Partly, it’s that our division of the total curriculum into years is somewhat arbitrary, and if some students learn algebra before Shakespeare, and other students do so the other way around, it’s no big difference. Partly it’s that the class sizes were small, and so the instruction would be a lot more personalized, anyway. And helping the younger students was probably a large part of the older students’ duties, anyway.
My mother taught in one-room country schoolhouses before she was married. One group of young people would be taught and then would work on their lessons while she taught another group. The older ones did help with the younger ones and the younger ones who were bright and curious often picked up advanced lessons from eavesdropping.
She told the story of reading “Little Miss Muffet” to her youngest learners and having one child ask, “Teacher, how could she eat them turds?” and having her older students just loose it. I imagine there was a lot of listening in.
Teaching materials were in short supply and in one place she taught the teacher was required to supply the wood for heating. She was expected to be above reproach in all ways which usually meant no dancing, movies or make-up.
If you google the qualifications for graduation in the thirties you will also note that she had to be pretty well-versed in a wide variety of subjects.
I’ve been thinking about what a dangerous situation it was in some parts of the country with all the snow we’ve had this winter. Sudden blizzards coming up on the prairie subjected teacher and students alike to life-threatening conditions.
The later Little House books have plenty of scenes in one-room schoolhouses, especially scenes about getting stuck in blizzards in them.
If you’re talking about pre-20th century education, remember that a lot of it came straight out of the textbooks. The teacher didn’t lecture or give group activities. The teacher listened to students recite their lessons and told them whether they were ready to read the next lesson.
In A Home In The Woods by Oliver Johnson he notes that the lower classes were called up to recite far less often than the older classes, their material being so rote and boring to the teacher.
I attended a one room school house from 2nd to 4th grade. After that we got another teacher and the classes were split K-4 in one room. 5-8 in the other.
Generally, the teacher “taught” the older classes when the younger classes were doing something that didn’t require their full attention. Then the older classes would work on their own when the little kids needed attention.
I don’t recall that we had any parent volunteers. The older kids would help the younger ones if they were caught up. For me it was a really good thing. I was reading ahead (tested off the charts in 2nd grade; I was reading Steinbeck on my own for fun.) so I got exposed to higher level work early, and it kept me interested in school.
When we went to two rooms, the teachers would spend morning in one room and switch out in the afternoon, the children stayed in the same place. Keep in mind, we had fewer than 20 students in all classes at any one time. In my eigth grade class it was just three of us.
We also still did the Pledge of Allegiance and sang America The Beautiful every morning. We put the flag up in the morning and took it down at night. This would have been in the mid to late seventies.
Here’s how we did it in a two-room school.
It was a 6 grade elementary school. Three grades were in each classroom: 1st, 3rd & 4th and 2nd, 5th & 6th.
The 1st and 2nd grades didn’t have much beyond basic arithmetic and reading/ writing lessons. The teacher would do some of that while the others waited. The 2 older grades in each classroom were taught together except for things that require a certain progression such as arithmetic, grammar etc.
While the teacher was dealing with the rest of the class kids either did their homework or messed around trying not to be too noisy. When we got too boisterous the teacher would appoint a “monitor” whose duty it was to hand out punishment in the form of writing the sentence “I won’t be noisy in class” a number of times. This was supposed to occupy the guilty party for a while so they wouldn’t make a noise. What happened was, a lot of us would write pages of this stuff at home (while watching TV) so would turn in the punishment as soon as it was given and go right back to whatever it was we were doing.
If you’d like to watch a one-room school house in operation see if you can find some episodes of “Frontier House.” It was a PBS show that first ran in Spring, 2002. Three families had to live as if it was 1883 Montana, and a one room schoolhouse for the kids was part of it.
For her first year of teaching my mother was paid $900 for the year 1927-1928. The second year was $1140, different one room school. I went to a 1-room school for 7 years, Catskill Mt.
area. It closed about 1945. The school had 15 desks. I think there was only one other student at my grade level, which means nearly individual attention during your time. There was a side room we called the “library” where I was allowed to go, if I had been behaving, and had work done. The advantage was that it was out of the teacher’s sight. We had a coal heater, hand water pump, and 2 out-houses. There was electricity but I don’t remember any other use except lights on dark days.
I was the only kid in my class. I recall it as pretty much like Inna Minnit describes. I would eve-drop on the older classes most of the time and got ahead by the third grade to where I was asked to tutor first and second grade addition subtraction. The teacher wanted me to skip from the fourth to the sixth grade but my parents would not allow it. I became a ‘‘discipline’’ problem but a discipline problem back there, back then, amounted to staring out the window or some similarly egregious breech.
How did graduation from one-room schoolhouses work, especially with everyone at a different level? Did you have a file (“Permanent Record”, lol) where you advanced from first to second, third, fourth, etc. grade in lockstep, or was it more of a competence model where you graduated after you finished all your requirements? I remember that one novel (I think it was Understood Betsy), the heroine enrolls in a new school and is given exams to place her at a grade level - could she take exams later and jump higher, or is she stuck in a track to age 18?
Say it’s 1920, I’m sixteen-and-a-half, I’m a genius, and I want to apply to Harvard now. Can I apply to graduate from my one-room schoolhouse by pretty please-ing the teacher and asking to take my graduation exams now, finish my senior term paper by candlelight, etc., or would I be told to go back to my desk and do Questions 5-20 on Page 58 of the math book like I was told?
Or did one-room schoolhouses not have graduation per se, and people simply left school at age 18 or as soon as they finished the last book in the curriculum?
My school had grades 2-3 combined in one room (I was in 3) and then 5-6 combined (I was in 5) The teacher would spend half the day addressing the syllabus for each grade, and leave the other grade to do busy work. We actually had 40-50 students in each grade, too many for one class and not enough for two. It worked fine for me, I enjoyed eavesdropping on the 6-th grade material.