Children attended school whenever they could. There were many reasons why children could not attend school all the time. Severe weather conditions especially in the winter, forced children to stay at home. Some rural schools were closed for part of the winter. Children were kept at home to help out with the work on the farm. During harvesting and planting time, children missed school so they could work in the fields. Sickness also kept children at home. If a child missed too much school, they remained in one grade for more than one year. It was difflcult to find teachers for all the one-room schools that were built. In order to qualify for a teaching certificate, a person had to go to school to be trained. The amount of time spent training varied. Some went to school for a couple of months. There were teachers who were sixteen years old, as old as some of their students. Teachers were poorly paid. Most of the teachers were women . Men left teaching for higher paying jobs and women took over more and more of the teaching positions. Women were allowed to teach until they married.
Inside the One-Room Schoolhouse:
Windows provided the light in a school. Students often worked in dimly lit classrooms. Sometimes oil lamps were used for light. In some of the schools the lamps were mounted on the walls. The first schools were poorly heated. The buildings were cold and drafty in the winter. Basic items were a desk and blackboards, chalk, brushes, slates and a few books. Heating the school : Parents supplied the wood as payment for their childs schooling. A popular stove used for heating one-room schools was the pot belly stove. The stove was placed in the center of the room. Students sitting close to the stove were hot while students who sat futher away complanined of the cold. The teacher or an older student lit the stove before school began so the room had time to warm up. If it was too cold indoores everyone wore their coats till it warmed up. Desk : The teacher sat at a wooden table or desk in the front of the classroom. The first desk for students were just wooden benches ( without backs ) and tables. The benches were very uncomfortable. Some teachers had the boys sit on one side of the room and the girls on the other side. The youngerest children sat at the front of the room. Blackboards : Blackboards were a very important teaching tool. Blackboards were used by both the teacher and the students for assignments and for working out math problems. Some blackboards were made of slate, some were just smooth boards painted black. Paper : Paper was hard to get and expensive. So children used slates to do their work. Slates were like small blackboards. Cloth rags were used to clean the slates. Slate pencils made of chalk or soapstone were used to write with. When parents could afford to buy paper, the paper was made into a notebook. The paper was folded into pages and sewn together. Lines were drawn to create ruled paper.
There were hooks for the outdoor clothing and shelves for the lunch pails. There was a bench or a stand for the washbasin and a pail of water. Students washed their hands with soap and water. One hand towel was shared by everyone. Since there was no running water, pails of water were brought from a well or from a hand pump. Students took turns getting water. Drinking water was kept in a pail and the students used the same dipper. Clocks were expensive so not every school had one. Maps or a globe were used for teaching geography and history.
One teacher taught all grades , ( one through eight ) in a rural one-room school. The main subjects were the three R's: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Arithmetic involved counting, number facts and story problems. Mental arithmetic was encourage. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables were practised aloud. Older students helped with the younger students. Text books and supplies were lacking. Students learned through drill and memory work. Poems were memorized and recited aloud. For reading the students stood and read aloud. Students copied spelling words from the blackboard on to their slates and practiced writing the words over and over. Geography was taught if the school had maps or a globe. Sometimes they would sing songs or have a Spelling Bee. One-room schools were cold and drafty in the winter. A teacher in the early days was expected to do many things besides teaching. The school was to be kept clean. There were extra duties for the teacher such as : filling the oil lamps, keeping the classroom warm , sharpening the pens. When teachers had free time, they were expected to read the Bible and other good books. Smoking, drinking alcohol and going to parties was considered poor behavior. Female teachers who married or behaved improperly were dismissed and could no longer teach.
Pens and Ink : Sharpened quills dipped in ink were used for handwritting. Trying to write with a quill pen could be messy. Pens with detachable nibs were preferred. Ink was made by mixing ink power with water. If families could not afford to buy ink powder they made ink. Later, lead pencils were available. Books : The first schools had very few books. Children were asked to bring whatever books they had at home. If there were no text books, the teacher would write notes and assignments on the blackboard. Children learned to read and write using text books called primers. A primer contained the letters of the alphabet, numbers, some spelling words, simple arithmetic. There were different levels of readers. The reads contained poems, stories, and lessons in nature and history. The Bible was also used for reading. The sories were short and each story taught a moral lesson.
People in the community got together and built a school. The first schoolhouses were built of materials that were available. The more windows in a school, the more light there was for students to do their schoolwork. If a school was located in a central place near roads, it was easier for people in the area to get to the school. Children walked to school, some took shortcuts across fields and pastures. After heavy rains a dirt road was too muddy to walk on. Other buildings like the outhouse ( tollets ), a shed for wood were also built nearby. A school was often the center of activites in a community. The school was used for meetings, parties, dances, weddings, picnics and other gettogethers.
A school day : Early morning - get dressed - eat breakfast - pack a lunch for school - start out for school. Getting to school : walk - catch a ride with neighbors - School : teacher rings the bell - line up ( smallest to tallest, boys on one side, girls on the other side ) and go inside - hang coats on hooks, put lunch pails on shelf - song, prayer, and pledge to the flag - reading, penmanship ( writing ), arithmetic, spelling - lunch ( wash hands first )-recess / play outside - more lessons - dismissal ( hurry home ). Back at home : do the chores - have supper - go to bed early if tomorrow is another school day. The lunch tens were mostly lard can that had a lid and a handle. Food was wrapped in cloth or brown paper. This is a sample of what was brought to school for lunch - meat sandwich or fried cornbread sandwich ( pork, chicken, wild game ) jam or jelly sandwich - cheese ( if the family had cows - dried meat, jerky - hard boiled eggs - fruit ( apples, wild berries ) - fresh vegetables ( carrots, tomatoes, sweet potato )- baking like muffins, cookies, pie, cake. Homemade bread with syrup or lard or butter. Some children took a hot baked potato on a very cold days. It was a way to keep their hands warm on the way to school. Then they ate the potato for lunch.