A Daily Schedule for a One-Room Schoolhouse
by Michael Day
A likely scene at the end of a harrowing schoolhouse day? Visitors to a one room schoolhouse often have a hard time visualizing just how one teacher could possibly teach all subjects in several grade levels at the same time. Class size might well exceed thirty and the age range of students could stretch from four to twenty. It seems an impossible task.
Part of the problem is that modern students (and their teachers) are used to thinking in terms of fifty minute time blocks, and whole class presentations. There is also today a strong emphasis on making every minute count; of keeping everyone focused on learning, or at least busy with teacher directed school work.
In the one room school, the "scholars" were grouped into classes of various sizes. A "class" might be two or a dozen students at roughly the same level in a given topic, and would be called as a group to the teacher's desk for a recitation of their lessons. The well organized teacher would work with each of the various classes for a short period of time; assign them a new lesson to be learned on their own, and then move on to another group. At a later time, the scholars would be expected to report back to the teacher and to demonstrate (i.e. recite) what they had learned. An underlying assumption of the one room schoolhouse was that the scholars would be sufficiently self-motivated and/or disciplined enough to keep themselves occupied and focused on their own learning while the teacher was working with others. And for most of the day, the teacher would, in fact, be "working with others". A look at a recommend daily schedule from 1880 makes this very clear.
In the May 1880 edition of the New England Journal of Education, John Hancock, the Superintendent of Schools for Dayton, Ohio, proposed the following schedule of recitations for use in a one room schoolhouse.
9:00 - 9:15 Opening Exercises 12:00 - 1:30 Lunch & Recess
9:15 - 9:25 Abecedarians 1:30 - 1:40 Abecedarians
9:25 - 9:35 First Readers 1:40 - 1:55 First Class in Grammar
9:35 - 9:50 Second Readers 1:55 - 2:05 First Readers
9:50 - 10:10 First class in Arithmetic 2:05 - 2:20 Second Class in Geography
10:10 - 10:25 Third Readers 2:20 - 2:35 Second Readers
10:25 - 10:40 Recess 2:35 - 2:50 Fifth Readers
10:40 - 11:00 Second Class in Arithmetic 2:50 - 3:05 Recess
11:00 - 11:10 Abecedarians 3:05 - 3:20 Second Class in Grammar
11:10 - 11:25 Geography 3:20 - 3:30 Abecedarians
11:25 - 11:40 First Readers 3:30 - 3:50 Writing
11:40 - 11:55 Fourth Readers 3:50 - 4:10 Higher Class Recitations
11:55 - 12:00 Roll Call, etc. 4:10 - 4:30 Miscellaneous exercises
Hancock recommended that teachers strive for the minimum number of classes so that more time could be allocated to each. Even so, little time was spent with each class, and that diminished as the students got older. Hancock proposed that "Abecedarians" (i.e. those just learning the alphabet) have four recitations a day for a total of forty minutes. "The time assigned for their recitations, if well employed, is sufficient to enable the teacher give a very short object-lesson, introducing the word she designs making the basis of her lesson, the elementary sounds of that word, and the characters representing these sounds. These characters the children should practice making in script between recitations." "First Readers" meet three times a day for a total of thirty-five minutes. Between recitations the students would have certain lessons to memorize, or would practice writing on their slates. The Fifth Readers received fifteen minutes a day of the teacher's time and just twenty minutes a day was set aside for "Higher Class Recitations". We do know that many teachers recruited older students to tutor younger ones, so the amount of instruction may well have been more than is accounted for in Hancock's schedule. Nevertheless, there must have been a considerable amount of time each day when students were very much in charge of their own learning.
While the daily schedule would certainly vary from one teacher to the next, the plan proposed by John Hancock does give us a sense of what a typical day was like for both teacher and students in the one room schoolhouse.
Photo: "The End of the Day", by Clifton Johnson, The Country School, 1907
Michael Day is the owner of Clippership Publications, 13 Laurel Lane, Barkhamsted, CT 06063 and you can access his site at www.clippership-publications.com. Clippership sells books for one-room schoolhouse museums, reproductions of original popular 19th century textbooks and childrens' books. Visit his site to see an extensive list of his publications with descriptions of books you'll find useful in your re-enactments or living history programs. You will find Books for a one-Room Schoolhouse, Children's Literature, and Resources for a Restored One-Room Schoolhouse.