Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

most devoted to their work. But the profession of teaching is more often credited with this particular vice than any other, and for a very obvious reason. “We are never at our ease," says Charles Lamb, “in the presence of a schoolmaster, because we know he is not at his ease in ours. He comes like Gulliver from among his little people, and he cannot fit the stature of his understanding to yours.

He is so used to teaching that he wants to be teaching you." The truth is that the one exceptional To be circumstance of a teacher's life, the necessity of passing

corrected

by liberal many hours a day with those who know so much less studies, than ourselves, and who, because of their own youth and ignorance, look up to us as prodigies of learning is very unfavourable to a perfectly just estimate of ourselves, and is calculated to make us put a higher value than it deserves on the sort of knowledge which gives us this accidental ascendancy over the little people. We ought to know this and to be on our guard against it. And after all, if there be a certain faulty tone of mind and character produced by the habit of spending much time with our intellectual inferiors, the true remedy is obvious, it is to take care that out of school we spend our time as much as possible with our intellectual superiors. We may seek them in society, or if they are not easily accessible there, we may always have recourse to the great silent companions of our solitude, the wise and the noble who speak to us from our libraries, and in whose presence we are no longer teachers, but reverent disciples. Another corrective to the special danger of the and by

work out of scholastic profession, is to have some one intellectual

School. interest—some favourite pursuit or study—which is wholly unprofessional, and bears no visible relation to school work. I have known many teachers who have been saved from the narrowness and pedantry to which

their duties would have inclined them, by their love of archæology or art, or their interest in some social or public question. This extra-scholastic interest has brought them into contact with other people whom they meet on equal terms; it has helped them to escape from the habit of using the Imperative Mood, and to see their own professional work in truer relations with the larger world of thought and action, of which after all a school is only a small part. We all need, in playing our part in life, to perform some at least of it, in the presence of an audience

which habitually demands our best. Power of

I have spoken of the necessity for laying all your describing private reading under contribution, and for bringing it and narrating to bear by way of illustration or otherwise in vivifying

the teaching given in a class. But to do this well it is essential that the skilled teacher should cultivate in himself the rather rare gift of telling a story well. There are some who are good raconteurs by nature or by instinct. They know how to seize the right point, to reject what is irrelevant, and to keep up by their mode of telling it, the hearer's interest in any narrative they relate. But even those who have no natural aptitude of this kind may acquire it by practice, and such an aptitude when acquired is most serviceable in teaching. Watch therefore for good pieces of description which come in your way in books or newspapers, or for effective stories which you hear; and practice yourself often in reproducing them. Observe the effect of telling such a story when you give it to a class, see when it is that the eye brightens, and the attitude becomes one of unconscious fixedness and tension; and observe also when it is that the interest languishes, and the attention is relaxed. A very little experience of this kind, if superadded to thoughtfulness, to some care in the choice of materials, and to a genuine Freshness of mind indispensable.

23

desire to interest the scholars will go far to make any one of ordinary intelligence a good narrator; and therefore to give him a new and effective instrument for gaining their attention and for doing them good.

There is indeed an abiding necessity for the application Freshness of fresh thought to every detail of school work. There of mind. is no method, however good, which does not want to be modified and reconstructed from time to time; no truth, however true, which does not need to be stated now and then in a new form, and to have fresh spirit infused into its application. It is true of rules of teaching as of higher matters, “The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.” But even this is not the whole truth. For the spirit is constantly tending to fix and embody itself and to become the letter, unless we are ever on our guard. We know how often it has happened in the history of religion that a great reforming movement, which has begun in the shape of a protest, and perhaps a very effective protest, against formalism and mechanical religion, has in time, come to have its own watchwords and stereotyped usages, and has ended by being just as cold and unspiritual as that which it has sought to supersede. And this has been no less true in the history of education. The new thought, the bright rational method seeks to embody itself in a rule of action. While this process is going on, all is well. But when it is at an end, and the rule is arrived at, then comes the relapse into verbalism. Routine is always easier than intelligence. And some of the most worthless of all routine is not the traditional routine of the medieval schools, which is known to be mechanical, and is accepted as such—but the routine at first devised by enthusiasts, and afterwards adopted by dull uninspired people, who think that they can learn the method of Socrates, of Arnold, or of Fröbel as they could learn a

system of calisthenics or of short-hand. Corruptio optimi pessima est. It is very touching to read M. Michel Bréal's account of a visit to Pestalozzi, at the end of his career. He describes the old man, pointing with his finger to the black-board, to his diagrams and to the names of the qualities of objects, while the children repeated mechanically his favourite watchwords, which they had learned by heart. Those words had once been full of meaning. But they had ceased to represent real intellectual activity on the children's part, or on his. They had become dead formulas, though he knew it not. And so it will ever be, with you and with me, if we lose the habit of looking at all our methods with fresh eyes, of revising them continually, and impregnating them anew with life. It would be a melancholy result of the humble and tentative efforts, which under the encouragement of the University, we are now seeking to make, after an Art of teaching, if by them, any of us were led to suppose that it was an art to be acquired by anybody once for all. In truth though we may enter on the inheritance of some of the stored up experience of others, each of us must in his own experience, begin at the beginning, and be responsible for the adaptation of that experience to the special needs of his pupils, as well as to the claims of his own idiosyncracies and convictions. Nothing can ever be so effective as the voice, the enthusiasm, the personal influence of the living teacher. Without these, apparatus, pictures, helps, methods, degenerate soon into mere processes and a sterile mnemonic. And no set of rules however good, can ever release us from the necessity of fashioning new rules, each for him

self. Sympathy. And it need hardly be said here that the one crown

ing qualification of a perfect teacher is sympathy

[blocks in formation]

sympathy with young children, with their wants and their ways; and that without this all other qualifications fail to achieve the highest results. The true teacher ought to be drawn towards the profession by natural inclination, by a conviction of personal fitness, and by a wish to dedicate himself and the best powers and faculties he has to this particular form of service. That conviction, if it once dominates the mind of a person in any walk of life does much to ennoble and beautify even work which would otherwise be distasteful; but I know no one calling in which the presence of that conviction is more necessary, or its absence more disheartening than that of a schoolmaster. Teaching is the noblest of all professions, but it is the sorriest of trades; and nobody can hope to succeed in it who does not throw his whole heart into it, and who does not find a positive pleasure as he watches the quickened attention and heightened colour of a little child as he finds a new truth dawning upon him, or as some latent power is called forth. There is no calling more delightful to those who like it; none which seems such poor drudgery to those who enter upon it

eluctantly or merely as a means of getting a living. He who takes his work as a dose is likely to find it nauseous. “The good schoolmaster," says Fuller, “minces his precepts for children to swallow, hanging clogs on the nimbleness of his own soul, that his scholars may go along with him.” This means that he has enough of imaginative sympathy to project his own mind, so to speak, into that of his pupil, to understand what is going on there, and to think not only of how his lesson is being imparted, but also of how it is being received. But nobody can do this who is not fond of his work. That which we know and care about, we may soon learn to impart; that which we know and do not care

« PreviousContinue »