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Teachers’ Rules

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This past week we had our annual Teachers' In-Service meetings on campus. It was a great week and I heard many things that I want to put into use in my classes. One of the speakers read a list of rules for teachers in the late 1800s that he received by e-mail from someone who had visited a historical site this summer. I was able to find the list online. According to snopes.com it may not be authentic, but it certainly seems plausible and is still a fun contrast to life nowadays. As tough as we may think we have it today, I'm sure that some aspects of life were much tougher in the "good old days."

Rules for Teachers in the Late 1800s

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps and clean chimneys.

2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.

3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly

5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty

9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.


In my files I found a list of Murphy's Laws of Teaching that might be a little less dated than the list above.

Murphy's Laws of Teaching

The clock in the classroom will be wrong.

Disasters will occur when visitors are in the room.

A subject interesting to the teacher will be boring to the students.

The time a teacher takes in explaining is inversely proportional to the information retained by students.

The length of a meeting will be directly proportional to the boredom the speaker produces.

The more important the occasion or the larger the audience, the greater the chance that the bulb in whatever machine you are using will burn out.

Students who are doing better are credited with working harder. If children start to do poorly, the teacher will be blamed.

The problem child will be a school board member's son.

Students with behavior problems are never absent — not one day — all year.

After 27.5 hours of intense creative work, your bulletin boards — the best ever — are finally complete. Ten minutes later you will be notified that you are assigned to another classroom in which the bulletin boards are not the same size as those you had just prepared.

The day the cafeteria serves mini-missiles — raisins, corn, peas, etc. — is the day the superintendent will have lunch at your school and will decide to eat with your students.

Once your notebook is full of good ideas, tests, sample lessons, films and a list of 500 library books for supplemental reading, and all of this is correlated to the textbook you are using, you will get the message that they're adopting new textbooks next year or that your current textbook is out of print.

Your first experience with a vomiting student will take place with a guest speaker in the room.

When the instructor is late, he will meet the principal in the hall. If the instructor is late and does not meet the principal in the hall, the instructor is late to the faculty meeting where the principal is waiting.

Good students move away.

New students come from schools that do not teach anything.

When the teacher says "weird" rather than "emotionally disturbed," he learns that the person to whom he is speaking is the school counselor.

The instructor's study hall will be the largest in several years.

The administration will view the study hall as the teacher's preparation time.

News of what you failed to do travels at 1,000 times the speed of news of what you did well.

The week after you have completed your lesson plans that will keep you on schedule with the curriculum and allow you to teach all you need to before the school year ends, you will lose four days of school because of snow.

Parent-Teacher Open House will be held on the night of part two of the best three-part TV series of the year.

On a test day, at least 15% of the class will be absent.

If the instructor teaches art, the principal will be an ex-coach and will dislike art. If the instructor is a coach, the principal will be an ex-coach who took a winning team to the state.

Clocks will run more quickly during free time.

Murphy's Law will go into effect at the beginning of an evaluation.


I'd love to hear the comments of fellow teachers to the lists above. I'm sure some of you could add your own Murphy's Laws of Teaching!


"Contentious people are not right with God." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Time is the best teacher; unfortunately it kills all its students.

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15 Comments on “Teachers’ Rules”

  1. #1 Johnna
    on Aug 23rd, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Hey Mr. Loach–
    These are great! I do remember the “Rules for Teachers” being posted on the wall of the McGuffey Schoolhouse in Greenfield Village.

    Have a wonderful school year!


  2. #2 Carrie
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 2:33 am

    Oh me. I used to have nightmares — every year — before school started. Things like my best students from previous years writing on the walls with markers, having 100s of students and not being able to get their attention…. Now I have 2 students (my children) and it’s much better. 🙂

  3. #3 Rob
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 6:50 am

    @Johnna – I thought I had seen them there too. I would think that Greenfield Village would be all about authenticity. Sometimes I wonder about Snopes….

    @Carrie – Many of us teachers share your nightmares along with our own personal nightmares. When Becka was still teaching, she always had a nightmare that she didn’t show up at the right time to give her finals. I rarely remember my dreams or nightmares, so I have none to share. But I’m sure I must have them! 😀

  4. #4 Matt
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 7:55 am

    “6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.”

    Apparently marriage is unseemly conduct for a woman?

