The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

School Days Of Isaac Booker Goad, Part 2 of 2

By Isaac Booker Goad © 1992

Issue: March, 1992

Isaac Booker Goad in his teaching days.Isaac Booker Goad in his teaching days.Editor's Note... This is part two of an interesting first person account of teaching school before 1920 in a rural Blue Ridge mountain community of Fancy Gap, Virginia. As this part of the story starts, Isaac Goad is seventeen and starting to teach for the very first time.

The Vinson school was about four and one half miles from home. However, I stayed at home and walked to and from the school every day, rain or shine.

Each morning I arose, helped with the chores such as milking, making cheese and the like. I then walked to the school house, built a fire in the stove and had the school room warm by the time the pupils arrived. At the end of the day, after the kids had left, I tidied the room, swept the floors and prepared the room for the next day's classes, walked home and helped out with the evening chores. After supper I prepared the subject assignments for the classes for the following day. I graded examination papers and made out reports for the students' past performance.

I walked this route every day, regardless of the weather. There were no cancellations of days for the season. The route took me through the woods, across streams, over fences, and through fields. There were no roads to follow during the entire route. I left home, walked past our springhouse, on across the hill to the old Hull house where at an earlier time someone had been killed while in bed. Next I crossed a stream, went through the woods past Henry Webb's, on past Joseph Horton's, down a hill, across a stream and by Gurvase Hall's home. I then passed Jesse Davis' home where later I would be picking up Iola on her very first day of school. I would pass Posey Sawyers' home, Bob Dalton's, Harvey Dalton's, then across a fence past Garland Martin's, down a hill, onto the road that led to the school house.

The Vinson school was a typical one room country school. I had 73 pupils in attendance starting with a lovely blonde, Opal Vinson, just six years old. The usual starting age was seven, but who could deny attendance to such a cutie! My oldest pupil was Martha Vinson (no relation) either 19 or 20. She was a very studious pupil and stuck strictly to her studies. The classes ranged from primer through the seventh grade.

Appraising all those pupils and assigning them to proper classes was not a simple matter for a 17 year old teacher who also had in attendance several beautiful girls of the same age.

I felt that the most important part of a school program was the proper scheduling and allotment of time to each grade and class. That is not a simple job with 73 pupils and all grades through seven. I tried to favor the lowest grades without undue expense to the higher grades. I felt this was important in their formative years. I gave two sessions each day to the primer, first and second grades. I would have liked to give them two sessions in the morning and sent them home in the afternoon. If I had done such, I would have been chased out of the Vinson school.

When I think about the lower grades, l remember one special little boy. He was fourteen and still in the primer. (I was determined that I would get him out of that book.) He couldn't read a word from the book, but he had been over it so many times, he knew it by heart but if he was shown a particular word he could not tell what it was. Even with a tight schedule I gave him an individual session each day. For the remainder of the day he just sat looking at his book and causing no trouble. Since he had been through primer so many times, I decided to put him in the next grade. While he was in the regular class, he could not contribute anything. We could talk our way through our private session and when he understood the pictures, we would relate them on a one word basis. He could remember portions of our talk.

Taking each grade I asked each one who was in a particular grade or was promoted to it for this year to assemble for a discussion. We determined the number of grades that must be covered and assessed their importance in the entire program.

When this was done I did my best in allotting the time available to the best interests of all class work. With so many classes and such large numbers, it was no easy job to stay within the time allotted to each class. I asked each pupil what they had gotten from the assignment and what they considered the most important part. Whatever time remained we spent in overall class discussion. This was the overall procedure.

Many of the children who were going to school for the first time were waiting at points along the route of my pathway the first morning of the school session. It remained that way most every day during the year. (With all those youngsters following me along the pathway, I could have been called "The Pied Piper of the Vinson School.")

We walked along the pathway together and when we arrived at a fence the kids would line up and I would lift them to the other side. On snowy days I would take real short steps so the kids could walk in my tracks without getting in too much snow. When we arrived at the home of Bob Dalton, I would pick up either Ailsie or Artie Dalton and carry them from there to the school on my back. I felt they needed some help since they were so tiny. (I would hate to try to carry them on my back now. How about it girls?)

The Vinson school had a reputation of being rough and hard to handle. With minor exceptions and to my surprise, I found it otherwise. On my first day as I arrived at the road that led to the school house I found a married couple waiting for me. They said that their child (they were guardians) was sometimes hard to handle and if he needed discipline, instead of applying discipline, to let them know and they would see that he received correction at home.

My answer to that was that the superintendent had assigned me to the Vinson school and I was sure that he expected and felt confident that I could effectively dispose of any problems that arose. I thanked them for their interest and their offer of assistance, but I told them that I would not call on them but that I would handle it myself. (In those days the teacher was expected to discipline the pupils just the same as their parents.) The child was about 15 years old and about twice my size. I hoped to avoid problems if at all possible and tended to overlook minor infractions, but I found that overlooking minor problems only bred major ones.

