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Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers

William Montell

Publication Year: 2011

In an educational era defined by large school campuses and overcrowded classrooms, it is easy to overlook the era of one-room schools, when teachers filled every role, including janitor, and provided a familylike atmosphere in which children also learned from one another. In Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers, William Lynwood Montell reclaims an important part of Kentucky’s social, cultural, and educational heritage, assembling a fun and fascinating collection of schoolroom stories that chronicle a golden era in Kentucky. The firsthand narratives and anecdotes in this collection cover topics such as teacher-student relationships, day-to-day activities, lunchtime foods, students’ personal relationships, and, of course, the challenges of teaching in a one-room school. Montell includes tales about fund-raising pie suppers, pranks, outrageous student behavior (such as the quiet little boy whose first “sharing” involved profanity), and variety of other topics. Montell even includes some of his own memories from his days as a pupil in a one-room school. Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers is a delightful glimpse of the history of education.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front Cover

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TItle Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv


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pp. v

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pp. 1-6

When I came back to the schoolroom from the outhouse one morning, teacher Jerry Bowman beckoned me over to him and whispered, “Lynwood, button up your britches—you forgot to do it!” The era of the Kentucky one-room schoolhouse represents a facet of the educational profession that no longer exists. Kentucky lost an abundant amount of its social, cultural, and educational heritage when its one-room schools were closed...

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Chapter 1 Initial Teaching Years

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pp. 7-48

In this section teachers share memories of their teaching careers, encompassing stories describing the very first day of class presided over by a nervous young teacher—perhaps only a year or two older than some of her students—to retrospective thoughts on a career lasting decades. In between are portraits of individual rural schools, an overview of what teaching in Kentucky’s one-room schools was truly like for those in the front lines...

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Chapter 2 Teaching Methods and Philosophy

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pp. 49-64

In the days before a college education was necessarily a prerequisite to teaching, those who entered the teaching profession had to chart their own pedagogical course. Few teachers interviewed for this collection spoke explicitly about why they chose to become teachers or expressed their “philosophy” of teaching, but their caring and their methods shine through in the stories below and throughout this book. Then, as now, good teachers were dedicated to the same goal...

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Chapter 3 Bad Boys and Girls

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pp. 65-72

A recurring theme of the teachers whose stories grace this book is that they taught in a kinder, gentler era in which students respected their elders and misbehavior was limited to relatively harmless pranks and the occasional youthful defi ance of authority, quite unlike the horrors that today’s teachers often face. But even back then teachers sometimes encountered dangerous delinquents...

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Chapter 4 Vignettes of One-Room Schoolhouse Life

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pp. 73-120

Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of oral history is represented by the stories in this chapter: a sampling of sketches of life in Kentucky’s one-room schoolhouses. Here the reader will find a mixed bag of anecdotes, variously humorous, poignant, frightening, and even tragic. Taken together, they provide a priceless portrait of the bulk of life—the unplanned part—in rural schools...

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Chapter 5 Disciplining Students

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pp. 121-143

Although Kentucky’s one-room school teachers emphasize that showing respect for one’s elders was in their day a common expectation held of children, they also recognize that it is in the nature of children to misbehave occasionally. Times were different then, and disciplinary methods considered unacceptable today were the norm. The paddle, the switch, the ruler, or the teacher’s bare hand were commonly employed...

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Chapter 6 Daily Activities

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pp. 144-173

Teachers in one-room schools were responsible for much more than teaching. The schoolhouse infrastructure was primitive, often without electricity or running water; teachers’ chores ranged from lighting the stove in the morning (a responsibility sometimes delegated to a student for a small pecuniary consideration) to providing well water for drinking and washing to cleaning the schoolhouse to, on occasion, cooking the students’ lunch...

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Chapter 7 Outhouses

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pp. 174-177

One-room schoolhouses did not have indoor plumbing. Most schools had outhouses—one for the girls and one for the boys—though in some cases the “outhouse” was simply the great outdoors. Aside from their usual purpose, outhouses, as a few stories below illustrate, played a particularly satisfying role on Halloween...

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Chapter 8 Getting to and from School

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pp. 178-191

Traveling to and from school could be quite an adventure, sometimes even dangerous. Rural schoolhouses were typically in remote areas, and teachers and students alike often had to travel miles to reach them, frequently along muddy roads or across swollen creeks. Feet, mules, horses, cars, and the helpful arms or backs of other people served as means of transportation in the stories that follow...

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Chapter 9 Teacher and Community Relations

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pp. 192-210

Most of the teachers who kindly contributed the stories for this book emphasize the central role played by the one-room school in the community. In these rural areas teachers routinely knew their students’ parents, and often their extended families. It was not uncommon for teachers to be invited to students’ homes for meals or even to spend the night. A popular event in these communities was the annual pie supper, held to raise money for school supplies...

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Chapter 10 Students with Special Needs

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pp. 211-217

In the era of the one-room schoolhouse there were no special education classes for children with special needs, nor was there any training for their teachers. As indicated by the stories that follow, however, teachers rose to the occasion as best they could; as one teacher put it, of primary importance was “care for people,” a hallmark of the one-room school era...

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Chapter 11 Before and After Consolidation

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pp. 218-239

The closure of one-room schools betokened a significant educational and cultural change for the communities in which they had operated, a change both for good and for ill, according to the teachers who shared their opinions for this book. The superior resources of the modern consolidated school—from textbooks to the latest technological tools—are undeniable, but some teachers argue that emphasis on and mastery of the basics of education have been sacrificed...

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Chapter 12 Home Life of Students

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pp. 240-249

Many rural students came from desperately poor families. Families were frequently large, and at times there was not enough food to go around. Some families were also what we in modern terms would call dysfunctional, as one or two stories below graphically illustrate. It is perhaps in the nature of things that teachers would remember and talk about the failures rather than the successes in discussing this topic,..

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pp. 250-252

The stories and viewpoints contained in these accounts of early school years across the Commonwealth of Kentucky are truly irreplaceable. The storytellers’ historically significant descriptive accounts of the oneroom school era are heritage landmarks. Thankfully, they have been recorded before these teachers, like so many others of the period, are gone. But they will never be forgotten...

Biographies of Storytellers

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pp. 253-285

Index of Stories by County

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pp. 287-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780813129808
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813129792

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Tales -- Kentucky.
  • Teachers -- Kentucky -- History.
  • Kentucky -- Social life and customs.
  • Education -- Kentucky -- History.
  • Teaching -- Kentucy -- History.
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