In the early 70’s, I was hired by the state of Delaware to teach at an Amish school near my home. Cedar Grove was not only my first venture into teaching Amish children, it was my first try at teaching anyone. Nestled picturesquely among cedar trees, it was the one-room schoolhouse of my dreams: 25 students, 8 grades. There was no electricity, an outhouse for a bathroom, and an ancient pot-bellied wood stove.
Being an Englisher, I was given a dress code: a long skirt, a modest blouse, a headscarf with my long hair up, and no make-up. Since it was a bitter February with snow on the ground, I wore an ankle-length skirt over jeans and cowboy boots. School started at 9:00 AM. I arrived at 8:30 AM to find a dozen children shivering on the front steps. I greeted them with a cheery “Good morning!” They just stared at me. I unlocked the door and two older boys hurried to start the fire in the stove and fill the wood box.
The other students hung up coats and scarves, stamped the snow off their boots, and made a beeline for the library area. They chose books and settled down on the floor to read, still without speaking a word to me, although they whispered among themselves in Deitsch.
More kids filed in, taking their seats and staring at me shyly. The old-fashioned, wooden desks were arranged by grades, first through eighth, boys on one side of the room, girls on the other. The oldest students sat at the back, farthest from the wood stove.
By 8:55 AM, every seat was filled. Nervously, I shuffled papers, looked over my schedule and silently prayed. I would be expected to conduct classes in reading, arithmetic, penmanship and geography for all eight grades. Three of my first graders spoke no English, and two of the children had special-needs. When I stood and introduced myself in perfect German, I faced bewildered expressions. That was when I realized that the Amish dialect only roughly resembled German.
Once I repeated my greeting in English, all the students rose, filed to the front, turned, faced the desks, and began to chant a 16th century hymn from the Ausbund, in High German. The singing was slow and a cappella. The children sang for twenty minutes in a language different from the Deitsch dialect they spoke, a language none of the children understood. They later revealed to me that they had no idea what they were singing, yet the beautiful hymn raised goosebumps on my arms and brought tears to my eyes.
Once everyone had returned to their seats, we got to the business of teaching and learning, although who was going to be teaching whom, I wasn’t really sure anymore.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Mark your calendars for Thursday July 2nd, when Emma Miller will continue sharing her experiences.
Emma Miller lives quietly in her old farmhouse in rural Delaware amid fertile fields and lush woodlands. Fortunate enough to be born into a family of strong faith, she grew up on a dairy farm, surrounded by loving parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Emma was educated in local schools, and once taught in an Amish schoolhouse.
When she’s not caring for her large family, reading and writing are her favorite pastimes. She’s the author of the Hannah’s Daughter’s series and The Amish Matchmaker series, which includes her latest release, A Match for Addy.
Connect with Emma: Facebook