Persons have asked me, “What was a typical day like with everyone in several grades studying in the same room? Wasn’t there a lot of noise and confusion? Did you really learn what you should have learned under those primitive circumstances, and wasn’t teaching very hard?
Back from 1936 through 1943 at Choestoe School, a typical day began with us lining up in orderly fashion to march into the building. Then in each room, our teacher began the day with a Bible reading, a few verses from the Psalms or some other selected short passage. Next we quoted the Lord’s Prayer in unison, followed by the pledge to the American Flag. There were no complaints then about this morning devotional time, even though it was a public school. When I returned to teach there in 1949-1950, I practiced the morning opening as I had learned it when I was a student.
Then classes began. The teacher had a schedule, usually with reading, arithmetic, and spelling all done in the morning. The class “reciting” or being taught at a particular time, went to a bench at the front near the teacher’s desk. First grade was mainly learning to make the numbers, count (for those who could not already when they entered school), learning the letters and how to form them, and learning to read in Primer and then first grade readers. Older pupils might work arithmetic problems on the board. Turns were taken reading aloud from the reading text, with comprehension questions and discussion led by the teacher. The classes proceeded in an orderly fashion, first, second, third grades. In the upper room the classes for fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh graders proceeded orderly. The teacher seemed quite adept at being able to assign meaningful seat work for those who were at their desks awaiting “recitation” time. Discipline was good—we were expected by our parents to behave, and if we received a paddling for an infraction at school, we certainly received the same punishment from our parents, as well as a stiff lecture on acceptable behavior. In this manner, good behavior was enforced. School was a privilege and we went to school to learn. That was an expected norm for our community.
Two breaks came during the school day. One was for lunch. My title is meaningful in this regard. Each student took lunch to school usually in a tin bucket, a bucket that had contained lard or maybe a tin syrup pail. In that lunch might be ham and/or sausage and biscuit, a boiled egg, a baked sweet potato, an ear of boiled corn, an apple (in season), or maybe even a jar of homemade soup. We seldom had “light” (loaf) bread in those days. Sometimes we would have “store-bought” bread, a real treat. When peanut butter became available for purchase in country stores, a biscuit with peanut butter and jelly was always a welcome item in the lunch pail. Special sweet treats were gingerbread or cookies sweetened with sorghum syrup.
We gathered outside in good weather to eat our noon meal, or in inclement or cold weather, we took our repast at our desks inside. For liquid, we drank water carried in a tin bucket from the spring, with each student bringing a personal cup from home to receive the water. Trusted older students were assigned “water duty,” and had the privilege of going the distance to the spring near the school to “fetch” the water. Sometimes we would “swap” lunches, with students trading something in their lunch pail for an item a friend had that seemed enticing.
Following lunch, we had a long recess time. Some of the games played were “Red Rover”, “London Bridge,” Hop Scotch,” “Town Ball” or “Antni-Over.” No playground equipment graced the schoolyard. Only the expanse of yard and woods surrounded the building, forming ideal places for creative play at recess time. Games included the afore-mentioned and also “playing house” for the younger children, who might bring a favorite doll to school. In the playhouse, we outlined the house with sticks or moss, giving a name to each room just like at home. “Playing school” was another favorite recess game. We were supervised during recess times by both teachers, and any minor accidents were quickly attended. I might add that disagreements among students at recess time were also summarily handled with the proper punishment, or “time out” from play.
Following lunch and the noontime recess, we were ready for another session of “books” as we called in-class time. Afternoons, especially in the upper grades section, were usually given to science, geography and history. In the lower grades, simplified science and more reading, and extra practice in arithmetic were the drills.
Then came the mid-afternoon recess—a time for toilet and water break, and a very short time for some exercise or short games. Not more than twenty minutes was allowed for afternoon recess.
Following the afternoon recess, any classes not covered either in the morning or after lunch were conducted. This was often the time for intensive spelling drills. We were quite competitive in spelling matches, enjoying the “spelling bees,” both in-school and competitively about once a month on Friday afternoons when parents were invited to come and observe, or even participate to try to “spell down” the most adept spelling students. This period was also sometimes used for recitations when we quoted poems we had memorized, or the teacher read to us from a continuing story book. All too soon, 3:30 came and time to go home. And so days proceeded at the country school in much this fashion.
Part of my title for this series is “Shared Knowledge.” My opinion is that the students learned from each other as they heard recitations of the upper classmen in their room. That way, it could be possible to advance on one’s own level. I can never remember being bored because I learned something in the next grade simply by listening. Teachers then seemed to be quite aware of this occurrence and allowed students to proceed on their own to advanced levels.
Our teachers comprised the whole staff. First and foremost, they were instructors, academically gifted and with skills to teach. They also had the job of keeping the building clean and in good order. They bound up wounds sustained in playground accidents. They felt fevered heads and applied compresses. Discipline-wise, they were strict and a few licks with a sapling switch were not beyond their parameters of dealing with misbehavior. They were likewise community leaders. If a program or drama were to be help on special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, or graduation, they came up with the proper program that made the parents glad their children were going to Choestoe School. When the churches near by (Choestoe Baptist and Salem Methodist) had revival meetings, students were lined up in orderly rows and marched to the church to hear the visiting minister. No questions were raised as to the propriety of this practice.
c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 3, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.