Male teachers are a rarity in the Amish school.
Primarily an occupation for young unmarried women, one father, ‘Robert’, estimated that there were only about a half-dozen male teachers in the Holmes County vicinity, out of approximately 170 one-room schools. A quick count in the 2005 church directory actually turned up closer to 20, but with many schools having more than one teacher, males still account for only about 6% of the total.
Robert’s kids attend one of the few schools taught by a male. Other parents whom I spoke with seemed to be pleased with this particular teacher. Robert said his boys have a blast on the softball field with him.
But the main reason probably has to do with his experience, being his fifth year of teaching. More experience of course means fewer problems and challenges that the school board, (which consists of local parents) and the other parents would have to deal with.
Young women typically will teach for a couple of years before getting hitched. Marriage and the demands of home usually put an end to teaching.
I’ve always had the impression that if you can get a male teacher,you take him, rather than a young girl or an ‘old maid’ as Robert, a former teacher himself, put it to me. (in the non-PC Amish world, terms like ‘old maid’ get tossed around all the time). Also a non-PC practice, you end up paying more for a male teacher, especially if he has a family to support.
Rewards of teaching in an Amish school
Why teach in a one-room schoolhouse? Probably for the same non-material reasons teachers anywhere take up the occupation. Robert acknowledged that it’s not an occupation for everyone, but that‘when you see the light go on in their eyes’ after trying to get them to understand something, it makes it all worth it.
I asked Robert how he managed eight grades in one room. He said you can usually get the older ones going on an assignment while you devote more attention to the younger ones. The first and second graders require the most work; you have to get it right with them or otherwise you’ll have ‘stress all the way through’. Trying to handle so much at once causes time to really fly, he said, and you have to hustle to get a lesson done before the next recess break.
How do the Amish react to the idea of outsiders teaching in their schools? Teachers are almost always from the community. Occasionally a Mennonite person or, very rarely, an English person may teach.
I was asked last summer if I would consider teaching for a certain Indiana school which was having a tough time finding someone in time for the start of school. One of the fathers was going to have to cover in the meantime. After speaking with Robert, now I kind of wish I’d taken them up on the offer.
Earlier this week I had the chance to visit an Amish schoolhouse and observe classes. I also pulled pitching duty for softball at recess. More on that in the next post.