Teacher – Shawano and Area
by Jane Glenz
Millie Schmidt taught at the rural schools of Turner, Lone Maple, Split Rock and Stony Hill for 11 years. She also taught at Big Falls State Graded School, Embarrass State Graded School, Gresham Grade School, Keshena Grade Schools and Olga Brener School. She retired from teaching in 1984. This interview was conducted on July 28, 1988.
What were the country schools like?
Well, these were some of the things we had to do. We had to carry our own water. I lived across from the school so they had to go over to my home to get the water; carry it back to the school and put it into a glass jar. We had to put up the flag; open the pressure intakes for fresh air; sweep out the toilets and do our own general cleaning. Once a month someone came in and scrubbed the floors and washed the windows.
We more or less setup our own curriculum. We had a manual that was given to us when we went out to teach and it told us exactly what should be taught in civics, agriculture, history, arithmetic, reading, spelling and language.
The classes were together. The first grade was alone in reading because they were just beginning and then second was alone; third and fourth together; fifth and sixth, and seventh and eighth. It was the same in all the subjects. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have time for all those classes. You taught them odd and even years. That manual was all we had to follow. From there we just did our own thing.
We had an old “Xerox” machine called a hectograph that was a tin frame and the district sent for some hectograph material. It was real hard and you put it in a jar and diluted it with water, pounded it in a pan and let it harden. Then you would make a copy with a hectograph pencil and make copies. It was a lot of work. You had to work from seven in the morning to ten at night. I have often said every teacher that goes out to teach should spend one year in a country school and they would not spend much time in the lounge. They would not leave school at four like they do now. They would be there at seven in the morning. I always felt guilty sitting in the lounge when I could be doing something.
When it was recess time we had to go out with the children. We didn’t have any time to prepare because if they went out on the playground and got hurt, we were responsible.
I always tried to get the kids involved when they were out playing. I would organize two teams and I never let a captain pick because some poor little kids never got chosen. We took the boys and girls and numbered them. If they got a poor team, they got a poor team. I tried to help the poor teams. We would play kick ball and we would play until everyone got a chance to kick. We didn’t play three out. We would keep score.
I found that the bigger children took care of the little ones, although they did pick on them sometimes. I would play ball with them because I started teaching when I was 18 so I was very young and enjoyed the games.
Did they have a lot of books in the country schools?
No, no workbooks. They had a tablet, no slates. I was past the age where they used slates. They did have thick tablets and textbooks. If we wanted to give them something different to do for seat work, we had to take it out of a textbook or dream it up, put it on the hectograph and run it off. We had lots of blackboards. We did most of our teaching from the blackboards. I would put the assignment on the board. Probably some mix and match and they had to copy that. What was good about that was you could check on their writing and their neatness. Now you give them a workbook and they write “yes, no” and then they are done. They were busy doing all these things.
When did you find the time to write this on the board?
When school was out at four and the kids went home I was there to six or seven getting my work done. I would get it all on the board so if parents came in the morning, I was ready to talk to them. The bigger kids helped a lot. The older girls would say we will stay and help you sweep.
I had quite a unique situation. I taught my home school and I had only 14 children and six of these were in the eighth grade. The next year, there were three seventh graders and there were no new babies. I knew they would not keep the school open. So I looked ahead and took the Lone Maple School about six miles from home. That had about 22 students. I taught there for three years and at the end of the third year that had gone down to about 12. Then I applied at Split Rock which was just between the two. When I started teaching at Split Rock they had already closed Turner School and they also closed Lone Maple. I had 41 in grades 1 – 8. I taught there for three years.
I must say that I never had one discipline problem because the parents told their kids, “you got to school and you mind that teacher. She is the boss.”
How many of those kids in your neighborhood went on to high school?
From our neighborhood, our family was one of the only ones that went to high school and further education. We lived about six miles from the high school. We had to be transported in or walk. Very few went on.
What was rather interesting was we were expected to get the seventh and eighth graders up to level at the end of the year. We had accountability. At the end of the year they had to go to Tigerton, which was strange to them. They went to the graded school, sat down and took the county tests given by the county supervisor. They had to sit there all day. If they didn’t pass that test, they did not pass the grade.
You didn’t know what the test was like?
No, we never saw them. We had no idea. Then we sat and waited. They all seemed to do well. We knew, though, what we had to teach. I’ll tell you what we didn’t have to teach. We didn’t have to teach sex education, career education; we didn’t have physical education taking our time; we didn’t have music. I taught my own music in the morning where we would sing some songs.
We knew what had to be covered in Civics state officials, local, county, etc. Lot of memory work. I don’t know what the tests were like. I don’t think it was color in the dots like today.
