I, Lorraine Nugent McDermott feel privileged to have begun my teaching career in the rural schools of Plymouth county. It was both a rewarding and challenging experience.
I began teaching with only one year of college educational training but the experience and enthusiasm I gained from teaching was a far better education. Later I enrolled in night and summer classes and received my BA from Westmar and a MA from Morningside.
My first rural school, Henry #8 in 1946, had a coal-burning stove. As my Dad had stoked the stove at home this was a new and challenging task for me. On Monday winter mornings, I’m sure it was as cold or colder than the outside temperature. I managed to get the school fairly warm before the students arrived. In later schools, Elkhorn #5 and #9 we did have oil burning stoves. What an improvement! Of course the outdoor toilets were prevalent at this time but we did have electricity. Water was brought in from a near-by farm. We all brought our pail lunches but at times we could place jars of soup, etc. on the stove. At one school, one day a week a different parent would provide a hot dish. Oh how we enjoyed this during those wintry days!
The curriculum was decided by the county superintendent, Christine Petersen. She was an outstanding educator and exemplified as so. When she came to your school to evaluate you, you were a bit concerned. She complimented and criticized where needed. Books and supplies could be purchased at our town pharmacy.
There was a revolving packet of library books and records that were rotated every six weeks. Certain songs and games were designated to be taught each six weeks period. A follow-up record was kept and sent to the superintendent’s office.
Each fall before school began the Plymouth County teachers met at the Court House where Miss Petersen presided. Much information was given at this time.
The teacher was to preside at all recesses and join in the activities. Fun was had by all! I think this helped to eliminate discipline problems too. I was most fortunate in not having any serious discipline problems.
Yes, it would have been beneficial to have more reference and library books, and even games for winter recesses. I read a chapter from a good book each day. Children did not have TV, video games and other modern distractions, so I believe they were more conducive to learning.
As many schools had all nine grades (K-8th) it kept a teacher very busy scheduling classes and activities. Many of the older students helped the younger ones. I was pleased that my eighth graders did well on their pre-freshman exams.
Christmas programs were both a challenge and a highlight of the year. The children performed well in plays, songs, and poems. Parents provided lunch afterwards and sometimes we were awarded by Santa’s presence.
At one of my schools one morning I was alone in the school and heard a loud noise above the ceiling and in the walls. I placed a chair on my desk and climbed up to the ceiling door. Here I saw a happy family of raccoons. I don’t think they’d come to learn!
We planted trees, observed nature, did projects and, as soil conservation was becoming quite prevalent, we observed and studied ways to conserve our soil.
At another school we were plagued with so many mice we had a family mouse-trap contest. We certainly lessened the mouse population that winter.
Once my school was broken into and the record player was stolen. That truly gave me an eerie feeling!
All of my school secretaries and parents were very accommodating, grateful and helpful. At some schools we would have a social gathering at the end of the year.
When the present teacher bids for a free planning period, I think, “Wouldn’t that have been a welcoming gift to the rural school teacher”.
I sincerely tried to do my best as a rural school teacher and I truly enjoyed the children and teaching them.
After teaching in the rural schools, I taught thirty-seven years in the kindergarten classroom at Kingsley-Pierson schools. I still volunteer and substitute occasionally.
As for the future of my rural school students, I sincerely hope they have found happiness and success in their lives. I am both friends to many of them and I have taught both some of their children and grandchildren at K-P.
Written by Lorraine Nugent McDermott, Spring 2007