We had in the corner of each of the two classrooms at Choestoe School a wooden cabinet with doors. This book cabinet was the “library” for that particular classroom. When we finished our assignments, we had freedom to go to that cabinet, select a book from the shelf, take it to our desk and read it quietly. It was a great achievement in first grade to have learned phonics and “sounding out” words well enough to become competent to select a book to read from our “library” resources. The teachers, to encourage good reading habits, kept a chart with students’ names on the wall beside the book cabinet. A colored star was placed beside the name of each student who successfully read and reported to the teacher on books from this cabinet. These “star” awards seemed to work well as motivational devices to encourage reading. I often wondered how the library was furnished with books. That old classroom library was there in 1936, and it seemed to grow more books year by year—even before the days when Dr. M. D. Collins led state schools to have library resources and before the bookmobile from the regional public library began to make its regular monthly stop at Choestoe School. The bookmobile was an innovation by the time I taught there in the 1948-1949 school year. My life-time love for reading and books was encouraged by that library cabinet in a reading corner of Choestoe classroom long ago.
I recall a memorable field trip. When I was a seventh grader in 1943 at Choestoe School, and just prior to going to high school by riding the bus the next school year, we had our first-ever field trip. Mrs. Florence Hunter was my teacher, and she was known for getting things done. Her husband, Mr. Joe Hunter, was a county school bus driver. So Mrs. Florence and he made arrangements and got permission to take the fourth-through-seventh graders to Atlanta on a Saturday. All who could go loaded on that old bus early, early on a Saturday morning while it was still dark. We had a most memorable trip to visit the State Capitol building, the Atlanta Zoo, and the Cyclorama. I had never been to Atlanta before that notable trip, and that was probably true of the other children on that bus trip. Mrs. Florence managed to take snacks and drinks, and we had been instructed to bring our own lunch as we would have a picnic at Grant Park. What a notable building was our capitol where state government was conducted. How interesting to see all the strange animals at the zoo, some we had only read about and seen pictures of in books at Choestoe School. Then the panorama and story of the Civil War in Atlanta in the Cyclorama display was a first-hand, up close lesson in history.
We were a group of exhausted young children, sleeping on the long trip from Atlanta back to Choestoe after a full and exciting day. I’ve thought many times about how meaningful that trip was for us children, and of the sacrifice in time, money and influence expended by Mr. and Mrs. Hunter. They were able to give us a first-hand view of life beyond the confines of our mountain community. And to look back now and realize that in 1943 when we made that field trip during World War II, there was gasoline and tire rationing. For Mr. Hunter to be able to use some of his allotment of scarce items to take country school children to Atlanta was indeed a notable happening.
Graduation from that country school was a memorable occasion. We had a graduation program, not only with the two top graduates speaking with valedictory and salutatory addresses, but we had a program in which other grades participated with music and recitations. In fact, some of the programs we had for parents at that school during my seven years of learning there were so poignant that I can remember even now lines of poems I memorized to recite. Even though our teachers had few resources, they managed to make learning challenging and interesting. They gave us opportunities such as “Parents’ Night” or “Parents’ Day” when we could “show and tell” some of the things we had learned.
When I graduated from seventh grade country school, my future career as a teacher was already in my mind. I knew I wanted to be a teacher. In that way I could somehow repay Mrs. Mert Shuler, my own sister, Louise Dyer, Miss Opal Sullivan, Mrs. Bonnie Snow, and Mrs. Florence Hunter who had been my able teachers in my seven years as a student at Choestoe School. And so it was that in 1948 I returned to that same school, armed with two years of college and a provisional Georgia teacher’s certificate, ready to teach. As I greeted the twenty-five students in seven grades—for the school, by the time I returned to teach there—had a drop in student population and only one teacher could be hired for the seven grades. Talk about a challenge—a first-year teacher and twenty-five eager students scattered in every grade from first through seventh! I conducted classes much as my own teachers had done in the seven years when I was a student in that school. I had an excellent helper in a very brilliant seventh grade student named Shirley. Without neglecting her own instruction, I allowed her to help me mentor some of the younger students with their math, spelling and reading.
Looking back, I count that year as a teacher in country school as one of my happiest and best, although it was hard, with all the responsibilities falling to me. In that first year of my thirty-year teaching career, I learned to be teacher and administrator, how to cultivate parental support, how to instruct with enthusiasm and how to motivate students to achieve. I had learned to teach by having been taught myself by exemplary role models.
Education has gone through many changes since those days from 1936-1943 when I was a student in country school and took my lunch in a lard pail and had the privilege of shared knowledge because students learned from each other as well as from the teacher. And my year of teaching there, 1948-1949, was foundational to who I became as a teacher. Have we lost some significant aspects of education in these modern days? Then we had the privilege of learning from and being challenged by upper classmen whose recitations we heard. We had concepts drilled into us until the learning became second nature. There is much to laud and praise for our heritage of “lard pail lunches and shared knowledge.” Then eager students gathered at a country school under the auspices of ones called and dedicated to the important role of teacher.
c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 10, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.