There came a time when it was necessary to take corrective measures. I asked this child to step out from his seat so that I could give him a few corrective brushes with a switch which I kept handy. He refused and said that he would pack his books and go home. I answered that I could not prevent him from leaving, but before he left he would receive the discipline that I had promised him.

Since he refused to move, I asked the pupils next to him to move away. I gave him a light brushing with the hickory switch which I always had handy.

He then packed his books, arose and left the room. I walked with him from the room to be away from the other pupils. I asked him to tell his guardian what had taken place and to inform him that if he was unhappy about the incident to come on down to the school, that I had the switch handy and I would gladly use it on him. He did not accept the challenge. The pupil did not show up the next day.

At that time the State of Virginia had a law which required that children of school age must attend school a certain number of days. This pupil had not attended the required minimum days. I notified the guardian of this law and informed him of this and stated that I would expect the pupil to be in school no later than the next Monday. He arrived the next Monday. I had no reason for further discipline of this pupil during the remaining days.

However, there were humorous but harmless incidents which needed attention simply to maintain proper decorum in the room.

I always placed each class on a platform in the rear of the room. I stood on the floor facing the class which meant that my back was to the other pupils.

One day as I was having a class, I heard tittering and "silent" laughter to my back. I continued my class discussion, but shifted my position so that I could see the front of the room. What I saw was that lovely little Opal Vinson standing on top of her desk, arms akimbo, reviewing the pupils in the front of the room.

I continued lecturing and moved about until I was in reaching distance of Opal's desk. I gave the top of her desk a sharp rap with my pointer. She scrambled to her seat and gave me a surprised look. (What more corrective action was needed!!)

There were very few cases that needed corrective action, just minor ones that tended to disturb the decorum and had to be recognized and corrected for that reason. Such as the beautiful and lovely teenager almost my age. She had a propensity of playing pranks and doing comical things which I secretly enjoyed, but must be kept in reasonable bounds. It seemed that most of it was for the purpose of teasing me and challenging me to take some action to keep her in check. There were other sixteen and seventeen year old students, but mostly their activities seemed to be to encourage her to keep the fun going. I must say that I even found much humor in these antics, but it was necessary to have a minimum of disturbing influence in the school room. It required lots of courage to discipline her, with her ready smile and those beguiling eyes. After I looked at them a few times, it appeared to me as an invitation to Sunday afternoon and evening sessions. Any way you interpret it, I found myself at her parents' home on Sunday afternoon and evenings. I cannot recall just how the first date came about. I certainly did not make it during school hours or on school days. It must have occurred when we met in church or similar activity. In any event, those Sunday meetings continued long after I had finished my school year at Vinson. As a matter of fact, we at one time had serious thoughts about marriage, but youth has it's solutions.

This brings me to the home visitations between teacher and pupils and parents. It was customarily expected that the teacher would spend one night with parents and pupils. I accepted every invitation which I received. The youngsters were eager to be the ones which received the first visit. The little tots would ask me to visit with them. I told them to have their parents set a night when it was convenient to them and I would be there.

On these nights I would walk home with the pupils, after which dinner would be served. Following this we would talk with the family about school activities and the progress of their own children. Very little homework was given on these nights. The children were permitted to postpone their bedtime. We would play games or just have a fun evening. The next morning breakfast was served. The parents packed not only their children' s lunch, but also mine. Then we were off to school together. This was a big affair for the pupils. Some of the families had small houses and a house full of kids. It was a question to me whether I might sleep on the floor or with one of the smaller kids. Nevertheless, I always accepted the invitation. I knew they had sometimes made sacrifices to have the teacher in their home. This made it happier and more memorable. With 73 pupils that meant many nights away from home during the school season. For that area it could have been said that "Isaac Booker Goad slept here" instead of the often seen sign that "George Washington slept here."

You could be sure that all the pupils would be in school on the last day before the Christmas holidays. This was the day when the pupils looked forward to receiving a gift from their teacher. I don't know how that tradition was started, but I wasn't about to change it and have 73 pupils on my neck. The usual gift was the old fashioned stick candy. I gave each pupil eight sticks of mixed flavor candy. My Gosh!! That's 584 sticks of candy, almost a month's salary. Earlier, at home, I had prepared 73 packages. That's almost a teacher size job. I carried this large package to school and hid it before the pupils began to arrive. Soon the pupils began arriving and wondered whether I had forgotten about the gift or maybe just skipped it. After we had dispensed with the preliminaries of the day, I brought out the package. There were many eager faces, especially the smaller ones. This was the kids day. I asked for volunteers to pass out the gifts. There were plenty takers. I sat back and watched as they gave one package to each pupil, and kept the remaining one for themselves. I wished them the season's greetings and told them I'd see them after the Holidays. Many happy children left school that day.

