Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 5: Problems of the Young Teacher

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: 2,333
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
  • ✎ Cite This
  • Share |


Experience in the school–room counts for much. Teaching soon fastens certain personal peculiarities upon the teacher which makes him readily distinguished from other persons. Fifty teachers visiting Chicago had agreed to be so discreet in their conduct that no one would judge them to be teachers. Much to their surprise they had not walked two blocks from the depot until a dirty–faced bootblack called out in a drawling tone: "First class in geography, stan' up." Some of these eccentricities may be detrimental. Others are worth much professionally, as they give other people confidence in your ability to teach. They are recognized as ear–marks of the teacher.

Pupils and patrons are often more critical of young teachers than of teachers who have had experience, and have established reputations as being able to teach and to govern. They are looking for signs of weakness. Fortunate is the young teacher who can stand this test. His first and second schools will pretty well establish his standing in the community. After that they will be less critical and more apt to take things for granted.

One of the hardest problems of the young teacher is to acquire the feeling of familiarity or composure in the school–room. New clothes sometimes do not set well and new positions are the same. He hesitates, his voice does not sound familiar, he feels and looks awkward, he lacks confidence in himself, and instead of children being considerate of these things they notice them and are quick to take advantage of them. The rougher element of boys and the more careless of the girls may take pleasure in the teacher's discomfort. Such things try the mettle of the teacher. If he is made of the right material and has good judgment, he will come out all right. If he is naturally a coward or if he is full of egotism and conceit the pupils may soon lead him a merry chase. The more clearly he has the work planned, the more definite his ideas of what and how and why to do, the easier to gain composure in the school–room. Then, too, many excellent teachers are sensitive. They may soon grow easy and composed in the school–room with only their pupils before them. A caller or a visit from the principal or a school official completely unnerves them. They are ill at ease, they blush and blunder, and are always at a disadvantage. Familiarity and composure are the fruits of experience and study and practice in the school–room.

Composure, a level head, a knowledge of what you want done, and why you want it done and faith in your own ability to have it done gives composure to the whole school. Restlessness, lack of faith in self, fear of failure, these bring about the very conditions you are striving to avoid, and the school becomes restless, noisy, hard to control. The school takes its coloring from your own attitude, and when things go wrong, begin to seek the cause in your own actions, disposition and manners. Learn to study yourself without upbraiding, and yet with determination to find the cause of your failure. Confidence in yourself and courage backed by good judgment will make government easy. Remember the government of a school is more a matter of mind than of physical strength. The clearness of your mental vision, your insight into motives, your ideals of school. and of life and your knowledge of boy and girl nature count infinitely more than your avoirdupois. In very rare cases from home training or peculiar environment wrong motives of true manhood may inspire a bully until force—mere physical force—is the proper remedy, and a downright good threshing is the thing needed. But such occasions are rare indeed, and the young teacher should feel that there is something radically wrong in his own personality and methods of government if he must resort to such measures often.

A young teacher must guard his health. You can't teach day and night. The petty worries of the school room must not be carried to your home or boarding place. Shake them from yourself when you quit the building and grounds. Lock them in the school–room when you leave it, and if you sleep soundly they will have vanished into thin air before the door is opened the next day. Your health will react upon your work in the school–room. Not the work, but the worry kills. During my first three terms I taught school all day and dreamed school all night. The dreaming was harder than the teaching. My best pupils, the ones who would not for the world do anything to cause me trouble, were always in mischief in my dreams. From the first, force yourself to think of the pleasant things of the day as much as possible, and forget the unpleasant or shut them from your thoughts. Too often you find after sleepless nights of worry about some frivolous little breach of con duct by some thoughtless boy the whole thing glides by without a ripple, and the problem solves itself.

If you are blessed with a good digestion, the world ought to look bright to you. No terrors in teaching are equal to those caused by undigested beefsteak, and a dose of pepsin is often a far greater aid in teaching than a six–foot switch. Eat plenty of nutritious food, such as agrees with you, drink plenty of pure water, take plenty of exercise in the open air, laugh when you can, meet and mingle with people, think good thoughts, teach yourself to believe in your own ability and success without growing egotistic, sleep not less than eight hours in each twenty–four, and make it nine if you can sleep soundly ; keep clean, and the world and your school will move well with you.

The mind is self–creative. It can make a "heaven of hell or a hell of heaven" Milton tell us, and it is true. But there is a close relation between its activity and mental coloring, and the physical condition of the body. Teachers especially should learn to keep the body and the mind each at its best. Each reacts upon the other, and your school as well as your own happiness depends upon keeping both in the best condition. Avoid late study, irregular habits, and all kinds of dissipation. Planning and preparation of work is necessary, but it is not the number of hours you work, it is the intensity of the application that counts most. Systematize your work and work regularly and intensely, but do not encroach upon your hours of sleep unless you want to pay the penalty with interest. Let me say here parenthetically that if all teachers had a fair knowledge of shorthand, enough to enable them to record their own thoughts and to read their own notes readily what a saving of time it would mean in the preparation of their daily work. Would not it be worth while for every teacher to know this much stenography ?

