No Janitor, No Lunch

But Loads of Attention in Idaho’s One-Room Schools

Story and Photos by Khaliela Wright

Christine Marshall, a new hire in my job as a field supervisor for the US Census Bureau, had moved with her family from Michigan to Idaho last summer, and she told me her girls had begun attending a one-room school in Cavendish, a remote community in Clearwater County, between Kendrick and Orofino. Hearing that, I immediately got the teacher’s contact information from her and set out to find and document the existence of this remnant of classic Americana.

My interest in the one-room school went back years, to another life, in which I worked as a substitute teacher for Potlatch Elementary School. To be a substitute teacher is to take lessons in becoming Super Gumby—you survive by being flexible. If you walk through a school, it’s easy to spot the subs: they have the deer-in-the-headlights look about them. Anyone who says teachers have an easy job ought to take a turn on the sub roster. I’m certain they will quickly change their minds. In between wiping noses, chasing kids, making photocopies, and trying to get through the day’s lesson plan, substitutes catch snippets of conversation in the lunchroom, on the playground, or while zipping jackets and looking for errant mittens in the hall.

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