I started school at a one-room school-house a few miles from our Wisconsin farm. Grades one through five were all taught in the same room by the same teacher.
I look back at the experience with nostalgia.
There were 8 students in my first grade class which was by far the largest class in the school. There were 4 second graders and three third graders. If my memory is correct there were 4 fourth graders and 5 fifth graders. Of the eight students in first grade only two of us were girls. The first graders were dismissed for recess earlier than the other grades. I had only the one girl to play with. Unfortunately, she moved away in the fall of the year and I was then the only girl. I did not look forward to recess anymore. I would have been fine playing with the boys since I had five brothers, but the six boys in my class saw no reason to include a girl in their play.
The classroom teacher had to coordinate lessons for many subjects for all of the grades. It was typical that all of the students would be given assignments to work on while the teacher worked one subject area with one class at a time. Sometimes grades would be combined for certain subject areas and the whole school might work on a science project or a Christmas program, for example. Older students who finished their class work were often paired with younger students who needed help. Or younger students would practice reading to the older students.
Students learned to work independently and to be self-sufficient. The students could listen to other classes and brighter students could participate in older classes. The students who were slower could work at their own pace. Older students took responsibility for the younger ones. The students learned to accept one another as they were. They knew there were different ages and abilities but it did not matter.
A teachers had a great deal of freedom with the schedules. If a lesson ran long recess could be postponed, or if the students finished early recess could start early. If students were benefiting from a certain activity they could keep doing it. Groups of students were often sent out to play with no supervision. That could never happen in this day and age where every school playground must be supervised. The teacher was the principal, counselor and janitor. She or he was on their own most of the time.
I remember the one room school with nostalgia, but there were some things that were less than ideal. The whole school revolved around the teacher. If a teacher wasn’t good, you could have a whole school year with little learning at any level. If the teacher wasn’t organized and able to control the students, chaos reigned. Many teachers are very well-rounded but everyone has an area of weakness, and the whole school might suffer in that one particular subject area. By the time I was in school, the one-room school-house fell under the supervision of a larger school district and a supervisor could come around to determine the needs of the school and evaluate the teacher.
My family moved in the spring of my first grade year. The country school first grade was then all boys. The boys were probably happy about that. Our move also reduced the number of third graders to just two and the fifth grade class to four students because my two sisters were at the same school. I am not sure how long that one-room school-house stayed open as the trend was already moving to larger, consolidated schools in town. Years later I drove by the old school. It had been converted to a residence and looked nothing like my memories.
It was a different time in education in the United States. I can’t say if it was better or worse, but it surely was different.
The one-room school-house, another thread of my life.
I wish I had photos of the inside and outside of the school but I do not. The photo above is a stock photo from Pixabay.