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Grandma Taught 72 Children... At Once

By Barbara Henderson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #7, 1994.

I am sending this article in response to the request for information on education in a one-room schoolhouse. My grandmother is still living, but she is not able to answer questions accurately. She discussed the concept of education with me many times in the past, and I am certain that the facts presented here are presented the way she explained them to me when she was better able to carry on a conversation.

The one-room schoolhouse held 72 students that year. Even more astonishing than the number of students was the fact that all 72 students made reasonable progress during the school year. The lone teacher of the large, multi-age classroom, my grandmother, explains her students' success like this.

  1. "A teacher must be called by God to teach, just as a preacher is called to preach." When grandmother attended her six-week teacher's training course, every student was instructed to search his or her heart and make certain that this was the course God intended for his or her life. Any student who could not state with certainty that he or she was sure that God had called them to teach was sent home.

  2. "A teacher must require that a student learn." According to Grandmother, any student who failed to have the daily lessons completed would receive dire consequences.

  3. "Parents always backed up the teacher. Parents never allowed a child to go to bed before all their homework was completed."

Numbers two and three were more easily accomplished in the schools of yesterday, because the teacher lived with each family for one week. At the end of the week, she moved on to the next family. All families took at least one turn keeping the teacher. This free room and board was part of the teacher's salary.

While this arrangement now seems a poor one, in truth, two extremely important benefits resulted from boarding the teacher with each family. First of all, the teacher came to know the family very well. She gained firsthand experience on the strong points and weak points of the family as a whole and of the individual family members. She gained respect for the hard work done by the family and, in many cases, formed friendships that lasted a lifetime. On the other hand, the families came to know the teacher very well. They were comfortable talking to her about their children. It was very common for the teacher to know the aspirations of not only the children, but also the aspirations of the parent for the children. All this enabled the teacher to be very effective in setting goals for students and assigning lessons.

In looking back, my grandmother has taken a great deal of kidding about all the men she lived with while she was teaching school. Most of the families were large, and it was not uncommon to have grown young men still living at home. Several of these young men courted Grandmother, and she eventually married one of them. She chose Gramps because, "He was so good to his mother. He always kept the water bucket full, and he always kept the stove box full of wood."

Grandmother taught math through algebra, but only assisted students trying to learn geometry. To this day Grandmother can spell the entire dictionary and edit anything for grammar mistakes. Parents of her day were educated enough to help their children complete lessons. Grandmother did not know of any illiterate people in the community.

Grandmother's experience in dealing with handicapped children was limited. She remembers one child who was born normal, but was later injured when a wagon overturned. The previous teacher had told the little boy not to bother coming to school because he could not learn. He came anyway. My grandmother obviously had no time to give the child special attention, but she was able to discover that at least part of his problem was hearing. She said that once she was able to make him understand what to do, he was usually able to do it. She enlisted the aid of older students in helping the boy. He made significant progress by the end of the school year.

Student helpers were a large part of Grandmother's success. She began the lessons for the day by presenting the same subject to all the students. The older students were given their assignments first, and they immediately began working. Then the middle students were given their lesson, and finally the younger students were given theirs. Older students would have more time to complete longer assignments. Younger students had the advantage of hearing the teacher explain the work to the older students several years before they were actually required to do the work. When faster students finished their assignments, they began to help younger students or students who were having a problem. At a set time, any work not completed became homework, and a new subject was presented. That is basically how the day went.

Of course, there were exceptions for holidays and special programs. Apparently the program presented at the end of the year was long, complicated, and took months to prepare. Students were given their parts for memorization immediately after Christmas. The program was a very big event looked forward to by the entire community.

Grandmother had to work around harvest time, planting time, and anything else deemed necessary to the welfare of the family unit. Not only my grandmother but hundreds of other school teachers did an excellent job under similar circumstances. We certainly thank them and congratulate them for a job well done.

Parents who now teach their children at home have things a lot easier than Grandmother had them. To begin with, all parents are commanded by God to teach their children. It is written out in black and white in the Bible. We do not have to decide if we have been given one of the mysterious "callings" by God. We only have to decide how much of our children's formal education will come from us.

It is extremely easy for the homeschool parent and teacher to require the same things of the students, because the parent and teacher are usually the same person. Again, the homeschool parent already knows the students because she lives with them all the time, not just for a week at a time. She likely already knows the aspirations of the child/student, and she knows the aspirations of the parents for the child/student.

My nineteen-year-old son is now in his second year of college and is doing very well. My daughter, not quite seventeen, is beginning college this January. Like Grandmother, my job in the classroom is now over. And, like Grandmother, I would advise all parents to be sure of their calling to teach their children. As the teacher, expect the students to consistently learn. As the parent, respect your teacher counterpart. Require the students to do what the teacher requires of them. The end result will be a young adult who will bring joy all the days of your life.

For more resources on this article's topic, click the link(s) below.
Grammar Resources - Curriculum
Handwriting Resources - Curriculum
History Resources - Curriculum
Language Arts Resources - Curriculum
Literature Resources - Curriculum
Math Resources - Curriculum
Phonics Resources - Curriculum
Preschool Resources - Curriculum
Science Resources - Curriculum
Spelling Resources - Curriculum
Vocabulary Resources - Curriculum

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