, Derry, New Hampshire


May 9, 2013

A young teacher's letter


The Derry curriculum back then required that teachers be prepared to instruct classes in: reading, spelling, penmanship, arithmetic, geography, grammar, history, composition, bookkeeping, algebra, physiology, drawing, and vocal music.

Some students would never be taught anything beyond the first few curriculum categories — the 3 R’s. These children would likely drop out of school as soon as they legally could to work on farms, in local shoe factories, or to become housewives. A small minority of the students mastered the entire curriculum and a few — very few —eventually entered Pinkerton Academy.

The school superintendent’s report in that year’s town report complained about nepotism in hiring teachers without their qualifications being examined by him. Jennie had been hired by her Uncle Silas Hill. Jennie had never taught before, had probably no education beyond the district school, had likely no training to be a teacher and was only a couple of years older then her students. She did have excellent penmanship.

The superintendent also complained that teachers needed to “strenuously insist” on the use of “The King’s English.” He particularly complained about students saying “I done,” “you be,” I hain’t got none,” “his’n,” “her’n,” and “them books.” True then. True today.

Despite her enthusiasm, Jennie Hill was not rehired to teach another year and it seems she left the profession. Perhaps she twisted the ear of too many students — or twisted the ear of the wrong “little darling.” The use of corporal punishment was frowned upon even in 1881.

It is known she did have a somewhat difficult time walking because of a childhood injury to her spine, so perhaps she found teaching too strenuous. Or maybe by the end of the school year she decided the classroom was just not for her.

I’ve known many first-year teachers who quit teaching because of their inability to control “mischievous” students or to stand up to overly critical parents. Some rookies leave because they found out they actually lacked the necessary pedagogic skills to teach.

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