This brings me almost to the end of my year at Vinson school. Time to take stock of the accomplishments for myself as well as that of the pupils. While I know much progress was made with the pupils, I rather think it might have been a better year for me. I had learned to understand the personalities of the different ones. I had learned to be patient and understanding with the backward and slow thinkers in the classes. I had learned the true value of class participation and communication. I had developed the knowledge of how to bring out the latent thoughts and abilities of the students. Moreover, I felt the students had a better understanding of our objectives and what their attainments were.

That brings me to the last day of the school year — Graduation Day. This left me with a mixture of pride and sadness. As a teacher I was extremely proud to note such a change in the younger ones. They had come to school on the first day with some fear of the teacher. Not only the younger ones, but also the older ones were now showing an acceptance of the teacher as a friend and confidant. Sadness - As I mixed with the pupils and told them all goodbye, knowing that for many of them I would never see them again. I had seen the beginning, but what of the end?

The following year, 1918, I was assigned as the principal at Snake Creek, a two room school. I had the fifth, sixth and the seventh grades. My cousin, Emma Webb, was my assistant and taught all other grades. I had twenty-six pupils. It was a relief to be able to allot more time to all the classes after the busy classes from the previous year. With the experience I had gained at Vinson, I could spend more time with each student. The lecturing and class participation could be more fruitful. I even found that with the additional time I had difficulty keeping within my time schedule. Otherwise it was mostly an uneventful year. One interesting incident, well maybe it was a running incident.

I had identical twins in my room. They were two mischievous boys. The fact that I could not tell them apart did not simplify matters. One day one of them came to school with a Red Cross badge in his lapel. I said, "Now that is just fine. If you will keep on wearing it, our problems will be solved." No sooner than my back was turned, they had changed the badge. Those two were the only disturbing influence. Handling them was not a pleasant experience. I threatened to put one of them in Emma's room unless they improved in their deportment. This helped enough so that I could live with them.

I believe Lula Branscome, who later became my aunt, was my youngest pupil. She was a very gentle and attentive pupil who liked to be near the teacher.

In order to raise money for school accessories, the school had a "box supper." All the eligible and near eligible girls would decorate a box with bows and ribbons, fill them with fried chicken, country ham, cakes and pies and other delectable's, each girl vying with the others to see who had the finest box. I bid on one box and was the highest bidder. Lo and behold, it belonged to Pearl Salmon, a beautiful girl my age who was my student at Vinson school the previous year, and who was attending Snake Creek the current season. We sought a quiet place and had a wonderful meal.

The successful bidder had the privilege of escorting the girl to her home. She lived about three miles from Snake Creek school and we walked that distance on a dark night (chaperoned of course). Her home was near the Vinson school, so after leaving her I had about five miles to walk over my old pathway.

On my way home I had to cross a fence. I climbed to the top of the fence and jumped off into the darkness. As I jumped down off the fence, I landed on something soft which took off with me on its back. I had landed on a cow sleeping in the fence corner. I did not stay on long. I picked myself up and proceeded on home half frightened.

In later years Lula Branscome sponsored a class reunion. I always attended these affairs when I could be in that area. In that way I was able to meet many of my earlier students not only from Snake Creek but some from the old Vinson school and even some of my old school mates.

After the two school years I went to Washington, D.C. and took a position with the government. After a short time I left the government and took a job with the Transit Company as a conductor on streetcars. Very shortly I received advances which took me from a conductor and gave me office work. In the early period I received promotions in non-supervisory positions.

On June 5, 1937, I was married to Dorothy Virginia Crump and we are still happily married. This was one of the luckiest days of my life. I immediately began receiving promotions rather frequently. Some of the positions were as follows:

Superintendent of Schedules; Director of Schedules and Traffic; Director of Transportation, Research and Planning; and then made a Vice President, and then Customer Relations. My last title was Vice President and Director of Transportation. These titles still retain many of the functions listed above.

I retired from the Transit Company in 1964. Since that time Dorothy and I have taken many trips which have virtually covered the United States and Canada. We have also vacationed in various interesting islands. When not traveling we spent many happy hours at our cottage on the Potomac River in West Virginia. At present and for several years we have been living in the Ashbury Methodist retirement home in Gaithersburg, Maryland. We have our own suite of rooms where our needs are graciously and promptly taken care of, so that we live in ease and comfort.

Many times I have been asked if I would like to return and relive those earlier days. The answer is a definite No. Why go back and miss the daily memory of walking to school with all those kids? Why go back and miss the memory of lifting those little ones over the fence? Why go back and miss the memory of those little ones following in my footsteps in the snow while I was carrying little Ailsie or Artie Dalton on my back? Why go back and miss the daily memory of that little cutie, Opal Vinson, standing on top of her desk, arms akimbo? And many more memories of those school days. And what of those beguiling eyes and ready smiles?

In the 54 years of married life, Dorothy and I have many wonderful experiences and memories. In the autumn of our lives, the gentle breezes from the winds of time slowly waft the golden leaves of memory past the window of our lives in an endless array of beauty with the last leaves always being brighter than the one before.

So, for what more could I wish?