Ruth’s First Day as a Teacher

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, September 4, 1911: Ruth’s school started today, so I had to hustle around and help Ma with the work. Mine doesn’t start until tomorrow. I’m so glad of that. Am getting nervous already.

Photo of Ruth at a 1913 teachers' meeting in Sunbury. She is the first person on the left in the second row. She's wearing a white blouse.*

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Whew, what an exciting (and probably slightly scary) day for Grandma’s sister Ruth. It was her first day as a teacher.

Ruth graduated from high school in April 1911—and was hired as a teacher in late June. Teachers weren’t required to have college degrees in 1911—they just needed to pass a test.

(See the  June 30 post for a discussion of the requirements for teachers in 1911.)

I haven’t been able to figure out which school Ruth taught at during the 1911-12 school year, but it must have been one of the one-room school houses near McEwensville. There would have been students in grades 1-8.

I wonder if Ruth worried about behavior management. Ruth would have been 18-years-old, and some of her students were probably just a few years younger than her.

She would have had no one to back her up if she had problems. Even today behavior management is supposedly the biggest concern of first year teachers.

Differentiating instruction for a wide range of students is challenging. And Ruth would have had little or no training in pedagogy. It’s hard to picture how she had the skills needed to teach—totally without support—in a multi-grade setting.

An aside– I’m not sure why Ruth’s school didn’t observe Labor Day. According to Wikipedia Labor Day has been a federal holiday since 1894.

*The photo is from the History of McEwensville Schools by Thomas Kramm (used with permission). Two of Ruth and Grandma’s friends were also teachers and are in this picture. Rachel Oakes is in the middle of the first row, and Blanche Bryson is on the right in the first row. This photo suggests that teachers did receive a little professional development at occasional meetings held in Sunbury which is the county seat of Northumberland County.

2 Responses

  1. In Iowa, ‘normal training’ was a series of high school classes, like ‘home economics.’ Normal training was a set of classes in teaching school. My mom too the course(s) but did not teach. Several of my dad’s sister’s did teach. One went on to get her degree and made it a long a career. ;-)

    • I’m not sure whether Pennsylvania ever had a similar high school program. McEwensville High School was a very small old-fashioned 3-year classical high school. Only about 5 or 6 students graduated in a typical year, and it didn’t have a normal program–though I think that many of the graduates became teachers. The subjects included Latin, algebra, history, English.

      I know that larger consolidated high schools in central Pennsylvania were becoming much more popular in this era. For example, in the nearby town of Milton there was a “modern” 4-year high school that included a variety of programs. I know that there was a commercial program–it may have also had “normal training”.

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