A look at some additional reflections about life in one-room schoolhouses, from the educators themselves:
The challenge to be creative
I attended Illinois State Normal in 1947 and 1948. I obtained a temporary teacher’s certificate and taught at the North Hume School north of Tampico in Illinois in 1948 and 1949. I was 19 and had students in all eight grades.
I was driving a 1929 Buick with cable brakes. In the winter, to the amazement of my students, I arrived at school and put on a jumpsuit and crawled under my car with a blow torch to thaw and dry the brake lines. I then had brakes that worked when I left that afternoon.
North Hume had electricity, running water, and two indoor bathrooms. Most schools had outdoor toilets. The building had a quirky furnace. When it didn’t turn on, I would go to the basement and kick on the spot a board member had marked with red paint.
Because our local high school did not have enough students to field a football team, basketball was the sport of choice. My school had a basketball hoop the parents had installed.
In the spring, I brought bats and balls to school and we formed a baseball team. We started playing other one-room schools. The students piled in my old Buick or with a couple of mothers. They provided treats after the games. Teachers took turns being the umpire. It was a fun time.
The biggest challenge that year was when the county superintendent placed medieval history among our required studies. My mother, a former teacher, and I went over different ways to make this an interesting subject so it wouldn’t be all dates and battles.
My dad built an elevated sandbox. I sent four older boys to the river a half mile behind the school with buckets to bring back sand. Many trips to the nearby library were required. The boys created horses, knights, and armor. The girls made the paper doll girls and their wardrobes. They created castles too. We recreated the battles and the taking of the castles. A one-room teacher had to be creative to keep the interest of all of the children.
One incident occurred during a lazy afternoon. I noticed two boys having a spitball fight. Borrowing an idea from my mother’s teaching days, I kept my culprits after school. I had each boy make 100 spit wads and throw them all over the room. When they were done, they had to collect 100 spit wads each and place them on my desk. There was not another spit wad fight after that.
I had a hyper-active little girl in first grade. I would look up from what I was doing and find her standing on her head in the aisle. Today she is the CEO of a large manufacturing company. One child was chronically ill in class. I started handing out peppermint candies at the start of his class and that problem was solved. I did ask his parents first.
I learned a great deal attending and teaching in a one-room country school. After I moved to Texas in 1949, I continued teaching by tutoring. After my retirement in 1992, I volunteered at the East Texas Literacy Council.
Fay (Price) Anderson ’48
From exterminator to peacemaker
Edith (Knoche) Chaffer grew up on a farm in northern Tazewell County. She attended a one-room school in East Peoria from 1912-1920, graduated high school and then attended ISNU, where she earned a provisional teaching certificate.
While at Normal, she stayed at a rooming house and traveled from her home near East Peoria on the Illinois Interurban Electric Railway. She began teaching in country schools in 1925 and did so until 1936 in schools near Mackinaw, Morton, and East Peoria.
When her career began, she acquired a 1929 Model A Ford sedan. She used that car to drive back to her home on weekends. Typically she roomed in farm homes near the school during the week. Her teaching experiences are recorded in Country School Memories by Bonnie Hughes Falk.
“When I began teaching, I had six weeks of college training and two hours credit from an extension course. I received $80 a month most of the time, once receiving $90 and another time $110 a month.
“On the first day of school one year, the wife of one of the school directors was very gracious to me. She told me that she had cleaned the school and worked hard at it. She said that she didn’t disturb the teacher’s desk because she thought I’d prefer to clean it.
“When I opened the desk drawer, out jumped a mouse! The children broke into laughter. Several of the boys gave chase and killed it. The children said that was nothing; all their teachers had mouse trouble. One used to stand on her chair while the boys chased and killed the mice. I laid in a supply of traps and soon had control.
“One morning I came to school and saw that a mouse had gotten caught by its tail and was running around the room dragging the trap. I couldn’t stand handling mice, so when a boy walked by my school on his way to catch a ride to high school, I asked him to come in and do away with the mouse. He did so, with a laugh that he tried to hide.”
Another memory she shared involved keeping peace between students.
“I had a boy pupil who had grown to about six feet at grade school age. One day he got into a fight in the playground. When I saw the boys were fighting, I dashed out and got between them and sent them back to their seats. When later I met up with a farmer who had been working in the field near the school, he laughed and told me how funny it was to see a little woman control those big boys!”
Submitted by Edith’s son, Robert Chaffer ’61, M.S. ’63, who attended a one-room school just after WWII. “I cherish those three years that shaped my early learning,” Robert said.
