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The way it used to be: Leonard recalls days as a country school teacher

Darlene Leonard lectures on the way things were at the country school she taught in 60 years ago. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal1 / 2
Darlene Leonard writes on the chalkboard as if she never stopped some 26 years ago. She gave a demonstration Thursday at the Wadena County Fair on how she taught in country school over 60 years ago. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal2 / 2

While she retired from teaching 26 years ago, her handwriting on the chalkboard looked like she'd never stopped.

She spelled out letters to show how students were taught about handwriting 60 years ago.

While she had 40 years of students under her belt, she could look back at a faded black and white photo and name each child by name and grade level.

Sharp as a tack, 86-year-old Darlene Leonard recalled her years teaching in the country school and shared her story with a room full of listening ears in the old country schoolhouse on the Wadena County Fairgrounds, June 21.

Just like all those years ago, she had her audience's attention, young and old listening intently on how she was able to teach 20 students from first grade to teenagers all at once in one classroom at the District 15 school house located about a mile and a half east of Wadena on CSAH 4. Leonard said the building is still there only it's been converted into a home.

She started her career at the age of 18. She remembers when the country schools closed in 1965 and she took a job at the Wadena School, how one teacher wondered how she was going to teach a class which had two different grade levels. Leonard said that was no big deal, she'd been teaching all grade levels out of one room for years.

"They talk about peer tutoring in the classrooms now," Leonard said. "We had that. The older kids always helped the younger ones."

Students were taught from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 3:55 p.m. it was cleanup time and Leonard said there was plenty to clean so no one was to be dilly dallying. There were erasers to clap, chalkboards to be wiped, the flags were taken down daily, bathrooms to be swept and you better never let Ms. Leonard catch you eating the paste.

"Most kids walked to school and back home," Leonard said.

"We sang Christmas songs at Christmas time."

There was always some form of physical education and in the spring the students always met up with other schools for a big play day, a form of olympics. Reading and math was a part of everyday.

She could name her students from years ago and still sees many of them today including Folkestad and Kern children.

"I enjoyed everyday of it," Leonard said. "I never heard her say even one day 'I don't want to go,'" she recalls her husband Les saying about her desire to teach.

Many of her students opened or ran businesses—some became pastors.

After going through what a typical schedule looked like in the country school, she asked those in attendance if they had any questions. Many recalled their time in country school including bringing their lunch in a pail and long walks to school, no doubt uphill—both ways. Leonard remembered there was a great deal of respect back then and rarely was there ever any need for discipline in the country school.