A Young Teacher’s Initiation

Historical Article Series April 26, 2020 > A Young Teacher’s Initiation

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 45, No. 1, February/March 2009

In the September 2008 newsletter we included an excerpt of an unpublished manuscript written by Almira Hibbard of Eagleville that described her examination for a teaching position in Mansfield in 1860. She was not hired at that time because of her young age (16). 

Below is another excerpt from this manuscript that describes her first teaching experiences two years later.  On May 5, 1862 Almira began her first teaching job at Horn Hill School in Mansfield.  The school, now gone, was located on Baxter Road. 

Almira Hibbard Parker probably wrote this manuscript in later life, referring back to her diaries.  Thanks to a generous gift from the family of E. Elizabeth Parker Avery, the Society owns 70 Parker family diaries, including Almira’s 1862 diary which confirms the events described below. 

It is about eight o’clock as we reach a dilapidated brown building on a hill.  I am certain a mistake has been made for no barn in our village is so poor in appearance as this low building… The door is not unlocked and Sylvester [Almira’s brother] peering in at a window says “It’s a school house any how, for there are benches round the room.”  No one comes in the few minutes he waits and at last he speaks “I guess you had better get out take your things and wait on the doorstep.”  So I wait with my books and bell there alone, for Sylvester said “He must go back to help Father”…  

After a time, when I have almost made up my mind to start for home, three children come and one says “Guess I had better get in the window and drive back the bolt to open the door” and I ask “Are you sure you can get it open that way?” and he replies “Yes with the fire shovel,” and as he opens the door I go in to the most desolate looking school-room I ever saw.

Horn Hill School
There are no known photographs of the Horn Hill school but from Almira Hibbard’s description, it was probably no better than this dilapidated rural schoolhouse.

  There are six dirty windows which have the appearance of never having been washed, more than a bushel of wood ashes are on the floor; the benches are over turned and some of them are broken.  As I am looking astonished at the scene before me Mr. Fairweather enters bringing the key.  Though he is a stranger I remark to him, “Not a very pleasing prospect for a new teacher” and he replies “It can be made all right” and he goes to work to clean up the ashes and I go out of doors.  At length he comes and tells me the room is ready.  We go in.  The room is very untidy for on desks and benches is thickly settled ash dust.  Mr. Fairweather tells me to make the best of it as he leaves and I call the scholars to order.  It does not take long to count them.  Six tells them all.  We read a chapter in the Bible, then I talk to the children of what I purpose to have them accomplish but they do not appear to care though they sit very still.  I assign them lessons and before ten o’clock four more scholars come straggling in.  I hear the smaller ones read and the first class in Arithmetic, then comes recess first for the girls, then for the boys.  There is no laughter and playing as in our village, but the children stand round and look but say little.  The forenoon wears slowly away.  There is no sound save my voice and that of the children during recitation…  I can hear my brother Sylvester’s watch as it ticks on my belt.  I look at the watch every five minutes for the time passes very slowly.

I have often heard teachers regret the lack of time for recitations and to day I wish they could have my surplus.  Noon comes at last.  I am very particular to ring the bell exactly at twelve and for the previous half hour have been very busy hearing the spelling lessons.  In the regular order, backwards, “skipping” round, every word has been pronounced by me many times.  “A spelling lesson long drawn out.”  This morning my breakfast was almost untasted, when noon comes my appetite is keen and I eat every morsel which Anna put in my dinner pail, a mistake as I afterwards find, but one of ignorance.  The scholars show no disposition to play and I ask Charlotte why they do not.  She answers “I am too big and we never do play here.”  Sarah, a plump English girl remarks, “We used to play when I went to school in New Britain and I like it first rate.”  I describe the sports of the village children but can get up no enthusiasm and the nooning is spent in little else than “looking.”  The afternoon seems as interminable as the morning but four o’clock comes at last and I leave the school room to go with Annie and Benjie to their home.  They point to a large brick house about half mile away and I imagine a house of comfort, a place of rest.  On nearer approach every thing shows wealth.  There are neatly laid walls, the fields are smooth and show by a thick turf that fertilizers have been used without stint; a dooryard which is of emerald greenness although so early in the season.  Everything promises well and I promise myself a home.

