Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 2: "Shall Teaching Be My Life Work"

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: 2,157
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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Shall teaching be my life work? This question stares the sincere young teacher squarely in the face. He must answer it sooner or later. His answer means much to himself as well as to others. We speak of the profession of teaching, but in the truer sense we have none at present. Teaching may be "the noblest of professions and the sorriest of trades," but as long as our standards of entrance are so low and the number of exits so many, teaching cannot be in its strictest sense a profession. It is far behind medicine or law, and to a large number of persons it is only a trade or a temporary occupation.

There are professional teachers. There are persons who have spent time and money and mental energy studying the problems of the school and of education. There are persons who seek earnestly to formulate the truths and to reduce teaching to a science. Many of these truths are as clearly worked out, as reliable and as completely accepted as are many of the principles of law and medicine. The work is yet incomplete. Shall I make it a life work and give to it my life and the best that is in me ? This is the question.

No man can answer this question for you. It is personal. The best that can be done, and this is worth while, is to weigh the good and the bad features and leave you to choose for yourself. So much depends upon the individual. Let me say also that it is never too late to mend. I am one who believes that there are thousands of good teachers, persons who are teaching and doing it well, persons who are leaving their impress for good upon boys and girls, and young men and young women, and who will not make teaching their life–work, and have never intended to do so. They arc teaching now, and they are, for the time being, putting their best self into the work. So long as they live in the work and get life out of it nothing is lost. When they begin to slight it, turning their energy to law or medicine or business, when their best self goes to something else while they become "school keepers" instead of teachers, it is time for them to quit.

And what about the lady teachers? Are they to make it a life work too? That is also a question for the individual. To this large and growing class of zealous, capable and untiring teachers the present and the future owes a debt which the world can scarcely pay. There is but one more sacred place—the wife and mother's. The woman who quits teaching to become the center of the home—the purest, the noblest, the most sacred—she does not leave the profession. She is only promoted.

Let us look at the ugly side of the profession first.

  1. It is itinerate.—The best teacher in the best school in the best county in the best state can hardly hope to live and die in the same position. He cannot depend entirely upon teaching and plan and build a home, plant his trees and feel confident he will rest beneath their shade and eat their fruit in years to come. He may be ever so conscientious, he may be ever so capable, and in time he must change. The position will outgrow him or he will outgrow the position. He will spank the wrong boy or refuse to spank him—it matters not—sooner or later he will do what the powers that be at the time think is the wrong thing, and then he must go. To the real lover of the settled home, this is a serious drawback. Professionally it may not be so serious as it seems. If you expect to teach as a life work you must expect to change every few years either because you choose to change or because you must. From the standpoint of your own professional advancement I should advise you to move just awhile before it becomes necessary. There are always places open, and they are often more easily secured while things are pleasant in your present position.
  2. The money returns from teaching is less than in law, medicine, or business.—The same amount of energy and ability used in teaching would frequently bring many times its money returns in other things. The successful lawyer or physician often makes several times the amount in a year that the superintendent of his schools makes. So far as I know the highest salaried educational position in the United States is only ten thousand a year. It is a very common thing to find a physician whose income is more than that. Hundreds of attorneys may be found receiving many times this amount as salary, and ten thousand a year is not now considered a large salary for the heads of business firms.
  3. The energy used is great.—Probably few other positions require a greater amount of energy constantly. It is the little things which sap the life of the teacher—the constant strain, the nervous tension, the magnetism going out continuously, the half fear it may be that something will go wrong.
  4. It is narrowing mentally.—Except in the highest college or university positions the teacher is dealing with persons less mature, less intellectual, and in one sense inferior. This is apt to cause him to grow dictatorial, pedantic and conceited. It is often an excel lent thing for the teacher to come in contact with superiors, to run against business men in a business manner, and learn other peoples' estimate of himself. To have some minor occupation—something besides teaching, interesting but not all–absorbing, is often a boon to the teacher. It keeps him from ruts and grooves and from fossilizing professionally. The lawyer, the business man and the physician are often rubbing against their equals and superiors, and this is a thought–awakener to them which the teacher often misses.
  5. Teaching is for the young.—Teaching is a young man's profession. With a number of notable exceptions, the great mass of teachers are under fifty. The teacher who has not made more than a local reputation be fore he is fifty years old will find it hard to advance if he must change. Hard as it may be upon the ear nest, conscientious, hard–working teacher, most of us if compelled to choose between a man of fifty and a man of thirty would, if other things were equal, choose the man of thirty. , The successful physician at fifty may have shorter office hours, charge larger fees and have cases coming to him for consultation because of his age and experience. The lawyer at fifty is in his prime. To him his clients come to consult upon important cases. Minor and unimportant cases he turns over "to the boys." But it is different with the teacher at fifty. Every one is then trying to put him on the shelf, and the chances are they will succeed.