I would say to the kids, “How was the test?” “Hard!” but they all did fairly well.
When I went to the state graded school it was a little better. I only had two grades.
What is a state graded school?
A state graded school was different from a public school but I couldn’t tell you how. They brought quite a few of the country schools together.
When I left the country school, I went to Big Falls Graded School and stayed there until I was married.
I then switched to the Embarrass Graded School and stayed there until we bought a home in Shawano. They had brought some of the country schools into Lincoln about that time and Olga Brener offered me the job of teacher the seventh and eighth graders English class. But Olga rather preferred someone who had a degree. I didn’t know how much I could go and work on a degree because I was raising a family so instead I took a job at Stony Hill School.
That was a nice school. It had a built-in stage and a library. We had a back room to store books; a basement where the kids could play if it was cold outside.
Was there indoor plumbing in the country school?
Chemical toilets at Stony Hill and they smelled so bad so we went outside most of the time. In the winter we used the chemical ones. The other country schools all had outdoor toilets.
How did the students dress in the country schools?
I would say they dressed pretty much as they do now. They wore bib overalls and shirts and heavy shoes. The girls wore skirts and shoes up to their ankle.
They brought their lunches. Later on, we would put something on top of the furnace like soup. When I lived across from the farm my brother would bring me a lunch on a covered tray.
They didn’t have busses?
No, everybody walked but the farthest that anybody walked was 1 1/4 miles.
How about the salary?
I started out at $75 a month. We taught eight months so four months no pay. I would help on the farm or go to summer school.
Did you have any discipline problems?
At the country schools no problems but I do remember a few children that were a little more overactive. I remember one child in my later years of teaching that was so hyperactive she could not sit still. She was all around the room. I had another one that just chattered all day. When someone had a question, he had an answer. He had been on medication and the mother didn’t want him to be. So she said she’d put him in Mrs. Schmidt’s class, she could handle him. I had taught her. He didn’t want to do anything. You’d put paper on his desk and he would shoot it off. One day the principal came into supervise. I gave them the sheets and explained and he just checked off without reading it and brought it to my desk. I told him to do it again and a he said, “Like hell, I will.” I said to the principal what do you do about that? He said he would talk to him. It didn’t help. Somedays he would be real sweet. He loved attention. One day he was in the hall and just threw a stone.
At the end of the year I said, “Good, Lord, I made it.”
Amazingly, the kids that were the worst problems are the friendliest now. One comes over and brings me pickles all the time.
The last year was such a good year they loved to play ball and were such good sports.
The last two years I was on the negotiating team and I suggested to the Board that we get an hour at noon. We had to spend a half hour on the lunch table and then half hour to eat our lunch. I said that with the money that I’m making that is an awful lot of money to spend to pay me to stand and watch children on the playground. Where I should be is right in the classroom with the children that are behind in their work. They agreed to do that but at the end of the day we had to write down who we had worked with. We would post a list of the students that had to come in and if they didn’t, an aide would go out and get them.
Do you think school has changed quite a bit?
We have more discipline problems now because of more problems at home with mothers working and one parent families.
How about teachers? Have they changed?
All teachers are good. They work very hard. I don’t think people appreciate how hard they work. My husband would get so sick of me sitting here 10 o’clock at night. You had all these workbooks to check. Get tests checked.
I’m a firm believer that every new step they made had to be put down in that class book so if a parent came to me I could show them.
What about consolidation?
The girl that took my place at Stony Hill stayed there until they closed the school. They didn’t do that until Olga Brener was built and they closed them all. She then got a job at Olga Brener.
How long was the school day?
At the country schools it was from 9 to 4.
How many students did you have at one time?
I usually had about 24. I liked it when I was full in the beginning of the year because I got all of them going at the same time and I didn’t have to get any new students.
Was attendance a problem at the country schools?
They did quite a bit of missing but they did a lot of their work at home. If they had to help on the farm, you didn’t say they were truant. Parents usually made them make up the work.
Other notes on country schools . . .
We had a library. We had dictionaries but not much reference material. I was always disappointed that we didn’t have a class on manners. There was never time for that but we tried to teach them that.
The school was the center of the community. So, at Christmas we had to put on a program and it had to be a masterpiece. In fact, they kind of judged the teacher by the program she put on. You had to put on a full night’s entertainment. We would make a stage. Someone would come in and play the organ. We made crepe paper dresses; taught them songs. We spent a good two weeks planning it. That was their dramatics. The boys would go and get the Christmas tree. Then we would decorate it.
Mr. Pahr was the Country Superintendent and he would come out to observe. He always had a newspaper and he would sit and read it. You wouldn’t think he would be listening but after a while he would say, “All’s well here,” and leave.