My mother wrote her autobiography as a gift to me. She was a wonderful lady and had strong opinions about many things. One of them was teaching school. This is an excerpt from her story. In the rural areas throughout our country, there were many teachers like her. They managed, without the aid of computers and TV, to instill in their student's love of country, respect for others, history, and the multiplication tables. Some of our great leaders were graduates from a one-room country school.
(Mrs. O'Shea taught at the one room Ridge school house in 1918.)
The year after my family moved from Brooklyn to the farm on Ridge Road, I became a schoolteacher. That spring the local school trustees came to my parents and asked if I would teach school for them - they were desperate - teachers were scarce and none were tempted to live in a lonely farm region, with small pay. It was just a temporary position. I wrote to Albany and received a "temporary" license; took classes in Miller Place and Columbia University and eventually received my permanent teaching license. I was 18 years old. And so I started a lifetime of teaching.
I can remember the first day I entered the one-room building. The blackboards were made of wood, painted a gleaming black. The desks were double seats, scratched and carved with initials. In one corner of the room was a raised platform on which stood an old-fashioned parlor organ. The teacher's little wooden desk was shaky and so was her chair. In another corner was a tall bookcase and a cupboard which reached to the ceiling. In the middle of the room was an old pot-bellied stove. On either side of the entry was a small room. A ladder in one of them led to a large attic where books and supplies were kept. The other room held wood for the fire.
Outside was a wood shed and, in the rear, two old fashioned privies with a high wooden wall between them. Just in back of the schoolhouse was a cistern with a chain pump for hauling up water.
he rope from the old bell in the belfry hung down in the entry. I had to hang on to it to make it ring.
The worn bare floors were unpainted. On each of the walls except the north were two very large windows. There were no lights.
The schoolhouse was situated on a hill, which sloped to the south and east. It was surrounded by tall oaks and hickories. At the foot was a large pond. What fun we had eating our lunch there in warm weather and skating and playing hockey in the winter. (Teacher included!) The hill was great for sledding, too.
We loved to explore the old wood roads and bring in wild flowers and leaves to identify and press or draw; to gather berries and wild cherries and, in the fall, chestnuts, butternuts and hickory nuts. We never seemed to have any accidents - maybe because teacher was always there!
School started at 9 AM and closed a 3:30 PM. We had an hour for lunch and recess both morning and afternoon. It was then that we played all the old games - tag of all kinds, hide-and-seek, jump rope, jacks and marbles. But our favorite was Haley-Over. We made our own pit and bars for broad and high jumping.
On rainy days we played indoors - all kinds of blackboard games and checkers and chess. And we had sitting-up exercises and folk dances too.
Our little school grew larger each year. The second year there were 12 children and when I left there were 28. For more than 18 years I taught there and never missed a day of school - I couldn't - there was no one to take my place to open the school.
I walked a mile and a half to and from school. In the winter sometimes the snow was so deep on Ridge road I could hardly walk through it. When I reached school I had to make the fire in the morning. For this I was paid and extra $50 per year. My salary was $400 for 32 weeks of teaching.
I taught all eight grades and a pre-first grade also. The seventh and eighth grade pupils had to pass New York State Regents in all subjects. How proud I was when our little school had an average of 100% passing.
As time went on we had Field Days every late spring. Children from miles around took part in drills, marching and sports. We practiced for weeks for this event.
Every Christmas we had a program of songs and plays, a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, and oranges and candy. Everybody came to see - parents, neighbors - the little school was packed.
Closing Day was exciting too. There were recitations, songs, and always a play. Certificates and diplomas were given out. Halloween and Valentine Day - even Easter - were party and fun days. I supplied the goodies. We celebrated all the patriotic holidays and-it was a great honor to raise the flag Opening exercises every morning consisted of the flag salute, a prayer, and a song, many of which are never heard today. The Old Oaken Bucket, Columbia, The Gem of the Ocean, Men of Harlech, My Old Kentucky Home and others. I played the organ and hoped the singers would drown out my wrong notes.
To get back to the first year, I made one of the little storerooms into a washroom. Each child brought his own towel and there was a basin and soap and a pail of water. Icy cold in the winter but I heated it on the stove. There were no paper towels in those days and no Thermos bottles so we made soup and cocoa on the stove each day. The children -took turns preparing the food and washing and cleaning up afterwards.
We got some new library books and hung crepe paper curtains at the windows. The children made all kinds of ornaments to decorate the room for each occasion. One wall was reserved for displaying best work. It was a great honor to have one's essay or spelling paper on the wall for display to everyone.
We also had a beloved little visitor come to school each day. He was my dog, Mickey, a little Irish terrier I had rescued when I lived in the city. He wasn't supposed to go to the school - my Mother would lock him up when I started for school in the morning. But as soon as he heard the school bell ring, he was off to school. He would jump through an open window and sleep under my desk all day. The children loved him and he played in all our outdoor games. They shared their lunches with him too.
I subscribed to several magazines for teachers and they gave me wonderful ideas for teaching, including making lesson plans, plays for children to perform in and many valuable aids. I don't think I could have done without them.
Not all times were good. As more people moved into the area and children came to our little school from other larger schools, discipline problems arose. One year I had two big six-foot boys, both sixteen and still in the eighth grade. They just sat and thought up disturbing things to do and one of the things was to see how many spitballs they could throw. In outward calm (and inward trembling) I told them to stay after school. "Now", I said, "you can throw all the spitballs you want and when your finished you can take the broom and sweep them up." There was a dead silence - they looked at each other and then at me and grinned - then they got the broom and swept them up. I never had any more trouble.
One more thing,
I learned some Polish words. One of the farm families who
had just moved into the area had a little boy who walked
to school with
One day the Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Roscoe Craft, came to me and asked me to take a position teaching in the South Haven school. I hated to leave my little Ridge school but the time had come to move on. Mr. Craft gave me such splendid advice and help. There were so-called "bad" children in those days too. But the parents were helpful - they weren't afraid to punish the wrong-doers - and neither was I.