Before university degrees were readily available, or required, such teachers often took the job with just a high school education and a 6 week course in teaching. Forbes explained that wages were low, sporadic and biased in favor of men. All teachers were governed by strict moral codes. How strict? Well, consider this, from page 189 of Forbes' book:
Rules for “Bytown” Teachers 1872
1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day's session.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
5. After ten hours in school, the teacher may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should set aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
Note: the teacher who performs his labour faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves. (Credit: http://www.bytown.net/ visitation.htm)
None of that will surprise older readers, or those familiar with the historical reality of more straight-laced times. But young men and women raised in an environment of individual freedom, non-discrimination and equal pay may be surprised to realize how different that picture used to be.
Discipline was another thing that has changed considerably. Corporal punishment was common. Three in our audience recall being strapped. (Side note: I recall getting the stick in first grade for “taking too long” to brush my teeth after lunch. What made me angry at the time was the fact corporal punishment was against policy by then, but some teachers wouldn't give it up. How come students had to obey authority, but adults could do as they pleased? Of course it wasn't particularity wise to try to make that point to a stick-swinging teacher!)
The book is in its final printing. If you want a copy it can be ordered online through
or email Joy at [email protected]
While the curriculum of the one-room school house may seem dull and repetitious, it was sufficiently rigorous that many today would have trouble passing the standardized 8th grade test of yesteryear. Forbes noted that the emphasis in education is quite different now. Teachers are expected to teach “big ideas” with a greater focus on how to learn instead of simple memorization of facts.
At the conclusion of her presentation, Forbes was thanked by Stu Rogers, who taught in (modern) schools for 35 years.
Go back far enough and there's probably a one-room school house in most family histories, particularly for those with rural roots. Indeed, the last school of that type in this region (in Griffith, near Renfrew) only closed in 1992.
Joy Forbes presenting findings from the research she carried out while writing her book.
For our February meeting 29 members and guests gathered in the basement of the North Gower United Church to hear speaker Joy Forbes on the subject of one-room schools in the Ottawa Valley.
Forbes is a Kanata resident who currently teaches grade school French at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Barrhaven. She has long been keen on using drama, dance, music and art as ways to enhance the learning experience.
Forbes also found time to write Perseverance, Pranks & Pride: Tales of the One-Room Schoolhouse, which has nearly sold out a press run of 2,000. The book consists of multiple entries from former pupils or teachers. It includes many photos of one-room schools as they were - or as they exist now, renovated into residences, or whatnot. Other photos depict the instructional material, furniture and recreational items of that period, along with some whimsical drawings of things that went on between teachers and pupils.
Forbes continues to share stories about the one-room school house experience through her talks and the extensive website she's developed:
She is still collecting stories on the subject, in person or on the website.
Upon asking for a show of hands, we learned that several in the audience attended such schools. In addition, RTHS member Pat Earl was a student teacher in yet another one-room school. Coral Scharf Lindsay attended S.S. No. 1 North Gower with very fond recollections of her teacher, Miss Helen McLaren. When Lindsay became a teacher as well, her first position was the one-room schoolhouse at S.S. No. 4 Marlborough (Malakoff) School, as detailed in pages 139-140 of Forbes' book. (“S.S.” stands for School Section.)
The schools were variously built of logs, clapboard, stone or brick. Many were modeled off plans bought from Eaton's, which accounts for the similar look. Each teacher would have to manage the building, which was usually a simple main structure with no running water, central heat or electricity. Washroom needs were met by an outhouse. Winters were kept semi-bearable with pot-bellied stoves which might be fueled by a levy of ½ cord of wood per child. Until recent decades, light would have come from windows or kerosene lamps.
Joy with a copy of her book whch was for sale at the meeting. She has sold about 2000 copies to date.
Each teacher had to maintain discipline and convey an entire curriculum to students of widely divergent ages and abilities. Such women and men had to be resourceful and resilient. Forbes remarked many started young and cited the example of two women she met at a Quebec Heritage event who began teaching at age 15.
Tales of the One-Room School House.
Presentation by: Joy Forbes
Article and Photos by Lucy Martin