Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 19: The Teacher's Vacation

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: 1,794
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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Your school term has closed. Vacation is here. How shall you spend it? That is the question.

Rest. That is the proper thing to do. Rest does not mean idleness, however. Why are you tired? The merchant works twelve months in the year, six days in the week and more hours in a day than you do? The farmer, the mechanic and others do the same. They are glad to get a week off once a year, and many of them do not get that. Why are teachers so completely worn out at the close of the term? Why are they so pale, so nervous? Why do they so often count the weeks, then the days, and at last the hours before the term ends? Is there a teacher of five years' experience who has not at some time been guilty of such counting? Is it the hard work? Is it the lack of agreeable surroundings? Is it want of pure air and exercise, or is it worry?

Freed from anxiety, and to the lover of the work, teaching is neither dull nor exhausting. The actual mental energy spent in teaching by most teachers is not great. It is seldom that they give long continued mental effort to one subject during school hours. In fact, the worst drawback to teaching to one who seeks to be a scholar in the best sense of the term, is that his attention is continually divided. He cannot concentrate his mind on one subject long enough. He must divide his time between government and the teaching process. For this reason, those who wish to be scholars rather than teachers seek to teach in the universities rather than in the primary or secondary schools.– Here they may specialize. Here their class work is free from government proper. Their students are mature. The mature thought of the student stimulates the teacher and the investigator. They are growing into ripe scholarship in stead of directing younger pupils in the elements of subjects.

We may safely say it is not the unusual amount of thought devoted to teaching that gives pallor to the cheek of so many teachers at the close of the year, nor do we believe it is altogether due to unpleasant surroundings. School houses are in many places far from inviting. Two or three churches with stained glass windows and pretty homes of comfort and refinement are often found near the most dilapidated old tumbled down school house, and a shame it is. But the teacher who is master of the situation and a leader of children, can do much to overcome this. Clean buildings and grounds with some good walks and a few trees and flowers will follow as a result of a good teacher after a few years in almost any school.

The teacher, too, usually secures room and board with a good family where they may have comforts equal or superior to their own home. Teachers are always welcome to the best society—it may not be the low necked, high–heeled variety—but the best and most substantial. The best homes welcome them as guests and the biggest fat apples are laid—an honest and worthy tribute—on the teacher's desk. Churches and societies in rural and village schools always welcome the teacher with pleasure, and the teacher is lacking in mixing qualities who does not get access to all the comforts and pleasures the community affords. Their standards may not be your standards, but their honesty and unconventionally will make up for much. One of the inexpressible pleasures of teaching comes when you can lose your own selfishness in your own quiet devotion to duty in the community. The worn–out condition of the teacher, if she has the ability to adapt herself to reasonable conditions, does not come from lack of congenial surroundings.

Lack of fresh air and exercise may count for much. Many school–rooms are poorly ventilated. Teachers standing breathe more impurities than pupils seated. The windows should be slightly lowered at the top and the room frequently flushed with fresh air for the benefit of both teachers and pupils. Then most teachers do not take enough exercise. Do you play at recess ? Whether it is advisable to play with your pupils or not depends upon your own power. Can you play with pupils with out sacrificing or compromising your dignity? Some persons can, and others cannot. Some gain the good will of pupils by playing with them, others lose it. You must know your own ability. Games in which you can excel usually count in your favor. Games in which the pupils can greatly excel you, are not apt to add to your standing or reputation among pupils. But whether you play or do not play you should spend an hour or two each day in exercise in the open air. A brisk walk to the post office, an hour of work in the garden or with flowers, or the care of chickens or anything which gives you exercise in the open air and calls your thoughts from the work of the day is beneficial. The work must be congenial, but the labor must not be so strenuous as to sap your vitality. It should be of everyday occurrence, and yet so that in extremely bad weather the time may be shortened. An hour of work in the open air in something in which you have a genuine interest will put life and vigor into your school work.

Worry kills. Relieved of all worry, the teaching profession would be ideal, and yet worry springs almost all together from the imagination. The teacher goes to school in the morning scared for fear of trouble. A feeling of dread that something is going to go wrong, that some calamity is about to befall, hangs over the teacher. She fears to look out of the window or to step out on the playground for dread she will see something wrong. It is this dread, this feeling that something awful is going to happen, this worry which causes the pale face and the nervous condition of the teacher at the close of school.

Then so many teachers never get the confidence of their school. They are looking for open defiance or open rebellion at any minute. They prowl about to find something going wrong. They tip–toe and sneak on the pupils, confident always that pupils are plotting against them. It is no wonder that pupils delight in annoying such a teacher. They stop the recitation time after time to reprimand Johnnie in the back part of the room. They pace the floor like a hyena in a cage, looking for trouble. Let me suggest that if Johnnie is disturbing the recitation to such an extent that something must be done that you let Johnnie do the walking instead of yourself, and let your rebuke or punishment be severe enough, and sincere enough, and complete enough, and yet reasonable enough, that you will never have to stop the recitation again to reprimand him.

Good common sense and self–control should be brought to bear on your duties, and as an aid in making steady your nerves. As responsible as the school–room is, pupils are not going to run off with the building. Neither are they going to do anything unpardonably bad. Their youthful faults and follies will be forgotten by you, and the neighborhood too, in a few years. So what is the use of wasting the nervous force and energy which ought to be directed towards the teaching process in needless worry for fear something will happen. You ask, "How can I help it?" You can help it:

1. Use your will to control your mind.—You have read of the soldier who found his knees trembling. Stopping short and looking at them he said: "If you knew where I was going to take you you would shake worse than that." By centering his mind upon other things he gained control of his shaking knees. You, by exert ing your will, may learn to calm your fears.
2. A large part of your nervousness comes from feel ing that you are not well prepared for the work.—You fear that something will come up which you do not understand. You are not right sure whether you can answer the questions you are going to ask the class in to–day's lesson. You feel that the problems and questions of the school–room are going to come to you as a surprise. The best remedy for this is to study and plan and organize your knowledge of the subject; to read carefully and critically but with discrimination the plans, methods, devices and experiences of other teachers. These may be found in journals and books on methods and plans of teaching.

3. Your vacation, while they should be free from worry and unnecessary work, may be seeding time for storing up many helpful things which will prevent worry in the future.—Read a few good thoughtful professional books. Question the plans and methods mentioned. Make clippings of those things which will help you in the future, and keep them in scrap–books, classifying these that you may readily turn to any topic wanted. What stores of knowledge, what amount of worry may thus be avoided by planning for the future. Not only this, the planning itself will give pleasure as its own reward at the time, with compound interest in the future. Think over and plan and systematize your work. Yes, I hear you say that you cannot plan then so that you can use it the next year. You must revise your plans, it is true. A plan is much more easily revised than constructed anew. No teacher can use a plan over and over with out revision or adaptation to the individual class. But during vacation is the time to make collections of material, storehouses as it were, to interest your class for next year.

4. Do not neglect the rest and recreation and inspiration that comes from a week at the county institute or a few weeks at a good summer school.— The acquaintances made, the inspiration received, the thought–producing ideas gained, and the feeling of professional fellowship engendered is worth many times its cost. With a vacation rightly used you may come out of your next school term with more energy and more physical strength. It is the worry of the school–room that kills. Teachers must overcome the worrying habit or succumb to its baneful influence.