Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 1: "Am I Fit to Teach?"

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1908
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States of America
  • Source: Sanders, T. E. (1908). Twenty Talks to Teachers. The Teachers Co–Operative Company.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 10.4
  • Word Count: 2,029
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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The talks that follow are addressed to young teachers. They treat everyday problems in a homely way. I have tried to be plain and pointed. I have omitted long terms. I do not speak of correlation, apperception, spontaneity, etc., and I omit long psychological terms. You get enough of these in county institutes and educational journals.

You are a school teacher. You have taught but a short time, and you want to make a success of the work. You may not be even a professional teacher. You hold neither a normal school diploma nor a life license. Both of these are good, and a desire for one or both upon your part would be commendable, but neither is all that is required to teach a successful school. Some of the most impractical of visionary dreamers I have ever known possessed the first, and the most tiresome of moss–backs the second. Given a young man or a young woman of good character and fair scholarship, desiring to teach school, with little or no professional study or training, yet anxious to succeed, what may I say to help them? What are the problems which they must face ? What ad vice and what cautions will they need, and how may I say this to be most effective ? This is my task.

Perhaps a little self–catechising on your part will be helpful. In the daily hour of self–communion—and each teacher should have such an hour—when you turn your thoughts inward and analyse your own motives and short comings, ask yourself in all seriousness: "Am I fit to teach?" You may not be a "born teacher." Very few persons are. Few indeed have the inborn qualities so strong that teaching and teaching alone will satisfy. Few are so heavenly inspired that they may teach and succeed at it in defiance of all rules or regulations or accepted laws of pedagogy. There are some qualities that will help you and some qualities that you may cultivate— qualities that are essential to the person who would aspire to be leaders and models for young people. What are some of these?

1. Your character must be above reproach.—What ever else you may lack, your character must be above suspicion. Character, unquestioned and unquestionable, first. Other things may be essential, but this is the one first essential. If you are to be the model after which the boys and the girls—the most priceless product of the state:—will both consciously and unconsciously fashion their lives, you must be in all things a worthy model. Pure thoughts, pure words, sincerity, honesty, earnest and deep convictions must be habitual with you. The purity of your own thought, the sincerity of your own motives, flashing through your eyes, the windows of your soul, must call out and strengthen the purity and nobility of other minds. Your character and your reputation, too, must stand the search light of the X–ray without showing flaw or blemish. This, and this alone, is the character and reputation worthy the teacher, the builder and architect of immortal minds.

Character is what you are; reputation is what others think you are. Character is essential to pure manhood and pure womanhood, but reputation also is essential to the teacher. Reputation cannot exist long without character, but if from any cause however unjust your reputation is lost even though character remain, your best usefulness in that immediate community is gone. Then guard well your life if you are to teach. Avoid not only evil but the appearance of it. Be not prudish, but keep your reputation unsullied or seek not to stand as teacher to the young.

2. A thorough knowledge of the subject taught is essential to success.—You cannot be a successful teacher of the things you do not know. Clear–cut, definite, specific knowledge of a subject cannot be obtained in the pupils when the teacher does not have it. You cannot success fully teach up to the limit of your knowledge. There is a margin between your teaching limit and your knowing limit. As you reach your knowing limit in class, your questions become hazy, indefinite, crude. You hesitate, you stammer, you repeat yourself, you thresh over and over again the same thought. You lack proper perspective, and your teaching becomes dry and tiresome. A thorough and systematic knowledge of the subject you teach will give you teaching power.

Then, too, your teacher's knowledge of the subject must be broader and deeper and better organized than the pupil's. You must see each subject in its proper relation to other subjects. Each chapter must be seen in its relation to the chapters which precede and follow it in the development of the subject. The pupil's knowledge of a subject may end with the gathering and the understanding of facts, but the teacher's knowledge must include this and add to it the knowledge of its deeper relations to other subjects and to mind growth. To teach a subject is to learn that subject anew, to see it in a new light, in a deeper and richer significance. You cannot as teacher reach your own highest success with but a student's knowledge and view of the subject you teach. You must have a connected and logical view of the subject as a whole, and also an intimate and accurate knowledge of the relations of the parts. This deeper and broader knowledge, properly focused and presented to pupils gives you strength as a teacher. The deeper, the broader, the more accurate the knowledge of the subject, the better the teaching, provided the teacher has tact to present it properly. You must focus your efforts and bring your teaching into the range of the pupil's mental capacity and in an organized form so that pupils may grasp it. You must stick to the subject, remembering that the minimum of your knowledge of the subject with out review will probably be the pupil's maximum after study.

