Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.
This week teachers and children will be returning back to their classrooms for another year of learning. Almost everyone would agree that today’s classrooms are far different from the classrooms of the past. So in tribute to the start of a new school year, here’s a peek at what a typical day was like at a Faulkner County school 100 years ago.
Many of these small community schools scattered around the county were subscription schools—students had to pay a small fee to the teacher in exchange for his or her services. Others were run by a school board. Teacher salaries ranged from $25 to $30 a term. Teachers might even have to live (or perhaps even share a bed) with a local family.
The schoolhouses ranged from one to three-room frame buildings with glass windows and double front doors. If there was more than one room, the children were usually divided by age with the older children in one room and the younger children in another room. Often the building doubled as the community church.
Most had an iron wood-burning stove that the children helped feed during the cold winter months. The rooms had double student desks with ink wells and a teacher desk and blackboard (or something that passed for one) at the front. There were no toilet facilities indoors but a water bucket with a ladle was available to all. Each student kept their own drinking cup.
School terms were often set by the individual school boards. They were usually split between a four-month winter term and a two-month summer term. This was done to allow students to help at home during the planting and harvesting.
Students had to walk to school, in every kind of weather, so most schoolhouses were within walking distance. The school day usually began with the ringing of the bell around 8 or 9 a.m. There was usually a fifteen minute break in the middle of the morning for recess. They would often play ball during the summer recesses.
The teachers in these schools didn’t have to have much formal training. They often had 50 or more children ranging from age six to 21. They were expected to teach reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic at every grade level from one to eight. Often the younger students recited to the older students just to get everything done.
Memorization was a major part of the curriculum whether it was learning multiplication tables or reciting excerpts from classical poetry and literature. Most reading passages came from McGuffey’s Readers, Baldwin’s Readers or the Bible.
Students who were fortunate brought their own food from home in an old one-gallon syrup bucket. They usually brought meat, biscuits and sometimes an egg or a dried pie. Other students didn’t have any lunch or brought fatback.
At least once or twice a year, the students would put on a play for their parents and the community. The older students would often memorize and perform the speaking parts. Sometimes they also had pie suppers at the school.
We have a dedicated group of people to thank for preserving this glimpse into the past. In 1990, a group of volunteers from the Faulkner County Historical Society and the Faulkner County Retired Teachers Association went out into the communities to uncover photographs and documents related to the old school buildings scattered throughout Faulkner County. They also interviewed people who went to these schools between 1909 and 1919 who were then in their ‘80s and ‘90s.
Everything they collected was copied and stored in the UCA Archives at Torreyson Library. Filed along with the photographs and documents are videotapes and audiotapes from those interviews with teachers and students who attended some of the old county schools.
In the late 1920s, consolidation began in the county and the number of districts was reduced from 115 to seven. Those seven still exist today with the exception of the consolidation of Mt. Vernon and Enola in 1991 which reduced the number of county districts to six.