Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 12: Keeping Good Conditions

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: 2,615
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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Your school began in September. Your pupils re turned to school, most of them glad vacation was over. They entered with high resolves to make this year of work the best they had ever done. If you made a good beginning, the first few weeks of school strengthened these resolutions in many of your pupils. If you planned your work well each week, if your program was thought fully prepared, if you assigned lessons carefully, and if by your every act you showed without stating it that you were master of the situation and that you knew what you wanted to do, how you wanted it done, and why you wanted it done, the first few weeks of the term passed pleasantly, and well begun may not be half done, as the adage goes, but it counts for much.

October's frost has now painted the landscape a myriad hue, and November's hazy days are fast approaching. The novelty of school is beginning to dull. Pupils have grown used to the new teacher and stand no longer in such awe. The truth is that for both teacher and pupils, school has settled down to the real thing. Some of the high resolves of the opening of the term are be ginning to weaken under the regular routine of school work. Dropping nuts have overcome the good resolution of a few, and they have missed a day or two to lay up the winter's stock. Missing will be much easier now for these pupils the rest of the year. Some of the larger boys who remained at home to sow the wheat and help gather the corn are now entering. In the main they are good boys, worthy boys, boys whose greatest ambition is to work faithfully in school as well as on the farm, but their entrance has broken into the class organization and unity. The teacher and the pupils from now on recognize the school as a genuine business. The real problem of government begins to face the teacher. Then, too, school interest must not begin to drag, or else the holiday spirit will overbalance school spirit. Unless there is genuine interest some, often many, may become so infatuated with Santa Claus that they cannot study, and begin holiday vacation early. Lost time is hard to recover, and lost interest at the middle of a term is seldom completely restored.

Let us trust that your beginning was good. It is far easier to form than to reform. Definite standards of conduct, order and system, good common sense rules and regulations, good judgment, a knowledge of boys and girls, insight into the spirit and motives that prompt actions in young people, frankness and honesty with pupils, and above all the saving grace in the teacher of a sense of humor and the knowledge of the purifying and vivify ing power of a hearty laugh—if you have understood these and exercised them from the first day, reforms will not be necessary. Still followed faithfully, they serve as correctives and prevent the necessity of reforms later.

How then may the teacher keep conditions good? What are the things to guard against in order to keep the school atmosphere wholesome, the interest good, and the conduct up to the standard? There are a few cautions which every teacher of experience would give the young teacher. These watched well and the teacher will grow in the power to govern and instruct. They will be found the key to a good school. While they do not cover all points, no teacher ever succeeded thoroughly and yet neglected many of them, and no teacher is a complete failure if many of them are in every way successful. Perhaps in naming some of these I may restate a few things mentioned in the chapter just preceding.

1. You must have good order.—Not simply quiet but intelligent quietness. Children are controlled by internal and external motives. Appeal to the former always, but be ready to use the latter should the former fail. You must govern your pupils else they will run away with you. If you are weak they will take every advantage of you they think they dare to take. Do not blame the children if your room is littered, desks marked and marred and scratched—they will soon learn to do it if you are a negative quantity. They will never do it if you are the positive force you should be.

Can you leave your room for ten minutes or half an hour and return to find things moving on with proper decorum and orderly manner? If you cannot do this, why not? The best teachers can do it. A class whose former record had been bad, in two weeks' time under another teacher were entirely trustworthy, and during a ten months' term were never known to do a disorderly act, though the teacher was frequently out of the room. Where the power? Where the fault? It can be done. Good order implies that each pupil is able to do his best work at any or all times without annoyance or external disturbance from others. Some pupils may be idle, but their idleness must not be catching. It must not disturb those who want to work. This is to be your criterion. Make it a constant study how this and the other may affect the proper work of your pupils. This will answer as well as it can be answered what you may permit and what you cannot permit in your school.

Good order in the recitation demands that the mind of the teacher and the pupils' minds must focus upon the same thought. This is the basis of all school rules. How does it affect the unity of mind of the teacher and the class? If it tends to unity it is good. If it tends to destroy unity, it is bad, and should not be allowed. If it is incompatible with unity it should at once be for bidden. Let the young teacher learn to measure con duct by this standard, and she will soon solve the various perplexing questions, little in themselves but big to her. "Shall I permit whispering?" "Shall I permit a child to get a drink during school hours?" "Shall I stop a recitation to reprimand a bad boy?" The best answer is found in the criterion—do that which will result in the closest possible contact between the mind of the teacher and the mind of the pupils in class.

Of course, in the application of the above principle we must often choose between two evils. But the criterion is a good guide. If the conduct of the pupil will disturb the mental unity of the class and teacher more during the recitation than the reprimand, by all means stop the recitation and give the reprimand. Be sure, however, that you give the reprimand so effectively that it will seldom or never have to be repeated while the pupil comes to school to you.

2. Guard well your recess.—It is a critical time for the teacher. Often it may be even detrimental to the school. It is in many ways the test of the teacher's power to govern. If she has quick insight into child nature she may get some of the deepest glances at the real nature of the pupils—the best and the worst traits of character—at this period. Much of the disorder of the school–room has its origin at recess. The playground and the open–air are the places for games and sports. The school–room may be a place for relaxation and reasonable conversation and jest, but if you value peace of mind and good conditions for school work, never, never let it become a place for games, boisterous con duct, or running and jumping at recess.

