Friday, March 20, 2009

One-room school remembered...

Roe Cobblestone Schoolhouse
South Butler, New York

One-room school remembered...

There were 190,000 one-room schools scattered throughout the American countryside in 1919. Surprisingly, as late as four years ago, there were still almost 400 in existence, most of them in our Western states. Lewis County in Upstate New York had 240 one-room schools in 1875. There are none today and only tumble down relics of these simple buildings still exist at few crossroads in the county. Look carefully and you can discover remnants of others that have been retrofitted to other purposes.

Gone also are the one-room school "marms." These hardy (mostly) women ruled over their tiny kingdoms of learning with no help from a principal or secretary, or doctor or nurse, or remedial expert, school psychologist, music or gym teacher or custodian... They were, in the solitude of their one-room country cross road school, all of these.

Life in a one-room school

Wiley Schoolhouse
Hogback Road, Savannah

It wasn't unusual for students in a rural one-room school to have the same teacher for many years in a row, a concept referred to as "looping" when it's used in larger schools. And in one-room schools, the older students often helped the younger ones.

These qualities made one-room schools unique centers of learning, sometimes today, worth a second look from a world that has passed them by. But the schools were often more than a place to get an education. They are also important centers of community activity for the rural areas where they existed.

Their days were numbered. Depopulation was one reason for the closure of some one-room schools. Others were lost as states and localities consolidated one-room schools into larger facilities in an effort to save money through "economies of scale."

The teacher was almost always a single lady and had to be a "paragon of virtue." She also had to be a tireless worker with the "patience of Job." First of all, because of the transportation of the time, it was sometimes necessary that she board in the district. One Tug Hill teacher actually moved into her one-room school for the winter. It was not always easy to find a place to stay and when one was found, it usually left "something to be desired." Sometimes, it was with one of those big families and she would have to share a room with one of the younger girls. There was no privacy, so the teacher stayed at the schoolhouse as long as daylight would permit. However, with all her duties, there was always work to be done there. Her typical day went something akin to this: She arose early, dressed for school, ate breakfast, packed her own lunch and walked to school, whatever the distance. Upon arriving, she carried wood and kindling from the woodshed and built the fire. As the building was warming, she carried in the day’s water for drinking and washing hands. The room tidied, lessons for the day reviewed, plans were made and questions, plans and instructions were written on the blackboard.

Time was always too short, as pupils soon began to arrive with things to share, questions to be answered, quarrels to be settled, etc. etc. From 9 a.m. until school was dismissed at 4 p.m., not one moment could she call her own. During the day, she "wore the hats" of superintendent, principal, counselor, teacher, coach, nurse, janitor, referee, baby-sitter and others, Decisions to be made were her own — there was no one to help or advise and no telephone to call for help should she need it. Even during recesses and the noon hour, she was on playground duty. When 4 p.m. came and the last child had left, she drew a sigh of relief, picked up the broom, did the sweeping, checked the buildings and grounds, began her planning for the next day's lessons and on and on.

Finally, as the sun was getting low in the sky, she trudged her weary way toward her boarding home, loaded down with a big pile of papers to correct. It took a special kind of person to be a teacher in a one- room rural school. And if she were that special person, she received her reward in the satisfaction and joy of her work. Her pupils loved and respected her — they wanted to help her and to share with her. "An apple for the teacher" was no trite expression. There were apples for the teacher and many other goodies as well. Until a monitor schedule could be set up, the pupils vied with each other over who would clean the erasers, wash the blackboard, raise the flag, ring the bell, etc. Students wanted to learn for her and learn they did in spite of many adverse conditions. Parents, in general, were behind her in her efforts and gave cooperation. Most of them were advocates of the old saying, "If you get a licking at school, you will get another one when you get home." Therefore, seldom was such a punishment needed. Parents taught respect and honor for the teacher. Many a young female student was inspired by her “schoolmarm” to become a teacher in later years.

Source: Gordie Allen - Journal-Republican - Allen’s Alley column 3-20-09

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