Then, too, regular habits count for so much—regular eating, regular sleeping, regular exercise. Teachers who board cannot always get just what they want, but as a rule their accommodations are fairly good—often as good as they would get at home. One can adjust them selves to the conditions if these be regular. In most homes the meals are served nearly on time, seldom vary ing more than half an hour, but sleeping is often irregular. Regular sleep is perhaps the most important item of all—a good bed, ventilation, comfort, quiet, with little variation in retiring or rising—these are important to the teacher who must meet with plenty of reserve and nerve force the problems of the school–room next day.

There are various forms of dissipation. In addition, however, to intoxicants as a beverage, the habitual use of many patent medicines may be almost as injurious. Then, too, there are lighter beverages very injurious. The coca–cola habit is little better than the beer–drinking habit, and the same is true of many other drinks so "refreshing to tired nerves." One of the worst forms of dissipation is day–dreaming, or simply idling away the time. If you have time to idle or to day–dream, do it in the open air and in the sunshine where the exercise will do you good or go forth on a still, clear night and watch the movements of the heavenly bodies, the star–decked sky, and drink in its inspiration and beauty. Much of the light reading—newspaper, magazine, and the rag–time fiction so current—is the worst form of mental dissipation.

The love–sick young man and the giddy girl are too often teachers, and the time and energy in thinking and writing to one another is more than is used in their teach ing. I do not speak lightly of love or criticise teachers for falling in love or in loving one another or in loving some one who is not a teacher. Love in its highest form and love of the individual as well as the love of humanity as a whole is essential to the development of the person. Nothing creates higher ambition or nobler impulses than love. To love a pure–minded woman—a teacher she may be—is one of the greatest things that can happen to a young man. It is equally valuable to a young woman. The young man or young woman in love, with the hope that this love is or may be mutual, and when this loved one is idolized as made up of all that is pure and worthy and noble, is always safe. It gives new life and energy and ambition. It can be seen in the flashing eye, the elastic step and the bodily poise. No tonic is so life–giving, no beverage so invigorating, no view of life so rich in its coloring. Health, hope, courage, ambition, all good things follow in its wake. Such love as this is not dissipation. But the love sick young man who pines for his lady love—the last one who smiled on him, it matters little who ; the giddy girl who has two strings to each of her half a dozen beaux and is too busy pulling these strings to think of anything else—these are unfit to teach.

Then, too, the young teacher must sacrifice some thing to public opinion. Public opinion may be ever so narrow, so unreasonable, so unjust, but if you are to establish your reputation in that community as a reliable, trustworthy teacher, you cannot afford to be indifferent to it. I am speaking especially of the town, the village, and the country where all eyes are on the teacher, and where every man, woman and child knows him. In the towns, villages and the country the teacher is relatively of greater importance than in the city. Young men teach ing in these communities cannot afford to do much keeping company or going to see the girls, and young women teachers cannot afford to have many beaux or even one regular one whose attentions are quite notice able to the public. The highest motives may prevail, the enjoyment and pleasure may be great, and even then the teacher, like the minister, must forego many things which would be unnoticed in others, or else pay the price which is often dear enough. Sniggering school boys and giggling school girls for weeks will nudge one another and make remarks at your expense, and not al ways complimentary. Rail against it if you will, but it makes matters worse. Laugh about it and it often com promises your dignity. Punish for it, and you stir up a hornets' nest in the neighborhood. You can soon kill your influence in that neighborhood for good by a little harmless indiscretion. Beware!

Just how to get the good will and respect of patrons and pupils no one can tell you. It is a problem to be solved by your own good sense and personality. It is easier to tell you what not to do than to tell you what to do. The best advice is to be yourself, but to be your best self. Do not try to show off. Do not try to advise on every topic that comes up. Do not push yourself for ward in outside matters. Listen to those older than yourself. Weigh what they say, but in school matters be your own boss. Talk little about your plans or your past success. Keep your school room troubles strictly to yourself. Do not criticise former teachers, and if teaching with other teachers beware of criticising another teacher in the same school, however much you may dislike their methods. The teacher may be ever so unpopular, and the person may invite criticism ever so much, but it is your place to avoid it. Then, too, do not criticise or praise one pupil before another pupil or patron out side of school. It is dangerous, and a little tact will enable you to avoid it. Your criticism will do no good, and your praise may cause the bitterest of jealousy. "Miss Jones, don't you think Grace is smart ?" said a little girl. "Yes, we have many smart pupils in school," re plied Miss Jones, and the girl's question was answered and no jealousy created.

Your success and power for good in the neighbor hood will be determined very largely by the esteem and confidence the pupils and the patrons place in you.