Ray Elliott/Voices: The rules for teachers in 1872

Ray Elliott/Voices: The rules for teachers in 1872

By RAY ELLIOTT

During the summer and at the start of every school year when I was still teaching high school English and journalism, I reviewed lesson plans, saved magazine articles and newspaper stories, and filed away anything remotely connected to the classes I was teaching. Sometimes I used the material, but much of the time everything stayed in its original file folder, never to be used again, but I lugged the stuff with me every time I moved to a new town or school.

During the last few weeks, I've been going through my many files and cleaning them up. I still have difficulty throwing things away. But it's been quite interesting revisiting those old files, yellowed newspaper clippings and magazine articles, and letters from former students and a host of others. And it has rekindled many memories.

One clipping that I found most intriguing was, "Rules For Teachers 1872," from an unknown source. The rules brought back one memory in particular: I had switched from a clinical psychology master's program and working in a maximum-security prison to pursuing a master's degree in English education and preparing to teach. I'd been compelled to be clean-shaven as an employee at the prison, so I grew long hair and a beard when I changed my grad school plans and was on campus at Southern Illinois University where no one said anything about my beard or the length of my hair.

To student teach, though, I'd had my hair cut relatively short but kept the beard. Walking into class one evening just before leaving campus at the end of the quarter to student teach, the professor looked at me, smiled and asked, "Did you get the job, Ray?"

Then the day I reported to the high school to student teach, the principal called me into his office and told me beards were not allowed in the school.

"To student teach here, you must conform to community standards, " he said after we exchanged small talk. "You can have the afternoon off to shave."

I knew to argue would be a battle I'd lose, so I reluctantly agreed. "Is a mustache acceptable for the community standards?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," the principal said. "We have several prominent men in town with mustaches. No problem for you to have one."

So I went to a barbershop uptown and had my beard shaved but kept a long, extended mustache known as a "Fu Manchu." The principal never commented on it, but my cooperating teacher wondered whether it was acceptable. The students approved.

Times have changed from those days in many schools when male teachers weren't allowed to have long hair or beard. The clip in my files went far beyond the no-beard rule, though, although beards apparently weren't prohibited in 1872. Teachers in some schools back then were even required to "sign contracts which included the following 'Rules for Teachers,'" according to the clip:

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, 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 a 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 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 give an increase of 25 cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

After my student teaching days (when I did go to the barbershop for a shave), I don't recall ever being told I couldn't have a beard or long hair, or told what to wear — although it was still customary for male teachers to wear coats and ties.

Some rules are obviously worth having if they help create a positive learning environment. I just don't recall a list. And I'm not sure I would have taken too well to the lamp-filling, chimney-cleaning, pen-whittling life of a teacher in 1872.

Ray Elliott is an author and a former high school teacher who lives in rural Urbana. His email address is rayelliott23@att.net.