Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Way We Were...

There was a time in the history of this country when a community would come together to hire a teacher.  Someone would donate some land that was not cultivatable, others might donate lumber and the men would build a school house.  Sometimes it was the preverbal one room building and at times it might be more elaborate...two rooms.

Then a teacher would be hired.  As fas as I can ascertain it was mostly men that were hired--some self taught, others with a bit of schooling from some college.  I do remember one ad that stated that the teacher would have to cut and bring in the wood for the stove, carry out the ashes, clean the building when necessary, teach the children their ABCs, to read and write and do arithmetic.  For all of this the teacher might earn ten dollars a month while room and board would be provided by the parents, one household a month.  After I read all that was required of a school teacher in the country, I decided that playground duty wasn't such a bad thing.  I almost forgot:  in many of these teaching position, it was a requirement that the teacher go to church.  And that teacher could not be married.  I suspect that if they accepted married teachers they would have to pay them more and perhaps provide housing as well.  As late as the early 1950s, the Seattle Public Schools forbid women teachers to be married.  

There were some religious groups in which the elders decreed that there would not be any school or education.  It was this policy that prompted states to require communities to have schools and educate their young.  With this edict one religious group split with part of their members going into Canada, the majority went south to Mexico.

However, public schooling took hold and the beginning of an educational system was born.  To be able to teach, one had to go to a "normal school" for a period of two years.  When that was accomplished the graduate would be given a certificate that indicated this person was a teacher.  I have not found a curriculum that lead to this certificate however I am sure a good historian could find it.

Normal Schools were quite often lead by a minister, indeed, my university started out as a normal school under the auspices of a Methodist leader who forbad drinking of alcohol by students and faculty.  Smoking was permitted only in the basement next to the furnace.  

With a growing population and the burden of educating the young being a state responsibility, some semblance of a curriculum was ordained for all the normal schools and a type of certification was provided.  Indeed, as late as the 1950s one could get a "Life" certificate to teach in any grade or high school if they completed four years of college.  If you had a "life" certificate you were good for life as a teacher.  You didn't need to ever go back to school for more education.  Quant, eh?

But the state(s) decided if one was going to pay teachers that much money (the average salary of an elementary teacher in the mid 1950s was $3500), they wanted to be sure you could teach.  So a Provisional Certificate became the norm and the Life certificate was laid to rest.  A provisional certificate was good for three to five years and your principal had to sign off before a "General" certificate was issued to you.  A General Elementary or a General Secondary certificate became the norm EXCEPT for those that taught Art, Music or Physical Education who received General K-12 certificates.

Shortly after World War II was ended, the public schools started to grow at an amazing rate as our returning military men began to raise families.  We needed teachers and the "Normal Schools" were turned into "Colleges of Education" (My university evolved from being "Western Washington College of Education") with the prime purpose to produce trained teachers.  Probably for the first time an academic discussion began to evolve on what did a good teacher look like?  What did they need to know?  

But a problem that has plagued education for all time began to make itself felt--money.  Districts that had a good tax base could support better schools.  Areas that were primarily agricultural in nature could afford only the basic.  How does society support its schools and be sure that the children in one school is learning the same things as children in other (read, rich) schools.  The State of Washington has long tried to "equalize" the process of teaching by paying more state monies to poorer districts then to the more affluent communities.  I don't think this problem will ever be solved.

Still, no matter what district it might be, teachers had to be paid...and to be paid a fair wage.  So salary schedules were designed; a BA degree was worth so much money and generally was the initial steps in the salary schedule.  Then one could go back to the university in the summer and take classes and a teacher could earn a "Fifth Year" and a salary jump.  A few even took time off and got their "master's degree" and were close to the top of the salary schedule.  Another way to earn a higher salary was to work toward your "Principal Credentials" and move into administration.  Again, a course of study at the local university along with a year internship was required for the principalship.  

Those were the state and district requirement.  But there were unwritten rules as well.  Teachers, if hired, were expected to live in the district.  Actually it was against state law to require this position however, it was understood when interviewing a new candidate for a teaching position to ask, "Where do you intend to live if you get this position?" and the correct answer was, "If I can find suitable housing I'd like to live in the district."

Another such unwritten rule was that a teacher not drink.  Coffee was okay but not alcohol.  In 1955 I was seen buying a bottle of wine in the State Liquor store (yes, yes, I was cooking spaghetti sauce) and was told emphatically to go to another town and buy my wine there.  Teachers did not drink.

Another unwritten rule was that teachers would go to church.  I became a Minister of Music in an Episcopal church and this fact was noted on my records.  A positive point.

The simple fact that paying teachers is a major expense for the state and for the school districts.  And even though teacher salaries are not very high we do have many children and young adults and thereby many teachers.  I note that recently both newspapers and television news have reported that economists are arguing against master's degree pay saying that studies find no link between the master's degree and student achievement.  I wonder.  I'd like to see the studies and what student achievement they were measuring.  

The one constant in my story is that those that are affluent will continue to send their children to private schools who have teachers with master's degrees and, yes, even doctorates.  They want the best education for their children.

Well....when you thank a teacher today, be sure to thank them for bringing in the wood for the stove and sweeping out the building at the end of the day.  Who knows, they may be still doing it in some school districts.

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