Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 11: Good Teaching 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: 1,886
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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The life of the school is the teacher. There is less difference in pupils than in teachers. Under a weak teacher pupils will take every advantage they can. Under a strong teacher the pupils will behave as well as they can. The difference in rooms is usually a difference in teachers. If the equipment of rooms are the same or practically the same, and the teacher is not over burdened with pupils, the spirit and condition of the room will be determined by:

1. The teacher's ideal of what constitutes good conditions.

2. The teacher's strength and personality in getting results in conduct and work.

3. The former training and efficiency of the class. This will be seen more in the matter of attainment than in conduct. I have seen the worst of classes in conduct transformed into a class of good behaviour in three months by a change of teachers.

The teacher's ideal of what constitutes good conditions counts for much. This ideal is a composite product, a result of all the former experiences of the teacher with her natural gifts. Training in good schools, teaching under good conditions, professional study, and natural high ideals in life count in one's ideal of school. If the teacher is satisfied with dirty desks and scraps of paper on the floor she will get these conditions. If sloven, half–executed work suits her she will get it. If disrespect, sullenness and angry retorts will pass with her she will get them. If she is willing for the boys to whittle on the desks, they will whittle. To the practiced eye a five–minutes' glance at a school–room will show pretty well the spirit of the teacher and her ability to get results.

High ideals of school work coupled with common sense and executive ability will get results. High ideals will prevent you from being satisfied with low standards in conduct or work. Common sense will guide you over rough places, and executive ability will have nerve force.

Common sense will keep you from attempting the impossible and then worrying because you cannot accomplish it. It will keep you out of difficulties in the school–room and in the community. So many teachers are lacking in this great characteristic of the plain, honest, thinking citizen. In a fit of anger they set a punishment impossible to be inflicted and then compromise themselves by withdrawing it. Arbitrary rules with no reason behind them often get teachers into trouble. Sensible rules, common sense rules, rules that would stand the test of good judgment, judiciously applied, bring good fruit. Setting a specific punishment for all pupils who for any cause go outside the school ground, locking the doors at a certain time regardless of the weather, forbidding any pupil from leaving the room, etc., the list of arbitrary, unreasonable rules are many. Now we shall agree that a healthy pupil should not have to leave the room once in three months. Restrict it, be positive in the matter, but do not forbid it, and then be compelled to vary the rule or do worse.

Most of the trouble in the school–room comes either from lack of action on the teacher's part or action that is hasty and hence injudicious. The teacher of experience and one who has profited by experience could give numerous cautions to young teachers, all of which summed up might be the advice to use common sense. Among these cautions and suggestions those of most importance might be named as follows :

1. Remember that order in the school–room does not mean deathlike stillness.—There is the noise of work— a noise pleasing to the ear of the successful teacher, and the noise of idleness and confusion. The first is as inspiring to a good teacher as the second is discouraging. The stillness that comes through fear of punishment may be the worst of conditions. Under routine drill to quietness under the eagle eye of a so–called disciplinarian, the pupils are often on the borderland of anarchy. They have never learned the lesson of self–control nor the reasons for good behaviour.

Order means opportunity for effective work. The mind of the pupil and the mind of the teacher in perfect contact; this is order. When a pupil is preparing his lesson the author or text becomes the teacher, and there must be perfect unity between his mind and the thought of the text. Order, good order, permits this. Anything that disturbs this contact is detrimental to the school and is that far poor order. The criterion, then, for the teacher as to what constitutes good order is how nearly are conditions perfect for proper contact of the minds of the pupil and the teacher.

2. Do not lose your head.—Composure counts for more perhaps in the school–room than elsewhere. A nervous teacher makes a nervous school. Teachers some times pace the floor like a wild animal in a cage. Learn the art of sitting to hear a recitation without becoming lazy. Stand with composure when you stand. If you cannot govern yourself you will find it hard to govern others. Too many teachers are afraid there will be disorder. They can neither sit nor stand with composure during a recitation. They fidget and make the pupils fidgety. They watch the bad boy suspiciously. They walk back to his desk repeatedly to see if he is in mischief instead of waiting with composure, and if he does get into mischief punishing him for it. If you show that you expect a boy to be bad he will seldom disappoint you.

