Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 9: The Teacher's Library

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: 3,139
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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What do you read? A look at your library will reveal much of your interest and professional zeal. Gypsies examine your hand or feel of your head to tell your fortune and predict your future. If you want revealed the future and the fortune of a teacher examine that teacher's library and see what books they read and have read. A glance at the library will tell much of the teacher's zeal, earnestness, and enthusiasm in the profession. You can gauge them pretty accurately by the books they read. One's library, like one's dress, oft proclaims one's character.

Of course the teacher does not confine herself to professional books and reading alone. No one would expect such a thing. It would make you narrow. If this had been your entire line of reading you would be narrow now. The question is, do you ever read professional books and professional literature? What faith would you have in a physician who had never read medical books, and who did not take and read the cur rent literature of his profession? Would you engage a lawyer to defend your interests or to look after your business who had never read or heard of the great treatises on law? Would you entrust the life of your child to the former? Would you entrust your business to the latter ?

Would you then ask parents to entrust the education of their child to you when you have never read nor heard of the literature that bears upon teaching and education? If you neither read nor care for the current literature of teaching, educational journals, and magazine articles of merit bearing upon your work, do you think that you are equipped properly for the best interest and education of the child? Can you blame thinking men and women for criticising and often giving very little deference to the teacher's opinion of education? Is the mind so much less important that good judgment would reject the physician and the lawyer who have done no professional study, and accept the teacher, ignorant of the literature of her line of work and who had never given any study of why or how or what to teach in order to best develop the child? Is the mind of less importance than the body? Is property dearer to the parent than the child?

If teaching is a profession, or is ever to become one, teachers must read the literature of the profession. If you are a professional teacher, or if you are ever to become one, you must read and enjoy the reading of good books on teaching and education. It is not the reading alone but' the keen interest and love for the reading. Teaching can never become a profession until teachers become acquainted with the literature of the profession, and even before they enter the profession must show that they have made the acquaintance of this literature.

I have little faith in the teacher who does not care for good books, and who does not own and read a few good books. The teacher who has taught for a few terms and who has not at least the beginning of a professional library ought to quit. It is an imposition upon the public to continue year after year teaching when you do not have interest enough in your work nor love enough for the profession to own a few good books bearing upon your work. It is a sure sign that your interest in teaching is a mere mercenary interest. You teach for the dollars only. That is not so bad in itself if you want to give value received for the dollars. Few of us could or would teach if there were no salary attached, but there is a deeper and broader interest that is above money value. This broader interest is lacking when the teacher does not care to buy and read a few books each year upon her professional work.

It is not the size of the library that counts. It is the reading and the study and the assimilation of the con tents of the library that is of value. Your library should not only be well read, but steadily growing. New books should be added from year to year, educational journals and magazine articles bearing upon the present trend of teaching and education should be found. They should be read carefully and critically. You need not swallow without mastication every newly–hatched theory or educational cure–all that is advocated. It is the reading teacher that has ballast and is not swept away with every new–fangled notion that is sprung upon the public by the educational demagogue and sensationalist.

Your library need not be large, but it should be well selected. It should be bought for use and not for show. There is much difference between the teacher's working library and the teacher's parlor show library. It takes but a glance to recognize the difference. In the work ing library there will be the regular text–books used in the school course. These are for getting clear, systematic, fresh outlines of the work from day to day. How often a five–minutes' glance at the author's treatment of a subject at night will clear up two or three days of work for the class. It lightens your work and it enables you to organize what you give to the class. There should be a few other late texts upon the subjects. From these you will get side lights and little points of information to supplement the regular texts. There should be a few more advanced texts upon several of the subjects from which you may occasionally get view points to keep your own knowledge from fossilizing. Advanced text–books and other good texts besides the regular ones used by the pupils are the every day tools of the teacher.

A good dictionary is very essential. This dictionary need not be the largest nor latest complete dictionary: Such a dictionary is proper equipment for the schools, but the best working dictionary for the teacher is often an academic or a student's dictionary. You will refer to these oftener. I know from experience. On my study desk are three dictionaries—one is a late edition of one of the very best, the others are academic dictionaries, late and standard, but books of from five to eight hundred pages. I use the smaller ten times to the larger once. When you buy a dictionary get one with the index. If your time is worth a cent an hour it will soon repay you the extra cost. Then you will use it oftener because it is more quickly done.

