Farm Horizons, May 2007

Teaching in the 'good old days'

By Teacher Helen Pofahl Piehl

District 51, McLeod County

When I was growing up there were not many toys or games; or at least our family didn’t have many.

We couldn’t afford luxuries as there were eight in our family. We spent much time playing school, and often, I was the teacher. This really helped me decide what my vocation would be when I grew up.

I attended District 20, known as the West Lynn School for six-and-a-half years. My parents purchased a larger farm near Heatwole, where I finished the last one-and-one-half years in country school.

Then I attended Hutchinson High School, graduating in 1945. I took part in one year of intense teacher training in the Merrill building, which was part of the Hutchinson school.

Most of our classes were completed in nine weeks, so this meant much homework, especially in psychology, science, and lesson plans.

We started student teaching Nov. 1, so each week we had to teach classes in the school at Hutchinson, ranging from first grade through the eighth in various subjects. In April, we all were placed in a country school to observe and teach for three weeks with the guidance of the teacher in that district. After we came back to our classroom we spent part of each day, for three weeks, teaching reading to kindergarten children.

It was a hard, strenuous year, but I felt I was ready for the challenges ahead.

I spent 13 years teaching in the country schools – grades one through eight, except in the Biscay school. Biscay, district 917, had sent its seventh and eighth graders to Hutchinson or Glencoe because of the decline in enrollment. I taught eight years at district 969, known as the Swan Lake school; three years at District 51; one-year each at District 927, and the Biscay school. After the Biscay school closed, the building was used, beginning in 1966, by the McLeod

Each morning, we started the day with opening exercises (as it was called then), with the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” Then we’d spend about five minutes singing from the Golden Book of Songs, reading from a book or doing some exercises.

Our day would continue with approximately five- to eight-minute classes. The blackboards were covered with work that correlated with the subjects. If it wasn’t on the blackboards the students were given hectograph worksheets.

A hectograph was a pan about 12”xl5” with a specific gel in it.

You used a special pencil to make the worksheets or coloring papers and put these papers on that gel to make duplicate copies. I seldom went to bed before midnight as there were so many papers or workbooks to correct and then get your lessons prepared for the next day. I didn’t mind the long hours as I loved to teach and loved my students.

I always had a reading or math corner, where a student who needed special help with a subject would go. There, an older student who had his/her work finished would help him/her with his/her flashcards, reading or whatever he/she needed some help with. Students also spent time there studying for their state board exams. In seventh grade you took a geography exam and in eighth grade, it was reading, language arts, history and science.

The last month of school ,a lot of drilling was done to help the students prepare for these tests. You had a special day and time to administer them and then they were sent to the state for correcting. It was always such a wonderful feeling when you got the results back and your students had passed.

I was so proud of my students as they always passed all of their state board exams. Graduation exercises were held at the Glencoe High School Auditorium for all eighth grade graduates in the county.

I always felt my children at school were like one big, happy family. We worked together, played together, and helped each other. The noon hour, the morning and afternoon recesses were always a fun time for the youngsters. At least one recess was our physical education class. We’d do some calisthenics, play some games or do some folk dances.

They loved this special time. Can you imagine the eighth playing with the first graders? They did, and were always helpful and playing according to their ability. Softball was usually played every noon hour in spring and fall. Many of the lower grade children, especially boys, played with the older ones. The older ones loved to help the younger ones become good ball players, too.

During the school year, we always put on a program at Thanksgiving or Christmas time. This was one of the highlights of the year. The children would give up their recesses and noon hours just to practice and decorate the school for this special occasion. We’d do several recitations, songs, and plays. The school board would put up planks for a stage so it would be easier for everyone to see the youngsters.

The finale of the program was when Santa Claus would come and distribute the gifts and give every child a bag of candy, nuts and an apple.

I’ll never forget my first program. They told me they never had a big crowd. When I came out to welcome our guests, I was speechless. There was such a huge crowd. People were standing wherever they could find a little space. After that program, the next seven were easier, as I taught there for eight years. The children always looked forward to spring when we’d rake the school yard. Children brought rakes from home and we’d spend an afternoon cleaning up the yard climaxed with a wiener and marshmallow roast.

The last day of school was a big finale for the year. We’d have a picnic dinner followed by many games and races. Many fathers were convinced to play softball with the children. It was a fun-filled day for the whole family. n

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