  5. #5 Rob
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 8:36 am

    @Matt – That was my thought when I heard the list read aloud last week. The rule reads differently from what I thought I heard, though. I think it would need the word “other” to have it say I inferred and what you’re inferring — “6. Women teachers who marry or engage in other unseemly conduct will be dismissed.” A fine point, I know, but the original wording does give cause to wonder.

  6. #6 Matt
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Actually, I don’t think that improves it at all….

    How about: Women teachers who marry or who engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

    :-p Still it makes you wonder what they were thinking when they wrote that rule.

  7. #7 Michael
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 9:16 am

    I disagree with the one about how a subject interesting to the teacher will be boring to the students. I find that typically if I’m interested in something, my students will be as well. But, I do sympathize with the one about how problem students are always present in class. Another Murphy’s law statement would be “Students write slowest on days when you need to teach fastest.” Another observation I have is that a classroom is one of the few places where everyone is talking but no one’s mouth is moving, so you don’t know whom to call down in order to get the room quiet.

    Have a great year teaching, Rob!

  8. #8 Laura
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 10:14 am

    I agree with “The time a teacher takes in explaining is inversely proportional to the information retained by students.” It fits where I teach. I’ve had to learn to pause a lot and let information SINK IN. Maybe I was a fast-talking Yankee too long before growing up and moving South….

    As I continue research on how to help struggling students, I recently read a study that claimed over 40% of students (in an elementary-level sample) are “dominant” with the ear that does not correspond with their brain dominance pattern, leading to various levels of auditory processing difficulty … if that truly is so, it gives even more importance to being concise and using visual aids, etc. in presenting material.

    Would you agree with those figures, or do you suppose that students who fit that profile are less likely to attend college anyway?

  9. #9 Rob
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    @Matt – Or, were they thinking when they wrote that rule? Did school marms have to swear to celibacy?

    @Michael – How fitting that you would submit a “Murphy’s Law,” Michael! 😀 That’s a good one too, of course. I agree that uninteresting/uninterested teachers will have little success in having interested students, but I have to say, after 36 years of teaching, that some students refuse to be interested, no matter what you do. Sad.

    @Laura – Interesting information and observation. I don’t know if I can quantify with percentages the number of students who process in what way, but I do know that many of us are visual learners. I have a hard time visualizing a word that is spelled out to me, but if I see it, I’ve got it!

  10. #10 Roy Hooper
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Rob: Please explain #8 (rules in the 1800s) for not patronizing a barber shop. Do not understand “la raison d’être”. Excuse my “French”.

    I thought this quote from Pastor Conley who was quoting an unnamed source was quite good last night too.

    “Peace is that blissful moment when everyone stops to reload”.

  11. #11 Rob
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    @Roy – You gotta remember … I didn’t write those rules back in the late 1800s, even though I look that old. 😀 I don’t really know about that one. Maybe barber shops didn’t have very good reputations at that time. I know that a hundred years earlier, barbers also performed surgery! Maybe some history buff reader can answer that one for Roy? I also jotted down that quotation about reloading and thought I’d try to find the source. Good one!

  12. #12 Vikki
    on Aug 25th, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Concerning barber shops and why they were unacceptable places for teachers. Barber shops were hangouts for men who told smutty stories, malicious scandal and gossip of all kinds. A place where any decent woman wouldn’t be caught dead any where near.

  13. #13 Rob
    on Aug 25th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    @Vikki – Thanks! That sounds like what I hear some beauty parlors are like nowadays! 😀

  14. #14 JohnMatzko
    on Sep 1st, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    You were too generous in crediting these rules. The entire list is simply a genial falsehood of the sort that non-historians enjoy believing.

    As Snopes says, “The bottom line is that nobody has ever been able to verify the authenticity of this list of rules. It has appeared in countless newspapers and museums throughout North America, with each exhibitor claiming that it originated with their county or school district. It is also offered in a number of different guises, such as a list of rules for sales clerks at W.T. Stewart’s department store in New York, or for the employees of a New England carriage works….Perhaps this piece tells us more about our contemporary vision of life in the 1870s than it does about life in the real 1870s.”

  15. #15 Rob
    on Sep 2nd, 2009 at 7:03 am

    @John Thanks for the perspective from a historian. I knew what Snopes said before I posted the list, but I also know that Snopes is not infallible. They may be right on this one, especially since the same set of rules has been used in all sorts of “authentic” settings.