The door is opened by the children and the illusion is dispelled.  I feel as one does on opening an outer door on a wintry morning and receives in his face the full force of the raw north east wind.  A gasp, a shiver, and a withdrawal but from this place I cannot flee.

The room is large and cheerless.  Here sits a fleshy woman with hands folded across her lap who salutes me “I suppose you’re the teacher, well you’re welcome, it will not take but little more flour to make bread for you” and she points to a chair and says “sit down.”  I sit there and Annie takes my hat and satchel and carries them to my room.  Mrs. Fairweather still sits in her chair and as I answer her questions she lets down her teeth and draws them up so that I know they are false.  After a time supper is ready, the girls have set a long table just across the room.  The hired men have come in, and we are invited to “shove up.”  As I sit waiting to be waited on Mr. Fairweather tells me to “pitch in” if I want any thing and the three hired men, the five children, the man and his wife are illustrating “pitching in.”  Annie noticing my embarrassment passes me the bread.  It is very black, full of coarse holes and on tasting it I find it is sour.  The table cloth is but unbleached cotton, very much soiled; … and no one notices any of the little courtesies at the table to which I have always been accustomed.  I feel sick and cannot eat.  Mrs. Fairweather tells me that I can go to my room any time I wish, so now Annie shows me the way.  A surprise awaits me for I have a neat, airy chamber and every thing is clean.  No carpet on the floor except pieces in front of the bed and table but the bare floor is in such contrast with the one below.

In the morning we have warmed up fresh meat, there is decided taint about it (Mr. Fairweather is also a butcher as well as a farmer).  I do not feel hungry in the least, but I make a show of eating.  Half past seven finds me in my school room.  I write a letter home and make this entry in my diary “Feel as though I was not wanted any where.”

Today school is more interesting and were it not for boarding round, teaching would be pleasant.  Tuesday night passes like Monday only an increase of home sickness…  I hear the coarse jests of the men as they pass under my window and I am afraid.  Annie sleeps with me and I am fearful she will tell but I lock and barricade my door. 

After sweeping my school room in the morning I write in my diary “Would that something might happen as that I could go home.”  [Apparently something does] for the P.M. is recorded “Walked home alone in one hour and twelve minutes.  Distance four miles.”  

The way was lonely; there were but seven houses immediately by the side of the road and some were unoccupied but it was to me but little risk to go thus alone for I felt that I should certainly die if I did not go.  What a pleasant social group around our tea table.  I contrast it with the one where I board and burst into tears.  Mother urges me to eat and never food was more relished.

After tea I tell my story and they all laugh.  Father tells me that I have drawn on my imagination but I tell him it is every word truth… 

Thursday, Sylvester carries me back and Friday I write [in my diary] “This boarding round is not what it is cracked up to be,” also “My school appears better than it did two days ago…”  

Monday comes and again Sylvester carries me to my school and again he hurries back to “help Father.”  … The children are early here this morning for I requested them to be punctual.  They are very shy but appear glad to see me.  My school numbers thirteen.  The day passes pleasantly for I am learning to teach and the day is hardly long enough, for my work.  I am but one month older than my eldest scholar, which fact I take care to keep to myself; seven are over ten; the youngest is five and the classes numerous.  Annie Fairweather is the best scholar in books and all are perfect in deportment.  I think once in a while that it is rather monotonous and almost wish that some one of them would “cut up” …  At noon I ask Mary if the scholars are always good and she laughs as if I had said something funny and answers “Why no, the scholars used to act awfully last winter and the teacher used to lick’em like sixty but someway we can’t act bad when you’re here” and I treasure this saying and when I go home I tell Father and tears come in his eyes as he says “You are in the right place Almira” and he kisses me.

At Fathers suggestion I go to a different boarding place for he thinks it will not seem so bad to me at Mr. Fairweathers when I get accustomed to being away from home, so I go home with Sarah, the English girl, for she is very neat in her person and I judge her home will be like mine.

We go up the cross road to the turnpike follow the broad turnpike one mile and her home is reached.  … In the front yard I see neatly made flower beds.  We do not enter here but go around to a back door.  I notice an appearance of thrift every where from the high piled wood, the neatly swept pathway, to the shining milkpans which are arranged on a bench.  … I am ushered into a neat sitting room where I am left alone.  I look around, there is a clean rag carpet on the floor; wood bottomed chairs are ranged around the room, a lounge, wide and comfortable looking covered with dark print, a table on which are books and a work basket, a shining stove, curtains of white cotton looped back from the windows and every thing so neat!  The air in the room is fresh and there is not a speck of dust visible.  Sarah comes in with a black haired, rosy cheeked little woman whom she introduces as “My sister, Ann” and Ann shows me my room, a large square apartment all clean like the sitting room and whose front windows look out on the neat front yard and the turnpike.  I promise myself comfort here and am not mistaken for when supper is announced I go out into a kitchen which compares with the rooms I have seen, and sit down to a table covered with a spotless cloth and on which are neatly set inviting looking plates of food. 

Sarah helps Ann in the morning about the kitchen and at eight we start together for school.  The stage rattles past us but with this exception we see no sign of man.  …But we are not lonely there is so much beauty about us.  Trees are budding, the birds sing merrily as we go along the road under the forest trees and the air is clear and warm. As I come near the school house Caroline meets me bringing a bunch of flowers.  I am pleased with the offering and the day goes by like yesterday.

Wednesday comes and with it Rev. E. O. Rivers.  My heart flutters as I see him drive up to the bars for he is Acting School Visitor.  It takes him a great while to hitch his horse and before he comes in I say to the children, “Now do your best to day for my sake as well as your own.”

I place the only chair for him by the farther side of the room where he can see every scholar.  Little Tommy rolls up his beautiful brown eyes and looks so scared I am afraid he will fail to do his best and Tommy is one of my strong points, he learns readily, remembers everything and has so pretty a voice that when he speak everyone is charmed.

Mr. Rivers is a middle aged man, small with iron grey hair and he is somewhat lofty in his manners.  He is a Congregational clergyman, has charge of the parish in which my Father was born and preaches in the very church where Father used to go every Sabbath when he was a boy.

Mr. Rivers tips back in his chair, partially closes his eyes and says “Go on with the lessons.”  I have been careful to review every lesson each day so that after eight days study most of the scholars have every word they have learned at their “tongues end” and as they recite I feel that Mr. Rivers is looking at me.  When noon comes, I, according to the established custom ask him to make some remarks.  He rises slowly, speaks very deliberately “I have been interested from the moment I entered the house.  All has been done well.  I have visited every school in town and in my mind had pronounced the Spring-hill school the best, but I retract, this school is Number one.  An old proverb is ‘A bad beginning makes a good ending,’ this is wrong.  It should be what is shown here,” and he utters the words with great emphasis “A good beginning precedes a good ending” and then he stands and prays.  At a motion of my hand the children rise.  It is a far away prayer but we stand reverentially till it is finished and ere he goes he takes my hand gives me some excellent advice.  Then he goes away and in every part of the town is heard the praises of my school, for Mr. Rivers, whenever he meets those who are interested in schools, holds mine up as a model…

Almira competed her term successfully on July 25, earning a grand total of $18.  However, when offered a raise to $2 a week to teach a second term, she turned it down. The following spring she taught again at the Horn Hill School and this time found it a more agreeable experience.  She went on to become a successful educator, teaching in schools in Mansfield, Andover, South Coventry, and South Manchester until shortly before her death in 1907.

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