Art and Rena Loewen began their teaching careers in one-room schoolhouses several years before they met in 1954. “When the prairies were surveyed, it was anticipated there’d be a school every six miles or so,” says Art. “There were hundreds of one-room schools.” Situated on rural quarter-sections, standard school properties included a teacherage, barn, coal shed, and well or cistern within a fenced yard.

The school was about 16x24,” says Art Loewen. “There was a cloakroom in the back and a big stove in the middle. I was janitor, teacher and principal.”

Rena’s responsibilities were similar. “I’d never lit a fire,” she says of the pot-bellied stove she learned she’d have to manage. When someone stole the stove the day before school began she was thrilled. “They got in a gas heater and I was so thankful.” Rena’s school also had a telephone and indoor chemical toilets, conveniences most one-room schools lacked. For running water she’d learned in Normal School (teachers’ college) to construct a wooden stand with a tin can suspended over a basin. “The kids took a dipper of water and poured it into the can which had a hole in the bottom that allowed the water to run out slowly,” she says.

School enrollments varied. During Art’s first year no children younger than ten lived in the district. “I had students from grades four to nine with one in some grades and two in others,” he says. “Refugees from Germany moved in and doubled my enrollment. Without any background knowledge I had to teach English as a Second Language.”

Neither Rena nor Art felt competent to teach after only one year of Normal School. They entered the field with little more than good intentions and a great deal of trepidation. You either sunk or swam,” says Rena. Sinking wasn’t an option,” adds Art.  

Although he continued his education, entered administration, and became a founding member of the University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education, from which he retired as associate dean, he never forgot the challenges of his early years.  

The seven of us who started the faculty all had similar experiences,” he says. “To a great extent, they gave us an aim in preparing the program. We knew what we didn’t want.”

Writer: Elizabeth McLachlan, Photographer: Ken Heidebrecht


Other rural-related Faculty of Education stories:
Faculty of Education Dean's Message: "I had the privilege of starting my teaching career at a very small school in central Alberta … "
Learning and Teaching in Rural Schools: Janice Jensen (BEd '02)
A Circle is Complete: Nathan Comstock (BA/BEd ’19)
A Community in the Middle of Nowhere
Teacher Still Learning at 105-years-old: Alma McLachlan
Wellness is Ranching: Danny Balderson


For more information please contact:

Darcy Tamayose
Communications Officer
Dean's Office • Faculty of Education
University of Lethbridge
Learn more about the Faculty of Education: Legacy Magazine (2008-2019)
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