If Walls Could Talk

If you like architecture and history, Savannah is the place to go. Although I’ve lived in Orlando for 27 years, I finally made a trip to Savannah last December.  A great place to visit is the Massie Heritage Center.  Built in 1856,the building was originally Massie Common School, the oldest public school in Georgia.  The school operated for 117 years, until it became a museum in 1978.  Children still learn here. The museum is a popular place for  field trips. Travel back in time with me to a classroom in the year 1872.

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Walking among the empty desks I wonder what it was like to see the classroom in operation.  I imagine rows of children sitting in their seats…

Quiet children of course, feverishly writing multiplication tables on their slates with chalk. The smiling teacher, sitting calmly at her desk, overseeing her brood…. Everyone doing what they are asked to do… except for one student, usually a boy of course. The teacher, who does not tolerate idleness, asks the slug to stand. She places the notorious dunce cap on his head in order to publicly embarrass him. Wearing the cap, he perches on a high stool at the front of the classroom. She wants him to see that all the other children are working. She also wants the class to know that she means business.

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Who is this guy, anyway?

I awake from my daydream and continue to observe the details of the classroom.

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George Washington’s picture hangs on the front wall. Boys and girls, let’s not forget the Father of our Country. He’s watching you too, so you better do your best.

Side note: When I taught elementary school, I had a picture of George in my classroom, but it creeped out the kids. After many of them complained, I took it down. Too bad, he might have made a positive contribution to their development.

In the 1800’s rules didn’t only apply to students. On the teacher’s desk I picked up a handout, “Rules for Teachers in 1872”. Some are written below.

  1. Each day teachers will fill the lamps and clean the chimneys. What does that mean?  The kerosene lamp has a chimney?
  2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session. And I thought I had it ba’d whenever I had to buy school supplies for the class.
  3. Each teacher will make pens for the students by whittling the nibs. Is this a foreign language? What exactly is a nib? Thank goodness we had pencil sharpeners and some were electric.
  4. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed. That leaves me out since I’m married. I’m not going to try to define “unseemly conduct.”
  5. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will receive an increase of twenty-five cents per week, providing the Board of Education approves.  I get it. In many ways, it’s the same today.

A plaque attached to the front of the teacher’s desk read,

“WHAT YOU ARE TO BE, YOU ARE NOW BECOMING.”

I guess that just about says everything…

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Author: thepoetonblueberrystreet

Debra Burton is a poet and free lance writer. She is a member of Word Weavers International.

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