Woodworking column: The rules of teaching: more tough now or then?
I'm proud to hold a B.S. in education, but remember the painful rules set down by administrators back in the days when I was a practice teacher and a young professor. A few cases in point:
I went to college in Eau Claire, when it was still recovering from being a "normal" school designed to prepare teachers to go out after two years and teach in rural schools, or four years to teach in grade and high schools.
Years back, Miss Sutherland, the dean of women, made a rule that female students preparing to teach must not wear red dresses while attending teacher's college classes. A revolt occurred back in the 1940s when every female student showed up on Tuesday clad in red.
That didn't stop the rule makers. A subsequent dean declared that if a female planned to ride to a football or basketball game at Stout or River Falls, she must bring along a Montgomery Ward or Sears Catalog to put on her boyfriend's lap to shield her in case she was forced to sit on his on the way to the game.
On to graduate school. Bowling Green University published a "practice Teacher's Manual" that warned "male practice teachers to wash their armpits with hot soapy water every morning" before they went out to the hell of meeting their first students each morning. And females: "Do not, under any circumstances, wear patent leather shoes to class, because of the possibility they may REFLECT their undergarments."
It was ever such, which I found out when my friend Charlie Vanasse loaned me an informal pamphlet which belonged to his father Ted, who taught school years ago in Spring Valley. The book was published in 1937, called "A History of Pierce County Wisconsin: For Use in the Common Schools of the County," by Charles Lowater, by the authority of Mark L. Saxton, Pierce
County Supervisor of Schools.
It's a creditable book in many ways because Lowater carefully researched the county's history as to its agriculture, industry, early settlers, roads and public facilities. In fact it seems clear that any county would benefit from providing such a book to today's incoming teachers, who have no idea of the environment into which they have been tossed. In my 20 years in River Falls, I've run across teachers in town who know and care very little for the environment in which they teach. Such a book for them would be required reading if I ran the show.
Of course, there are some shocking revelations to current readers seven decades after it was published. My favorite chapter, of course, was education.
Township school budgets were extremely teeny, averaging about $250 per year per rural school. Some schools were made of logs and really cool towns like River Falls had schoolhouses made out of planed logs, and occasionally had a furnace. In the beginning teachers were paid $20 per month. Later male teachers made a bit more than women. By 1935 annual salaries had jumped to $665 per year for rural teachers, $815 for graded teachers and $1,192 for high school teachers. In the 19th century women were employed to teach during the planting and harvest seasons, which presented a real challenge because when the farm boys came in from the fields, they were often as old as the women who taught them.
Also the administrators had their say, which could sometimes cause a problem.
I well recall being observed by my department chairman at Illinois State who complained that I had not straightened the classroom window shades to uniform heights, but never mentioned what a great job I did teaching Franz Kafka. Here's a passage from Ted Vanasses's handbook about the history of education in Pierce County:
"Superintendents have constantly used circular letters and bulletins as a means for supervision and administration. Supt. Henry S. Baker in 1876, shows the nature of his supervision:
"Call classes in an orderly way by the tap of a pencil; do not let them come in from recess like a flock of sheep. Do not walk around the room to look up disorders; keep your place at the desk and you can command the room. Never argue with them when you tell them what to do. Try to be master of the situation and have all things move like clock-work. Never play with the children during recess. Allow none to keep on shawls or overcoats in school. Allow no leaning on desks or crossing of feet."
The only thing Lowater overlooked was the level setting of the window shades!