The Parent-Teacher-Child Connection: Lessons from a one-room schoolhouse

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lessons from a one-room schoolhouse

When you think of the one-room schoolhouse, you probably envision Little House on the Prairie with Laura Ingalls interacting with children of all ages and personalities in the classroom.  You might also envision the teacher being overworked, planning lessons for all different ages and abilities.  This may not be too far from the norm even now.

In the U.S., 237 public schools had only one teacher, according to 2009 federal data, down from 463 in 1999. Most are located in remote areas. These often lack the amenities typically associated with high-quality schooling, such as computer labs, libraries, sports, art, music, nurses and learning resources teams.

However, these schools also have advantages unknown to students in traditional classrooms. Students often build close relationships with their teachers, providing another mature role-model. Pupils in mixed-age groups help each other learn.  (Most teachers know that the easiest way to learn a subject is to teach it!)  Field trips become easier and more diverse as the teacher takes his 30 students to investigate the workings of a restaurant kitchen or post office.

On the other hand, the teacher in the one-room school may need to develop thirty different IEPs for each of his students who don't have special needs, but do have different learning styles and levels.  Many times parents volunteer their time to help the younger readers or those struggling with basic math concepts.  Talented parents also volunteer for sports, music, and art specials while the primary teacher takes a much-needed break.  Everyone helps each other learn - what an awesome concept!

But what about test scores? Enrollment at Cliff Island School, located off the coast of Maine, ranges from four to seven students in grades pre-K through 5. Its one teacher, Josh Holloway, has purchased science equipment by applying for grants. He uses videoconferencing to involve his students in book groups and programs at other schools.The test scores of students on the 85-resident island are "very competitive with the top end" of average scores in the area's 11 elementary schools, says Jim Morse, superintendent of Portland Public Schools. Parents are so involved that "it's almost a throwback to the time when schools were an extension of the family."

There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to having a small school in a small town, but personally, I love the close connection between family and education that this system affords to its residents. 

Happy teaching and Happy parenting! 

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