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Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers

Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers

William Lynwood Montell
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
  • Book Info
    Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers
    Book Description:

    In an educational era defined by large school campuses and overcrowded classrooms, it is easy to overlook the era of one-room schools, when teachers filled every role, including janitor, and provided a familylike atmosphere in which children also learned from one another. In Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers, William Lynwood Montell reclaims an important part of Kentucky's social, cultural, and educational heritage, assembling a fun and fascinating collection of schoolroom stories that chronicle a golden era in Kentucky.

    The firsthand narratives and anecdotes in this collection cover topics such as teacher-student relationships, day-to-day activities, lunchtime foods, students' personal relationships, and, of course, the challenges of teaching in a one-room school. Montell includes tales about fund-raising pie suppers, pranks, outrageous student behavior (such as the quiet little boy whose first "sharing" involved profanity), and variety of other topics. Montell even includes some of his own memories from his days as a pupil in a one-room school. Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers is a delightful glimpse of the history of education.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2980-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The era of the Kentucky one-room schoolhouse represents a facet of the educational profession that no longer exists. Kentucky lost an abundant amount of its social, cultural, and educational heritage when its one-room schools were closed. I conceived this collection to gather valuable oral history of this unique period from former one-room school teachers across the Commonwealth, knowing that they could share fabulous stories and historical information that would otherwise be lost to us when those who can tell these stories have left us for good.

    My purpose in recording the memories of these old-time teachers, most of whom were...

  4. Chapter 1 Initial Teaching Years
    (pp. 7-48)

    In this section teachers share memories of their teaching careers, encompassing stories describing the very first day of class presided over by a nervous young teacher—perhaps only a year or two older than some of her students—to retrospective thoughts on a career lasting decades. In between are portraits of individual rural schools, an overview of what teaching in Kentucky’s one-room schools was truly like for those in the front lines. Teachers’ salaries, their daily duties, the conditions they encountered in the schools, their hardships and rewards—and, most importantly, their students—are all depicted here.

    I secured a...

  5. Chapter 2 Teaching Methods and Philosophy
    (pp. 49-64)

    In the days before a college education was necessarily a prerequisite to teaching, those who entered the teaching profession had to chart their own pedagogical course. Few teachers interviewed for this collection spoke explicitly about why they chose to become teachers or expressed their “philosophy” of teaching, but their caring and their methods shine through in the stories below and throughout this book. Then, as now, good teachers were dedicated to the same goal: providing their students with the best possible educational experience. That they were successful is chronicled as well in this chapter, with some stories of former teachers...

  6. Chapter 3 Bad Boys and Girls
    (pp. 65-72)

    A recurring theme of the teachers whose stories grace this book is that they taught in a kinder, gentler era in which students respected their elders and misbehavior was limited to relatively harmless pranks and the occasional youthful defiance of authority, quite unlike the horrors that today’s teachers often face. But even back then teachers sometimes encountered dangerous delinquents—and not all of them were students, as a few of the stories herein indicate.

    I typically didn’t think we needed to spank, but one time this little twelve-year-old boy went out of the schoolroom through the only door we had....

  7. Chapter 4 Vignettes of One-Room Schoolhouse Life
    (pp. 73-120)

    Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of oral history is represented by the stories in this chapter: a sampling of sketches of life in Kentucky’s one-room schoolhouses. Here the reader will find a mixed bag of anecdotes, variously humorous, poignant, frightening, and even tragic. Taken together, they provide a priceless portrait of the bulk of life—the unplanned part—in rural schools.

    As a student in a one-room school, sometimes we would go out on a long distance from school [during recess]. At the end of recess the teacher would ring a bell, which was the signal for the...

  8. Chapter 5 Disciplining Students
    (pp. 121-143)

    Although Kentucky’s one-room school teachers emphasize that showing respect for one’s elders was in their day a common expectation held of children, they also recognize that it is in the nature of children to misbehave occasionally. Times were different then, and disciplinary methods considered unacceptable today were the norm. The paddle, the switch, the ruler, or the teacher’s bare hand were commonly employed to make an impression on misbehaving students—and generally the students preferred that method to lecturing. Usually, but not always, parents supported teachers in these situations.

    When I was teaching at Gregory School, I had been threatening...

