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.

Thank You for Teaching

This is Teacher Appreciation month – fitting, since they’re just finishing one more year of service to their students. This post was written for my brother’s business blog at appleawards.com but I’m posting it here as a thank you to my teacher friends Joy, Tera, and Norm who were mentioned in the post.  Also, thank you to Cheryl, whose students are her business and her life, a dedicated teacher who just happens to be celebrating a birthday today.  Happy Birthday Cheryl!

I have a dear friend who is a high school guidance counselor. She has had this job over the years through many changes of administration and policy. Each year she has a large number of students to meet and encourage. My first thought is that she is there to help them plan for the future – know their strengths, choose a career goal, choose their next educational endeavor. For some, this is what she does. For others she hopes first to keep them in high school long enough to graduate. Over the brief time she has them she must develop a relationship and ask for their trust. She holds her breath as she watches them navigate their own personal mine fields – homelessness, abuse and neglect, drugs, alcohol, loneliness, ridicule, promiscuity, anxiety. Often policy changes leave her with more than she can possibly do and fewer tools with which to do anything. Their situations are on her mind far past the dismissal of the last class.

I know a woman who was an elementary school teacher in a small private school. Her example was that of great caring for her students, their families and their greatest good. She dealt with the problems of modern families, showing them compassion, integrity and principles of truthfulness with love. When an administrator was needed for the school, she accepted the position and added that to her teaching role. She left only to become caretaker for her elderly mother. When that was no longer necessary she could have retired, but returned to teaching.

I know a man who teaches music in a high school for gifted students. He holds a second job in music ministry for his church but that doesn’t keep him from spending time with his students and knowing them personally. He is fun, energetic, smart and kind and for all of that his students love him. He pushes them to excellence in their band competitions, he spends hours on their special projects and teaches them to view music with high regard. He also takes their problems home at the end of the day. His church family often hears requests to pray for his students.

It is the end of the school year. May is teacher appreciation month. Who do you know who needs to be affirmed, encouraged or thanked for being who they are and doing what they do in the field of education?

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