Teachers’ Rules

Guidelines for Teachers in the One-Room School

I came across some rules for teachers who practiced in one-room schoolhouses in 19th and early 20th century America. Many teachers at that time were male, but most were single women who were strictly supervised by the Board of Education. Talk about intrusion in one’s personal life! I have combined information from several of these lists and corrected pronouns and minor mechanical errors; otherwise, they are as originally written. Any deviation from the following list could spell the end of a career:

  • Each day teachers will fill lamps, clean chimneys, and trim wicks.
  • Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
  • Teachers must sweep the floor daily; scrub the floor once a week with hot soapy water; clean the blackboards at least once a day; and start the fire at 7 am so the room will be warm by 8 am.
  • Check outhouses daily.
  • Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of pupils.
  • Male teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
  • Female teachers may not marry or engage in unseemly conduct during the term of their contract.
  • You must be home between the hours of 8 pm and 6 am unless attending a school function.
  • After 10 hours in school, teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
  • You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
  • Female teachers may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is their father or brother.
  • You may not dress in bright colors.
  • Joining of any feminist movement is cause for immediate dismissal.
  • Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool halls, or gets shaven in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect their worth, intention, integrity, and honesty.
  • The teacher who performs his/her duties regularly and faithfully, without fault, for five years, will be given an increase of 25¢ a week in pay, providing the Board of Education approves.
  • Every teacher shall lay aside a goodly sum for his/her benefit during the declining years, so that s/he will not become a burden to society.

More facts about teaching prior to the 20th century:

  • The average female teacher received only 40-60% of male teachers’ salaries.
  • In 1847 Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sister, Catharine Beecher, founded the Board of National Popular Education to send women west to teach the multitude of children.
  • Teachers trained in “normal schools,” an early form of today’s state universities.
  • One driving force was the need for income for the large number of “redundant” females who faced spinsterhood, but some “schoolmarms” did find husbands out west.
  • Families whose children attended school were responsible for feeding and housing of frontier teachers.
  • Schools were the center of social life, hosting debates, lecturers, theater troupes, spelling bees, and even literary societies.
  • Younger pupils sat in front and older ones in back; boys on one side and girls on the other.
  • Classes were 10-15 minutes for each level, and teachers focused on the basics of “readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic,” as well as spelling, penmanship, and history.
  • Memorization and recitation were vital since schools lacked textbooks and pupils brought to school whatever books were at home.
  • Our present school year was determined by the needs of farming families.
  • Students had to bow or curtsy to the teacher and were told to do the same to their parents.
  • Most schools lacked basic supplies—slates, pens, pencils, even maps and textbooks.
  • The average male teacher was paid $71.40 per year while female teachers received only $54.50 annually!
  • Corporal punishment was common and expected with rulers, “ferulas” (15-18-inch-long rods), switches and even hickory sticks.
  • Sitting on a stool in the corner, wearing a dunce cap, was a common punishment for students who didn’t perform well (and this was still used in the 1950s). Similar types of punishment were used to humiliate students who did not adhere to the strict rules of behavior.
  • Typical crimes and their punishments:
    • Swearing—8 lashes
    • Misbehaving to girls—10 lashes
    • Boys and girls playing together—4 lashes
    • Playing cards—10 lashes
    • Telling lies—7 lashes.

(Sources: www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse.html; www.heritageall.org)

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2 thoughts on “Teachers’ Rules

    • My maternal grandfather taught in a one-room school, but left that career to return to coal mining when he married and had a family to support. Coal mining paid better!

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