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Some Responsibilities of the Class Room Teacher
By RIVERDA HARDING JORDAN, Professor of Education, Cornell University
The ultimate success of the American public school will be determined, not by the educational leaders, not by the university presidents, the suprintendents of the large cities, or the statesmen and politicians in Washington, but by the teachers in the class room. This platitude will be generally conceded, but its significance is too often overlooked by the very person most concerned, the class room teacher herself. She, in common with many another American citizen, is apt to be unduly influenced by that great national failing of ours, the shifting of responsibility and the evading of the issue. As long as there are plenty of educators with strong lungs and unswerving belief in their own Mosaic qualities, who will assume the responsibility for putting things right educationally, the most natural thing in the world is for the teacher with her manifold duties to allow him to usurp the place which is rightfully hers, and to turn over to him, heaving a sigh of relief the while, her own burden of obligation. Now, this is decidedly easy for the teacher, and, if education were a game, the object of which were the amusement of the participants, there would be no objection. But as it is serious business, affecting the America of twenty and thirty and even fifty years hence, professional ethics and personal obligation alike demand that each teacher face the matter squarely. But, says the teacher, what can one person do? How can I, with my slight, even negligible, influence, and my meager knowledge of national affairs and policies, in any sense take the place of the man who is devoting his thought
and talent and high position to these same ends? The answer is that there is no thought of taking the place of the educational expert, who through research and study, is outlining great possibilities for the class room teacher to realize. But there is very definite thought that the work of the teachers is to transform into action the theories and policies which the leaders are advocating. A few of the ways in which this may be accomplished are herein set forth. Three heads will be considered briefly : The responsibility of the teacher to the community; to the profession; and to the pupils. To the Community: Under this head, the teacher must have two thoughts in mind, first, the education of those persons with whom she is in contact casually or habitually, and who represent the general public, and second, the enlight ment of the group she meets in the discharge of her professional duties, namely, the parents of her children. More and more is one impressed with the general ignorance on the part of the rank and file of our citizens about the latest developments in the schools. The average citizen almost invariably thinks in terms of his own school days and experience, and when one thinks of the tremendous strides which the profession has made within the past decade alone, the conclusion is forced that a most serious responsibility rests upon the teacher in bringing some of these advances specifically within the ken of the taxpayer. This does not mean any forced program of electioneering or of propaganda, but it does mean that the teacher should utilize all opportunities for spreading facts about education in general and local needs in particular, and should attempt within reason to make means and opportunities. When there are ways of meeting influential men and women of a community, such ways should be capitalized for the benefit of the schools. This does not mean, again, “talking shop’’ ad nauseam. But it does mean that the teacher is not to avoid “shop’’ as tho it were pestilential, or from a feeling that such conversation is unwelcome or trite. A fresh, trenchant observation based upon school room occurences is just the sort of translation of atmosphere which by its very novelty attracts attention and gives the desired opening. This presupposes, of course, that the teacher is filled with that enthusiasm for her work which enables her to speak with pride in her calling and with confidence in the importance of her cause. It also presupposes an acquaintance with the vital educational issues of the day, as set forth in current educational journals and literature. Naturally, the parents of the pupils are those whom the teacher has the best opportunity for meeting and influencing. The end to be attained in this regard is that every parent should be a “booster’’ for the schools. If the teacher, at the close of the year, is not conscious that something has been attained during that time at least to approach this goal, she may be sure that she has not met a real responsibility fairly. To be sure, the attainment of this end involves tact, it takes some time, and more thought. But if the parents are not enthusiastic over the work of the schools, whom can we call on for supsport in our attempts to progress? Many a teacher fails to utilize the most natural approach in the world—namely through the praising of worthy work of the child. She waits for the parent to
take the initiative, instead of planning to inform that father or mother. Or she waits until some breach of discipline requires the attendance of the parent. Far better it is to bring the parent when there is something to praise in the pupil’s work. A good paper in language, a piece of penmanship which is displayed “on the board,” a drawing which shows improvement, a well drawn map, or, if not well-drawn, better drawn than customary, affords an opportunity for praising the child in a note to the parent. If his occupation does not forbid, a note asking the father to stop in at the school and see his lad's “masterpiece” is a device worthy of much further extension than, is now given it. If the mother is not too burdened with household cares, try the same plan with her. The piece of work does not have to be the best in the room. The only requisite is that it shows some definite improvement over the usual of. fering of the child. For the way to the heart of the parent is through commendation of the off-spring. Once having gained the good will of the parent, the way is open to discharge the responsibilities which the teacher owes to the citizen. To the Profession: Under this head, the teacher needs to analyze the relation which she is to bear to her administrative superiors and to her colleagues, to determine her part in co-operating with her local board, her superintendent and principal, as well as her responsibilities to the other class room teachers in the building or the system. The teacher who is efficient in the routine of the class, but is seeking every opportunity to criticise or even to oppose the policies of her superintendent, no matter how honest she may be, or how just may be her criticism, is in the long run not helping, but hurting the cause of education. The first responsibility of
