I come from a long line of folks who love to learn – whether it was formally in school or on their own. My paternal grandmother and great grandmother both taught for a short time before their marriage. Since I had limited knowledge of my dad’s side growing up I discovered this as an adult and was surprised that I shared this commonality. My husband changed careers in his late 30’s and we were astounded to discover after he became a teacher, that his maternal great grandfather had also taught for years. Guess it’s in our genes!
As we begin a new school year I look back upon Teacher Rules that were in place when my great grandmother, Emma Kuhn, first taught. I received a copy of the Rules for Teachers 1872 when I visited Berkley, West Virginia Coal Camp’s one room schoolhouse earlier this summer.
Back in the day women could teach until wed but could be dismissed if caught in some type of unseemly contact. In 1915, the rules prohibited a teacher from marrying during the term of the contract. I don’t know when that rule changed but I suspect it must have been in the 20th century as a child, I had teachers who were married and working. Having a baby, though, changed the rules and teachers didn’t return to work immediately after maternity leave. I’m fairly certain the unseemly contact changed in the 1980’s as when I first started teaching in the 1970’s, “living in sin” was grounds for dismissal in Florida. I had a divorced coworker who lived in fear that our principal would find out she was living with her boyfriend. When I returned to teaching after my children were born the rules had changed and no one cared any more.
Male teachers were allowed one evening a week to court and if they were regular church goers, could court for two evenings a week. By 1915, rules stated that both male and female teachers had to be home between 8 PM and 6 AM unless they were attending a school function.
Although the following wasn’t necessarily grounds for dismissal, since teachers were supposed to be role models in the community, these actions could cause “good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty”:
Smoking or using liquor in any form
Frequenting pool or public halls
Getting shaved in a barber shop
Beginning in 1915, these were added:
Loiter in an ice cream parlor
Travel beyond city limits unless permission of the School Board
Chair was received
Dress in bright colors
And just for women teachers:
Ride in a carriage or auto with any man unless he’s your father or
Must wear at least 2 petticoats
Dresses must not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankle (in
the 1970’s this moved to the knee and hose was required!)
Today, teachers start their day by making sure the technology in their room is turned on. In 1872, teachers were responsible for the “tech” of their day – filling the lamps, clearing the chimney, bringing a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal into the classroom. Funny how we aren’t even allowed to touch the thermostat today as it’s controlled remotely by the district office. No amount of complaining that it’s too hot or cold in your classroom alters the temperature so I think that it might not have been a bad thing to have to make sure that the stove had coal. The 1915 Board of Education in West Virginia added the following duties – sweep the floor at least once daily and scrub it with hot, soapy water at least once a week, clean the blackboard daily and start the fire by 7 AM so the room is warm when students arrive at 8.
Students are responsible for their supplies today but teachers often know who is having financial difficulty and may need assistance. In 1872, teachers were responsible for making the pens but were given latitude in “whittling nibs” individually for the benefit of their students. Today, we hand out pencil grips in elementary or allow students to type responses instead so the spirit of the rule remains.
Teaching has never been a lucrative profession. In 1872, the contract stated that after 5 years of faithful performance a teacher was entitled to a quarter increase weekly. Teachers were advised to save a “goodly” sum of earnings for their retirement so that they would not someday become a burden to society.
People frequently tell teachers that it must be great having their summers off and so much free time with vacations during the school year. What they don’t realize is that teachers aren’t paid when they aren’t working. They are contracted for a specific time period, such as 10 months, but may have that income equalized over the year so that they can have income coming in when they aren’t under contract. Teachers also work extremely long hours that aren’t covered by overtime or compensatory time. There are no grading fairies that magically review all of the students’ class and homework! In 1872, teachers were allowed to spend time reading the Bible or another “good” book after their ten hour school day was over. During the summer months, my contract is for 10 hour days (7 AM-5:45 PM). Granted I only work 4 of 5 days in the summer but after my long commute, I tend to read my personal email and call it a day. I bet (oops, betting probably wasn’t allowed either!) that teachers were just as exhausted then as they are today. Some things never change!
(West Virginia rules provided by Opal of the Youth Museum, Berkley, West Virginia)