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No one, in preparing a set of questions, can say much of their worth in determining the scholarship, the power of the pupil. He may strike points, important, indeed, but which had been partially neglected by the teacher in her zeal in other directions, and the pupils will fail, while exhibiting a power of thought, a skill in analysis of character, a discrimination and judgment of more worth than an accurate statement of the facts involved.
I recall an instance in which the pupil showed an utter ignorance of the subject required, but at the same time, in admitting the disqualification, gave such an evidence of elegant diction, of clear, distinct thought, so much originality, that my better judgment would not permit me to pass any other than a meritorious judgment upon her ability.
I have not dwelt much upon the methods, the details of the recitation; these must depend largely upon the individual teacher and the subject. There is, I think, no best method for all teachers in presenting any subject. There are certain underlying principles that should always direct and control, certain things to be forever avoided.
Nor should the same method be followed at all times. Now should come the topical recitation, in which the pupil can present his views in some fullness and elegance of language ; now the quick, short question and answer; the pupil now feeling his way along thoughtfully and carefully, and now prompt with the ready rejoinder; now with the crayon in hand illustrating his descriptions, and again essaying the abstract argument in concise, discriminating terms; at one time promptly and accurately performing a prepared example, and again applying the principles to a problem with different, but similar conditions ; taking our pupils out of the ruts of routine, and leading them into the ways of thought and intelligence, not machines, but coming men and women.
But there should always be in all these exercises a tendency, a nearer approach to a distinct enunciation, correct language, pleasing tones, and plain reason.
Nor is ease and grace of manner to be forgotten, as shown in rising and sitting, in walking across the room, in standing, holding the book, and handling the pointer. Little things all, and not to be made a means of annoying the pupil, but to be encouraged, cultivated, cherished; not to be brought into too great prominence, or regarded as the absolute need of the statesman or the successful workman, but as attractive in the school as in the home, and having a larger influence upon the conduct, the character, than is often imagined, and almost inseparable from those kindly relations between teacher and pupil, without which no school can attain to its true position as an educating, civilizing institution.
When our tables of statistics show us 28,000 in the first grade, 16,000 in the second, 9,000 in the fourth, it would seem that we can hardly begin the good work too soon or too lovingly.
Entering the lowest room, while in those sweet childish tones come up the simple words, “Where do all the babies go ?” I often find myself involuntarily coupling with it the daisy line, “ Largely underneath the snow.” Where are the remainder of the 28,000 who came to us last September.
If our pupils could be, from six to fourteen years of age, under the kindly care, and have their recitations under the wise guidance and inspiring breath of earnest, sympathetic teachers, such as may be found in our own schools, whose names answer promptly to my thought, some whose faces have long been familiar in our schools, and some who can count their length of service only in months, this love of knowing, of learning would, it seems to me, be kept alive; the eye would kindle at the thought of school and teacher; the hand, the heart, the mind and soul, would all grow quicker, stronger, tenderer; more sensitive to good influences and suggestions, more skillful to do, more hopeful to dare, and stronger to resist evil, truer to the right
And where, with her sixty pupils, restless with young life, glowing with childish ardor to do, to try, to knowcoming from homes of penury or of plenty, but all alike hungering for that which shall respond to their wantswhere can there be a field of more absorbing interest, of brighter promise, and, to the truly chosen, of richer reward ? and where should there be awakened a deeper sense of duty and responsibility, brightened by a tinge of higher hope and fonder expectation, than in the recitation room of the public graded school ?
In my efforts once and again to emphasize the personal influence of the class teacher in quickening the intellect and developing the character of the pupil, I have neither lost sight of nor underrated the importance and value of that teacher of teachers, the school principal.
For, whatever the character or qualifications of the assistants, whether versed in the details of the schoolroom, or but just essaying her untried powers ; whether running her little round of familiar and unquestioned
school duties, or ever thoughtfully seeking for new and more fruitful methods, still with the principal will rest the whole tone and spirit of the school; and its influence in enlisting and uplifting the thought of parents and people, or letting it sink to a low level of negligence and thoughtlessness, will largely depend upon the wisdom, the enterprise, the intelligence, the true manhood, or womanhood of the principal.
Many a teacher, I fancy, wearied, worried, and worn with the ever pressing and perplexing cares of the schoolroom, with its inexorable demands upon her vitality and patience, often, in thought, turns her longing looks to the prize of a principalship, as a quiet refuge from care, from infinite detail, from troublous boys and annoying girls, from wearisome hours of examination papers and dull compositions.
Such do sometimes pass the examinations and become principals, and their influence is soon seen in the dull, routine school, in the easily satisfied teacher, the memoriter recitation, the unthinking, careless pupil, the lounging, slouching, gum-chewing boy or girl, who had better never have seen the inside of a school-room. The teacher who tires of her work, sees nothing but evil in the hearts and minds of the boys and girls, praying for the calm haven of rest in the quiet office, with its revolving-chair and comfortable lounge, may, perchance, obtain a principal's certificate, but is not wanted at the head of one of our public schools.
The teacher, even when upborn by a deep love and a fond hope for her pupils, will often find the hours wearying and wearing ; the vigilance of the principal must be ceaseless and untiring. The teacher, with her little ones ever under her eye, with ready discernment soon learns of their childish ways, their natures, and their tendencies, and how to check their wayward fancies and thoughtless errors, and direct them into the right paths; with those of maturer years and more fixed habits of thought and action, the principal has to do, and become equally familiar with their characters and dispositions—a task requiring a deeper study and a more profound philosophy to perceive the real causes of their success or failure in teaching and discipline, and guide the wanderers, often unconsciously, into better ways and to more assured success, and these, too, seen only at intervals, and for brief periods.
Instead of a single grade of work, he must be alike acquainted with the entire course of study, in its general outline and in its smaller details, as ready to suggest a device for the toddling of six, as for the studious and thoughtful youth of fourteen, or even the tried and sometimes trying teacher of untold years.
His is the life, the impulse of the school, its controlling and directing power, its inspiration and its hope; adjusting and harmonizing its various parts, encouraging here and checking there, making his presence felt for good by teacher and pupil at once, omnipresent in his influence, never obtrusive, but alive to the working of all the mental and material machinery intrusted to his care.
Nowhere but in the school-room, seeing and hearing, with keen observation and nice discernment, can this knowledge, this power and influence be acquired.
Meditations in the office and theories worked out at the desk furnish little material to nourish the minds and souls of teachers or pupils. There are few things more useless for the furnishing of a school than the office principal.
The organization of the school, the distribution of the pupils to their several rooms under the appointed teachers,