In less than two weeks, my book about my days as a schoolteacher in an Amish community will be available as an Amazon Kindle e-book. It’s been many years that I’ve wanted to share my unique experience, and I’m glad the day is almost here!
Once upon a time, I was a teacher in a most unusual setting. I taught in a little one room schoolhouse without electricity or running water. (Nope, I’m not 120 years old….) I was the schoolteacher in an Old Order Amish settlement.
The settlement was a new one and very small. It was made up of young, growing families with no one free to take the teaching responsibilities. So in an unprecedented move, they looked outside their community, asked around, and offered me, a young English (i.e., non-Amish) woman, the job of schoolteacher. Who could turn down an opportunity like that? Well, I’m guessing a lot of people could. Not everyone would enjoy spending eight hours a day in a different culture, teaching children in eight different grades, and all without modern technology or conveniences. But I couldn’t pass up the chance and that was lucky for me.
For a long time I felt that I should compile all my memories before I got distracted by life and forgot everything as senility set in. So recently, I did just that, and got all my memories on paper while I’m still fairly young with most of my faculties intact. The result wasn’t just a few compiled memories but a book, Two Years as an Amish Schoolteacher: An Outsider’s Experience Teaching Eight Grades in a One Room Schoolhouse.
In the book, I describe:
- my experiences as I helped to set up a new school
- what it was like to teach eight grades in the same room
- my impression of an Amish community from the perspective of a teacher
- how the community supported their school
- some experiences that were especially memorable to me
Since Christmas is only a couple weeks away, I thought I’d share a section from the chapter “School Events” in which I explain how we celebrated Christmas:
I was surprised to learn that Amish do celebrate some of the holidays observed in the United States and not only the religious holidays. One of the highlights of the school year was the annual Christmas program. I had a book of Amish school poems and “pieces,” compiled specifically for Amish school Christmas programs. Around Thanksgiving time I chose and passed out the recitation parts to all the scholars. The older children were given long Christmas poems, with an impressive number of stanzas to memorize. For the youngest scholars, I chose shorter pieces from my book. Besides their own individual pieces, a few would share a poem, each taking a stanza or two. I also picked out several Christmas carols for us to practice. The children memorized the poems on their own at home and as Christmas drew closer, we practiced our songs and took turns reciting for a few minutes before the end of every school day.
The Christmas program also included gift-giving. We drew names in early December, with each child drawing the name of a classmate or that one slip that simply said, “Teacher.” Oh, the pressure on the child who drew Teacher’s name, and how envied the child whose name I drew! Besides a special, bigger gift for the student whose name I drew, I also bought a small gift for each of my students.
Christmas break in Amish circles is typically short. Sometimes the only day off is Christmas Day, but out of respect for my family’s traditions, the program was scheduled for the day before Christmas Eve. Children are children the world over and Christmas brings out the squirreliness in all of them, Amish included. We did our usual opening routine and I followed it with a few simpler lessons, in hopes of giving the restlessness an outlet. After lunch and an abbreviated recess, it was time to get ready for our company. We had to do some chores to get the school ready for the festivities and had to do one last practice of the program.
I divided up the chores, with some of them clapping erasers, washing off desks, and emptying trash, while the older boys moved all the desks to one side of the room then back to the other side while the older girls and I swept the floor. A few girls drew festive chalk pictures on the blackboard and a welcome message for our guests. During the weekly art time in December, the scholars had colored Christmas pictures, made stars from old Christmas cards, glued construction paper chains, and hung paper snowflakes from the ceiling. We made sure everything was hung and looking perfect.
I’ll finish this story in a later post, and by then, I’ll be able to share the book’s release date and how you can get it!