These are the things which make against teaching as a life work, but the picture has a brighter side—a side too often overlooked in this day of dollar chasing.

  1. The energy used is great. living from the very first.—Hundreds of persons enter it because of this fact, and many remain for life because of their love for the work. The doctor and the lawyer must go through a starvation period, and many of them do not survive it. The lawyer that pays his necessary expenses and lives comfortably from his fees during the first five years is on the high road to success. The same is equally true of the physician. To tide over this starvation period many take up side lines which prove fatal to their real success, while others find sub ordinate salaried places in firms and incorporations. The salary in teaching may be low, but it is specific and certain, and meets present needs.
  2. Teaching keeps you in close touch with the best people.—Nothing is more conducive to pure thoughts and upright conduct—not even the ministry. To be looked at as a model and as a guide by the boys and girls of a community day after day—if that does not inspire to noble thoughts and actions, what will? A father and mother can see their son or daughter leave home to teach with every assurance that no other occupation will be a higher incentive to pure thinking and perfect living. The best people of the community welcome them to their home, the churches invite them to take part, and simple, trusting childhood in its purity, looks to them for guidance. If this does not keep them in paths of virtue they must show signs of total depravity. Do not overlook the fact when choosing a life work, that for personal purity, high ideals and constant inspiration to the highest, the purest and the best of our natures, teaching is unsurpassed.
  3. Hours are shorter than in many occupations.— While the nerve strain is great and worry and fear often intrude, the teacher has more time than many other occupations. Exercise and recreation in the open air an hour a day or more is always possible. If one likes to garden, to raise chickens, or to tend flowers, they can find the time, and the recreation will be beneficial. Teachers complain of the long hours and hard work partly from habit and partly because they do not know the long hours and real hardships of other occupations. To the person who is prepared to teach and who has the gift or power to govern and control without worrying about it, or having to continually fight for it, teaching is not exhaustive drudgery. It is true, lessons must be looked over and work planned outside of school, but even then there is some time for relaxation and recreation.
  4. The rewards are many.—In a sense, most teachers teach for the money—that is, if they were not paid for it very few could afford to give their time to the work. The laborer is worthy of his hire, and yet may the Lord pity the person and his pupils if he teaches for money alone. The money will enable him to continue the work, and it should be ample enough to give a comfortable living with all of the necessaries of life and a few of the luxuries. It should be ample also to provide for improvement and for necessary accessories to carry on the work and to lay by enough for old age or a rainy day. But the money received from teaching sinks into insignificance with the real teacher when compared with the real pleasure one can get from his work, the good he can do, the love and trust and confidence of his pupils. These, with the uplift and noble aspirations which he can inspire with its volumes of sunshine and gladness and progress which his teaching may bring about are infinite. To have pupils group about you, to see them cross the street sheepishly it may be but for no other purpose than to speak to "teacher," to share their troubles, to increase their joys, to lead them to see more of the beauty and the harmony all about them and to receive their letters in later life confessing their faults, begging pardon for offenses you have long since forgotten, telling you of successes, sharing little secrets and asking your advice—all these are the rewards of every true teacher beside which the money received is insignificantly mean.
  5. The work is intellectual.—It keeps you in con tact with books and the best minds of all ages. The greatest men of all time come and converse with you. A pity it is if you see nothing but drudgery and dull pupils and hard lessons and unruly boys and petty mischiefs and little annoyances in teaching. If this is all you see, quit—never teach again.

Teaching, if your heart is in the work, will keep you young. It will bring you into contact with the best in life. It will be a constant inspiration to pure thought and right conduct. It will give you the love and respect of young people whose future joys and sorrows will be your joys and sorrows, and whose successes will bring you pleasure. Last and least, but nevertheless essential, it will remunerate you until by thrift and economy you may lay up enough to live a comfortable, even though it be a simple, life.