LITTLE BALKANS CHRONICLES: Teaching In A Dual Classroom

J.T. Knoll
Pleasant Valley One Room School

Back in ’83-’84 the S.E.K. Special Education Cooperative compiled local history gathered by elementary and middle school students into a book. Today’s column features excerpts from that book, titled “The Living Past,” loaned to me by Nikke Foster, one of the teachers who helped students collect and edit it. I’m looking for a copy to donate to the Crawford Co. Historical Museum. If you know of one, please let me know. — J.T.K.

“Teaching in a dual classroom posed may problems. I think my greatest challenge was meeting the needs of those children who would today be diagnosed as gifted children. But back in the mid 1950s, a gifted program did not exist.

“Larry was a fifth grade student who was very capable, but a shy, quiet child. Often at the end of the day when I reflected over the activities of the day, I wondered if I had stroked Larry enough or provided the kind of challenge to stretch his inquisitive mind.

“I felt that, generally, teachers tended to teach to the average and below average student – thinking the bright, intelligent student needed less help . . . but it was not the case.”

This is just one of the stories that Mrs. Virginia Chambers, a Chapter I Remedial teacher at West Bourbon Elementary told me.

In thirty-seven years of teaching, Mrs. Chambers has experienced a lot of different things. She started teaching at the age of seventeen, due to the lack of teachers because of World War II. She didn’t have all the credits to qualify fully as a teacher, so during the summer, after her first teaching position (for which she got paid $100 a month) she went to school and finished the rest of the credits to be fully qualified as a teacher.

Mrs. Chambers taught at Pleasant Valley, a one-room school near Hiattville, Kansas. Kids would come to Pleasant Valley from homes four and one half to five miles away. The kids taught were from the first grade to the eighth grade. When these kids graduated from Pleasant Valley in the eighth grade, they then rode a school bus to Fort Scott to go to high school.

She, herself, lived eight miles from Pleasant Valley. Her transportation was with her father up to three-fourths of a mile of the school. Since he drove the high school bus for Fort Scott, she had to walk the other three fourths of a mile on to school – through rain, sleet, snow and good weather.

I asked Mrs. Chambers to make me a drawing of Pleasant Valley. One of the main things that she talked a great deal about was the big potbelly stove. She kind of snickered and said, “The row of kids that sat up front were always too hot and the kids that sat in the back were always too cold.”

The stove burned coal, so there was a coal shed. The coal shed was uniquely set up. The coal shed had a window to the outside. So once a week, when the coal truck came, they just dumped the coal through the window. Then, when she wanted to get more coal to put in the fire, she would just go through a little inside door to get the coal she needed.

Mrs. Chambers told me that she had to clean the stove along with being the nurse, mother, janitor, gym teacher, a teacher . . . and anything else need be.

The well was located just outside of the door. All they had to drink was a bucket and a dipper. “I’m sure that there were always germs.”

Interviewing Mrs. Chambers has helped me to further appreciate my education and everything I have.

  — Tera Sue Jones, 7th Grade, West Bourbon Elementary

If you have a remembrance and/or photo to share, send it — along with your name, address and phone number — by email to jtknoll@swbell.net or by land mail to 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, Kansas 66762. You can phone and text photos to 620-704-1309. — J.T. Knoll