The Way It Was: Vignettes from My One-Room Schools.


226 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 978-1-55238-225-7
DDC 371.10092




Edited by Thelma Jo Dobson
Reviewed by Lori A. Dunn

Lori A. Dunn is a ESL teacher, instructional designer, and freelance
writer in New Westminster, B.C.


In 1916, Edith Van Kleek was a child and started school in a one-room schoolhouse in Alberta. At the time she did not realize she would find herself in and out of one-room schoolhouses for the rest of her working life. She began teaching soon after the completion of her own studies, and over the course of her career kept notes and records of her experience with an eye to one day publishing them. It is those notes that Van Kleek’s daughter Thelma Jo Dobson found and has since edited into this delightful memoir.


The account starts with Van Kleek’s experiences as a young girl going to school for the first time. She describes the school and its life in unadorned prose, drawing attention to the details of life that one knew existed, but never contemplated—such as the use of slates. Bought for the students by their families, slates were meant to last for as long as possible: the “girls kept a neat little bottle of water and a small rag on their desks to clean their slates, but the boys just spit on theirs and rubbed it with their sleeves.” And one wonders how young children ever mastered the trials and tribulations of ink.


Van Kleek describes for each school the daily transportation requirements for herself and the students, the challenges of having hot lunches for the children, some of the memorable students, and their creative free time activities. She includes pictures and class lists for a number of the central Albertan schools where she taught from 1921 to 1961.


This memoir is a straightforward glance through the windows of Canada’s one-room schoolhouses. The audience is anyone who has ever wondered what that experience would have been like, how a teacher could cope with one room with up to nine simultaneous grades, and what life was like in rural communities during the Depression and war years.


Van Kleek, Edith., “The Way It Was: Vignettes from My One-Room Schools.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,