Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 7: Opening Exercise

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: 2,167
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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No period of the day is so important in its influence on the day's work or so rich in opportunities for good in after life as the first fifteen minutes after school is called in the morning. The teacher's task is not an easy one. Before her are as many dispositions as there are pupils. Before her are the physical, mental and moral defects of inheritance and the pernicious habits of home neglect and wrong training. The rich and the poor, the high and the low, the proud and the humble, the good and the bad, a heterogeneous group all are there— and out of these the teacher is to construct the working unit, the school.

The spoiled babe, the father's favorite, the mother's pet, the orphan and the outcast, all meet here on common ground. The hope of a democracy is based upon this meeting and mingling. The perpetuity of our institutions must stand or fall by the results of such meeting. Each here learns to estimate the other and the estimate is usually the par value of the pupil. The banker's boy must measure brains with the bootblack and often each gets the best lesson of life in that measurement. The banker's boy often finds a worthy rival in the bootblack and unconsciously rates him higher than if they had never met. The bootblack may have higher hopes and ambitions kindled, together with a better estimate of his own innate worth and this is uplifting. Blood tells, but it as often tells weakness as strength, and often the best lesson of a wealthy boy's life is when he is wallowed—wallowed physically as well as mentally—by some poor, humble widow's son upon whom he had always looked with contempt.

Out of this group of individuals, the teacher is each day to construct the working unit, the school. They gather from various homes and conditions, some gorged with indigestible dainties, others with appetites hardly appeased with the plainest of food, some bubbling over with fun and mischief, and others sour and sullen, all these are to become a unit for the day's work. To focus these minds, to draw them from the petty home incidents of the morning, to put them into harmony with the work of the day, the tuning of these minds is the one great purpose of the daily opening exercises of the school.

But in the very process of the exercise there comes numerous opportunities for the richest lessons of the school course. It gives the opportunity for teaching lessons of patience, patriotism, duty, love, respect, obedience, gratitude and devotion. Kindness to animals, appreciation of the beautiful in art and nature and literature, higher ideals of life, faith and hope and charity, and greatest of all the criterion of the really educated person, liberal–mindedness—all of these should find food in the unifying process of the school, the opening exercise.

Perhaps, the one thing that will bear repetition oftenest and grow in its good results by repetition in the opening exercise is singing. I discriminate between singing and a lesson in music. A lesson in music may not be one whit better for unifying the minds of the pupils than a lesson in grammar or arithmetic. But singing is better. An angry pupil cannot sing. In the singing he forgets his anger. Nothing so quickly recalls the wandering minds of pupils and gets them into harmony with the purpose of school, and makes them forget petty troubles, as a good, soul–stirring song in which all unite. Patriotic songs, devotional songs, folk songs, songs of the home and the heart, nature songs—the list is long—all have their use in the opening exercise. Glad or sad, as the teacher desires to stir the pupils, so let the morning song be in opening exercise.

Even if the teacher sings but little, there will be found always the faithful half dozen who can and will sing. The others will follow. Choose the songs that nearly all like and sing with enthusiasm. For the opening exercises not many songs are needed. If music is taught, new songs may be learned, and the favorite ones added to the list for morning use. Let me emphasize the fact that it is not the new and the difficult, but the old, the familiar, the soul–stirring song that is most useful in opening exercise. Something that all like, something that all can sing, something that appeals to the emotions —these are the songs for the opening of school.

It is well if the teacher is leader in music, it is well if you have an organ or piano or other good instrument, it is well if you have song books, but sing even if you have none of these. A few pupils will be found who can lead, and many of the best music teachers advocate that pupils should be taught to sing alone and not with the teacher. The instrument is good, but not absolutely essential. Song books are very valuable indeed, and most schools can obtain them, but if you do not have them have each pupil make a copy of the words of a song in their opening exercise note book and commit the words to memory. By all means sing at the opening exercises of the day. Nothing will more quickly drive out the peevishness, relieve the sullenness, and make glad the whole school than the morning song well sung.

The opening exercise requires study, planning, and skill on the part of the teacher. No lesson needs more planning and in no lesson will you get better results if you do plan wisely and well. You must know in advance what you will present, not leave it to the impulse of the moment. Then, too, there must be variety. Children tire of sameness. If pupils know weeks in advance just what to expect at the opening exercise they will care less to be on time, especially if this particular exercise does not happen to appeal to them. If there is variety, if they feel that something new and good may occur any morning, they are more apt to be on time. Tardiness will decrease as the opening exercise increases in interest and value.

