By Irving Atlas
I was watching a movie about the Old West recently and there was a scene involving a one-room school. The “schoolmarm” was ringing a bell to get the attention of the girls and boys. She motioned to them to come into school.
My thoughts returned to the time in my life when I was the “schoolmarm” ringing that bell.
In the spring of 1952, I was a 20-year-old student at Buffalo State Teachers College. I was beginning a six-week student teaching assignment in a one-room school on Upper Mountain Road in Cambria. This was considered a rural teaching practicum.
Relying on public transportation to get me there, I would leave my apartment in Buffalo at 6 a.m. A Jefferson Avenue bus took me to Main Street so I could catch a Greyhound bus to Lockport. At the terminal, I changed to a bus that would pass the school. I had no Google maps or apps to help me find my way. We asked a lot of people for directions in those days.
The bus driver dropped me off around 8 a.m. School began at 9. He said there would be a bus to take me back to Lockport around 4 p.m. The door was locked. There was a note on it that said the key was on a ledge above the door. And so my first day began.
My supervising teacher was absent, so a substitute teacher arrived. She promptly told me she would work with the younger grades (one through four) and I should take the older grades (five through eight) because she had trouble controlling the “bigger kids.” The sub was there for the full week and things worked out well. My supervising teacher was there for the next five weeks.
This assignment was a wonderful learning experience. As I recall, there were about 35 children in the school. I had the opportunity to work with all the grade levels and learned a lot about grouping kids of different abilities.
The school had no indoor plumbing. The outhouse was nearby. My bladder was stronger back then. Each Monday, a student who lived nearby delivered a crock of drinking water on a wagon.
One day I was reading a story to the class and one of the girls suddenly left her seat and grabbed a broom. She ran around the room swinging the broom to the floor while the other kids pointed. Her job was to get the mice when they appeared. That was never mentioned in Teaching 101!
Once a week, a traveling Bible teacher came to teach a lesson, as did a music teacher.
Most of the students were born during World War II. Their parents lived through the Great Depression. Life was not easy for these families. The radio was so important to their lives. But as a teacher, I didn’t have to face the classroom distractions of today.
Knowing these kids loved to read, I created a library corner. Each Monday I brought two suitcases full of books from the college library to stock the corner. (I had to schlepp them on three buses, but it was well worth the effort.)
The schoolyard space was limited, but with the help of a few older boys, we hung some peach baskets to poles and created a mini basketball court. They loved using tennis balls to score points. We organized tournaments and learned a lot about sportsmanship.
When the students realized I was arriving at school at 8, many of them started coming early so they could use the basketball court or read in the library corner. Much to my surprise, one of the boys arrived on his horse!
These rural youngsters were respectful, appreciative, creative, energetic, helpful, good listeners and eager to learn.
Those six weeks as a schoolmarm left me with many happy memories. Sixty-five years ago, I got to ring the bell to call the class into school.