Fieldnotes – The Rural Teacher

I love the little communities along the Rocky Mountain Front. It’s quiet here, apart from the winds that can kick up without warning in gusts so fierce they can rip a truck door from its hinges. I love the intersection of the wild and the domestic in places like Pendroy and Dupuyer and Bynum.

Tourists might know Bynum as a stop on the way to Glacier; a place to gawk at the seismosaurus and buy a few postcards at the Two Medicine Dinosaur Museum. But for the locals, the center of their community is – and has been for more than a century – the Bynum School and its teachers.

Susan Luinstra has taught at the Bynum school since 1974. For several years she presided over the lower grades, then the upper grades. For many years she taught all the grades – that is to say, she was the school’s only teacher.

“Some people don’t understand how rich and full this experience is,” she says. “They don’t understand the bond we develop in a place like this, where classes remain intact, and students have the same teacher for years at a time. People don’t understand the trust and respect that, of necessity, develop in a school like ours, in a community like ours.”

I have watched Susan Luinstra teach on more than one occasion, but have not been able to discover her secret. I’ve not managed to figure out how she teaches such a varied group of kids, and how she keeps them all engaged.

“It’s not me,” she says, modestly. “It’s them. Our students have always had an incredible sense of place. How could you not, living here? And that gives them a real strength. And that strength gives them confidence, and it makes them want to reach beyond what others might expect, and experience more of life.”

I ask Susan if she is always so upbeat. I ask if there haven’t been low points during her three decades here.

She thinks a minute, sighs, and says: “Yes, a few years ago, on the first day of school, only four students showed up. And I was afraid that the Bynum School might disappear. And the thought that such a thing might happen was too much to bear. But by the end of that year we had seven students, and the next year we were back up to ten, and now I think we’re out of the woods.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250 251 252 253 254 255 256 257 258 259 260 261 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277 278 279 280 281 282 283 284 285 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300 301 302 303 304 305 306 307 308 309 310 311 312 313 314 315 316 317 318 319 320 321 322 323 324 325 326 327 328 329 330 331 332 333 334 335 336 337 338 339 340 341 342 343 344 345 346 347 348 349 350 351 352 353 354 355 356 357 358 359 360 361 362 363 364 365 366 367 368 369 370 371 372 373 374 375 376 377 378 379 380 381 382 383 384 385 386 387 388 389 390 391 392 393 394 395 396 397 398 399 400 401 402 403 404