3. You must keep your knowledge fresh by study.— Growing minds alone are fit to teach. Stale mental stock does not create fresh mental appetites. Your attainments are of less importance than your mental habits. To teach well you must keep growing. Scholarly habits are more important than ripe scholarship with sluggish habits. Young teachers often do the best work. They are thinking, investigating, growing. They are full of life and enthusiasm, and the spirit is contagious with their pupils. The teacher who is accurate in details without being tiresome will train pupils to accuracy, unconsciously perhaps, but successfully. The young teacher faces the future with faith, and hope and enthusiasm. He is looking to the sunrise and not to the sunset. He is winning laurels, not resting upon laurels already won. He is losing his life in his work and will find it again in the lives of his pupils. Should I choose an institution for myself or for others, I should choose an institution in which a majority of the faculty were yet young men, men making reputations rather than men who had made reputations. The hope and faith, the fire and enthusiasm, the energy and earnestness, which they bring to their work accomplishes more than men resting on their accomplishments can possibly accomplish.

You must carry on some line of study or investigation, or systematic reading, or else you must fossilize fast. This, when dealing with immature minds year after year, is your only hope. It may be mathematics, it may be history, it may be science, sociology, political economy, music or art, it matters very little what the subject is, but it must be something, and it must be pursued regularly, systematically and persistently. In no other way can you keep growing and not be lost in the educational ruts. When you cease to grow you begin to decay.

4. You must love the work of teaching.—If after a fair trial you do not love to teach and feel deep down in your own consciousness that you cannot learn to love it, quit by all means and do it at once. No one is fit to teach who finds the work thoroughly distasteful and who does not have a genuine love for children and young people. No sadder sight was ever seen than a long–faced pessimist in the school–room. It is cruelty personified to keep children in the school–room under the chilling, blighting influence of a sour–grained pessimistic teacher, long since dead, else never alive to the beauty of nature and the buoyancy of childhood—firmly convinced of the total depravity of all children. Teachers should be full of health, beauty and good cheer. They must be able to enlist the good–will, co–operation and sympathy of young people. Children should not look to teachers as masters to drive them to tasks and to exact penalties, but as friendly companions and leaders, with strength of character, and force enough to inspire, to guide, and to direct to higher and purer and nobler things. Teachers must be able to see the beauties and harmonies of nature all about them, and to lead pupils to feel and to appreciate the higher things of life, ever looking upward, lifting upward and pointing upward.

5. You must be sincere.—You must love your work and believe in it. You must have a burning desire to help young people, and faith in your ability to do so. Gushing and lip service will not suffice. The sincere teacher is always ready to serve. Your actions will speak louder than words. You will as a rule be in no hurry to leave the building after school in the evening, but ready and willing and anxious to consult, to help, to advise, to be of service. The primary teacher's success may be judged by the group of children that circle about her at recess, or that wait to go home as she goes. The sincere teacher is found at teachers' meetings and associations, ready to help and on time. If you are genuinely sincere in your profession you will own a few professional books and add to them yearly. You will take and read educational journals and periodicals, and find pleasure in the reading. You will be found in the summer schools and colleges gaining help and inspiration for your work. You will have faith in the profession of teaching, and faith in yourself, and in your ability and worthiness to be one of the leaders of the youth of our land.

6. You must possess a worthy ambition.—You are a poor teacher if you have reached the height of your ambition, intellectually, professionally or successfully. If you are content or satisfied with your work, you will let things drag. You should be ambitious to do the best work of any teacher in your community. You ought to be ambitious enough also to desire better facilities for teaching and broader opportunities. We regret the itineracy and lack of stability in the teaching profession. It is one of the problems of the day. But all this is better than a body of teachers thoroughly content with conditions as they are. The teacher content to adjust himself to the conditions of a certain community and cloister him self there for life at a minimum salary is lacking in the ambition to do the best work for himself or others. The teacher who has ambition enough to improve and who seeks to do his best because it is right and because he desires to advance in his profession will kindle higher ambitions in his pupils and build higher types of men and women. A worthy ambition, a proper rating of your worth, pluck and stamina to stand for your rights, but to do it decorously and properly, is essential to your best work as a teacher.

Ask yourself, seriously and earnestly, "Am I fit to teach?"