The following is taken from Women of Courage, Ten North Country Pioneers in Profile, written and produced by the St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women (1989).
Sarah Raymond Koch lived in the North Country of New York State more than 70 years ago and taught in a one-room school house near St. Regis Falls for the 1919-20 year. Despite many obstacles and inadequate resources, Sarah managed to make her work that year a positive experience. School was much different in those days for pupils and teachers alike.
When World War I was over there was a shortage of teachers, especially in the North Country. Sarah's opportunity to become a teacher came when she graduated from the St. Regis School in 1919. The entire graduating class, numbering seven in all, was offered the chance to teach for one year in one of the nearby school districts. Sarah was one of three to accept and thus started one of the most interesting and rewarding years of her life.
Sarah began her teaching career in District 5 School on the road to Lake Ozonia, four miles from the village of St. Regis Falls. She lived with her parents in town and since there was no means of transportation, Sarah walked back and forth each day. On payday there were four miles added as the clerk lived one mile from school and the treasurer another mile, each in a different direction.
In the winter months only two miles of the state road were plowed. Often she had to put on snow shoes for the last two miles. Sarah never refused a ride whatever the vehicle. That winter Will Hewitt, a friend and neighbor, what drawing logs with his team and sled on the Lake Ozonia Road. It was not unusual to see Sarah arrive at school on top of a load of logs.
District 5 School was a typical one-room "little red school house." Inside there were four rows of desks with a long bench in front. There was a blackboard, a teacher's desk and chair, a waste pail, and a basket and a stove. On a shelf stood a pail of drinking water, a dipper and a basin. There were six different grade levels.
The janitor was a 12-year-old student who, according to Sarah Koch, "...desperately needed the twenty dollars that the District paid for the year's work. He brought in the wood, started the fire and kept it going all day. He swept the floor, emptied the pail and basket, brought in the water, and thought himself well paid for the 40 weeks of school.
Sarah had no discipline problems. "The little country children seemed always so eager to please the teacher," she said. "They never seemed anxious to go home after school, and often stayed so long as I did to help with the little chores and talk with me freely of their everyday life, their joys and problems."
The best time of the whole year was at Christmas time. The teacher and children cut down the tree, set it up, made decorations and gifts for the parents. "There were bird-houses for the fathers and cross-stitched aprons for the mothers. Each child had a gift too, as my good mother had knit mittens for each of the children, and of course there was a box of hard candy for all. We had our party after supper and each family came bringing lanterns and lamps to light to schoolroom. One father brought his fiddle and we danced around the Christmas tree and sang Christmas carols. The mothers brought doughnurs and coffee and it was a time to remember."
An embarrassing incident happened one day in late spring according to Sarah. "The children and I had taken a walk in the woods to observe the spring growth, and indeed there was plenty to see. The mayflowers, the violets, and trilliums were in bloom, the ferns were showing the promise of deep foliage to come, the willows and sumac had their first color and the rabbits and field mice went scurrying out of the way. How we enjoyed that walk after the cold winter.
"We returned to the school house happy but with wet feet. Everyone took off their shoes and placed them on the steps to dry, and we sat out in the sun for our lessons. Suddenly a small, black coupe drove into the yard and out stepped a most proper lady. She was immaculately groomed and stood so straight, surveying this most unusual scene. Then I realized it was the Superintendent of Schools, Miss Gertrude Hyde. The children rose, made a bow and walked into the schoolhouse, quietly picking up their shoes as they went it, and so did I."
As Sarah Koch reflected on that year in retrospect, she described it as not a great year of progress in learning according to modern day standards. But in her own fashion Sarah covered the required courses of study, children learned about the nature of their surroundings and themselves and at the end both teacher and pupils were sorry to say "good-bye." Sarah later attended Potsdam Normal School, married, and continued her teaching career in New Jersey.
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