Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 8: The Spirit of the 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: 2,049
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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The more one studies the forces which combined make a successful school, the more he sees that the teacher is the all–important factor. Buildings, grounds, furniture, apparatus, books, all these are important—and the material equipment of a school makes much difference—but over and above these and vastly more important than these, is the spirit of the teacher. From the contact of mind with mind grows a quickened intellect. Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and Garfield on the other, these, Garfield said, would make a university. The teacher whose soul is on fire with her work, the pupil who is willing to learn, these are the essentials of a good school. The teacher, one whose heart is in the work, one who realizes the dignity and the importance of teaching, one who not only knows the subject to be taught and the laws of mental development, but has that innate tact and worth and personal magnetism that draws young people to her, such a teacher is a price less gem. Such a teacher brings order out of chaos. The pupils feel the magnetism of her presence. She enters into their very lives, lifting them to higher things and leading the way.

It is the spirit of a teacher that governs a school. In one room is disorder, a spirit of idleness and sometimes defiance, carelessness and contempt for all that is pure and good and noble in school life—loose paper, marred desks, paper wads, marked walls—you know the signs. The teacher among her personal friends and intimate acquaintances speaks always in contempt of the pupils, calling them her "mean kids," "hateful little imps," "despisable brats," etc. She longs for the monthly return of pay day and the end of the term. She scolds, frets, punishes, threatens, bribes and coaxes by turns and in rapid succession, and then expresses surprise that the pupils of her room take little interest in their work and are so "torn down mean." She is lacking in natural dignity and seriousness, and wonders why her pupils are frivolous. She makes no daily preparation of lessons and cannot understand why the children do not study. She is the giddiest of the giddy in talking about her beaux, and wonders why the school girls are so rude as to speak about their "fellows."

The pupils of another room—and often the same pupils under another teacher—are quiet, orderly, obedient, respectful and studious. She does, not gush. She is not petty and has no pets. She is quiet, bright, cheerful, cheery, orderly, serious, natural, and has confidence in her pupils. She speaks kindly and affectionately of her boys and girls, neither thinking them faultless nor lauding them to the skies. Her every act is an inspiration to her pupils. She plans her work, she works to her plans, and the pupils both consciously and unconsciously imitate her. She shapes the lives and destinies of her pupils for the better. The work of such a teacher is above all money value. The former is dear at any price.

The spirit of the teacher shows itself in the intellectual attitude of the pupils. The teacher should be a living fountain, not a stagnant pool. The growing mind is alone fit to teach. The best, the life–giving teaching, which makes the pupil's soul thirst for more is not being done by men and women who have long since completed their education. I pity the high school pupil whose teacher adds nothing to his intellectual growth each year. Were I seeking an institution in which to educate a boy of mine, I should care very little for the religious creed of the faculty, but I should prefer that there was diversity among them and I should want good morals. I should care little for the political faith of his teachers, but I should want them honest in their convictions. My first and deepest concern would be the spirit of the teachers in charge of the school. I should want a faculty mature enough to have lost much of its freshness, but fresh enough to be growing still. The average age should not exceed forty, men growing in knowledge day by day, each strong in his specialty but pushing forward to new and better things, broad enough to grasp life and to see things from more than one angle, men whose gaze and hope is turned to the sun rise and not to the sunset, men who are winning laurels and making a name in their profession rather than men who have won laurels and made a name and are now resting. Such teachers and the spirit of such teaching would show in the intellectual attitude of the boy.

The spirit of the teacher will show itself in the pupil's view of life. I often think of one of my favorite teachers. I have forgotten most of the lessons he taught me from books. Much of the algebra he taught me has been relearned or else I do not know it. I violate daily many of the rules of syntax he tried so hard to teach me, and yet he taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life. He looked on life with a broad perspective. He was liberal–minded. He taught us, unconsciously perhaps, to be generous in our judgments of others. He opened our minds and our lives to the beauties and harmonies of nature all about us. The sunset took a brighter tint, the rainbow showed a deeper color, the pansy gave a more delicate odor, life gleamed broader and sweeter because of the unconscious inspiration of this man's life. Cheerfulness, hope, faith, trust in the eternal triumph of right should be a part of every teacher's faith. No carping, sour–grained, narrow minded teacher ever did much to develop healthy, hearty, liberal views of life in the pupil. One of the greatest misfortunes of our schools is the fact that occasionally such teachers are found in them.

