Note: Here’s another topic that I ran across in the process of writing my great-grandfather’s biography that really doesn’t belong in the book. But I hope it will be an interesting read for anyone who is curious about what elementary schools were like in rural Ohio in the 1870s and who taught in them.
Before the days of fast food emporiums on every corner, there weren’t too many opportunities for a teenage farm boy in the 1870s to find a paying job. One option was available, however, that wouldn’t be possible for a teenage boy in the 21st century. And that was teaching school!
My great-grandfather, Harry G. Blaine, taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Northwest Ohio for the first time in the fall of 1875 when he was not quite 17 and had only completed our present-day equivalent of the 8th grade. His preparation consisted of eleven weeks of training at the Northwestern Normal School in Fostoria. Subjects included rhetoric, arithmetic, geography, grammar, orthography (spelling), penmanship, and drawing. Rhetoric proved to be his favorite subject; arithmetic, his least favorite. In fact, during the training, he was forced to transfer to the primary arithmetic class! At the end of the training, he was able to pass a test proving his competence in all the subjects. His moral character also had to meet certain standards in order to receive a certificate.
Harry’s first teaching assignment was a winter term of four months at the Dilnois School near Willard, Ohio. Nine pupils attended that first day. Imagine what the young teacher must have felt standing before them, with no experience and only minimal training in how to manage a classroom of students at all different levels of learning! Not surprisingly, he was embarrassed and timid, but after only a few days he began to enjoy teaching.
At the beginning of each week, Blaine walked from his home to the schoolhouse, a trip that took him an hour in good weather. The rest of the week he boarded at the home of one of his pupils. Daily sessions ran from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday, most Saturdays, and even some holidays like Thanksgiving. When the weather got very bad, he was allowed to use his own judgment and cancel school on those days.
Fortunately, Blaine had only a few problems with discipline, having to deal with what he described as “bad pupils.” One time he kept two students after school for over two hours to punish them for “neglected lessons.” Generally, his pupils were well-behaved, and he enjoyed their company.
Since there were no substitute teachers available to take over in emergencies, Harry had to teach through days when a bad cold made him so hoarse he could hardly talk. At those time, he relied on his advanced students to take charge and make sure the younger students recited their lessons. Other times, he simply canceled classes until his health improved.
At the end of the term, he was paid a lump sum of $132, which was a goodly amount in those days. However, that’s not taking into account the $77 he had to spend for the training!
Obviously, much has changed in education since 1875. But I would hope that the care, concern, and individual attention that teachers in one-room schools showered upon their students made up, at least in part, for their limited knowledge and resources. By the end of the term, Harry could honestly say that he had prayed for his young charges every day.