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A YEAR IN A COUNTRY SCHOOL

GETTING A JOB — FIFTY-SEVEN PUPILS TO ONE TEACHER — A

STRUGGLE FOR DISCIPLINE

BY

WILLIAM H. HAMBY

H

UMAN nature may be alike a month that prompted me to read the
the world over, but it is cer- “Psychology for Teachers.”
tainly laid on thicker in some The Cotton Tail school — the first at
spots than others; and if there which I applied — had decided to keep

is any one place where it its old teacher. I was deeply disappointed. breaks out in regular knobs and knots of But I next felt that my mission was to help original peculiarity and weird unreason- out the Splitlog district. ableness, it is where it appears in the The first director 1 approached in the country school.

Splitlog district was Dan Combs, president Every child ought to be educated along of the school board. Dan had short, grizits special bent; every child ought to be zled whiskers, and cleared his lands with taught to earn a living; every child should goats, and bought and sold mules. It was be gently led up the beautiful paths to evident from afar that he was a man of peace, health, love, and happiness, but — authority, and very busy. I approached

This might more nearly be possible were him timidly and he brusquely told me there six expert psychologists for every there were other applicants and to leave pupil, instead of sixty expert psychologists my application and it would be considered for every teacher. The schools are very, in its regular order. The next director very faulty, and will be so long as the was Tom Wilson. Tom was breaking a children in them are the sons and daughters piece of new ground, but was still in a of their parents. And yet nothing else good humor. I talked quite confidentially our civilization has evolved is half so use- to him - I told him of my extensive ful, and we have few institutions whose learning, of my natural aptitude to teach, usefulness could be so much improved. of my soaring ambitions, of my yearnings

Early on the first Wednesday morning in to give Splitlog a school that would be April, I set off through the hills on horse- the envy of the whole county. He listened back to hunt a school in the remote hill to me with mild and speculative interest, country of the Ozarks. There were five and I thought I had him. But when I or six applicants for every school; and the finished and waited for him to pledge me youth who aspired to teach had to get his vote, he looked evasively across the out the very day after the annual school new-ground” field and told me to leave meeting and slip on school directors, or my application and it would be considered. waylay them to get them even to look “But look here,” I said, “I am not after at his pocketful of recommendations — consideration, What I want is a school." we all had a pocketful. And then he had This startled him into frankness, for he to talk to the director like a life insurance told me confidentially that it was his agent to a good but slippery risk.

opinion they would employ Dan Combs's I had been reading a " Psychology for niece. “He's president of the board, you Teachers," and had persuaded myself that know, and is set on having her. She ain't it was not for the twenty-five a month much of a teacher -- but you know, well that I was to be a teacher — but for the good I could do. I even forgot for a time I turned away from Splitlog, but I had that it was the hope of the twenty-five picked up one piece of wisdom that I have kept in storage ever since: Beware “But will you vote for me?" I insisted. of presidents with relatives who want jobs! “Yes," he said, guardedly, "if the rest

I tried three or four other schools. Some will." of them talked encouragingly; and all of I worked on the rest, Jim Samuels and them were willing to consider” my appli- Melvin Robins, all day, and got them to cation - if I would only go off and leave agree to have a meeting of the board that it. But that did not fool me. I had night. learned that a director who was not for They met at dusk on the steps of the me positively was for somebody else. little, old, unpainted, one-room school

As I was riding home, a voice, a pleas- house. I threw myself into the supreme ant, hopeful voice, broke into my glooming. effort; told them what I'd do — and what A neighbor woman was speaking to me I would not allow. A country school is from her yard where she had been digging strong, theoretically, on order. among her flowers. I am sure she had The three farmers listened a little unwatched me from down the road, and had easily. Sam kept picking at a splinter come into the yard on purpose.

on a piece of weatherboarding, Robins "Well, did you get a school?” she asked, gouged holes in the steps with his knife, brightly.

and Samuels searched frequently in all "No."

his pockets for a missing plug of tobacco. “Suppose you go over and try the Bean When I finished they went aside and conRidge school. They don't usually have sulted. My head was burning, and my as many applicants as other schools, and heart pounding. Directly Robins left they never keep their last year's teacher." the others and came back to me.

