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The ideal teacher online

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EDITED BY HENRY SUZZALLO

PKOFESSOR OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY



THE IDEAL TEACHER



BY

GEORGE HERBERT PALMER

ALFORD PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY
HARVARD UNIVERSITY




HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

BOSTON, NEW YORK AND CHICAGO



COPYRIGHT, I90S, BY GEORGE HERBERT PALMER
COPYRIGHT, I9IO, BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



- J-^ LTCRARY

17^1 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNJ

'' - '' SANTA BARBARA

P2)



INTRODUCTION

On the whole the American people are sincerely
and deeply appreciative of their schools and teachers.
The teachers themselves are for the most part con-
tented in their work, strenuous and baffling as it may
be. And whatever may be said of the shortcomings of
teaching as a life, they stand loyally by it. In spite of
moments of pessimism, they seldom change to an-
other work, so tenacious are its ultimate attractions.

But it would be quite wrong to assume that either
the public or teachers have no just criticism to make
upon the life and the product of schools. The educa-
tional ideals, and consequently the expectations of
both, are too high to permit a smug satisfaction with
things as they are. The layman wants better service
from teaching. The teacher wishes a happier life in his
work. They will probably continue to demand these
till the end of time, though the schools grow con-
stantly better. There is no ungratefulness in this at-
titude; it is part of the idealism that attaches to the
work of schools and keeps them forever progressive.

It is for the body of teachers to strive earnestly to
do their part to achieve both these ends — to increase
the social service of their teaching and to perfect



iv INTRODUCTION

their- joy in the work. This is what we mean when
we say that we should make of teaching both a pro-
fession and a fine art.

Teaching will be a profession when we have learned
the need of thorough scholarly equipment, and single-
minded devotion to our daily and hourly duties in
the school-room, under the guidance of those larger
ideals which the world has set up for the protection
of its cherished values. Nothing less than expert
knowledge, tempered by a spirit of reverent ministry
to those placed under our tuition, will ever make us
professional teachers.

Teaching will be a fine art when the situations of
schoolroom life are made to call for the best in teacher
and pupil. In such a soil of noble motivation the
highest powers of human beings thrive. The teacher
who drives or is driven, who forces himself or his
children through stated tasks, without any sense
of their significance, will not find teaching congenial.
He will never know that absorption which is the
essence of art. Half-heartedly he will teach, his other,
more imperious impulses beckoning him away to
another life. And while he stays, he will know only
that pain of conflict which destroys the possibility
of happy work. To achieve real success, teaching
must be kept an interesting business, where the free
impulses of children and teachers are so used as to
accomplish useful things happily.



INTRODUCTION v

Ideal teaching, then, will be at the same time pro-
fessional and artistic, socially useful and personally
pleasant. It will always be a goal which we con-
stantly approach but never reach, its approximation
whetting our hunger after perfection, and giving us
the satisfaction of a thousand victorious adjustments
in every school day. Such an ideal is not for laggards
or the indifferent. Only the man of fine qualities can
enter the lists and joyously achieve. What these
qualities are, how they are to be developed, and how
used, will be told in this volume.



THE IDEAL TEACHER



THE IDEAL TEACHER

In America, a land of idealism, the profession of
teaching has become one of the greatest of human
employments. In 1903-04 half a million teachers
were in charge of sixteen million pupils. Stating the
same facts differently, we may say that a fifth of our
entire population is constantly at school; and that
wherever one hundred and sixty men, women, and
children are gathered, a teacher is sure to be among
them.

But figures fail to express the importance of the
work. If each year an equal number of persons
should come in contact with as many lawyers, no
such social consequences would follow. The touch
of the teacher, like that of no other person, is forma-
tive. Our young people are for long periods asso-
ciated with those who are expected to fashion them
into men and women of an approved type. A charge
so influential is committed to nobody else in the
community, not even to the ministers; for though
these have a more searching aim, they are directly
occupied with it but one day instead of six, but one
hour instead of five. Accordingly, as the tract of



4 THE IDEAL TEACHER

knowledge has widened, and the creative opportu-
nities involved in conducting a young person over
it have correspondingly become apparent, the pro-
fession of teaching has risen to a notable height of
dignity and attractiveness. It has moved from a sub-
ordinate to a central place in social influence, and
now undertakes much of the work which formerly
fell to the church. Each year divinity schools attract
fewer students, graduate and normal schools more.
On school and college instruction the community
now bestows its choicest minds, its highest hopes,
and its largest sums. During the year 1903-04
the United States spent for teaching not less than
$350,000,000.