Make the opening exercise brief, interesting and pointed. I have tried the various plans given below with success. The interest in each particular exercise varied with the school, the class and the conditions. If the pupils were particularly pleased I continued it longer. If they showed that they were not especially pleased I left it sooner and came back to it later, else omitted it in the future. These suggestions worked out will I believe give you abundant material for a year of school.

1. A cheerful song, or two or three cheerful songs with no other exercise will often please the pupils. This is especially true on days when pupils are in the mood to sing. Choose songs that will suit the mood of the pupils at the time.

2. A solo from some pupil or person or a duet from two pupils makes a pleasing change. These will be all the more pleasing if they come as a surprise to the school.

3. A humorous or pathetic story, either read or related, if well done, is always interesting and instructive. Do not spoil it by tacking a long moral to it. Pupils, most of them, will get their own lesson. Neither grown people nor children care to be preached to always.

4. Reading from the Scriptures, and without comment, may often please and is always in place. This may be followed by a brief prayer if it come from the heart. Religious service in the public school must be free from sectarianism, and it is well to guard such exercises carefully.

5. A cheerful devotional song followed by the Lord's Prayer given in concert by the school is good. Sincerity must characterize all exercises of a devotional nature, else they should be strictly avoided.

6. A brief summary of the world's news of the week given by some pupil may be made very interesting in many schools. This is a splendid exercise for broadening the views and life of the pupil.

7. Review the life of any great men dying. Prepare the leading facts of their life carefully and pointedly so that pupils will remember the facts and gain inspiration from the life.

8. Discuss in the same way the lives of great men yet living. Avoid over praise and still better over criticism. The natural tendency to hero worship in children is an uplifting force. Cultivate it. The past few years has seen a tendency in muck rake quarters to belittle men. There are spots on the sun and perhaps faults in great men. Teach pupils to enjoy the warmth and heat without worrying about the spots. Teach them to look for the best in men rather than the worst.

9. Discuss social questions such as strikes, elections, social movements, etc. Be liberal in your views, avoid partisan statements and bitter criticisms. The great purpose of education is to make men think and to be charitable and liberal in their thinking of others.

10. Place a maxim or motto on the board and discuss its meaning and application with the school. This is very interesting often and broadening to the views of the class. Many of our maxims are rich with meaning, but pupils often fail to grasp the meaning.

11. Perform or have some pupil perform an interesting experiment in physics or chemistry, one that ex plains some scientific fact or principle. This will prove intensely interesting. It is no trouble to select several such, and pupils are seldom tardy if they think they may miss such an exercise.

12. Short queries are good if they are appropriate ones.

13. Information lessons on plants and animals, illustrated when possible by objects or pictures, will be interesting and profitable.

14. Discuss the manufacture of common articles, such as pens, pencils, boots, shoes, buttons, cotton and woolen goods, etc. If possible, have pupils visit such factories and describe the processes. If you cannot take the pupils, visit the factories yourself and observe the processes carefully that you may describe them accurately and interestingly.

15. Select famous historic quotations such as "Don't give up the ship," "Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute," and have pupils tell when, by whom and upon what occasion they were uttered.

16. Give brief descriptions of historic places and things you have seen. Be modest and be brief.

17. Describe the habits, manners, customs and life of strange people. Material is easily found for this. Do not read it to pupils, but prepare it and tell it to them.

18. Select some interesting book and read one or two chapters each morning. Pupils will be anxious to follow the story and will be greatly interested.

19. Have pupils give memory gems. This to me has been one of the most uniformly successful opening exercises I have ever tried. I have never had a class that tired of it. To have the minds of pupils stored with beautiful gems of poetry and prose, little life sermons, means much to the young persons. One of my former pupils ten years later, himself then a teacher, told me he valued that above everything else I gave him. It had been a source of the greatest pleasure to recall these and to add new ones at intervals.

20. Help pupils to better grasp facts by graphic illustrations of them. Pupils have no conception of a billion. When we read in our geography that the United States raised two and a half billion bushels of corn a few years ago, it makes no impression on the mind. Have pupils figure out how long a procession of wagons would be required to haul it, counting twenty bushels to the load and twenty feet of space for the wagon and team. How many times would this procession reach around the earth at the equator? The result may surprise you unless you have figured on it, and I am sure it will surprise your pupils. At least it will help them in some little measure to grasp the enormity of the corn crop. Then what becomes of all this corn? Another fact that can be graphically illustrated is to have the class figure out how many tons of water fell upon the school building last year. You can find the average rainfall for your state or locality. A cubic foot of water weighs about 62 1/2 pounds. Then figure out the number of tons. Get your patrons to figure on it before you tell them the amount or they may doubt your veracity, or else your sanity. Dozens of such topics may be used, and will make the most interesting of opening exercises.