Rules for Teachers – In 1872

Last week, Beth and I had a blast. We spent a few days in the oldest city in America – St. Augustine, Florida. One of the many interesting sites was the oldest standing school house in the country, built in the early 1800s. Hanging on the wall was something called “1872 Rules for Teachers.” Now, I happen to think teachers are the most important people in the world. They are underpaid, overworked, and under appreciated. But, compared to 1872, they have it really good. Here are the nine things they were expected to do every day.

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps and clean chimneys.

2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.

3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good  books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside from each day’s pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.

9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

It’s hard to imagine a day in which teachers were expected to clean chimneys, bring coal, and make their own pens. I don’t know of too many school districts that encourage their teachers to read the Bible and attend church today. The rules of 1872 promoted morality, spirituality, and responsibility. And teachers were rewarded for high living – with a raise that came to about $13 a year.

So why would anyone become a teacher, with such hard demands and low pay? I suspect they did it for the same reason they do in 2016. They love kids, value education, and in many cases, see it as a calling.

Much has changed in the 144 years since the little school house posted that sign in St. Augustine, Florida. But one thing has not changed. Teachers are still heroes.

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