such a teacher is to make an honest attempt to understand the motives of the administrative officers, to assure herself that she understands not only motives, but objectives, and that she is fully informed as to circumstances and conditions before venturing to criticise or to oppose. The most common observation of those who have been advanced from the ranks to positions of authority, is that the situation of the educational administrator involves many elements which were altogether unsuspected even by the person who was clever enough, and able enough, to gain the promotion. The obverse of the coin very rarely agrees with the original face. In all of our work, there is a decided need today for a mutual understanding of the other person's difficulties and responsibilities. This is (s. pecially true between the teacher and the supervisor. And toward one's fellows in the work —there again, is need for a different attitude than is sometimes manifest. Es. pecially is this to be emphasized in the case of the attitude of the teacher of experience toward the new-comer in the profession, as well as to the new teacher in the particular school. If ever a teacher needs encouragement, that time is on her first appearance in a new building, and when about to face her first class. A little kindly attention and advice will go a long way toward making a more efficient teacher. Especially should every teacher realize that there is a real ethical code in the profession; this has been crystallized into definite printed form by the teachers of New Hampshire; but it exists in unwritten form everywhere in our country. How many teachers are conscious of it, or could formulate it articulately? And yet it should be a living thing in the consciousness of all in the profession, and should determine
the attitude of the instructor to her colleagues. To the Pupils: The class room teacher owes a double responsibility here, (1), to the children of the school in general, and (2) to those specifically committed to her care. Too often, especially in high school, does the teacher feel that her mission is to those pupils reporting immediately to her own room, and that there is no reason for her to be concerned about Miss Smith’s class or Miss Brown's youngsters. But the fact remains that the proper order, discipline, control, and morale in general can not be obtained in a school unless every teacher is vitally interested in the pupils of the school as a whole, in the achievements of the school as a whole, and in the standards of the school as a whole. That teacher who conceives that her whole duty has been accomplished when she has brought her own class “up to standard’’, but has contributed nothing further to the welfare of the student body, has failed to meet her full responsibility to the pupils of that school. Yet, of course, her main duty is to her. own assigned group. At this point there is a temptation to go into a discussion of methods and means—which of course can not be treated in a paper of this scope. But whatever the methods used in the class, there are certain factors which the teacher must recognize as imperative; the teacher must realize that she is the model from which the pupil is forming many of his ideals of life. She must remember that no matter how careless the pupil may be in his own habits of thought or expression, carelessness of language on the part of the teacher is unpardonable; inaccuracy of statement on the part of the teacher will go far to justify the child in employing inaccuracies himself; lack of poise and dignity on the teacher's part
will inevitably re-act unfavorably upon the pupils. The influence of the teacher over the pupil is a special attribute of her calling which should be capitalized especially—but unfortunately, many teachers lose this influence in large part, rather early in the school career of the pupil. We all know how 1 he teacher is an object of admiration and reverence even, to the first and second grades; and how soon this attitude disappears. Probably none of us hope or desire to remain the objects of reverence, but every teacher must certainly wish to retain her position as recipient of admiration, and her influence as a real mentor of her pupils. Apparently, however, comparatively few teachers accept such an implication as a direct responsibility upon their shoulders. In these days, when so many influences are conspiring to take the in torest of the child from the home and the school, there is all the more need for keeping proper ideals before the pupils. In recent years the author has had occasion to collect certain data relative to the ideals of children. A statement of data of this sort obtained in a New Hampshire school will illustrate both the kind of investigation referred to, and the situation as regards the ideals of children. In this school among other questions asked of the children through the medium of their teachers, was this: ‘‘Who would you most wish to resemble when you grow up 2'' Out of 26 third and fourth grades, the largest number of girls, cight, answered “Teacher”; no one else received more than one vote. The largest. number of boys, four, answer, d “Father’’, the next largest, two, President Wilson. Out of 36 fifth and sixth grades, four girls, the largest number uniting, voted for “Betsy Ross”, no one else getting over one vote : Four boys, the larg, st
number, voted George Washington, three for President Wilson, and two each for Pershing and Lincoln.