A routine that worked
I always wanted to be a teacher. As a child, playtime would find me hanging on a blackboard on the wall, lining my dolls up on the bed, along with quart jars (to increase my class size), and teaching them endlessly.
In 1929, with a loan from my brother Russell, I entered ISNU. I went to two years of college for $1,100. I married the day before I graduated. During the Depression, you could not teach if you were married, so we kept the marriage secret. I came back home, lived with my parents, and taught at Nipper School. It was five miles south of New Berlin and one mile east.
I took about 45 minute to walk there. School started at 9 and most students walked. There was just one room. Before school started, in the winter, I had to start a fire in the potbelly stove. It was a coal stove, and usually an older male student would carry a bucket of coal in from a shed. We would carry water from a well that needed to be primed. The water was kept in a bucket or stone jar in the school. There were two outdoor toilets, one for boys and one for girls.
The day would start with the ringing of a large hand bell. Students sat on wooden desks, with the desk front on the back of the seat in front of you. We started each day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing one verse of “America.”
Classes consisted of reading, arithmetic, language, geography, science, and spelling. Lessons were taught by rote. Flash cards were used to memorize lessons. There was a bench used for recitation. At the end of each month, the county superintendent sent a test for each grade and each subject. I graded the tests. This was a way to keep consistency among each of the schools.
Each day we had a 15-minute morning and afternoon recess, and lunch was one hour. Lunches were brought in sacks or wrapped in paper. Most of the time they consisted of leftovers from the night before, or perhaps a fried egg sandwich. The students and I went outside, and they played games or ran races. That was our physical education. I read to the children each day after lunch for a half hour. I have had students tell me that is where their love of reading began.
Class was dismissed at 4 p.m. I stayed and cleaned the building. That meant sweeping the floors and cleaning the blackboards. Students often cleaned the erasers, sometimes because they wanted to and sometimes because they were being punished.
Supplies and library books were obtained from the board of directors. A school year was typically eight months, September to May. My salary was $65 a month for the first year. Nipper School was closed at the time of consolidation.
Helen King Glasgow Wilcox ’31
Teachers’ tools included teamwork and flexibility
I graduated from Illinois State Normal University in 1948. I was offered a job teaching the first four grades in the Ophir Consolidated District in LaSalle County at the same school my mother attended.
My pay was $2,500 a year. No one among the six other district teachers had a degree. If I wanted the teaching job, I had to become the principal, for which I was paid an additional $100.
In my first grade there were three girls and two boys. The boys had failed the year before. One wet his pants every day because he hated school. He knew he could get sent home to get dry pants and that would take most of the day.
One little girl was so timid that we sat together on the porch every day to get her to stop crying. Two of the first grade girls learned to read well. They and their families have remained my friends.
The first year we had a coal stove. A man across the road was paid to start it every morning. By mid-year, the board decided it would be cheaper to put in an oil burner. Oil heaters were a blessing. Whenever we had an emergency, I’d have to send a student over to a neighbor for help. It took a whole village to keep this school running.
My job as principal was not too complicated. If there were papers to fill out, the county superintendent would drive by on Sunday and put them in the mailbox. We had mailbox scavengers and I never got the papers, which sometimes got me in trouble with the school board.
Supplies came out of our salary. I needed apples, maps, stars, and games. Our seven teachers would talk about improvements. For the most part, the teachers had their own little schools and they kept them that way.
One day I got a call to go out to one of the schools that had an outhouse connected to the coatroom. The school board president’s daughter had her coat and glasses thrown in the toilet, which was not a modern outhouse. The teacher didn’t have any idea who the perpetrators were. I had to speak gently but firmly to the children.
When we were studying about pioneers, I decided we would live like pioneers. We cooked chicken on a spit and roasted potatoes in the coals. I brought live chickens and my father helped me kill them. They weren’t done by the time the kids were ready to eat, which was soon after we went to the pasture next to the school. The creek ran through the pasture, and it was fun to go wading. I didn’t have time to lifeguard and cook chickens. I learned a lot about planning.
A new consolidated school was built a few years after I was at Ophir. All the one-room schools were sold or torn down. By the end of my teaching career, I had taught high school art for 20 years in Wisconsin. Principal of Ophir Consolidated District had always looked good on my resume. Most of those children turned out to be very nice people. Can a teacher ask for more?
Joyce “Jet” (Truckenbrod) Schmitt ’48