Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 10: The Teacher Outside the School–Room

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: 2,950
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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Teaching has two sides. There is the school–room side and the public or community side. Each is important. You cannot be a successful teacher without mastering the first. You can't hold your job long unless you have some skill in the second. Your success in a community is often measured more by the second than the first. In fact, the good you do, the influence you exert on the lives of the pupils, the net results of your work, is often a reflex of your skill and ability to get along with the people, to get their respect, good will and hearty co–operation.

You must know how to meet and mingle with people. You must understand your patrons and many of their peculiar neighborhood whims. You must know enough of human nature to get along with people, to be diplomatic without being weak, and to get your way without stirring up determined opposition. Confidence in yourself, freedom from excessive or offensive egotism, a knowledge of the home life and surroundings of your patrons, and that rarest of accomplishments, the ability to listen and say little, these will help you. It will often happen also that you must teach your patrons, and this requires more skill than to teach pupils. You must teach them as if you taught them not. You must use diplomacy without deceit or sham or show of weakness.

There will be certain local standards that you should respect if you can do so conscientiously. I have taught in neighborhoods where dancing and card–playing were considered long steps toward everlasting perdition. The teacher who had gone to a public ball or dared dance at a private home in the community would have been met with a storm of opposition. In fact, it would have been almost as bad as if she had gotten drunk. In such communities a teacher would do well to avoid such amusements, and if she is skillful she need not commit herself upon the matter. Leave the people to guess her real sentiment on these things. On the other hand, if the teacher has been taught to regard dancing, card playing and kindred amusements as wrong, and then teaches in a community where such things are common she need not indulge in them. With an ordinary share of discretion she need not give offense in declining invitations to such amusements should they come. She cannot as a stranger do much in one or two terms toward changing the sentiment of the community either for or against such things. After long acquaintance she can build up her circle of friends where other amusements take the place of these that are under ban. Even in time she might create a tolerance for such indulgences, but it is likely to cost more than it will come to. More real good can be done by looking pleasant, and taking no real active partisan part in either way. For my own part I can see no sin in a quiet, civil game of cards. But my mother's puritanical views forbade such as if it were Satan's certain snare. Out of respect to my mother's memory I have never learned the names of the different cards in a deck, and unless I simply applied my own judgment of the meaning of words could not tell one card from another. I lost pleasant evenings occasionally during my university course because of this "narrowness" as many called it. Occasionally now, I must decline an evening out or else be a drag to the entertainment feature. I have never offended any one so far as I know, nor lost their respect and good will by refusing to take part in a game. The sacred memory of my angel mother who died when I was a child has far more than compensated me for all the pleasure I have lost. For the other person, I can see no harm in a quiet game of cards ; for me to break my boyhood promise and later resolution would not only rob it of all pleasure but would be a positive personal loss.

There are other indulgences also that the teacher must forego for the sake of public opinion. Many a young man has lost a splendid opportunity to make a reputation of being a good teacher in a community by being indiscreet in keeping company. However unobjectionable the girl, and however much he may be interested, he must remember that much of the world dislikes a lover if that lover be the school teacher of the neighborhood. People that think or care very little what the young man in the store or the post office do, will resent too much company keeping for the teacher. The young woman teaching should be even more careful about keeping company. It is not good policy to do it, and it will be more pleasure in the long run to be with young people, but do very little keeping of young men's company.

With your patrons you may be more free. Strict etiquette might dictate that you wait until they have called on you. If you wait you will know few of them and meet these after trouble has come up and they call on you to make complaint. The teacher, like the preacher, if there is strong personality and good address, can ignore many little formalities, and no one will question it. Make the acquaintance of as many of your patrons early in the term as you can. Be cordial, be pleasant, be brief. Do not fawn. Do not blush nor bubble over. Do not find fault. Do not tell all your plans for the year or make glowing promises. Be yourself, but be your best self. Do not talk shop all the time. Do not talk Shakespeare, politics, religion or the higher criticism. You might soon interest them in the second and third, but a discussion would probably do you no good. The first and last they probably know little about and care less. Your ability to make friends and to mix with people is limited often by your ability to talk to the other person about something in which he is interested. The hardest clam will open if you know how and where to touch it.