Out of 34 seventh and eighth grades, fourteen boys united upon Abraham Lincoln, with Roosevelt and Washington coming next with two each; but the girls show a very different trend, for eleven voted for Pearl White, and eleven for Anna Case !
Now “father’’, the ideal of the third grader, may well be reconciled to be replaced by Abraham Lincoln in the eyes of his son, but is “teacher” willing to give up her proud eminence in the hearts of her pupils even to such estimable ladies as those named ? Without in any way attempting the spectacular appeal, is it not possible for the teacher, by her enthusiasm for the bist things of life, and by her unobtrusive, but all-pervading influence, to present such ideals that her pupils will instinctively think of her as their ideal woman, even against the competition of the “screen”? Such a situation does not seem altogether impossible, if only teachers will accept this objective as one of their great opportunities.
If these few suggestions result in the assumption of wider responsibility on the part of teachers generally, the visions of a truly educated nation which are being presented to us by our leaders will become realities in a miraculously brief period; but if teachers miss the opportunity for such devotedness and cooperation the greatest agency for such realization will, by its failure to function, delay the consummation indefi. nitely.
Losing Daily “Say, old man, you’re getting thin since you retired from the coal business. “Yes, you see, I don’t weigh as much as I did.’’
Chicago Meeting of N. E. A., Department of Superintendence
The needs of rural education and the importance and use of standard scientific tests and measurements were outstanding topics of discussion on the timely and comprehensive program carried out at the large and successful meeting of the N. E. A. Department of Superintendence held in Chicago, February 24 to March 2.
More than 8,000 superintendents, teachers and educators from all parts of the United States were in attendance. The city and school officials of Chicago extended an unusually cordial welcome, the newspapers coöperated in giving adequate publicity to the general and section meetings and the hotel accommodations were excellent. Indeed it appeared that the entire city was glad to have the meeting staged in Chicago and the spirit of good will and coöperation manifested was highly gratifying. The results of the recent reorganization of the N. E. A. were apparent in that the number of subsidiary organizations meeting with the Department of Superintendence was reduced from 45 to 12. The program committee of these several organizations worked hand in hand with the executive committee and president Jones of the Department, and thus conflicts and duplications in the program were avoided. The general meetings were for the most part held - in the morning, while the afternoons were given over to the meetings of the affiliated organizations. The arrangements for college dinners and reunions were admirable, Wednesday evening having been set aside for this purpose and the program committoe having omitted all meetings for this night. A happy feature of the dinner arrangements was the provision for an
intercollegiate dinner attended by many representatives of colleges which had no dinners of their own scheduled. Superintendent Frank Cody of Detroit was the toastmaster and the after dinner speaking at this intercollegiate dinner had an inspirational and educational trend that was commendable. Joseph Leiter, one of Chicago's leading merchants gave over three spacious floors of one of his centrally located buildings for the commercial exhibit which proved the largest and best arranged exhibits in years. Some 364 firms were represented in this extended and informing exhibit.
Well arranged programs were prepared and carried out at the general meetings of the department and at the several section meetings. The organizations affiliated with the department of superintendence include the following: The national council of education, the department of rural education, the national association of secondary school principals, the national society of college teachers of education, the national council of state departments of education, the city training school section, the council of primary education, the department of elementary school principals, the department of vocational education, the national association of directors of educational research, the national association of high school inspectors and supervisors and the national society for the study of education.
Leaders Disagree Alexander Inglis, professor of education of Harvard University, in an address at one of the general meetings of the Department denounced the federal