I remember watching “Little House on the Prairie” and seeing a one room classroom. I often wondered what that would be like; to have all different classes in one room, and to have the whole town in one room. When I pictured my mom in school back in the UP of Michigan I pictured her in a one room school house. I am pretty sure that she wasn’t, but for my little imagination, it worked. Michigan seemed small, the town she lived in (Hermansville) definitely seemed small, and I knew that at least one year her brother was in the same classroom (although in hindsight this might have been confirmation class story).
As a teacher, the idea of a one room classroom is daunting. A one room school house was one teacher teaching six to seven subjects a day to children of all ages. Not only would I be the jack of all trades teaching across the curriculum and grade levels all at once, I would also have to do it ALL DAY long with the same set of kids. Not only that, but I would be doing it all with an education not much higher than that of my oldest/highest student. Teachers during the 1800s were educated like their students, then they would take a few extra courses (often provided by their teacher) then take exams in the different subject areas. As we neared the 1900s, teachers’ requirements became more extreme, and what would be taught became more of a Renaissance course than a Jack of all Trades course.
As a modern day high school teacher, I deal with five sets of kids for approximately one hour a day. In each set of kids I can have anywhere from 32 to 45 students. This year I have all twelfth grade courses, but within the courses I have students that only have the credits to be a tenth grader, a few in the eleventh grade range, and about three quarters that are true seniors. This reflection tells me that a quarter of my students have either not gained the knowledge of the prior three years in their previous classes (since not having the credit means they Failed the course, not a D for a letter grade, but a Fail). Along with these students are the ones that have only received D’s for letter grades for the last three years. And then there are the students that have received A’s B’s and C’s. Going even further, there are the students that have learned how to skirt the system. They have the credits required to be a senior during their senior year, but they have not actually gained any knowledge the previous years. I have had students at both honors and AP level courses that did not have some of the basic ninth grade standards even partially mastered. I have had one classroom, one class, where students reading levels ranged from around 5th grade to college level. Where their writing levels ranged from 5th grade to the college level. Where their social skills ranged from 3rd grade to the college level. Where their speaking skills range from recent graduate from ESL classes to fluent mastery of the language.
I do have a one room school house, but it is masked by a number next to the students names. I have been educated in my area of expertise. I have taken numerous classes on the subject, written papers and done research on Literature and authors, sat through classes upon classes with discussions of symbols and theme. I have also taken classes in how to take this knowledge and share it back with younger generations, how to identify students learning abilities and levels, how to maintain a class and manage outbursts. But book after book only tells of how to manage a class all having the same problem, or an outbreak of talking, or other spot problems. Somehow that one room school house teacher was lost in a book written about the 1800s life of the prairie. Some how it has come to be believed that the one room school house teacher doesn’t need to exist anymore. That some how all of our children are the same, with the same problems, and the same learning abilities and issues.
If you struggle with your child doing his/her homework, imagine what the classroom teacher struggles with. Not just doing homework, but sometimes even the most basic understanding of a topic, standard, piece of Literature/history/science term/math problem/language barrier/word concept/and on and on the list goes.
Today’s teacher is still that one room school house teacher. Instead, today, that teacher has to focus on much more than just making Jack’s of all Trades, and most of the time even more than the Renaissance man/woman. Today they are making technologically savvy, socially correct, educated people.