District School

Katy discribes Josiah's rural school and tells more of her experiences as a teacher in another letter to Nephew Ray, September, 1960.

Dear Nephew Ray,

No, I didn't attend a district school as a child. My Pa kept a store in town so I went to a village school where there were more teachers and the classes were divided by age. But your Uncle Jos went to a country school and this is how he says it was.

The school house was painted with red barn paint and had a bell in a tower for teacher to ring, calling students in for class. There was an entry-way where wraps were hung and lunch buckets stored and where the water pail stood, filled each morning from the well to quench scholar's physical thirst. Their thirst for knowledge was often less urgent.

There was just one room with rows of benches and desks and a raised platform at the front for the teacher's desk. On the wall behind the desk were slate blackboards above which a wooden box held maps that could be pulled down like a window shade. Teacher had a long stick with a hook on one end for doing that. That stick was also used to point out things written on the blackboard or a student being asked a question. There was a wood stove for the winter which the older boys tended, chopping wood (donated by school board members) for it before school and tending the fire during the day. Behind the school house a well-worn path led to the Outhouse, cold in winter, hot and bug infested in summer, odoriferous no matter what the temperature.

The youngest children sat in front under teacher's eye. The upper grades sat to the back and came to the front to recite. There was much memorizing and reciting during which the little ones got a preview of what they would soon be learning. Everyone studied the history and geography of our country, arithmetic, spelling, and literature, oh, and grammar, tho that was a losing battle with common usage.

One year there was a man teacher who was particularly strict. He used to rap the children's hands with a ruler which wasn't unusual, but then he took to belaboring the older boys with a cane until finally they got together and gave him such a beating that he resigned. The older boys could make a teacher's life misrerable but if she could win their friendship and get their interest, there was nothing they wouldn't do for her. Attendance for older children depended on whether boys were needed at home for farm work, or girls to do housework in case of a new baby or mother's illness.

I was fortunate in my rural school for the people in the district were all aware of the importance of education. Many of the eighth graders went on to town for high school and I did my best to prepare them for it. One of the boys I taught later became a school principal and two are doctors so I feel quite proud of "my children".

The children loved putting on programs and would work ever so hard to get one ready. We had programs just for ourselves quite often but best of all, they loved inviting their parents to be an audience. There were few amusements in those days so everyone enjoyed attending school doings. The room would be decorated with students pictures, spelling lists, essays, or written tests, and neatness counted as well as correctness. The student with the best penmanship wrote the program on the blackboard and signed his or her name. My, wouldn't that family be proud!

Everyone crowded into the benches or stood along the walls to listen. If it was Thanksgiving, for instance, we'd sing "We Gather Together" with the audience joining in and then the older children would give readings on the history of Thanksviging while the younger ones would speak pieces and sing songs. After everyone had performed it was my duty to say how hard all the children had worked to get the program ready and thank everyone for coming. Then folks would wander around admiring the displays and remembering when they "sat just here" and what a time they had when old Miss Grundy was teacher.

We had spelling bees too, sometimes with adults and children alike taking part. Usually the preacher would call the words while I kept score for which I was very grateful as I do my best spelling with a dictionary in front of me.

My Day of Terror was when the district superintendent came to visit. He would question the children to see if they were learning at the prescribed rate. After he had reduced everyone to a quivering pulp with his questions and I was ready to collapse in nervous tears, he would stand in the middle of the platform and lecture on the value of education and the gratitude children should feel for the opportunities they had in this particular school. At the close of this pompous display, Mr. D.S. would depart for the next school under his jurisdiction and we would all heave a sigh of relief then spend the rest of the day having songs and games or finishing whatever book we were reading together.

Part of the life of a district school teacher was boarding out. I was fortunate in being able to live all of both years with one family. Many times teachers moved each month to a different home or she would live at one house and board at another. Not the most pleasant life-style.

It may have been crowded in district school and what is now known as "substandard" but we turned out some important, intelligent, and well-educated people from the many district schools in our country. It isn't the building that is important but the teachers and children who study there. All the modern, elegant buildings in the world can't make up for disinterested teachers or children who are not encouraged by parents who know the value of education.

Uncle Jos sends regards as do I,

Your Aunt Katy