"I believe I will.” In five minutes my “Would you consider it at twenty dollars horse was trotting up the right fork of a month?” the road in the direction of Bean Ridge. My heart beat hopefully. That meant

I did not stop to inquire why Bean I could have it at twenty. But I set my Ridge usually had few applicants; nor why face resolutely against it. I told him no; they never had the same teacher twice. that no ambitious, well-educated young If they paid little wages, I did not expect man whose heart was in his work, who much; if it was a hard school, all the more meant to make teaching a profession inglory in conquering it. I timed my arrival stead of a mere stepping stone, who was so I would stay over night at Sam Wat- teaching solely for the love of it, could son's, one of the school board.

afford to teach for less than twenty-five. Sam was a good-natured, inoffensive They came back pretty soon and said, fellow of the sort who half promises every- “Well, I guess you can consider yourself thing and wholly does nothing. But I

hired.” got him to talk for an hour on how he "And be sure you make 'em mind," raised the big pumpkin that took the prize cautioned Robins. at the county fair; he even told me about "And don't let the big ’uns run over the the rainstorm that came up the day after little 'uns,” admonished Sam. he planted the seed; and of the shock of "That's right," put in Jim Samuels, corn that stood just west of it when he "make 'em toe the line — lick 'em, lick decided to take it to the fair. Then I told 'em like the dickens.” him feelingly of some of the big pumpkins that I intended to raise in the Bean Ridge I never believed much in presentiments. school, and how I would plant the seeds of But, odd and unexplainable as it may seem, ambition and “spur” them on, until the that first Monday morning when I stood children of the Bean Ridge school should before that school and rapped for order be known from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I had a strange premonition that I could I got on good terms with Watson's seven not do all I had once dreamed that I children, and helped feed the hogs. would do in my ideal school - at least

Sam promised next morning that he not right away. And I felt a vague, wouldn't do anything "agin" me.

uneasy wish that my beloved psychologist who wrote such beautiful English about I was disturbed. I was not gripping the the duty of the teacher to the tender, two with hoops of admiration — and I budding soul of youth, were beside me to wanted the thing to be unanimous. But tell me just how to begin. But he was I went on. Most of the school were not there; and it has been convincingly listening - at least they were doing nothing borne in upon me since that he never was. else. Some stared at me curiously; some

I had hoped for a good attendance the looked blankly straight ahead; here and first day. There were fifty-seven; which there was a dropped jaw. Half way down was not at all bad considering that most the aisle was a slender girl of fifteen of the “big ’uns” had to stay at home to almost grown, with large, inspirational help cut corn, make molasses, and sow eyes, brown hair, a clear, refined face, and wheat. They would come on later — a winsome mouth. She was listening with about the time the frost was on the pump- eager attention, and I saw dreamy aspirakin and the arithmetic class was in com- tions were stirring within her.

Her name pound fractions.

should be Eudora. And in the last seat I made a feeling little speech about the in the centre aisle, trying to conceal the great opportunities that lay before us,” shabbiest and scantiest garb in the room, and told them what a good thing education was a boy of eleven or twelve, whose was for the human system and cited eyes, burning with a great yearning, were James A. Garfield and Abraham Lincoln fixed on mine; pale, thin-faced, underfed, as examples; mentioning that these dis- but with a high forehead and sensitive tinguished victims of assassins' bullets but resolute lips. His name should be and orators' eulogies were once as ordinary Luke. as any one of the boys present, which was And so school opened. There were to pretty hard on my illustrious examples. be no rules save one “Do Right."

