were able
to use their parent's "car" to travel to school. 

Of course teaching the Three R’s was the main role of the teacher. School books were expensive so many students brought books from home or were taught from the Bible (Graves, 2002). Memorization played a huge role in the one room school houses, especially of the multiplication tables. My next door neighbor Dale said last week he remembered memorizing his tables to the Yankee Doodle song (D. Minster, 2010).

Anyways, I find all this stuff interesting because I want to be a teacher myself. So after telling you the requirements the living styles and the roles of the one room school house teacher, I hope you found it interesting too. The teachers of that time played a huge role in the settlement of our country. The legacy of these teachers and schools will not be forgotten. However, getting up at four in the morning and walking a mile to school, well…… forget that.


D. Minster (personal communication, May 2, 2010)

Graves, K. (2002). Going to school in pioneer times. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press.

Kalman, B. (1994). A one room school. NY: Crab Tree Publishing Company.

Steinecker, D. (1994). A frontier teacher. Vero Beach, FL: The Rourke Book Company.

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