The article below is from the September 29, 1995 edition of Batavia's The Daily News newspaper. It was written by a retired school teacher who taught in one of Orchard Park's first schools.
Recalling -A One-Room Schoolhouse
By Beatrice Butzer
This fall when I see the familiar yellow school buses carrying children to the big centralized schools, I think of the small one-room country school where I did my first teaching. How different it was from the schools of today. I accepted the full responsibility for the education of those elementary children. I taught all subjects, including physical education, art, music and even drama.
Today, there are specialists in all fields of education, giving children the benefit of their expertise and encouraging the talented children they are privileged to teach. There are physical education programs, including exposure to all sports. In this high-tech world, computer training is offered to even elementary children.
Ever since childhood, my dream was to teach children. This desire prompted me to enter Buffalo State Teacher's College in the fall of 1929, to receive the training needed to make my dream a reality. When I received my bachelor of science degree in education in June of 1933, I was ready to embark on a teaching career.
In the spring of that year, I placed applications in a number of rural schools near Buffalo. Much to my dismay, there were between 10 and 30 applicants for each available position, especially where only one grade was involved. I soon made the discovery that a recommendation from someone in the community was essential to even be considered for a position.
If I placed my name on a long waiting list of substitute teachers, I might wait a long time to be called, or perhaps not be called at all. The city exams were not to be given until the following year, or even later, depending upon the need for more teachers.
My parents had sacrificed much so I could attend college during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1933. Now I felt it was up to me to earn my own living and start paying back what I owed them. With this in mind, I decided not to sit around waiting for something to develop in the city, but continued placing applications and following up with interviews. Finally, a friend in Orchard Park gave me the necessary recommendation for a position in a one-room country school at the top of the hill on Cole Road.
I had the opportunity to see the school at the time of my interview. It was almost a new building, painted white, with a flight of cement stairs leading up to the double front doors which opened into a spacious classroom. Large windows on the north side revealed a well-used yard with swings and a baseball diamond of sorts. That, I later learned was used mostly for a game called "Duck on the Rock."
There were two chemical toilets off a narrow hall where outdoor clothes were hung. A roomy basement had a large furnace and a supply of wood and coal for cold weather. A 17-year-old boy, who lived up the road a ways, was hired as school janitor. He started the fire in the furnace early each school day in cold weather and kept the building clean. These were bonuses which most one-room country schools did not have.
However, there were other facts which were not so attractive. Forty-two children were to be enrolled in eight grades. Some who had been classed as trouble-makers worried me. How anyone could be expected to teach that many children in eight grades was almost beyond my comprehension. But, I decided this challenge was better taken than staying home waiting for something that seemed beyond my grasp.
Mrs. Louis Fournier was the sole trustee of the school district. She was a swarthy, hardworking farmer's wife with two grown children living at home and an ailing husband with whom she was required to work long hours on the farm. Her hair was silver gray, twisted into a figure eight on the top of her head. Her kind eyes and ready smile gave me the confidence I needed to help me through the days that followed. She expressed her willingness to give me the opportunity to handle this difficult situation. I was not about to let her down. I pledged I would make it work somehow.
I was warned in advance that two of the large families in the district were constantly feuding. The deep hate of the parents had been passed on to the children, causing constant friction in school. The three previous teachers had given up in despair. One lasted only a few weeks and the one who preceded me stuck it out until June, but was not interested in signing a contract for another year.
All of this should have told me something. However, I was so anxious to teach, I completely ignored all the warning signs and signed a contract for 38 weeks at $20 a week, with two weeks off for harvesting potatoes in October. I was to start the day after Labor Day. I was so excited I could scarcely wait for that day to come.
I knew I had to get off on the right track the first day of school. I found a leather strap in the teacher's desk drawer and a baseball bat within easy reach. I was never a strict disciplinarian at heart, but if it was necessary for my survival, I was willing to give it my best shot. This type of disciplining children was not recommended at the School of Practice at Buffalo State. Weighing less than 100 pounds, and being just five feet tall in my stocking feet was not to my advantage. However, during the two years I taught at this school, I never had to resort to using that strap or bat. Isolation brought the swiftest results for bad behavior. Getting the cooperation of the parents made my job easier, too.
The first day of school came and went without incident. I made it clear I was not about to tolerate any nonsense or fighting in or around the school. I had come to teach and that was what I intended to do. Visiting the home of each child as soon as possible to get the parents behind me was a wise move, I decided, as time went on. Many of the parents punished their children when they got home too, if it was necessary for me to correct them for bad behavior in school.
I found the older children had learned to work well independently and freely offered help to the younger ones who needed it. The district superintendent, Raymond Buell, outlined a plan of combining grades and teaching the required course of study over a two-year period that would cover all requirements laid out by the State Board of Regents. It was not as impossible as I had thought, which gave me a sense of accomplishment I did not know existed before this experience.
Each school day began at 8:30 a.m. with prayer offered by the children and concluded with the Lord's Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and a short story, play or poem read by older children or teacher. Classes came to the front of the room to convene when called. At 10:30 a.m, there was a recess break of IS minutes and lunch at noon until 12:30 p.m., when classes resumed. My last class was at 4:30 daily.
During cold weather, the older girls prepared a hot lunch for us all. Many times it was homemade soup, prepared by the mothers at home and brought to school in a kettle to be reheated on an electric hot plate. Each family took their tum to furnish food for everyone. There was always a pail of fresh water, with each child having his own cup in his desk.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, practices were held in place of stories during the morning opening in preparation for the Christmas program that was usually held in the evening, just before school was out for the holidays. There were at least two three-act plays presented by the upper grades and individual pieces by the younger children. One of the parents was the chief provider of music to fill in where needed. All proud parents attended this function to watch their children perform. It was an event that no one could afford to miss.
I boarded in the home of a widow who had one daughter living at home. The house was across the road from the trustee's, about a half mile from the school. I paid one dollar a day for a good breakfast, a lunch and a delicious dinner. I had a clean, comfortable bed in a warm room upstairs over the living room, where a pot-bellied stove gave off plenty of heat that came through the register in the floor of my room.
I was invited to attend funerals, weddings, First Holy Communions and other special occasions that came on Saturdays and Sundays, giving me the opportunity to become better acquainted with the families in the district.
It is with nostalgia and gratitude that I look back on those experiences I had some 62 years ago in that one-room country school. It made an indelible mark on my life, giving me friends that, even today, I see occasionally. That school still stands on the corner of Cole and Gartman roads. It has been renovated and enlarged, making a lovely home for a family. I have passed it many times through the years, recalling some of the most wonderful days of mv life.