Friday, November 12, 2010

My Life as a Rural School Teacher

[NOTE: The first paragraph of text below appears at the top of the document in handwritten script.]

In the spring of 1986, I was interviewed on the story of my life as a rural school teacher, and also attending a rural school, and why I became a teacher, etc. This interview is now recorded in the book of “archives” at Luther College. I decided to make copies of it for my close family at Christmas of 1986.


I am Esther Hexom Hill and live at 806 East Main Street in Decorah, Iowa.

I was born in Allamakee County a daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Carl Hexom. My mother’s maiden name was Emma Johnson. I came from a family of seven children, George, Arnold, Carlton, Florence, Mabel, and Helen. I grew up on a large dairy farm of over 300 acres. I had very loving and Christian parents and we were a very close-knit family.

I attended all eight grades in a rural school. It was called the "Bell" school located in Union Prairie Township, Allamakee County. All our neighboring rural schools had a number but our Bell School did not have a number. It was called the “Bell” school because it was the first school with a large bell in it’s tower in Allamakee County. Each school day the Bell was rung at 8:30, we called it the first Bell, and the last Bell was rung at 9:00 o’clock and that meant classes would commence. It was rung again at 1:00 o’clock after lunch and the play period. In its earlier years this Bell was also rung for neighborhood emergencies.

I liked, respected and loved all my teachers. Each relationship with my teachers was a good learning situation. Older pupils helped the younger children with their studies if their lessons were completed. I was so proud when I was asked very often to be teachers helper to assist younger pupils that needed help. Doing this aiding of pupils helped me decide that I wanted to become a teacher and work with children.

Much of my play time as a child on the farm was to play school. When my sisters or brothers got bored and refused to be pupils (because I always insisted on being the teacher), I’d line up dolls and use my mother’s clothespins as imaginary pupils. I loved playing school.

I have happy memories of my days at the Bell School. Some of the highlights during the term were Spell Downs, Arithmetic Drills and Contests, Geography games, and History Quizzes on Fridays after last recess. We also looked forward to school programs in the fall of the year, the Christmas programs in December, and the big annual picnic at the close of the term.

I attended Waukon High School and took normal training in preparation to teach at a rural school.

I taught my three first terms in a rural school in Glenwood Township, Winneshiek County. I have happy memories of teaching these three terms in this school. The first term I received forty-five dollars a month. The second year I received sixty dollars a month. The third term I received sixty-five dollars a month. We were paid for nine months each year. I did my own janitor work. I paid three dollars and fifty cents a week for room and board at a farm house close to school. This was Monday through Friday.

In the fall of 1936 I married Chester Hill and became a homemaker and mother of two children. I could not continue to teach because a married lady would not be given a contract. So I stayed home and raised my children until they entered the upper grades in school, then I decided to renew my teaching certificate and continue my career. There was a shortage of teachers now and they hired married ones.

I attended Luther College and also took correspondence courses from State Teachers College, and went back to teaching in 1952. Again I enjoyed working with children, so very much and am so grateful for the opportunity I had to work with and help them.

From 1952 through 1960 I taught eight terms in Frankville, No. 7 located in Winneshiek County. This was a one room rural school with an oil burner for heat. There was no basement. At the entrance we had a large room which served as a cloak room, and provided a place for wraps, boots, and rubbers. It provided a place for the water cooler, wash basins and towel racks. Water was carried by bucket from a nearby farm.

I was paid three hundred dollars a month for nine months or twenty seven hundred dollars for the last term I taught. I was very happy in this environment and surroundings. I felt I was well reimbursed for my work.

A typical school day opened with the raising of the flag, as the pupils gave the pledge of allegiance. Then "Good Morning" greetings to all and a short prayer asking for guidance in all our work and play, for this day and also through our learning experiences so that we will all become good citizens, in our homes, schools, state, and country.

The forenoon schedule consisted of Reading, Math, and Spelling. In the afternoon we worked with lighter subjects that consisted of English, Arts, and Social Studies. Friday afternoons were for catch up, or makeup work, and drills. After last recess on Friday we had Art, Music and cleanup.

Our school organized a very active Mother’s Club with the first meeting at the very beginning of the term. New textbooks, new methods and curriculum were introduced. At other meetings we had classes with pupil participation. Also on the agenda were discussions of programs, picnics, and at some meetings educational films were shown.

These meetings brought teacher, pupil, and parents very close together. They solved many problems and misunderstandings. Parent participation was 100%. Two mothers hosted a lunch. We met on Friday from 2:30 to 4:00 pm. We averaged six meetings a term. All parents, pupils, and I, as a teacher, looked forward to these meetings.

In a rural school we were like one big happy family helping each other and working together. Older pupils assisting younger ones if they had time. Thus much individual help was given where needed. My two children attended Decorah Public Schools and they received an excellent education. But, I feel that much togetherness of the neighborhood, and working together and helping each other is now lacking in the community with the closing of the rural schools.

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