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Advice from a one-room schoolhouse teacher
It was a place most of us saw on shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” but a Mondovi woman was a real-life “Miss Beadle.” 99-year-old Wilma Synstad was the woman at the chalkboard for kids who lived outside Nelson, Wisconsin during The Depression. “I was a good teacher,” she said with the confidence of a seasoned educator. “There wasn’t too much else to do. I was valedictorian of my class so it came naturally.”
She and I had a nice conversation in her room at American Lutheran Homes in Mondovi, where she will celebrate 100 years of life in October. I wanted to pick her brain about the teaching moments she experienced inside the four walls of her school. She said she loved being with the children, who ranged in age from six to 15. She had to manage lessons for more than a dozen students at different learning levels. “Well, it was what I did. I didn’t know any better,” she said.
She had to worry about their brains and their hands and feet. Back then; the teacher was also the maintenance crew in charge of heat. “We built our own fires, took care of our own fires, it was a challenge.” And the challenges of the depression era were great, but Wilma said her one-room schoolhouse was an escape for the kids. “We had to ignore it and teach them.” She kept them warm, listened to their worries, taught them what they needed to know and dreamed with them, too. “That they go on to bigger and better things,” she recalled.
When Wilma and I talked
Written by Grace Lutheran Communities staff writer
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