Such weighty work is ill adapted for amateurs.
Those who take it up for brief times and to make
money usually find it unsatisfactory. Success is
rare, the hours are fixed and long, there is repe-
tition and monotony, and the teacher passes his
days among inferiors. Nor are the pecuniary gains
considerable. There are few prizes, and neither in
school nor in college will a teacher's ordinary in-
come carry him much above want. College teach-
ing is falling more and more into the hands of
men of independent means. The poor can hardly
afford to engage in it. Private schools, it is true,
often show large incomes ; but they are earned by
the proprietors, not the teachers. On the whole.



THE IDEAL TEACHER 5

teaching as a trade is poor and disappointing
business.

When, however, it is entered as a profession, as
a serious and difficult fine art, there are few employ-
ments more satisfying. All over the country thousands
of men and women are following it with a passion-
ate devotion which takes little account of the income
received. A trade aims primarily at personal gain;
a profession at the exercise of powers beneficial to
mankind. This prime aim of the one, it is true,
often properly becomes a subordinate aim of the
other. Professional men may even be said to offer
wares of their own — cures, conversions, court vic-
tories, learning — much as traders do, and to receive
in return a kind of reward. But the business of the
lawyer, doctor, preacher, and teacher never squares
itself by equivalent exchange. These men do not give
so much for so much. They give in lump and they
get in lump, without precise balance. The whole
notion of bargain is inapplicable in a sphere where the
gains of him who serves and him who is served coin-
cide ; and that is largely the case with the professions.
Each of them furnishes its special opportunity for
the use of powers which the possessor takes delight
in exercising. Harvard College pays me for doing
what I would gladly pay it for allowing me to do.
No professional man, then, thinks of giving accord-
ing to measure. Once engaged, he gives his best,



6 THE IDEAL TEACHER

gives his personal interest, himself. His heart is in
his work, and for this no equivalent is possible ; what
is accepted is in the nature of a fee, gratuits', or con-
sideration, which enables him who receives it to
maintain a certain expected mode of life. The real
payment is the work itself, this and the chance to
join with other members of the profession in guid-
ing and enlarging tne sphere of its activities.

The idea, sometimes advanced, that the profes-
sions might be ennobled bv paying them powerfully,
is fantastic. Their great attraction is their removal
from sordid aims. More money should certainly
be spent on several of them. Their members should
be better protected against want, anxiety, neglect,
and bad conditions of labor. To do his best work one
needs not merely to live, but to live well. Yet in that
increase of salaries which is urgently needed, care
should be used not to allow the attention of the pro-
fessional man to be diverted from what is impor-
tant, — the outgo of his work, — and become fixed
on what is merely incidental, — his income. When
a professor in one of our large universities, angered
by the refusal of the president to raise his salary on
his being called elsewhere, impatiently exclaimed,
"]SIr. President, you are banking on the devotion of
us teachers, knowing that we do not willingly leave
this place," the president properly replied, "Cer-
tainly, and no college can be managed on any other



THE IDEAL TEACHER 7

principle." Professional men are not so silly as to
despise money; but after all, it is interest in their
work, and not the thought of salary, which predomi-
nantly holds them.

Accordingly in this paper I address those only
who are drawn to teaching by the love of it, who re-
gard it as the most vital of the Fine Arts, who intend
to give their lives to mastering its subtleties, and
who are ready to meet some hardships and to put
up with moderate fare if they may win its rich op-
portunities.

But supposing such a temper, what special quali-
fications will the work require ? The question asked
thus broadly admits no precise answer ; for in reality
there is no human excellence which is not useful for
us teachers. No good quality can be thought of
which we can afiFord to drop. Some day we shall
discover a disturbing vacuum in the spot which it
left. But I propose a more limited problem: what
are those characteristics of the teacher without which
he must fail, and what those which, once his, will
almost certainly insure him success ? Are there any
such essentials, and how many ? On this matter I
have pondered long; for, teaching thirty-nine years
in Harvard College, I have each year found out a
little more fully my own incompetence. I have thus
been forced to ask myself the double question,
through what lacks do I fail, and in what direction



8 THE IDEAL TEACHER

lie the roots of my small successes ? Of late years
I think I have hit on these roots of success and
have come to believe that there are four of them,
— four characteristics which every teacher must
possess. Of course he may possess as many more
as he likes, — indeed, the more the better. But
these four appear fundamental. I vi^ill briefly name
them.

