Many young ladies in our Lester area having graduated from high school and perhaps a term at an extension summer school, would go out into the rural schools to teach. Lyon County had a rural school every two miles. These covered the first eight grades. From there pupils could opt for high school. Many stayed home to work after having graduated from the eighth grade. Following is an account of a beginning teacher in the rural schools in Lyon County.
TEACHING RURAL SCHOOLLATE 1930s
So! The contract was sent back signed and at last I would be a rural school teacher in spite of parental pleas to go on another year and teach in town.
The grand sum of $65 a month would be all mine. Wages were really going up! Never in my life had I earned any money. In those days babysitting was unheard of, and now to have so much money for doing the very thing I had played all during my growing up years with imaginary pupils and only a worn, paperish gray, faintly black board.
How did I achieve such a prosperous status? Upon my graduation from high school, along about autumn, I asked my mother what should I be. She got that far off look in her eye and said, I think youll go to Cedar Falls. I think youll be a teacher.
Late in hot August she got out the old black trunk, gave it a new coat of paint on the outside and pasted fresh wall paper on the inside. She put a new winter coat purchased from J.C. Penney for $19.95 into the bottom of the trunk and said, Dont wear it until it gets cold. She put me on the Five OClock train at the Illinois Central depot in Rock Rapids and I was sent to college. Never in my life had I been on a train alone before, never had I been near Cedar Falls, never in my wildest moments did I have an idea of what a college even looked like. To add to a poor situation I was to arrive at my destination at midnight! Fortunately, I was not alone; there were one thousand other students arriving at that time too. When I got to the dormitory I had chosen, I had been so late in getting my room reservation in that I was parked in a basement room temporarily for two weeks until I was finally settled in.
But the college at Cedar Falls was adept at grinding out school teachers which fit almost any mold that various communities throughout Iowa demanded. Liberal thinking, creativity, individualism and initiative were not necessary; proper dress, respectful decorum, minimum make-up (cosmetics), strict work ethics, and church attendance were.
And the college mill ground out One Year Rural teachers who took a course by that name.
My school was but four miles from my home. I had never attended a rural school--our farm location made it easy for us to attend town school--so this loomed as a disadvantage for me in the role of teacher. Nevertheless, it was the first rung on the ladder if I was to be a teacher. I got to stay at home, I did not need to board out, and my folks furnished my transportation. Of course I was of age but it was not customary nor thought necessary for, a girl to drive a car, much less own one. We were just emerging from the depression so people were mighty lucky to own one car and the parents owned that.
Before school began, Miss Elizabeth Trei, the County Superintendent, conducted all the county teachers meetings in Rock Rapids in a room in the courthouse. Every teacher there was dressed to the nines and to be sure, she wore a hat and carried a purse and gloves. I recall how overwhelmed I felt with the entire years course of study presented in one happy day.
Then school began. The schoolhouse was immaculately clean, hot and smelling of fresh paint in those early September days. The enrollment was small for that school so everyone thought I was lucky and I had but four grades. But oh! What tears I shed until I learned how to make out a schedule-- nothing I had learned in practice teaching applied-- and how difficult to learn to race through many classes one had to get in. We were told to play with the youngsters at noon and recess, supervise their lunch, inspect them for certain health habits each morning, study the lessons, provide seat work, correct the papers and control the children--not to mention janitor work. An older and wiser person could never have done it!
In retrospect I see how valuable it was to play with the children for it probably served to color the memories golden for their old teachers! Wed go for walks along the country road near us. The children would gather huge bouquets of wild sunflowers, heap them in my arms, and the autumn skies were heavenly blue.
When school resumed after such a lunch hour, I would read aloud to the children for the few minutes called opening exercises. On some days we would sing for this specified period. We taught music expertly with a phonograph via the Charles Fullerton method. Years later I sang my children to sleep with a lullaby from that wonderful book.
In all rural schools, monitors were appointed so children all helped with the housekeeping, but the teacher usually swept the floor. In winter we tended our own furnaces. I had a good one and in the evening we banked the fire (threw ashes on the coals, then added fresh coal). In the morning, I usually soused the fire with kerosene kept in a five gallon can and the fire took off. How I kept from blowing the place up was a miracle.
Each youngster brought his own drinking water usually in a gallon bucket, and the remains at the end of the day were poured into a water cooler and used only for washing hands. We were very particular about washing hands. Each family drank out of their own bucket during the day-tipped it up, of course.
Miss Trei, the County Superintendent, often would have teaching demonstrations for us on Saturdays. She would visit every rural school in the county at least twice a year and she could walk into any school and address each child by their name. To be sure we teachers paled when we heard the school door open, she would come in with no other kind of announcement. She would observe you teach, walk around in the room and visit with the children, look at the bulletin boards, and check your housekeeping in general. I recall one time I accidentally hit on a right lesson while she observed me and she was so profuse in her compliments that it started me on the road to some success and I was then sure of pursuing the profession. To this day I am grateful to Elizabeth Trei for she truly taught me how to teach.
After a few years in the school position, I went to the next rung in the ladder which, after one more year of college, enabled one to teach in town which often was many teachers ultimate goal.
Years later, I finally got the coveted Bachelor of Arts degree that in my secret heart I had wanted for so long.
But I never shall forget the pretty brown eyes of a dear little girl whom I taught to read by the Anna B. Cordts method, or the keen mind of a young fourth grader who was never perplexed by any question I asked. Fondly I recall those dear pupils in the rural school so long ago over which the sky was just a little bit bluer and like the sunflowers along the road, they were my golden inspiration.
Emma Lou Maurer Tolvstad
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