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A life of teaching

                                                                                                           Photo by Christy Porter
Mrs. Shirley (Buckner) Ramsey

By Christy Porter
Managing Editor

“I think my mother gave me the idea, that it would be something I could do. My mother wanted to be a teacher, and the teacher she had wanted her to take the test to become a teacher. At that time, all she had to do was finish the eighth grade and take a test. It would cost $10, but my grandparents didn’t have that kind of money. She married at sixteen and didn’t get to teach. She encouraged us girls to go into teaching. I have four sisters; one taught for one year, the other taught for four years, I taught for 41 years. Two of my sisters didn’t teach and my two brothers joined the Army,” shares Mrs. Shirley (Buckner) Ramsey, nee Kiser.
Ramsey started her teaching career as Ms. Kiser, at 16, just months prior to her 17th birthday in October. She had taken teachers’ training in high school and qualified to have her own classroom. It was the fall of 1941 in the two room Gladden Schoolhouse near Success. Said Ramsey, “I didn’t feel qualified to teach at 16, but I was there and that was what I had to do.” She taught the lower grades, while a male teacher taught the upper grades. During this time period Ramsey doesn’t remember there being a great many male teachers.
She taught at Gladden for one year, prior to getting married. After her marriage, the young couple moved to the Mooney Hollow area. At that time, Ramsey, who would have been Mrs. Buckner to her students, continued her teaching career for two years at Mooney Hollow. It was a one-room schoolhouse with approximately 20 children in grades first through eighth. She would later return to Gladden and Mooney Hollow schools, also teaching at Craddock and Walnut Ridge, accumulating a total of 11 years in rural schools.
                                                                                                                 Photo submitted
An early picture of Mooney Hollow School.
Rural schools comprised grades 1 – 8; one-room schools had one teacher and two-room schools with thirty or more children had two teachers, one for upper and one for lower grades. The school year typically ran August through May. Students were not equally distributed in the grade levels, and some teachers alternated curriculum, perhaps teaching seventh grade one year and eighth grade the next. Ramsey personally taught all grade levels each year and, in retrospect, it was easier to teach just one grade.
While federal support of public K-12 education didn’t begin until 1965 with the enactment of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), schools were funded by state and local funds prior to that. Then as now, funding was distributed to districts according to the number of students residing and attending school in each district. Books were provided by the schools. Ramsey remembers that teachers were allotted “spending money;” if you spent carefully, what was not utilized became a teacher’s bonus. She recalls her beginning salary in 1941 was $80 per month.
The school day generally began with the children walking to school. Ramsey also walked; when at Mooney Hollow it was five miles, partially on a dirt road and the remainder through the woods.
During the colder months the schoolhouse was heated with a wood stove. A community member would come by and start the fire for a small wage. “There was a few years when I attempted to cook food, such as beans, for a hot lunch, on the wood stove,” said Ramsey.
Classes started at 9 a.m. with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer. The younger students were given coloring to do while Ramsey started the older students with reading and their lessons. She then proceeded with lessons for the younger grades. The focus was on the three R’s, reading, ‘riting (writing) and ‘rithmetic (arithmetic, math). Basic math, up to and including fractions, was taught. Math was Ramsey’s favorite subject. Science, history and geography were alternated so that instruction was given in these subjects. Tests were usually written on the chalkboard. Most lessons were conducted on the chalkboard so that paper wasn’t wasted. When lessons were done on paper they were graded by the teacher after school hours or traded with another student to be checked. Ramsey remembers the students were fair when checking each other’s work; it helped the teacher and the students continued learning while doing so.
There was a 15-minute recess during the morning and the afternoon sessions. The children played games such as Ring Around the Rosie, Red Rover and softball. A 30-minute lunchbreak gave the students and teacher an opportunity to eat and play. “The children and I usually brought our lunch from home,” said Ramsey.
“Mrs. (Buckner) Ramsey would read to us, really quiet; I enjoyed that. Fridays were usually ‘special day’ time,” shared a former student. The school day for the students ended at 4 p.m. There was not much homework given for practical reasons; there would be chores to be done and kerosene lamps were still being used in homes that had no electricity.
“Most of the students enjoyed school,” affirmed Ramsey. “They lived out in the country so they didn’t get to see others or play with other kids a lot except for school. (Early in my career) I was just a kid, so I liked to get out and play with the kids.”
While attendance at school was usually consistent, farm work in this area did affect the school term and attendance for some students. Boys sometimes had to stay home and help with the work.
The holidays were celebrated in an appropriate manner. “At Christmas there would be a program. Sheets were hung as a curtain and one time the sheets fell down; it was a catastrophe. Some of the big guys jumped up and fixed it for us,” reminiscenced Ramsey.
She continued, “There were also historical programs. There was one that we had worked so hard on and, at times, the men would talk during the program, which was very rude. I wanted to take them outside.”
“We also held pie suppers. The pies were brought by the students and community then auctioned off, and there were cakes for the prettiest girl. The money would go into a can with the winner taking all.”
She does not recall eighth grade graduation being celebrated in the rural schools, but it was in the non-rural public schools.
When teaching in a rural school, it was common for the teacher to be a part of the community. Students were sometimes family and students’ parents were your neighbors. “My first year teaching, I taught two of my younger sisters in third and fourth grades; there was no partiality,” said Ramsey. “They thought I was harder on them. Maybe I had to be, so no one thought I was being partial to them,” she said with a small chuckle. Her sisters still discuss this today. “I also taught my own children for a few years, until they were in about the sixth grade, and then I started teaching in Licking.” Ramsey’s Licking students would remember her as Mrs. Buckner. Ramsey taught with Licking Public Schools for 18 years.
At times it could get touchy, she continued, “One day a mother, whose son had to stand in the corner, came in and cussed me out for it. There were not a lot of discipline problems though.”
Ramsey would go on to teach 12-years at Fort Leonard Wood, completing a teaching career of 41-years.
Her final comments on education included, “Conscientious teachers recognized the differences in the way children learned. Some students required more instruction, while others practically taught themselves. Progress was made within their individual capabilities. The kids were not all alike then as now, and it was frustrating to make it appear so.” Finally she said, “Don’t hold children back, let them do what they can do.”


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