The spirit of the teacher is shown in the attitude of the pupil in his daily work. She cheers or depresses. Constant nagging would drag down angels. If there is anything that saps the mental life of pupils, dulls their intellectual desires, disgusts them with school and all that pertains to it, it is the spirit of the grumbling, growling, whining, probing, complaining teacher. Occasionally we meet such a teacher in the schools, and her work is followed by the wreck of childish hopes and ambitions. Her very atmosphere is blighting and dwarfing. Have you ever met such a teacher? I trust not, and yet I fear you have. Here is a sample :

"Now, George, you may tell us about Braddock's defeat. Stand up and tell us all about it. You remember you had that topic yesterday and did not know it. I told you to take your book home with you last night and to study all about this topic, you remember. You may stand up now and try it again. Stand up straight. Get out from the desk. Now, that is better. I have told you several times how I wanted you to stand when you recite. Put down that rule and take your hand out of your pocket. How often am I to tell you about that.

"A little louder, I can't hear you. I told you the other day to speak loud enough that you could be heard by any one in any part of the room. You must remember what I tell you.

"Now, that is better. Stand up straight. Now, tell us all about Braddock's defeat. Begin over again. 'Braddock was a British general sent over to this country to help us/ well that is all right so far. Go on. Who was Braddock? Who was he and what had he done? Tell us all about him. . . . Well, if the book does not say, you ought to have looked it up in some other book. Didn't I tell you I wanted you to read other histories and not to depend on one text–book?

"Now, stand up and tell us all you know about Brad dock's defeat. You've had that topic two days, and surely you can tell us something. You have got to study your history. Take your book home with you to–night and study the lesson three or four times. A great big boy like you ought to know history. You will want to vote sometime. I would be ashamed if I were you. Study that topic so you can tell us all about it to–morrow. Remember this class completes history this year. If you are to be promoted you will have to work. We will have an examination on all of these topics, and after we have had these lessons over and over again, if you do not pass it is not my fault. You will have to work, young man, or fail. That is all I have to say about it.

"Remember, you have got to learn this lesson next time. If I were you, I would try to use my brains, if I had any. It makes me tired when I have to tell and tell you what to do and you do not care a cent. I am just doing my best to help you, and you do not seem to appreciate it a bit. I would be ashamed, and you would be if you had the least bit of get up to you.

"Now, we must close. For to–morrow we shall review to–day's lesson and take down to the bottom of page 105, down to where you see the big, black–faced letters which say, 'William Pitt is made Prime Minister.' I wonder what a Prime Minister is, anyhow. Well, you may think about that. You may get down to that topic for next time. Now, study this lesson well, so that you can recite it right off to–morrow. Get a good lesson next time. We did not get over the lesson to–day. Let's do better next time. Class excused."

Of course, George left the recitation with a burning desire to learn all about Braddock's defeat. The inspiration was sufficient to do him for life. The inspiration from the recitation in other subjects being of the same satisfying kind, he withdrew from school two months later. The spirit of a teacher sometimes kills.

The school, large or small, country or town, blest with a teacher of broad mold, liberal–minded, active, studious, still learning, virtuous and pure–minded, such a school is a dynamic force for good in the neighborhood. Such a teacher is not worried by bad boys. Her energy is not sapped by keeping order. She does not nervously pound the desk or the call bell for quiet. Her very attitude begets quiet without having to demand it. She may sit down and hear a recitation. Composure on her part gets composure on the part of the pupils. If John forgets himself and gets into mischief a look from her settles him. She does not have to stop the recitation every few minutes to reprimand. She does not nervously walk the aisle to keep order while she is hearing a recitation. If a boy is devoid of principle and persists in doing annoying things she lets him come to her in stead of rushing back after him. Her look of indignation and scorn makes him feel his insignificance, and he does not try it often. She has learned the lesson of letting the offender do the walking instead of the teacher.

When patrons and officials learn that it is the personality and individuality, or the spirit of the teacher that counts in teaching, then will they discriminate between teachers and school keepers, and be willing to pay the former living salaries and encourage the others to try new fields of labor.