Learn how to shake hands. You are often judged by the handshake. The hand, the eye, the voice—these if used properly quickly overcome prejudice and barriers of opposition and build up forces in your favor. If you can shake hands with a firm, hearty grasp, meet the eye with frankness and composure, and speak in a pleasing, even, well–modulated, quieting voice, you have the strength of Gibraltar at your back. If you have knowledge and skill and personality and character to back the first impression made by such a combination, you should be invincible. If your handshake, however, is loose and passive, Uriah Heep–like, if your eyes wander, and your voice is screechy or faltering, you should begin at once to overcome these obstacles. They lie in your road to success as a teacher, and you should lose no time in trying to overcome them.

Many teachers lack poise. If you prefer, you may think of it as personality or force of character. What ever term you may use to name it, it remains true that many teachers lack the ability to command attention and respect, and to mingle readily among the best business and professional men of the community. It is sometimes want of experience, it is sometimes want of knowledge, and breadth of vision. Teachers are too often narrow. They do not have the world view of things they should have. It is sometimes bookishness and lack of contact with the practical business side of the world. I am sorry to think that it is sometimes caused by the feeling that the fact you are a teacher is something to be apologized for. Teachers are so often inclined to whimper and whine, to seek to be pitied and petted. They brood over their imaginary troubles. They conclude the world does not properly appreciate their efforts. They want the public to grant them special favors and attentions instead of commanding the respect and attention of the community by weight of their own strength and personality.

The teacher should strive first to be a man or a woman in the best sense of the term, strong mentally, morally and physically, with personality and independence, but without rudeness. He should command respect as a thinking person, avoid eccentricities and partisan measures, have opinions of his own, but without flaunting them in the face of others to provoke combat or opposition. Then to the respect due him as a man will come, if his teaching justifies, the additional respect due him as a teacher.

The teacher should ever be the apostle of education and high thinking, a living example of the best product of the school and its worth. To be a consistent preacher of right living, high thinking, and the power of education in the progress and development of the state, he himself should be a worthy example. Of all persons the teacher should be the champion and the defender of the school and the cause of education. He should be a high ex ample of the best product of the schools and education. His power, his carriage, his character, his thrift, his in dependence, his zeal in good works, should bear testimony and be the strongest argument for the schools. A genuinely good teacher, who has the intellectual and moral force to be a man among men, such a teacher in a few years will create a public sentiment that will demand good schools, buildings, equipment and teachers of the best, in the community in which he teaches. His influence will bear fruit for generations.

As long as the teacher is a weakling, a figure–head, a crank, an upstart, a person whose opinion—if he has one—on business or on the questions of the day would be hooted or laughed at by every level–headed business man of the community, there is little sentiment for schools or education developed. If the whole energy of the teacher is exhausted in keeping the problems solved in advance of his class, if his personal appearance, his carriage, his address, his thrift, and his thoughts are be low the average business man of the community, many of whom have little 'Or no education or school training, it places the school on the defensive. The hard–headed, but sober–minded, man of affairs will look upon the teacher as a fair sample and typical product of the schools, and will not regret that he lost such opportunities when he was young, or perhaps he will thank his stars that he did not have such things forced upon him.

My contention is that the teacher should be a man or woman of strong personality, a worthy product of the school, a person whose judgment and opinion of schools, of business, of the questions and the issues of the day would be such that it would be respected by the best people of the community. His opinions should have weight. He should have all the elements that go to make up a successful business career. He should be a man of force and character, whose influence would be felt in any line he should take up. With such teachers the schools will become what they should be. Such teachers will get results—results of the teaching act and results in the material equipment of the schools. Buildings will improve, conditions will improve, furniture and proper apparatus will be forthcoming. The community will soon begin to look upon the schools as safe investments, every dollar of which yields golden dividends ; then the community will be generous.