You need a good, authentic, up–to–date encyclopedia. This need not be the largest, nor an expensive one. A two or a four–volumed encyclopedia will often be of more use to you than a larger one. You will use it oftener, just as in the case of the dictionary. In buying an encyclopedia, do not be gulled by cheap reprints—some thing that treats everything else in the world but the things you want, and treats these at such length that you are lost in a mass of detail before you have read half a page. The young teacher makes a mistake in buying a fifty or seventy–five dollar encyclopedia when he has not twenty dollars worth of other books in his library. Do not be so foolish as to think an encyclopedia will give you all the knowledge that is ever wanted. Thinking is what gives you power, not facts. Facts serve a useful purpose in thinking, but unless they are organized you will get little out of them. An encyclopedia can give you only general facts. Half a hundred other books would be far more useful to you than a complete encyclopedia.

You should have a good, small atlas for ready reference. This should be fairly authentic and up–to–date at the time you buy it. Look carefully at reprints and unauthentic compilations. They are many and often costly. You can get a very reliable small usable atlas for a dollar or two. The world is changing fast. An atlas soon gets out of date. When you buy one get one that gives the latest census. The present atlases giving the census of 1900 will soon be laid on the shelf after the census of 1910 becomes available.

You should have a few good, authentic histories, histories of our own country as well as general histories. Here, too, good text–books will give you a bird's–eye view and an understanding of things often better than the larger histories. Get your general outline view first, and then as time and opportunity offers get the deeper, more critical view by the study of special events and topics. Teachers are lacking in their knowledge of history. The teacher should have a well–organized epitome of the world's history clearly in mind. He should see the nations come and go as he looks down the ages, and see the mile post which each nation marked in the growth of civilization. Then he should have a broader, closer knowledge of our own country, trying in every case to see our national development and progress in the light of the world's progress rather than the events in themselves.

Do not forget biography. It is rich in interest and inspiration, not only for the teacher as a person and an individual, but it is even richer still in food for the teacher as a teacher. The pupil is hard to find who is not or cannot be interested in biography if the teacher is full of it. His history is his knowledge of the individual. He is hungering for this knowledge of the individual if only the teacher will point the way and show an interest in it. I may be wrong, but I fear we are going to seed on myths and gods and heroes of the remote past. Fairy stories and myths have their place. To say the child is interested in them is not always conclusive argument. If the teacher would get out and help build it the child would be intensely interested in making a snow man. The difference between a teacher and an ideal teacher is often the difference between the teacher that can inspire an interest in sane, sensible, intelligent lines and the teacher that can interest along the useless, unimportant lines. At least the teacher's library should be rich in biography. No book ever read so thoroughly interested me when I was a boy as Franklin's Autobiography, and no book I ever read had greater influence on my life. To this day I find his common–sense maxims coming up before me with telling force.

What fiction is more enjoyable than many of the biographies of our great men? Read Grant's Memoirs, read Phil Sheridan's Life, read the Autobiography of the teacher and diplomat, Andrew D. White. Can you in fiction find anything more interesting? Then such books as Blaine's "Twenty Years in Congress," Benton's "Thirty Years," Greeley's "American Conflict," Davis's "Rise and Fall of the Confederacy," and Nicolay and Hay's "Life of Lincoln"—what teacher can begin one of them and not become thoroughly absorbed in it, living over again the scenes they describe. In mentioning the individual books, I do not mean to imply there are not others just as interesting, but these are types and valuable types, types with which teachers should be familiar. Some of these should be found in the teacher's library and the teacher should know the contents.

Then there is pure literature, the great poems and poets, the classics. Read and own Lowell, Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson, and Holmes. Start with Longfellow, and after you have read the others mentioned and have them on your library shelves add others as you like. Read fiction of course. Begin with the better class. Read Hawthorne, Scott, Dickens, Eliot and others. Read some of the later fiction but do not waste time on every piece of rag–time fiction that comes from the press. Teachers do not have time to do it, and it would lead to intellectual imbecility if they did. We are smothering in a deluge of light literature of the rag–time class— literally smothering beneath it. Teachers at least should be discriminating enough to select intelligently the things worth reading, but are they?