Pupils should from the first day enter the school room as though it were sacred ground, dedicated to cheerful, pleasant, profitable work. I do not mean that there should be a long face and a woebegone expression upon entering the school–room, but the feeling of frivolity and boisterousness must be laid aside. Running and jumping and boisterous conduct in the room at recess makes the pupils familiar with such conduct until it is no longer shocking to them when repeated after recess. There should be a feeling of impressiveness but cheer fulness upon entering the school–room which is conducive to study and right conduct. Much of the sacredness, the calm, restful sweetness which comes to us upon entering the church would be lost if all kinds of noisy games and boisterous carousals were indulged in before the opening of the church service.

The teachers should be at school at least half an hour before the time for opening school. If the teacher is habitually late she should reform or resign. The noisy disorder and pandemonium that so often reigns in the school–room when the teacher is late is detrimental to school during the day and often for days. Some of the worst disturbances of the school will be prevented if the teacher is first to reach the building in the morning. If pupils bring lunch and remain at school during the noon hour the teacher should remain also. One teacher at least should remain during the noon hour. The extra work and tax on the teacher during this time is far less than the nerve force required to set things right that will happen during the year if she is absent.

Proper decorum must be insisted upon when pupils enter the room after intermissions. All racing and shouting and games should stop at the first tap of the bell. The pupils then prepare to enter the room. This will depend upon the size, location and entrance of the building. In cities and larger towns where hundreds of pupils must be handled, the regular march may be necessary. In smaller schools, falling into line without regard to grade may be all that is necessary. In schools of middle size pupils may fall into line by grades. At a second signal, after all is quiet, the lines pass to the rooms in good order, the boys removing their hats at the door as if they were entering the home or a church. No pushing, shoving or racing is permitted. The teacher who tries and is persistent and uniform about it, ran by her kindness and conduct, readily secure this order and decorum without seeming to force it.

3. Be systematic and orderly in calling and dismissing classes.—No teacher can long maintain order and decorum in the school–room without some system in calling and dismissing classes. One of the most signal failures I ever knew—a normal school and university graduate too—could be traced largely to his lack of system in calling and dismissing classes. As one class was dismissed the next started to the recitation seat and without signal. They raced, and scrambled and rushed for certain favorite positions. They came pell–mell, hurry–scurry, each trying to get there first, and it never seemed to dawn upon the teacher that there was a better way or that the disorder bred here hung about the work of the school like a millstone.

Each pupil should have a definite position for the recitation. If the room is arranged so that there are separate recitation seats the pupil's position in class will be determined by :

1. The location of the pupil's desk and his natural place in the line as the class passes to recitation.

2. The kind of classmate with which he will be thrown at recitation. Some pupils are so congenial that if thrown near each other in the recitation, neither seem to be able to behave. Two boys, reasonably good when separated, may not be able to sit near one another without kicking, pinching and whispering. Be sure that they are separated in recitation. Good order in the recitation, like good order in the study period, is often influenced by the teacher's good judgment in seating pupils.

There should be a definite signal for calling classes. It may be a gentle tap of the bell, a rap of the pencil, or by calling "One" by the teacher. I have always preferred the latter. The teacher may then call the class from any position in the room. At the signal the pupils begin to get ready to rise, if the class is to pass to the recitation seat. If the recitation is to be in the study seat, all books, papers, pencils, etc., not needed in the recitation are laid aside at this signal. The second signal, "Two" is given, and each pupil stands quiet ly by his desk, each knowing in which aisle he is to stand. After all have risen, a third signal, "Three" is given, and each passes quietly to his place in class, and at a gentle nod of the head of the teacher or a fourth signal all are quietly seated.

If the recitation is to be at the study desks all books, pencils and papers not needed in the recitation must be laid aside. These are always disorder breeders, and serve only to distract attention. Flowers in the spring time may often become a nuisance, as they come too often between the pupil's mind and the lesson. The same is true of perfumed cards and numerous other innocent looking little things.

The same plan of calling a class may be used in dismissing it. After the class is seated, give ample time for them to get all necessary books and papers for pre paring the next lesson before calling the next class. Never seem to be in a hurry. Have your classes follow directions promptly, but haste is waste of time.

4. Train yourself to pleasant tones of voice and composure Perhaps the teacher's voice is one of the strongest elements that go to make up that which we call personality. Even tones quiet and soothe. Guttural tones, harsh, rasping, high–keyed tones grate upon the ear and get disorder. Your command should be gentle, but none the less firm. Believe in your own ability to govern. Unless you can do this you are apt to fail. Give every command in pleasing tones, courteously, firmly, never letting the voice show doubt or fear that it will not be obeyed. A ' sharp, rasping command with the faintest lack of self–confidence breeds contempt and leads to a trial of strength. If teachers could hear themselves for a day, repeated with the exact inflection by the phonograph, many of them would cease to wonder why their rooms are noisy.

Composure in actions, along with firmness of voice, gentle tones and decision of character makes the teacher master of the situation. They make or mar the teacher's record. Given these with enthusiasm and you should have no serious trouble in keeping conditions good in your school after you have made a good start. Your term is usually pretty well established by the time it is half over. Your success is determined by that time.

The first good resolutions have been strengthened and become well fixed. You have shown your ability or lack of it in keeping conditions good, and the rest of the year should, if this is good, pass without much to discourage.