The goal of pioneer schools was to teach children to read, specifically the Bible, and to write. Townspeople who operated businesses also wanted their children to learn arithmetic. Immigrants relied on schools to teach their children English. School was held when a teacher could be found. Since most pioneer communities could not pay them much, it was difficult to find teachers. The teacher was usually a young man or an unmarried woman. When a female teacher got married she was expected to quit teaching. Some teachers had been trained in a two-year Normal School; others had just finished school themselves.
Rules in pioneer schools were strict and teachers were expected to maintain discipline. Students could be punished with a switch or rod for things such as being late, falling asleep in class, whispering, or pulling pranks. Students who did not learn their lessons were punished by embarrassment. The dunce cap was one method of this type of punishment.
Books and paper were scarce and expensive so students did their work with chalk on slates.
The Bible and the McGuffey reader were the books most common in pioneer schools. The first school in Iron County was located in Parowan and used the only two books brought from Salt Lake, The Book of Mormon and Robinson Crusoe. At the end of the school session a public program was often held which gave the children a chance to show what they had learned. The students would recite poems they had memorized or read a composition. Sometimes the teacher would give an oral exam where the student answered the teacher’s question out loud. After the program a community celebration would be held with food and games.