But what about professional reading? If you neglect professional reading you ignore the profession that you are striving to build up. Read psychology, methods, history of education, and educational views and discus sions, and keep up on what is going on in administration of schools and changes in school laws. This concerns you and should be of interest to you. The lives of the great educational reformers of the world, the lives of a few of our own educators like Horace Mann, David Page, and others, should be of intense interest to you. Books on management, books on method, books on the science and art of instruction, books giving in detail the plans, methods and devices for teaching and handling a school, how can such things lack interest for you? Many of these represent the best experience of intelligent teachers for years. They have pointed out to you their faults and mistakes. They have shown you the way. You are not to follow such books blindly. But read discriminately they will become guides to you. They will save you from the pitfalls of others. They will save you nerve force and strength by giving you clearer notions of what to expect and how to secure it. They will help you to govern bad boys and naughty girls. Ignore them and you start in to re–discover all the pit falls of the teacher. Then read the plans and devices that add spice and interest. They represent successful experience. Then the deeper educational works, those which point out principles, the books that are for laying the foundation for a real science of education and to prepare the way for a profession of teaching, shall teachers neither read, own, nor care for such books and yet call themselves teachers, professional teachers?

Before leaving the subject of the teacher's library, I want to caution against some mistakes. I have seen the libraries of many teachers. I think I can make pretty accurate predictions from looking at the library of the teacher's judgment, standing, and teaching ability. It is lamentable that so many young teachers are gulled into buying sets of books—a set of Shakespeare, a set of Irving, a set of Dickens, a set of Scott, a set of the library of history, or a set of the world's literature, etc.

Mark you, I do not throw stones at any particular collection of books. I have every respect for the agent and the publishers of such books. In fact, I always feel like taking my hat off to the book agent when I meet one. As an orphan boy I was reared in a home where there were more than ten acres of land for each book in the home. The few that were there had been sold by enterprising book agents, who made them think their future prosperity and soul's salvation depended very largely upon whether they bought the book or not. If he succeeded in making them believe this and would knock off fifty cents and board out half the balance they would sometimes buy the book. One of these books touched me and gave me some aspirations that have influenced my life. Blessings be upon the agent that sold it, if he is living. If he is dead, may his soul rest in peace and prosperity attend his posterity.

It is not the particular set of books, nor the publisher, nor the agent, but the foolish spending of money for what will not do the good for you that half of it well spent would do. It is a reflection upon a teacher's judgment when he allows himself to be talked into buying a large set of books, uniform in price and binding, and much alike. What does the average young teacher want with a whole set of Shakespeare, or a whole set of Scott, or of Dickens. Life is too short to read all the works of very many authors. You want to be familiar, genuinely familiar, with five or six of Shakespeare's best plays. You want to know well three or four of Scott's best novels. You want to be familiar—to have read, re read and lived over again and again with the author Dickens' David Copperfield, his Tale of Two Cities, Little Nell, and perhaps one or two others. But you do not have time to read all of Dickens, and if you had the time you could better spend it in reading one or two of the best of some other author rather than wading through the worst of Dickens. No author, not even Shakespeare, can always be at his best. The teacher who knows thoroughly the three or four best of an author's writings may well afford to be ignorant of the others, and use the time in growing familiar with the best of some other author.

Select your library. Put some good volumes of history, biography, travel, fiction, and great poems in it. Do not neglect your professional books. If you have taught ten years and do not have at least twenty–five professional books, you have very little professional spirit, and ought to quit teaching or begin reading. Let your library be a working library. Do not get all your books the same size, shape and binding. Nothing is a greater give away on one's library. Working libraries are not that way. Libraries bought in bulk, bought for show, bought not because you need them or want them, but because some firm or agent is pushing their sale, these are in large sets. Such is an infallible sign that your library was not built up as a working, usable library— a growth, and not a full–grown product at one time.

Your library will be a fair index of your professional standing, and the practiced eye can readily paint you after examining your library.