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Monday, April 25, 2011

Good Ol' Rural School Days - The Teacher

At the heart of the one-room rural school was the Teacher.  This was what life was like for someone interested in the job.
Teacher training:
Michigan Normal School opens in 1853
Teachers trained at the nearest Normal School.  A Normal School was a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose was to establish teaching standards or "norms."  Most such schools are now called teachers' colleges.  The first Normal Schools were established in Massachusetts in 1839.  Here in Michigan a decade later the legislature chose what would become Eastern Michigan University to be the first Normal School west of the Allegheny Mountains. It wasn't until 1892 the second Normal School at what became Central Michigan University was created.  By this time Michigan was behind nearby states, so more were soon added, ultimately becoming Northern Michigan and Western Michigan Universities.  Promising teenagers went from being students themselves to the Normal and then became teachers in their own or a new community.   That first Normal in Ypsilanti offered a two-year "English Course" for $3 per term to students at least 14 years old wanting to teach in primary schools and a three-year "Classical Course" for $4 per term to students at least 13 years old wanting to teach at the secondary level or go on to college.
Certification and Testing:
Teachers were certified by either a county official's exam, State Board of Education exam or by city systems to teach in their schools for a limited duration. In the 1890s, numerous efforts were made to raise qualification standards by creating tougher tests. The State Board of Education raised exam standards under Superintendent Henry Pattengill's administration.

While this is from another state, by 1886 this Teachers Examination would have been comparable to such examinations nationally.
  1. Define Grammar.  How is it usually divided?
  2. Define declension and conjugation.
  3. What is tense?  Name and define the tenses.
  4. Name the classes of pronouns.  Decline a personal pronoun.
  5. Correct the following sentences and give reasons for the corrections:
             - Who did you send you for?
             - They that help us we should reward.

    6. Classify sentences according to structure and give an example of each class.
    7. Write a sentence having for its predicate the potential, present perfect, third plural       form of the verb write.
    8. What parts of speech admit of comparison?  Compare a word from each.
    9. Give five rules for the use of capital letters.
   10. Write a sentence containing an adjective clause.
And that's just the test for Grammar!  There also were courses in the Three Rs, geography, and even art and music because the ability to play an instrument or teach drawing helped students more readily get a job.
Classroom Management was not a specific course, but must have been implied.  Discipline and order were the hallmarks of 19th century education.  All children were required to write with their right hands, so many students were forced to work with their left arms tied behind their backs.  One student remembers, “Corporal punishment was very much a part of school discipline for noisy or unruly students.  Boys got licked.  If a girl was real bad, she might get whacked on the palm with a ruler.”  A hickory stick, birch rod, or switch was commonly kept available.  A dunce cap and stool was also a method that could be used.  Another form of punishment was being put in the schoolroom closet for misdeeds. The sound of a ruler could easily get a class's attention. 

Alternative Training:
Throughout much of Michigan's past virtually anyone was allowed to teach, particularly in rural schools. Normal Schools represented an important and eventually dominant trend in teacher education, but throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century substantial numbers of teachers entered the teaching profession without the benefit of a normal school education. Low teacher salaries made it economically difficult for many future teachers to expend large sums of money obtaining teacher education.

The two most common alternatives to attendance at a Normal were Teacher Institutes and "County Normals." Institutes were frequently sponsored by the Normals themselves during the summer months. Institutes offered short, intensive periods of study in which rural teachers could obtain or refine their skills. Although some Normal School faculty frowned on these "quick courses," through the 1920s they offered prospective teachers a quicker, less expensive way to begin their career.  Typically a teacher had 25 hours of training.
Branch County Normal School, 1908
County Normals were similar to Institutes but were usually organized by the county school commissioner with the assistance of the school districts in the county and the state. County Normals were organized annually during the summer. They were ad hoc creations that offered very short courses focused on practical skills. County Normals were often taught by only two "faculty members," an individual who delivered the "academic" instruction deemed necessary and a "master teacher" who offered practical advice. Because the courses were short, close to home, and often free if the student promised to teach the next year in the county, many young persons who could not afford to attend even a summer Institute at a Normal School gained entry into the teaching profession through the County Normal. County Normal graduates were authorized to teach only in the county which had sponsored the normal, however in at least some instances counties recognized each others Normal School as acceptable training and allowed graduates from one county to teach in another.
Teacher pay:
In rural districts the pay was always low and the school teacher was often a young, unmarried woman, frequently still in her teens. Although some women made teaching their career, a substantial number of women taught for only a year or two, then married and moved on to new challenges. This pattern, as well as the relatively low pay given most one-room school teachers, led to very high turnover among teachers.  Rural school teachers received neither vacation nor sick time. After state laws mandated a specific number of school days to be taught, rural teachers made up any absences by teaching extra days at the end of the school year

By 1880, Michigan schools employed 13,949 teachers. Of these, 9,877 were women; 4,072 were men. Pay for men averaged $37.28 per month.  The average for women teachers was $25.73. Teachers often boarded in homes of residents near the schools.  They did their share of the household chores and tutored, too.  The arrangements for each situation was different and some teachers stayed where they had to pay room and board.  Schools with graded systems paid the teachers considerably more than ungraded (one-room) schools.
.Teacher standards:
Marriage was seen as a critical event that many local school boards tried to discourage until at least the end of the academic year. Many school boards required teachers to sign a contract granting the board authority to discharge a female teacher who married during the school year. Some contracts regulated the teacher's social life, required that she be at home by 8:00 p.m. unless later hours were explicitly approved by the school board and forbidding her from attending social functions other than those sponsored by the school itself or a church.
                                        Rules for the Teacher: 1872
            1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys, & trim wicks.
            2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water & a scuttle of coal for the day’s sessions.
            3. Make your pens carefully, you may whittle nibs to the individual tastes of the pupils.
            4. Men teachers may take 1 evening each week for courting purposes, or 2 evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
            5. After 10 hours in school, the teachers spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
            6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemingly conduct will be dismissed.
            7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
            8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls or gets shaved in a barber shop will have good reason to suspect his worth, intentions, integrity, & honesty.
            9. The teacher who performs his labors faithfully & without fault for 5 years will be given an increase of 25 cents per week in his pay providing the board of education approves.

Even that list takes for granted many of the teacher's duties like arriving early to get the stove warm enough to heat the classroom, sweep the floor, and, a chore often given at day's end as a reward to good students, cleaning the blackboards and erasers.


Whether in Michigan Month or not, I enjoy reenacting the old-time School Teacher. There's always something new to discover. It's truly an education!

For more on schools of the past, this post ends this series.  The previous four posts were on the various Resources about the schools of the past, the Buildings, the Curriculum, and a Typical School Day.
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