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One Room Schoolhouse

Once upon a time - such as six decades ago - the ringing of a bell called me to my first day of school in Little Bay, a tiny community of Marystown. The school house was partitioned into two rooms one called the low school and the other the high school. The primary grades at that time were referred to as the low and the grades above that as the high classes.

There were two female teachers a Miss Kelly, the low teacher, from Marystown South and Miss Stamp, the high teacher, from St. John's. Miss Kelly had just completed Junior Associate (Grade XI now) and without any teacher training spent the six years of her teaching career in Little Bay. Miss Stamp who was also to spend six years of her long teaching career had attended summer school for teachers in St. John's.

The first year of school was called "in your letters". Your "book" for that year was a letter card - the front page containing the letters of the alphabet cut from a Primmer. This Primmer was called - Tom's Dog. The page of letters was pasted on heavy cardboard or on something more durable like a house shingle. Luckily for me my father's was the only house in Little Bay that had shingles. Since the house was being repaired that September my father used the left over shingles to make letter "cards" for me and three other girls "in their letters" that year. The four of us were to continue school to write the Council of Higher Education examiantions eleven years later.

The second year of school was referred to as "in the Primer". The third and subsequent years were marked not by "grades" but by "books", from the first book to the sixth book. The then current books were the Corona Readers.

As mst parents couldn't afford to buy pencils and scribblers, sheets of brown wrapping paper from store bought articles were sewn together and used for writing books. Mrs. Ned's Liz did all the sewing as she was the only woman who owned a sewing machine. Slates (a slab of rock enclosed in a wooden frame) and a rock pencil were also used. If the bought rock pencil wore out it was often replaced by an even better one from the rock cliff on the Red Point. When the teacher corrected your seatwork these slates were washed clean with soapy water and dried with a soft cloth. To prepare this soapy water (usually in an iodine bottle) was a part of your homework. Anyone who forgot this part of his homework, cleaned his slate the next day by spitting on it and drying it with his sleeve. This same sleeve was often used as a handerchief.

Every class did such subjects as Cathechism, Reading, printing and writing and math. As you progressed through each book, subjects like Expositer (a type of Grammar), Times Tables (multiplication), Hygiene, Civics, Geography and History were added.

School began at 9:30 a.m., with thirty minutes for Recess, an hour and thirty minutes for lunch and closed at 4:00 p.m. The teacher used this time by asking one class their lessons including the recitation of poetry while the other classes did their seatwork. All the pupils from each class stood in line around the teacher's desk. You earned your place in that line. If the pupil at the top of the line failed to answer a question correctly the next pupil who did so, moved up first. The seatwork written on slates was corrected at this time. Everyone then returned to the seats with further seatwork while the next class followed the same procedure. This method of teaching was used in both the Low School and the High School.

Much emphasis was placed on penmanship. At two o'clock every day children would come into their desks, breathless and cheerful and after the register was marked every one tackled their "transcription". Siting three in a desk without any back support they rattled their nibs in the inkwells and thumped their blotting paper with heavy fists. Girls spent the remainder of Friday afternoons doing needlework while the boys did woodwork or wove baskets. Every evening at 3:45 p.m. the partition doors were opened and the High School teacher lead both Schools in prayer before dismissal.

Not everyone was interested in School. Some parents took the view point of what the hell are you doing wasting your time with a trashy book when they fish has to be washed and spread, the hay raked into piles or the potatoes want harvesting wood wants chopping or the snow wants sweeping - any of the outdoor matters which beset a country child more than the town one. My brother, one year younger than I was often discouraged from staying in school by the taunts of some of father's hired hands. Often on returning from school in the evening my brother felt ashamed, I was told later, when he was ridiculed, "you'll never be any good, a big boy like you coming from school every day towing a bag of books. You should be working at the fish". From that time onward, he said he would hide his school bag and retrieve it after the servants had gone home for the night. He persevered and eventually became a fishing skipper to the Grand Banks and later First mate on the Railway boats.

Everyone walked to school on muddy roads in sping and fall and on snow covered roads in winter. Some had to cross the harbour in a dory or walk the ice when the harbour froze over, while others walked the three miles from Beau Bois, a community of ten families. These pupils brought their lunches - bread and molasses and black tea. Soaked through snow - balling and the weather, their rows of wet socks steaming rubber boots and the bottles of black tea sweetened with molasses lined the fire guard round the stove in the classroom.

Parents supplied the fire wood for the fall season and the church supplied the coal for the winter. Each boy from the High School was responsible for lighting the fires before school in the morning with 'splits' brought from home. If he should be absent or forgot his kindling both teachers and pupils sat in their seats wearing their coats, caps and mitts waiting to get the fire started. So that the time waiting for the heat to permeate was not wasted you tried to do seatwork wearing clumsy mitts. Often you wished for recess time so that you could go out to play to get warm, or to use the outhouse, the only toilet facilities available.

"Books" gave way to "Grades" and our class became Grade Seven. The following year we wrote the first Council of Higher Education examinations. There was not C.H.E. exams in Grade IX but they were continued in Grades ten and eleven. Three out of four who began "letter class" together wrote the Grade eleven exams. Two of them failed one subject each and could do a supplementary while teaching themselves in two different rural communities on the Burin Peninsula. I was successful and went to Littledale - a boarding school for girls in St. John's and successfully completed Grade Twelve. The following year I did teaching training at Memorial College and acquired a Grade One Teaching Certificate. In September of that year, the Parish Priest of Oderin asked me to teach there.

Since I had gone through multigrade classrooms, I wasn't too surprised when I took charge of the one room school with thirty children from Grades one to nine inclusive. I tried my best to teach these classes by often combining Grades one and two, three and four, five and six, seven and eight, for many subjects during the regular school hours, while the Grade nines spent most of their time doing assigned seatwork. The Grade ones to Grade eights were dismissed at 4:00 p.m. With light from a kerosene lamp I worked with the Grade Nines until six o'clock every evening. They wrote the C.H.E. exams and all were very successful. There were three concerts that same year as well as choir practice twice a week at noon time in preparation for daily mass before school each morning.

The next year I returned to Little Bay where I taught as a Primary teacher in the two room school. The High School teacher from whom I had taken Grade eleven was now my principal. She left Little Bay the following year and I became principal. I taught the Grades Five to Grade Eleven excluding Grades Nine and Ten and the other teacher had Grade One to Grade Four. As I had done in Oderin during the regular school hours while providing and supervising seatwork for the Grade elevens who remained after school for two hours each evening. Extra help was given to the C.H.E. exam pupils by having classes every Saturday morning from 9:30 to 12:30 in the months of May and June. Classes were also provided during exam week. My first two Grade Elevens passed with honors.

Besides the regular teaching duties a teacher was very mcuh involved in the life of the community. The parents looked forward to school concerts, to sprees, and soup suppers during the long winter months. As there were no other recreational facilities, these activities took place in the school house. When the priest came for mass the school house was also used. This meant time off from school for the morning for all classes. If a wake and a spree coincided - the space was postponed to another time. All the dramas with which the rural community is fraught were shared by all the neighbours.

I enjoyed those years - the children, the family atmosphere of the small class, the little school, the pleasure of running my own school-house and of taking part in the community life.

For More Information check out

  • Voyage to Discovery - A History of Newfoundland and Labrador 1800 - Present by Malcolm MacLeod and Rex Brown

  • ©All Rights Reserved. Story written by School teacher whose career spanned over 50 years.

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