Some parents agonize when they hear their child will be in a split grade classroom.
How about a one room schoolhouse with a six-grade spread between students?
Both of my grandmothers and dad attended a one room grammar school. From the stories that I have heard it could be a circus at times. Older kids sometimes helped teach younger kids, the teacher rarely had a spare moment, keeping all the groups working and supervising recess and lunch. Before unification those little rural schools were the wild frontier of public education. In the early 20th century it could be the only school a kid went to before jumping out into the work world. High school? What good is that?
There are a handful of surviving one room school house buildings in the county. Today Parkfield is the only example of an operational one room school in our region. In 1969 Creston had a one room school house with a teacher, age 74, who had two great-grandchildren. Minnie Chord was the connecting generation between the frontier age of public schools where a teacher had to know how to light a wood stove, to the age we know today. The teacher had 53 years of experience and she was allowed the flexibility to make teaching moments out of current events. Wildflowers blooming nearby, the inauguration of President Richard Nixon and the proper way to split a coconut all provided lessons. It is clear from this story this was the era long before teaching to a standardized test. Correct me if I am wrong but I’m guessing there are not many coconut splitting questions on a STAR test.
Here is the story by staff writer/photographer Michael Raphael.
Published February 22, 1969 in the Focus section of the then Telegram-Tribune.
Miz’ Chord comes to Creston
“I always like to take the slow, or the underdog and build up his ego,” says Minnie Chord, a schoolteacher for 53 years.
Seventy-four years young, with gray, curly hair, she wears glasses, has a pleasant demeanor, and is the teacher of 19 youngsters at Creston Elementary School.
It’s a one-room portable classroom, stuffed with older desks, a piano and the sundry items needed to teach. Kindergarten children mix with those from first to fifth grades.
And Minnie, who would rather be called “Chord,” teaches them.
She can touch her toes without bending her knees, corresponds with students she taught during a 53-year career and shoots a basketball with an underhand style, not entirely unlike Wilt Chamberlain.
Mrs. Chord started teaching in 1915 in Minnesota, after two years of education major work at MacAlister College near her hometown of Dassel.
She has a degree from the University of Minnesota, attained after she already had been teaching several years.
Married in 1917, she took five years off to bear three sons, all married now. She has 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A widow since 1948, she came to San Luis Obispo County in 1960 because the Merced schools were not in need of experienced teachers and Atascadero schools were.
Creston had no teachers last September, so Mrs. Chord “sort of” asked for the job. Everyone seems glad she did.
She has taught mostly in rural schools even though in the beginning she thought she didn’t want her children to attend such schools. But her sons all went through eighth grade at small schools.
Creston, the smallest in the Atascaedero district, sits among the rolling hills 10 miles east of Atascadero, but it is not the smallest she’s taught at.
She has had six students at a school at Lake of the Woods in Minnesota in 1917 — until two girls went off to cook for local loggers — then there were four.
That school was a one-room affair, as is Creston’s but it was a bachelor’s cabin, with one window and boards for desks.
The largest school she taught at was at MacGregor, Minn., with 750 students in grades one through 12. She was principal of the elementary section for eight years and substituted as a junior high level teacher there, her main experience with children in grades other than elementary.
“I’ve kinda always been a pinchhitter,” said Mrs. Chord.
Long hours don’t bother her. She came early during last month’s floods to sweep out and do housecleaning, and stays late to finish.
It’s a long drive home, 17 miles to Garden Farms, between Atascadero and Santa Margarita, but it doesn’t bother her.
A woman with “no regrets” about having chosen teaching, she says she has “always tried to bring as much as I could to the children.”
She teaches from surroundings, from the environment. “We’re an instrument in the orchestra of life, spokes in the wheel,” she said.
She made much use of the environment after the flooding, with students doing a lot of studying about erosion — “one of the great soil robbers.”
Last Tuesday, she had students gather wild flowers that were popping up along the nearby creek’s banks and in the tree-lined school yard to study and identify them.
In the confines of the single room, all the children benefit from questions, because all can easily hear the answers. That’s an advantage, Mrs. Chord said.
When Mrs. Opel Bridgman picks up her four boys, nearly 25 per cent of the class departs. When a 4th grade boy is sick, as was the case this week, there is no fourth grade.
She wouldn’t be a success without her “sidekick,” Mrs. Miriam (Mimm) Edwards, a teacher assistant who does yard duty, conducts physical education and busses some of the youngsters home.
Mrs. Edwards helps in the classroom, too, easing the load when the whole class shows up.
She also started in September, having been a district bus driver before that.
The school started in 1885. It serves the 270 residents of Creston. The old building, condemned through the Field Earthquake Act, was torn down.
The school was added to the Atascadero district when it unified four years ago.
Mrs. Chord stresses writing, giving subjects for the youngsters.
Concentrating on the three Rs, Mrs. Chord teaches useful things, wanting “them to learn daily living.”
“I’m not a textbook teacher,” she says.
She won’t dote on a child, but attempts instead to give him self-reliance.
Mrs. Chord has no intentions of retiring, wouldn’t know what to do if she wasn’t teaching— “I like to be around people doing things,” she said.
Incorporating psychology with modern programs and concepts, she uses a tape recorder, a record player and earphones, teaches new math, “sounds” (phonics) and had a television set in class so that her students could watch the inauguration of President Nixon.
Children looked up words used in Nixon’s speech and wrote their impressions of the inauguration.
She has even taught them how to split a coconut properly, which she learned from a son who served in the South Pacific during World War II. Later this year, a woman will come and show the students some horses and uses ropes, things they are interested in that are around them.
Obviously proud to be a teacher, and proud of her students’ work, Mrs. Chord talked of their progress, and their problems, with insight into the complexities of each child.
After all these years, she definitely takes her work seriously, with all that skill and yet with the verve of a young teacher starting a new job—it’s a great combination.