What was life like for a female teacher between 1910 and 1920 in the U.S.?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Life was fairly difficult for the American teacher between 1910 and 1920.  In one respect, the concept of education was seen in a narrow and pedantic manner.  The strict emphasis on rote memorization was a part of the teacher's reality during this time.  There was little else in way of innovation in the classroom.  Basic teaching concepts included students reciting what teacher said in an exact manner.  There were few men in the teaching field, so as a woman teacher, one was part of the dominant majority.  The demographics of the classroom was dependent on where one was teaching.  Rural classrooms were still reflective of the "one roomed schoolhouse" where all the children were piled in.  Students ranged in ages, and probably more alarming, in ability.  It would not be unusual for a teacher back then to have about fifteen different reading levels in one classroom.  This made individualized instruction really difficult, and compelled the teacher to embrace the rote memorization approach because it was "one size fits all."  The urban setting was more akin to the modern school, but only in appearance.  While the urban child probably had a stronger grasp of education concepts, I think that the influx of immigrants into America would have made a classroom where kids enter speaking different languages a reality.  In both of these settings, some of the challenges still faced in the modern classroom can be seen.

One other element might have come into play.  Towards the end of the decade, John  Dewey's pragmatic approach to education was becoming more accepted and the question might have been how many teachers at the time were on the "cutting edge" in trying to embrace his philosophies, ones that contradicted the strictly traditionalist approach to pedagogy.  I think that this becomes a question that the individual teacher of the time period would have to answer in seeing how much they were encouraged to actually reflect and try something new against the vast inertia of Status Quo.  This too, is a condition seen in the modern setting to a great extent.

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