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100 Years Ago

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 Feature on school teachers. Topic: EDUCATION
Compiled by Jim Sayre in July, 1998


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"On or about the first day of a November nearly fifty years since, on a cold winter morning, with plenty of snow on the ground, in school district No. 4, Salem township, Shelby county, there answered to roll call sixty-one scholars, large and small, ranging in age from the six year old urchin to the twenty year old, six foot giant.

The most important qualification of teachers in those days was their dexterity in the wielding of the birch, and their astuteness in the detection of boys who were unfortunate enough to be discovered in the breaking of some of the numerous rules read in the hearing of all the pupils on the opening day of school by the teacher, and approved by the Board of Directors, for the governing of the school during the term for which the teacher was employed. The teacher’s wages ranged in amount from $15 to $25, and board thrown in. Teachers boarded ‘round;’ that is, each patron was required to give entertainment to the teacher one week at a time until the complete circuit of the district was made; then start again at the beginning of the circuit, and so continue throughout the term. These duties were cheerfully assumed by the good housewives, especially when the teacher was good company, could crack his joke and was able to eat a hearty meal, thus indicating to the housekeeper his appreciation of her good cooking, and a hint dropped occasionally that her good cheer was a ‘leetle’ superior to that which he had been compelled to endure, just a few weeks prior, at another neighbor’s just across the fields."

"I remember this morning of the first day. We were all on the ground early, more for the purpose of sizing up the teacher than a desire for study.

In due course of time, this great personage hove in sight, astride a great, ambling, bony, gray horse, with a long striped carpet sack hanging from the horn of the saddle, well filled with a few books and other appliances and clothing sufficient for a winter campaign....We then all assembled in the old school house, crowded in almost as thick as sardines in a box. There were no backs to any of the seats, and if our legs did not happen to be long enough to reach the floor, circulation could be kept up by gently swinging them back and forth, the rapidity of the motion always being gauged by the length of the leg, like the pendulum of a clock.

First in order that morning was the taking of the names and ages of the scholars; next as to qualifications—who could spell and read, write and cipher. There were three young men in attendance on that day who were giants in size—Bill A. Roberts, A.A. Dunston and Bill Day. The first two had ciphered as far as the single rule of three, but had neglected to learn the multiplication table... The teacher humiliated them to the extent that they could do no more ciphering until the table was thoroughly learned and could be repeated from start to finish, which they proceeded to do with protest. Poor Bill Day, upon examination, was found to be absolutely illiterate; the letters of the alphabet to him were as unknown and as mysterious as the translation of Virgil would be to a Sioux Indian. When noon came Bill put on his hat and left the house, and never returned to attend school again in that district.

This was about all that was accomplished that first forenoon, and we were then dismissed for dinner. All having brought our baskets with us, we proceeded to satisfy appetites which were whetted up to proportions commensurate with the amount of provender furnished by mothers who were adepts in this line. Soon after the noon hour had passed the teacher called school to order by repairing to the rear end of the school house, and with a long paddle, made from a clap board, and used for various purposes, among others in removing ashes from the large iron stove, which occupied the center of the room, and in calling the school from play to study, gave three resounding raps on the weather boarded gable, and, with roars from his mouth of ‘Books!’ ‘Books!’ which could be heard a much further distance than the braying of any mule in all the surrounding country. Two of the school Directors, in the meantime, had made their appearance, and after the school had all quieted down the teacher announced that the ‘rules’ of the school would now be read...and commenced in a drawling, monotonous tone of voice to read something about as follows... "Rule 1—School will take up at 8 o’clock, and continue in session until 12 m., and then be dismissed for dinner. Rule 2—School will take up at 1 p.m., and close for the day at 4 p.m. Rule 3—No whispering will be allowed during the sessions of school. Rule 4—No loud or boisterous talk in the school room during dinner. Rule 5—No snow balling at noon or play time, or on the road to and from the school. Rule 6—No profanity or vulgarity will be permitted at noon on the school grounds…"

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"Rule 7—No fighting, quarrelling or wrangling will be permitted on the school ground...Rule 8—The teacher will have control of all pupils after leaving home in the morning until their return home in the evening. Rule 9—No jumping on sleighs or sleds will be permitted by any pupil at noon, or in coming to school or returning home.

One morning about three weeks after school had begun we noticed the teacher approaching the school house from the beech woods...with at least four very formidable looking long beech gads under his arm, trimming one off and smoothing it up as he walked, all of which looked, to say the least, a very suspicious circumstance, and soon went far in proof of the fact that our pedagogue was a past master in the wielding of the birch; in fact, he from thenceforth believed not in the sparing of the rod."


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