"Look for goodness, look for gladness, You will find them all the while."

Many, many times have I heard teachers say to pupils, "Sit down and be still," when I wanted to say to them, "Go and do the same thing."

3. In the long run pupils will give you the respect you deserve.—If you think you have the meanest pupils in the world they will not disappoint you. If you treat the pupils with firmness, and courtesy and respect they usually return to you in kind. When after a few months the majority of your pupils do not respect you, and have confidence in you, begin to examine your self. In changing teachers, especially if your predecessor has been popular, you may for a few weeks feel that the pupils are not in sympathy with you. Tact and good judgment will win them if you have wearing qualities. Do not resent their feeling of respect for the former teacher. Tr} to be worthy their respect, and when you leave they will regret your leaving just as much.

4. The teacher who has ceased to learn becomes a phonograph, and can do nothing but repeat.—When you have something fresh, something new to you, something worth while to bring to the recitation, do you know how anxious you are for the time to come. The very gleam of the eye tells to pupils that you have a message for them. You cannot have the enthusiasm that appeals to childhood and continue to depend upon an old stock of goods.

5. You will find the school–room a good barometer.— When I began teaching, bad days came and I worried about it. Things went wrong, lessons were not well prepared, boys got into trouble on the playground, and girls were idle. I was often in despair. But perhaps the very next day was a delightful one. Everything went so well that I disliked for night to come. It took me several terms before I found out the relation of the weather to conduct, but it exists. The weather barometer that hangs on your wall is little better in its predictions of change than are the careful observations of the conduct of the pupils. Ask a dozen teachers at night how the day passed, and see what a majority will vote the same way. A bright morning, clouds gather and thicken—a bad day. Clearing weather—good work in the school–room. Observe if it is true.

6. A pleasing voice, freshness and vivacity in the teacher, quickens and inspires the class.—Her questions come as if she were really seeking information. They are crisp and to the point. The answers are cheery as if they were meant to impart information and not simply to tell something already known. Her face beams at a good answer, making the pupil believe he has clone his teacher a favor by imparting the information. A cheery smile and a quick question that in its answer shows the error in the first follows a wrong reply. Discussions are bright and animated, and full of life, but always respectful and courteous. She is in strong contrast to the teacher that talks and talks in a monotonous tone until half the class are sleepy and the others thinking about everything else save the subject she is trying to explain. One draws out information and stimulates thought. The other pours in second–hand information and deadens thought. One sharpens intellect. The other dulls it.

7. Proper seating and grouping pupils, the calling of classes, the distribution of wraps, the collection of papers, the passing of classes, the dismission of school at recess and at night, the answering of questions, the passing of pupils from the room or across the floor—all these do much to make or mar the school.—A well–arranged pro gram that indicates not only the time and order of the recitation but of the study period as well will help. Teachers make woeful failures often from no other cause but that they fail to plan carefully in advance just what to do, how to do it and when to do it.

8. The afternoon dismission to the careful observer is a fair index not only of the day but the teacher's grasp of her school.—Teachers often hurry to dismiss the children, anxious to be rid of the responsibility. The pupils rush from the door with a jump and a shout as boisterous as a wild group of Comanche Indians. Of all the periods of the day, the one just before dismission is the one when the teacher should show most composure and deliberation. Of all the periods of the day, the pupils are most at the teacher's mercy. Let them understand that quiet and decorum precede dismission. If it re quires one minute, ten minutes or half an hour, let them know that no lines pass until all is quiet and orderly. Then at the customary signals, the lines pass quietly, orderly, respectfully.

9. Running, jumping, or boisterous conduct in the school–room is never in place.—The school–room should be looked upon as a pleasant workship, not a skating rink or vaudeville theater. Best results always come where pupils are decorous in the room at all times. Quiet, homelike conversation is in place, but no rude or boisterous conduct at any time unless you expect to pay the penalty with interest in days to come.