So ended 51 terms of school teaching-27 in Ritchie County, 3 in Harrison County, 4 in Doddridge County, 1 in Taylor County, and 16 in Braxton County. I have taught about 1500 children. Very few teachers have had a chance to do more good to the rising generation. This was a long time to teach. During this time I have seen many changes.
When I began teaching, almost anyone who could answer the questions asked by the Board of Examination could get to teach-in fact, if they could answer three out of four. Often there was much cheating so that many teachers could not work fairly simple problems in arithmetic and knew nothing about history. I remember well in my first exam that one question was, “How many teeth has an adult?” A young fellow asked the examiner, “What is an adult?” The reply was, “What do you think it is?” The boy replied, “I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe it was a sick person.” I am glad to say he did not get a grade.
At the time I began teaching, there were no teachers in Ritchie County with a degree except the principal of a large high school. I doubt if there were any, or very few, teaching in the rural schools who were high school graduates. The rural schools were all one-room schools. In fact, they didn’t begin to consolidate schools and haul the children in buses for 30 years. How many of the teachers now are not only high school and normal graduates, but have a degree!
The salary for a First Grade was seldom over $30 per month for a term of four months. When in 1903 they increased the school term to five months, they cut the salary to $23 per month. After paying your board, you had less than $100 for five months’ teaching. You ask why any one would teach for that? The answer is easy-there was no work you could get during the bad winter months, and it was an honor to be a teacher. When school was out, you could raise a crop or get a job on a farm (farming was about the only work to be had in the rural sections). Your school gave you a little cash, for money was scarce.
After World War I teachers’ wages were raised to $108 per month, which seemed like a princely wage. But this did not equal the wages paid in factories. Many teachers went to the cities, and there was trouble to get teachers in many sections. They had to take boys and girls without any preparation who did not intend to make it a life work but merely wanted to make some easy money, not caring whether the children learned anything or not.
I will tell a story one teacher told me. She passed a school house early in the fall, about 1:30 p.m. The teacher had on a man’s white shirt and a pair of slacks, with her feet on the desk, leaning back against the wall sound asleep. Probably she was happy!
The wages in Union District, Ritchie County, were always low until the county was made a school unit and a minimum wage was set in 1919. The towns had paid much higher wages, but this law did away with independent districts, which pleased me for I hated for them to feel that they could laud it over us rural teachers.
Stories Told by County Superintendents: I will tell a few stories told by county superintendents. There was a time when there was a blank space after each name on the register for the teacher to make remarks about the pupil. One teacher wrote, “Kissed the teacher three times.” After another name was written, “The prettiest girl in school.” The same superintendent read us a report from one teacher of an attendance of 200% (this was better than I ever could do). All of this shows that many teachers were lacking in education, judgment, and good common sense,
Another superintendent told me of visiting a school which showed lack of order and any sign of teaching ability. All at once a big boy in the back of the house yelled out, “Gobbler,” (the teacher’s name was Garber) “what time is it?” After school was out, the teacher said he was going into something that would pay him better than teaching. The superintendent told him that was the thing to do.