However, I could see great promise in How very simple; how easy! Do away my pupils. They were vigorous and had with a hundred thousand thick, fat, dull, come in close touch with the soil, at both twisted volumes of revised statutes; and ends. In spite of my beautiful theories, just pass one law — "Do Right.” at the first tap of the bell I had subcon- It worked beautifully the first day. sciously decided that whatever praying I But as I returned that evening to my did should be done with my eyes open. boarding place with books to review on And while my soul and psychology kept one arm, and dinner pail on the other, I my tongue going on the beauties and felt unaccountably tired. There had been delights ahead of us in the flowery fields a strain in the day's work my teachers' of learning, my eyes were busy picking out psychology had not mentioned. the most salient bumps of human nature I was tired but relieved. Nothing and sizing them up,

dreadful had happened all day. And in On the off side in the extreme northwest spite of a far-off fluttering sense of uneasicorner sat a boy I instantly called "Chuck.” ness, I was happy, for as I walked the He was about fourteen years old, chunky, ridge road shadowed by over-reaching oak with a thick neck, a pug nose, and a head and walled by hazel and sumach, I saw that looked like a knot sawed from a black- more vividly than ever the vision of the jack tree. Straight across the room in the academy walls, the college campus, and southeast corner sat “Slimmy”- nineteen the wide world of achievement. I should years old, six feet tall, with a long nose, succeed with this school. The children a loose skin, a mournful face, and hair the should love me, the parents honor me — color of dead broom grass.

and better paying districts call me. I had As my words glowed with the joy of a little tussle with my conscience whether school, Chuck's pug nose went a fraction I should give up my well begun work here nearer his forehead, his left eyelid lifted next year, and go to a bigger school at slowly, cautiously, his eye crept circum- better wages. spectly around until it met Slimmy's, and In the first day I had discovered several then the eyelid dropped.

things. The biggest problem was —"How

came.

was I in six hours a day to teach eight everlastingly and eternally damned in the fundamental branches of learning to fifty- Bean Ridge district — and all adjacent seven pupils, and do it according to every territory. one's individual bent?” I had discovered I was glad when Friday and four o'clock that I must have twenty-seven recitations

Even now I never hear a clock every day. And with a class of fifteen in strike four that I do not unconsciously the fourth reader and fifteen minutes for lean back and say “Thank the Lord," and recitation, how was I to teach Tommy to Friday late in the afternoon will be my follow his historical bent in reading, lead favorite day as long as I live. The school Jimmy to love Robert Louis Stevenson, had been curious and quiet Monday; not and cultivate Mary in literature, and give so curious nor quiet Tuesday; restless Bob the desired start in political research? Thursday; and by Friday the noise had In my dumb, puzzled groping at that time grown to resemble the flight of locusts. I could see no way of doing anything to When the bell rang Friday at afternoon that class but teach it the fourth reader. recess, Slimmy came in several minutes

A country school? To be sure; but isn't late; and, glancing out of the window, I saw two thirds of the public school system in Chuck throwing up a ball to get one more the country? Maybe there are fewer whack at it with his bat. The B geography pupils in some rural schools; and yet in class was reciting when he sauntered in the next school that I taught I had ninety- and dropped with an audible thump into seven, with thirty in the primer class, and his seat. When I looked around I caught a class of algebra and physiology after a very distinct wink at Slimmy. I did school hours. And I may add right here, not say anything. I would wait until that in all my subsequent teaching I found Monday and think it over. in varying degree the same difficulties, the As I returned to my boarding place that same problems, as in this first school. afternoon I felt more than a 'faint sub

I made more discoveries the next day conscious flutter of uneasiness. I had and the next. Before the week was out been very kind, very reasonable, and gentle I had it borne in on me that to watch with the pupils. Yet there had been too fifty-seven restless, nondescript descen- much noise the last two days. I must do dants of Adam and Eve, Judas Iscariot, something about it; and you are always Lucretia Borgia, and a few other worthy uncomfortable when you have to do someunworthies, and at the same time assign thing about it. and hear twenty-seven recitations every My days were passed in aggravated six hours, was a pretty big job. There anxiety and my nights in feverish dread. was only one thing to be done; nail my flag I would dodge a member of the school to the masthead of McGuffey's reader and board as though he had the bubonic plague. Ray's arithmetic, and go in soul and body I expected every Friday to get a request to fight human nature and the demons of to resign. ignorance. I knew that unless I taught At length I rose up and determined to them to read, the door would be shut on take radical steps. I promulgated a rule: most of them. In a few years

three or

“There shall be no whispering." Not a five — nearly all of them would be out of word. The slightest breath that shaped school; and unless they had learned to itself into an audible request for a “pencil" follow the printed page and get its meaning, should be punished rigorously. That the agricultural paper, the mechanics' would make it easy.

