Back to School: Amish-Style
While driving by some of the approximately 150 Amish one-room schools
in the Lancaster Amish settlement, visitors often wonder what a typical
day is like in these private schools. Here is an "inside look"
adapted from the comments of an Amish schoolteacher...
Who are the teachers?
School is typically taught by young Amish women in their late teens or
early 20ís, who teach for several years before getting married. No one
usually teaches after marriage; it is too big of a commitment. There are
some women who never marry, however, that may continue to teach.
How many students and teachers are there in the school?
Schools are usually one room, one teacher, although occasionally there
is a helper in schools of more than 30 pupils. (Special schools for
students with learning or other disabilities often have one teacher per
four pupils.) Usually there are 25-30 "scholars" from grades
1-8, and ages 6-13. They may start at the age of five if their birthday is
before the end of the year.
How long is the school term and day?
We have a 180-day term, with the five 7-hour days. School usually
begins around 8:30 am. There are 15-minute breaks in the mid-morning and
mid afternoon. Then, there is a one-hour break at lunch, which includes
recess. There are four class periods of about an hour and a half in
length, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.
What subjects do you teach and how?
Lessons taught include arithmetic (not math), and we often use
agricultural arithmetic books printed in the 1930ís. Lots of drill games
and flash cards are used, especially for the lower grades. Workbooks are
used for most subjects.
Spelling is drilled well with spelling words being assigned for use in
sentences, and written many times in an exercise book to practice for the
test, which is given orally at the end of the week.
As for reading, the first grade learns phonics, sounding out the
letters rather than recognizing words. By Christmas they are reading out
of Readers, either McGuffy, Dick & Jane, or another series from the
Amish publishing house in Canada that uses Amish themes and illustrations.
Every grade has reading once a week "in class." The first and
second grades read "in class" daily. Pupils stand up front of
the class in order of age and take turns reading by sentences or
paragraphs, depending on the grade. When a scholar who is reading makes a
mistake, if another student notices, he will raise his hand. The teacher
will call on him and he will mention the error, be it mispronunciation,
skipping or adding words, etc. Students are so eager to do this that the
teacher very seldom has to correct them.
Amish children learn to speak English in school, since they speak the
Pennsylvania German dialect at home. English lessons are taught twice
weekly in all grades, including parts of speech, vocabulary, etc. And by
the way, English is usually spoken in the classroom and on the playground,
with exceptions made for a first grader who is not very fluent yet. First
graders usually know some English before they get to school but may not be
really fluent at the start of the year.
Many a scholarís favorite subject is American History, with special
emphasis on the early days of our country. Geography/Social Studies is
also taught, with the best students learning the States and their
capitals. Penmanship is considered to be very important. And German starts
in the second or third grade, beginning with recognition of the German
alphabet and advancing to German reading and comprehension in the upper
What is a typical day like in your school?
A typical day starts with the teacher reading a chapter from the Bible.
Then students rise and say the Lordís Prayer. Students file to the front
and sing three or four songs from the songbooks. The teacher has
arithmetic assignments on the board for grades three to eight daily. The
teacher begins with first and second grade phonics or reading. Each class
is taught for about 10 minutes, "hands" are answered between
classes. During recess, softball is usually played whenever weather
permits. Smaller children play tag, prisonerís base, jump rope etc. On
rainy days, ping-pong, board games, or party games are played inside. At
lunchtime, a prayer is recited in unison. A story is read to all after the
lunch recess. Classes continue in the afternoon. At dismissal, a goodbye
song is usually sung.
What happens after grade eight?
There is vocational training after grade eight, until one session past
the studentís 15th birthday. While students work and help their parents
at home, they keep a journal of their activities. And once a week they
meet with the teacher, where they further their German studies.
What about discipline?
Discipline varies among the teachers, but parents are notified of an
unusually disrespectful child. It really all depends on how the teacher
earns the respect of the students and parents.
NOTE: Amish schools are, of course, private and not open to the
public. But for a good glimpse of what they are like, visit the Weavertown
One Room Schoolhouse on Route 340, between Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse.
Amish Country News
Article by Brad Igou
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