  9. Chapter 6 Daily Activities
    (pp. 144-173)

    Teachers in one-room schools were responsible for much more than teaching. The schoolhouse infrastructure was primitive, often without electricity or running water; teachers’ chores ranged from lighting the stove in the morning (a responsibility sometimes delegated to a student for a small pecuniary consideration) to providing well water for drinking and washing to cleaning the schoolhouse to, on occasion, cooking the students’ lunch.

    Academic instruction itself was a much more complicated endeavor than it is today, as teachers were responsible for teaching eight grades of students—and this without the books and equipment that would nowadays be considered requisite. Academics...

  10. Chapter 7 Outhouses
    (pp. 174-177)

    One-room schoolhouses did not have indoor plumbing. Most schools had outhouses—one for the girls and one for the boys—though in some cases the “outhouse” was simply the great outdoors. Aside from their usual purpose, outhouses, as a few stories below illustrate, played a particularly satisfying role on Halloween.

    Peddler Gap School had two outhouses out back. They were state-of-the-art facilities at that time, with moons and a star cut in each side and outdated catalogs for use as toilet paper.

    These outhouses, or privies, were marked “His” and “Hers,” and each building was equipped with two seats, [one...

  11. Chapter 8 Getting to and from School
    (pp. 178-191)

    Traveling to and from school could be quite an adventure, sometimes even dangerous. Rural schoolhouses were typically in remote areas, and teachers and students alike often had to travel miles to reach them, frequently along muddy roads or across swollen creeks. Feet, mules, horses, cars, and the helpful arms or backs of other people served as means of transportation in the stories that follow.

    This has to do with the time when I attended the Merryville rural [one-room] school. I started as a student there in 1925 and 1926. My brother and I went to Merryville School, and our sister...

  12. Chapter 9 Teacher and Community Relations
    (pp. 192-210)

    Most of the teachers who kindly contributed the stories for this book emphasize the central role played by the one-room school in the community. In these rural areas teachers routinely knew their students’ parents, and often their extended families. It was not uncommon for teachers to be invited to students’ homes for meals or even to spend the night.

    A popular event in these communities was the annual pie supper, held to raise money for school supplies—but obviously attended sheerly for pleasure. Christmas programs were also common, and parents often attended ball games and other school events.

    Among the...

  13. Chapter 10 Students with Special Needs
    (pp. 211-217)

    In the era of the one-room schoolhouse there were no special education classes for children with special needs, nor was there any training for their teachers. As indicated by the stories that follow, however, teachers rose to the occasion as best they could; as one teacher put it, of primary importance was “care for people,” a hallmark of the one-room school era.

    When I taught at one school, I had a kid that was somewhat mentally disabled, and that was in the days of no special education. We kept finding crayons in a pencil sharpener every day, and he would...

  14. Chapter 11 Before and After Consolidation
    (pp. 218-239)

    The closure of one-room schools betokened a significant educational and cultural change for the communities in which they had operated, a change both for good and for ill, according to the teachers who shared their opinions for this book. The superior resources of the modern consolidated school—from textbooks to the latest technological tools—are undeniable, but some teachers argue that emphasis on and mastery of the basics of education have been sacrificed. The bedrock of one-room teaching style—more advanced students participating in teaching beginning students—comes in for praise as a naturally reinforcing review process, while at the...

  15. Chapter 12 Home Life of Students
    (pp. 240-249)

    Many rural students came from desperately poor families. Families were frequently large, and at times there was not enough food to go around. Some families were also what we in modern terms would call dysfunctional, as one or two stories below graphically illustrate.

    It is perhaps in the nature of things that teachers would remember and talk about the failures rather than the successes in discussing this topic, but other stories throughout this collection, as well as the last one given here, show that regardless of hard times, love and support among families also abounded.

    The kids always brought their...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 250-252)

    The stories and viewpoints contained in these accounts of early school years across the Commonwealth of Kentucky are truly irreplaceable. The storytellers’ historically significant descriptive accounts of the one-room school era are heritage landmarks. Thankfully, they have been recorded before these teachers, like so many others of the period, are gone. But they will never be forgotten by the students, other teachers, family, and community members they inspired.

    Betty Holmes McClendon, of Nancy, Pulaski County, who told many stories included in this book, wrote the following inspirational essay, “My Philosophy of Education,” some years back. Her words express the fundamental...

  17. Biographies of Storytellers
    (pp. 253-286)
  18. Index of Stories by County
    (pp. 287-294)