The Teacher Time Machine: My Day In The Life Of A 1920s Teacher

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When I grow up, I want to be a tour guide. My mouth waters sometimes just thinking of retirement. They say I can start now but let’s get real. I spend half of my life on bleachers watching my sons play baseball. There will be a day when I will have plenty of time to do that sort of thing, though. I’m in no rush. When that day comes, so will loads more of gray hair and, I tell you what, hair dye and moisturizing rituals exhaust me.
 
But, seriously, my mouth waters thinking of just tour guidin’ it all the livelong day. I pretended to be a tour guide all the time when I was growing up. I put my cocker spaniel on a float and would give her a tour of “Shark Encounters” at “Sea World”, only”Sea World” was in the shape of my 1980s above ground pool and my cocker spaniel wasn’t a great listener. I probably had to point out the hammerhead shark at least half a dozen times. The chance to actually be a real tour guide for a day is why I didn’t turn down the chance to be a docent on my 4th grade son’s recent field trip. There were 4 or 5 of us who put on a long, flowery skirt, a bonnet and an apron and spent the morning pretending to be on an old German farm. Just about every school and street name around where I live is a German name. It’s fun for the kids to learn more about the area where they live.
 
Some of the moms who volunteered pretended to be the mothers of the different houses or a mother on a farm. I was a teacher. A mean, grouchy, stern teacher.
 
Here’s my school:
 

I tricked you into thinking this was an old photo with my Photoshop skills, didn’t I? I can edit the heck out of a picture, I tell you. This school was originally built in the 1920s.

This photo hung on the wall in the school room. It looks like a fun day in the school yard until you realize sister is falling face first on the far left. She is about to eat an ant hill and hat boy is still frolicking in the weeds without a care in the world. It’s a game of Ring-Around-The-Rosies gone wrong. (Mister beside the sister is about to get a mouthful of dandelions.)

So, the first thing I did as I saw the groups of kids come my way was ring mah bell. This is what every good teacher did back in those days. Rang, rang, rang the bell. I had about 8 different groups of 8-12 kids, so I got to ring the bell a lot. I loved seeing the faces in each group and learning their names. These were all of my 10-year-old’s peers. After I did plenty of bell shaking, I took this long stick, put on a mean face and beat the heck out of stuff with it.

“You smilin’ son? There’s no time for smilin’ at school!” *BEATS THE HECK OUT OF A RAIL*

“Are you laughing at me, missy?” *TOP OF THE DESK GETS IT REAL GOOD*

Teachers back then had first to eighth graders all in one room. The small children were at the front and the bigger kids were at the back. All of those kids and their antics could drive a woman to hitting stuff with sticks. Not people. Just stuff. In really small towns, it probably still looks that way in a classroom with all of the different ages, and in other countries, too. They had to keep control of the classroom. They had a lot to teach and a lot of kids to manage! It wasn’t always railings and desks that got a lashing with that stick long ago, though. If a girl and a boy got caught playing together- LASHING. And if a kid got caught playing cards??? TEN LASHINGS! There were other reasons kids got a beating, but I can’t remember it all right now. I just know it was in a student’s best interest to just stare at the teacher and write stuff when she said to write it.

Kids were not to speak unless spoken to, rules were to be given only one time and proper posture had to be maintained at all times. Apparently, a favorite saying of teachers back then was, “If you’re not looking, you’re not listening and, if you’re not listening, you’re not learning.” I think that sounds about right.

This was the classroom, of course. In the middle of the room was a black stove that was used to heat the room. I’m sure it wasn’t that impressive to Walter in the back left corner with icicles hanging from his nose, but Nelly and Stan right in the center were warm and toasty.

Teachers walked up and down the aisles like they do today, except they didn’t have to be on the lookout for students cheating on iPhones. What would the teachers from the early 1900s think of iPhones? They’d probably beat that thing with a stick while screaming in horror.

I think my favorite part of this room was seeing my son in it. He had a big smile on his face. He wanted me to volunteer on this field trip. As much as I thought I might have embarrassed him by being all dressed up like a Little House on the Prairie lady, I think he loved it. He sat on the far right side of this picture about three desks back. I don’t think I saw him quit smiling from the moment he walked into the room until the moment he left. I love that kid tons.

But, let’s get back to the teaching…

By the time teachers began to teach, they were probably worn out. They had already been up for a long time as they had to do physical labor to prepare for the day. There was a lot of lantern preparing, candle wick trimming, water bucket carrying, coal shoveling… Whew. I’m worn out typing it all out. They were probably good and cranky by 8 a.m., so they had no time for misbehavin’ kids. I think I can really identify with those teachers, actually.

 

Just like today, teachers had to teach a lot, except they didn’t have modern things like computers and nice and neat pens. Kids actually had to learn how to write well with slate pencils before they could graduate to the ink wells. When they were proficient with the slate pencils, they got to move up to the inkwells. Beautiful penmanship was the mark of a well-educated person. I think that mark has moved from inkwells to text messages. If you can write a text message that doesn’t look like a monkey stood on top of your keypad while doing the Cupid Shuffle, you are already looking pretty smart to me.

Who knew tuna fish cans and bean bags could provide never-ending fun?

I really, really enjoyed pretending to be a stern teacher from the early 1900s. It was a big job, just like it is today. I think kids and people really don’t change too, too much from generation to generation. All kids like to play. All kids love recess and all adults need to work on some level- outside and/or inside the home. The kids may not have had video games back then, but they still played with balls and threw things around. That’s all my kids do. All day, err day.

I’d show you a picture of me in my bonnet in front of the classroom, but it sort of looks like I’m trying to be sultry in the picture. I was going for stern but ended up looking like I was trying out for a Old School Marm Halloween costume and that’s just embarrassing. So, take my word for it. I got up there, hit desks with a stick, rang bells, had the kids engage in choral reading of old poems, had them do some math on a chalkboard, gave my son a hard time in front of his friends in the most loving way and gained a great appreciation for the men and women who educated children all across the country in the early days and who are still doing it today.

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