would make it easy. Nobody could accuse journal, the newspaper, the religious me of partiality. Everybody who whisjournal, the magazine, would fail to carry pered would be kept in at recess. their helpful message to them; and their This was the middle of October. During mental development would be arrested at all my worries and anxieties there had been the very beginning. I had to teach them a few consolations - at least two. Luke, how to write, and, of course, I had to the thin-faced, underfed, shabby boy in teach arithmetic. If I didn't "learn 'em the back seat in the aisle row, ate up his to do their sums” thoroughly I would be studies like a locust on a green limb. I

never saw such a fierce passion for knowl- times when things approached the riot edge. He heeded everything I said with stage. I invented a number of original worshipful attention, and attacked every forms of moral suasion. lesson as though it were a personal enemy One by one I had forsaken the tenets of of mine to be demolished. And Eudora my teachers' psychology until all were watched with ever constant vigilance to abandoned but one - 1 clung to that. meet my expectations of her. She learned Never inflict corporal punishment. The quite as readily as Luke, but hers was a teacher who can not govern without the sort of joyous effort; she revelled in her rod should resign. That was deeply studies; and was happiest when some task ground into me. I did not want to resign, led her imagination far afield. She had and so I invented other punishments innever offended in the slightest; never by stead of the rod. word or act, not even by accident, had she My first big contact with parenthood disturbed the faintest ripple of order. occurred the week before Thanksgiving.

I had promulgated the no-whispering I had vowed that no matter what happened order on a Monday morning. Everything I would not use physical violence. But had been quiet. I started to let the school I think the school knew me better than I out for the morning recess. I had not knew myself, or things would have been seen nor heard a whisper. Arthur Bott- worse than they were. Slimmy and ler's hand flew up; Arthur Bottler's meddle- Chuck and several others had been some voice piped out:

baiting me, slowly, cautiously, but con“Eudora whispered!”

stantly encroaching a little here and there. Eudora turned very pale, her eyes went Slimmy took the lead, for he was the down to her desk, and then sought mine largest — much larger and older than I. in a sort of scared appeal.

The boys had been slow about coming “Did you?” I asked.

in when the bell rang. They tarried a “ Yes — | asked Mary for her arith- little longer each time. metic." Mary was her seatmate.

One day Slimmy stayed out ten minutes. “Then I guess you will have to stay in.” At the evening recess, I remarked:

A deep flush of shame and mortification “Slimmy may remain in to make up for spread over her sensitive face; her lips the time he lost at noon." trembled — Eudora, who had never been Slimmy gave Chuck a wink, and depunished in school, was the first victim of liberately got up and went out. I saw my new iron-clad rule, while all the several violet rays before my eyes, but rest, guying, laughing, boisterous ones, held in. When I dismissed at four, I passed out whooping and yelling.

stationed myself at the door, and asked Eudora's head slowly sank upon the desk Slimmy to keep his seat. before her; and her shoulders rose and fell Slimmy kept it. “Now," I said, dropin a slow sob. She had tried so hard to ping psychological formulas, "you will be perfect; she had wanted to do exactly apologize in the morning for your disright with me; just as I had hoped to be obedience — do it before the whole school, perfect before the district — and we had or you will take your books and go home both failed.

and not come back." Wrath smoldered in me all the rest of the Slimmy took his books. But early next day; the raw sort of wrath that comes morning his father came back. when you feel yourself one third in the He began to talk like a man who is wrong and two thirds the victim of cir- , looking for trouble and does not want cumstances. I surely kept a vigilant eye, any excuse for not having it. He laid the for by the evening's recess I had garnered law down flat that his boy was coming eighteen whispers in a little note book, back to school and was not going to apoloand read the names and ordered them to gize. The other boys had stayed out late remain in.

at recess and never been kept in; and his Things drifted after that. There were boy was just as good as any of them periods of calm; and again tempestuous and I couldn't run any "Sandy" over him.

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