Paper was expensive, so kids did most of their lessons on chalkboards. Books cost a lot too. Schools did not provide textbooks. They might have a dictionary and a Bible. Kids had to buy their own books or use ones passed down from older kids.
Students followed a strict formula for answering questions. For example, Suzie would be sitting straight in her desk with her hand up. When the teacher called on her, she would move her legs to the aisle at the side of her seat. She'd stand up, then she'd turn to face the teacher. Only then would she answer.

School years

Girls were usually more educated than boys because boys would leave school in the spring to help with the planting and in the fall to help with the harvest.
When the boys came back, the girls would have moved ahead. Girls might graduate at age 13 or 14. Boys might be 18 when they graduated.
Many boys quit school early to earn money. Sometimes, older girls might have to quit school to help with younger siblings at home.


After eighth grade, students could train to be a teacher. Training would take only six to 12 months.
New teachers could be as young as 15. They might be teaching students who were older and bigger. They often boarded with students' families, sometimes even sharing a room with a student.
"The McGuffey Reader" was the main reading textbook. There were different levels of the "Reader," all with stories, poems, plays and spelling words.

Most teachers seated the younger children closer to the stove, with the oldest kids sitting the farthest away. When the stove was in the front of the schoolroom, the youngest kids would sit up front. When the stove was in the center, the younger kids would sit close to the sides, front and back of the stove. This school was built in the 1870s in Nebraska. It is now at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer.