Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Teacher's Task


I have been an English teacher for more than fifteen years and when I was asked to write about a teacher going west to become a mail-order bride, I jumped at the chance. Teaching has changed significantly over the years, but one component stays the same: a truly dedicated teacher has an impact on their students.

In preparation for writing the twenty-third book in the Alphabet Mail-Order Brides, I took a look back at what teaching might have looked like in the wild west. Did teachers face the same discipline problems they do today? Was it harder keeping students on task or making sure they finished homework?

Early American schools were not schools as we think of them today, but primarily religious or specialize schools provided by churches to teach children and others to read the Bible and understand the rules for living. Few students had a higher education unless home taught.

In the 1830s, education fundamentally shifted when Common Schools, or schools provided in each community to all children regardless of religion, were founded. "In the late 1830s, the reformer Horace Mann of Massachusetts proposed a system of free, universal and non-sectarian schooling. Each district would provide a school for all children, regardless of religion or social class (hence the term Common School)." (Only a Teacher PBS)

With the inception of Common Schools, a need for more and better teachers became evident and as men continued to choose better-paying professions, it became apparent that women would be well-suited to fit the bill. In the 1840s the "feminization of education" began. As one town leader put it, "God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems...very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price." -- Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849. (Only a Teacher PBS)

Despite the disparity in wages, women did indeed take to the teaching profession. Not only was it a way for single women to make a meager living of their own, but it was also a profession of the highest repute, something that was often difficult for a single woman to find.  Before the onset of Common schools, Dame Schools or home schools, similar to modern Day Care, were available. The history of these schools helped to promote the acceptance of women as teachers. However, the issue of the teachers themselves being educated had to be addressed.

In 1839 the first "Normal School" was established in Massachusets. Normal Schools were schools that were designed to give a standard or normal level of education to all educators, ensuring that they would be able to then provide a more complete education beyond the basic grammar school teaching that was most common at the time. Recognizing the need to have better-qualified teachers, states began implementing educational studies in colleges and universities, making the Normal School obsolete. Soon trained and qualified teachers were taking up their roles in school across the United States.

Fruitia Utah 1896
Throughout the mid to late 1800s, women continued to flock to the field of education. Many welcomed the independence even the meager wage allowed, while others believed that they would teach for a short time until starting their own families.

For much of our country's history, school was attended in a one-room schoolhouse throughout rural America. Teachers had to be 'with it' at all times and be willing to show older students how to help younger ones. Differentiation wasn't a word or catchphrase. It was a daily system of getting everything done. Students would often leave school early in the year or arrive late because they were needed to work in the fields with their family at harvest or planting time. Needs were myriad, but through dedication and discipline students were able to learn and prosper. Perhaps early schools didn't have all of the modern bells and whistles that we depend on so much today, but they had a sense of community and respect that is often forgotten in our fast-paced world which leaves so many children behind.

Education has changed over the years as science and technology has added to the needs of learners, but the basic concept is the same. A highly trained, highly effective teacher will reach not only the minds of their students but the hearts. In our modern world, we need to find more faith in our teachers, more trust in the ability to for all to learn.

In Wendi's Wish, available for pre-order now, a young woman must accept an offer of marriage from a stranger to continue the work she loves. Wendi's story is book number twenty-three in the Alphabet Mail-Order Brides series and gave a voice to much of what was in my heart as a teacher and educator. Teaching is one of the hardest professions on this earth. It is rewarding, trying, and often heart-wrenching. Although I have stepped away from teaching to pursue my love of writing, my heart will forever be with "My Kids," those students I invested my very soul into.

Sources: https://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/timeline.html

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