April A to Z Challenge: Learning

Welcome to the April A to Z Blogging Challenge! This year my contribution is the story of my great grandmother Alzina. She lived in the style of “Little House on the Prairie”and kept a record of her life through letters to family and her own journals. I find her story fascinating and intriguing. Each post will start (sometimes strangely) with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, just because they have to. My hope is that we can “catch” some of her courage to help us face challenges in our present times.

Alzina and her siblings took every opportunity to learn, both at church and at community events. They went to events to hear speakers who traveled from town to town and gained reputation while inspiring their young listeners to “make something of themselves”. The young men often responded but as Alzie complained in a letter to her aunt and uncle, the young women were not often interested in education. Alzie laid the blame on the parents, but had this to say of her own father and mother who encouraged her to go past the higher grades to study to be a teacher.

“I don’t know why I have so many advantages given me. A good home, wise father and mother, kind uncles and aunts and so many others . I only hope that I may be able to give a good account of improvement to them. “

To give her “good account” she began early to give singing and music lessons to any who would learn. She taught in Sunday school as well. As small schools sprang up anywhere there were enough children to warrant them, Alzie set herself to acquiring the credentials needed to teach. In those days, teachers had to have continuing education and certification in order to secure work. It was usually one teacher per school. There was no tenure or promise of continued employment and openings for work at the schools changed from term to term. Often preferential treatment was given to relatives or friends of the school board members.

Alzie wrote to her Aunt and Uncle:

June 1888

“I told you I would write to you, but I haven’t kept my word very well. I have been very busy, though, and although that is the universal excuse, I really have had my hands full. Tomorrow is the last day of the three months school. I began at the first in all of my books, and tomorrow I take the last lesson in all but Arithmetic. I had to take 7 pages per day in some and Physiology and Civil Government were new studies to me.

I went to the county examination in April and got a 3rd grade certificate. (Certificates were “graded” according to proficiency, not the grade to be taught.) Phebe and I will both go to Normal. I am going to be just “cheeky” enough to apply for a 1st grade certificate (the highest level), even though I have never taught a term of school. I think that I can do it, if I put a good deal of time on Philosophy and Algebra. But they don’t require those who applied for 1st grade certificate last spring to be examined in Algebra, or any of the higher studies.

Phebe will go to Baldwin this fall and I want her to go until she graduates. I want to go to Emporia as soon as I can. I have applied for a school and have been promised a preference to others, but being a new school district, they don’t know much and can’t tell much about it until after the school meeting.”

Early March, 1889

“Miss Pomeroy, I can’t find my mittens. Can you help me?” Little Mary tugged on Alzie’s skirt and pleaded with her to come out to the cloak room where the children were milling about after being dismissed. It had been the last day of the term and many of the parents had come at the end to hear the children spell.

As soon as Alzina left the room, the men who had been lingering about the door carried some large boards into the room and set up a makeshift table over the desks in the front. The women fetched their baskets from the wagons outside and began to spread “the good things of this life” out for a small feast.

The surprise was ready when Alzie came back into the room and was escorted to a seat of honor by one of the fathers. It was an hour complete with speeches and compliments from the parents who were well pleased with Alzie’s work. It was a great encouragement for a young teacher starting a long career.

Miss Pomeroy and some of her first students. Pictures were rare – this one has survived a hard existence.

Talk (write) to me.

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