When teachers possess the strength, the force, the poise, the diplomacy they should, good things will follow. Some of the criticism and carping about the schools will be changed. It makes my Scotch–Irish blood to tingle when I hear a few of these questions discussed. If it is not the teacher's business to defend the school whose is it?

One of these things that should arouse a teacher is the insinuation still met in a few localities and among a few people—the would–be blue–bloods, with more inheritance of money than brains—that the public schools are pauper schools ; or at least schools for poor people only. Such sentiment in free America seems to me born of ignorance or treason. I first heard it advocated by a physician, a native of New York, a graduate of a church endowed school and a product of it. His alma mater was supported by the contribution box passed at regular intervals in his church to which many a poor washerwoman contributed a far greater percentage of her earnings each time than the same physician did in a twelve months. Yet this good hypocritically pious, but deluded man, ridiculed the thought of the state support ing a university at public expense. He kept private tutors to teach his children that they might not have to attend the public school to mix with all "the rabble, as he declared. There could not be a better indictment of his own education. He had failed to grasp the spirit of American liberty and American institutions His ideas were those of effete aristocracy and wealth. The best lesson his boy may ever learn will be when some son o a washerwoman, or some poor paper boy or news seller meets him in competition in after life, and he goes down ignominously in the contest. The chances are if the contest comes, and it will come in the present generation or in a near generation, the sturdy bootback will win This same physician did not think himself a par taker of charity by getting his mail at a government post office, by drinking from a public fountain or having his house and lot protected from the lake by Uncle Sam's break water. .

It is the duty of the state to educate. This is not the rich nor the poor, but all. The state's schools are maintained as a public necessity, and for the whole people. The patron whose 'child attends the public school is no more an object of charity or a pauper for that reason than he is for patronizing the post office. using the city paved streets or using the street lamps at night, there are many things the public can do and do much more efficiently than they can be done otherwise. Education is one of these things. Every man, woman and child is benefited by good public schools, the bachelor and the childless family as well as the family of a dozen.

Another fallacy often advocated is that the people are not able to support good schools. Nothing can have a less foundation in fact. Let us think about it It is a principle that is almost axiomatic that no people can be pauperized by local taxes applied to local purposes. Now, very little of the school taxes ever leaves the immediate community. The teacher is often one of the community, and many times of the immediate neighbor hood. If the teacher is from a distance he usually boards in the neighborhood and spends much of his earnings in the neighborhood. The percentage of his salary that leaves the community is not large. The expense of wood, repairs, and supplies are usually spent in the immediate community. The money that leaves the community is, as a rule, not as much as the state pays toward the maintenance of the school. No people can be pauperized by the money properly spent on their schools. It is only a short time until the increased earn ing capacity of the more intelligent citizenship soon be gins to pay good dividends on the investment, even though part of the money should find its way out of the community.

When the cry came to us from Cuba in 1898, no one claimed that we were too poor to help. When later disturbances occurred, we sent our soldiers to maintain peace, and our secretary of war and assistant secretary of state were sent to restore order. No one said it cost too much. Count the cost of our war with Spain and place against it the money spent in the same time for schools and in fighting ignorance and then say if we are able to have good schools. Spend the money to train our young people to future usefulness which is spent in defense against imaginary foreign enemies and the world could not stand against us in a generation.

Few Americans but point with pride to our growing navy, now world famous and we hope effective. The launching of each new war ship is a thrilling event to the nation. The daily papers for weeks tell of its progress and every trifling event is carefully chronicled. Count how long the cost of one of these vessels would support one of our state universities. The mission of the university is to build up, to increase human intelligence and happiness. The mission of the war vessel is to destroy life and property and to make desolate.

Figure on these things, and then say whether or not we are too poor to have the best of schools.