First, a teacher must have an aptitude for vica-
riousness; and second, an already accumulated
wealth ; and third, an ability to invigorate life through
knowledge; and fourth, a readiness to be forgotten.
Having these, any teacher is secure. Lacking them,
lacking even one, he is liable to serious failure. But
as here stated they have a curiously cabalistic sound
and show little relation to the needs of any profession.
They have been stated with too much condensation,
and have become unintelligible through being too
exact. Let me repair the error by successively ex-
panding them."^

The teacher's art takes its rise in what I call an
aptitude for vicariousness. As year by year my col-
lege bo^'s prepare to go forth into life, some laggard
is sure to come to me and say, "I want a little advice.
Most of my classmates have their minds made up
about what they are going to do. I am still uncer-
tain. I rather incline to be a teacher, because I am
fond of books and suspect that in any other profession



THE IDEAL TEACHER 9

I can give them but little time. Business men do not
read. Lawyers only consult books. And I am by
no means sure that ministers have read all the books
they quote. On the whole it seems safest to choose
a profession in which books will be my daily com-
panions. So I turn toward teaching. But before
settling the matter I thought I would ask how you
regard the profession." "A noble profession," I
answer," but quite unfit for you. I would advise you
to become a lawyer, a car conductor, or something
equally harmless. Do not turn to anything so peril-
ous as teaching. You would ruin both it and your-
self; for you are looking in exactly the ^VTong
direction."

Such an inquirer is under a common misconcep-
tion. The teacher's task is not primarily the acqui-
sition of knowledge, but the impartation of it, — an
entirely different matter. We teachers are forever
taking thoughts out of our minds and putting them
elsewhere. So long as we are content to keep them
in our possession, we are not teachers at all. One
who is interested in laying hold on wisdom is likely
to become a scholar. And while no doubt it is well
for a teacher to be a fair scholar, — I have known
several such, — that is not the main thing. What con-
stitutes the teacher is the passion to make scholars ;
and again and again it happens that the great scholar
has no such passion whatever.



10 THE IDEAL TEACHER

But even that passion is useless without aid from
imagination. At every instant of the teacher's hfe
he must be controlled by this mighty power. Most
human beings are contented with living one life
and delighted if they can pass that agreeably. But
this is far from enough for us teachers. We inces-
santly go outside ourselves and enter into the many
lives about us, — lives dull, dark, and unintelligible
to any but an eye like ours. And this is imagination,
the sympathetic creation in ourselves of conditions
which belong to others. Our profession is therefore
a double-ended one. We inspect truth as it rises fresh
and interesting before our eager sight. But that is
only the beginning of our task. Swiftly we then
seize the lines of least intellectual resistance in alien
minds and, with perpetual reference to these, fol-
low our truth till it is safely lodged beyond ourselves.
Each mind has its peculiar set of frictions. Those
of our pupils can never be the same as ours. We
have passed far on and know all about our subject.
For us it wears an altogether different look from that
which it has for beginners. It is their perplexities
which we must reproduce and — as if a rose should
shut and be a bud again — we must reassume in our
developed and accustomed souls something of the
innocence of childhood. Such is the exquisite busi- 1
ness of the teacher, to carry himself back with all his '
wealth of knowledge and understand how his sub



THE IDEAL TEACHER 11

ject should appear to the meagre mind of one glanc-
ing at it for the first time.

And what absurd blunders we make in the process !
Becoming immersed in our own side of the aflFair,
we blind ourselves and readily attribute to our pupils
modes of thought which are not in the least theirs.
I remember a lesson I had on this point, I who had
been teaching ethics half a lifetime. My nephew,
five years old, was fond of stories from the Odyssey.
He would creep into bed with me in the morning and
beg for them. One Sunday, after I had given him
a pretty stiff bit of adventure, it occurred to me that
it was an appropriate day for a moral. "Ulysses
was a very brave man," I remarked. "Yes," he said,
"and I am very brave." I saw my opportunity and
seized it. "That is true," said I. "You have been
gaining courage lately. You used to cry easily, but
you don't do that nowadays. When you want to cry
now, you think how like a baby it would be to cry,
or how you would disturb mother and upset the
house; and so you conclude not to cry." The little
fellow seemed hopelessly puzzled. He lay silent a
minute or two and then said, "Well no, Uncle, I
don't do that. I just go sh-sh-sh, and I don't."
There the moral crisis is stated in its simplicity;
and I had been putting off on that holy little nature
sophistications borrowed from my own battered life.

But while I am explaining the blunders caused by



12 THE IDEAL TEACHER

self-engrossment and lack of imagination, let me
show what slight adjustments will sometimes carry
us past depressing difficulties. One year when I was
lecturing on some intricate problems of obligation,
I began to doubt whether my class was following
me, and I determined that I would make them talk.
So the next day I constructed an ingenious ethical
case and, after stating it to the class, I said, "Sup-
posing now the state of affairs were thus and thus,
and the interests of the persons involved were such
and such, how would you decide the question of right,
— Mr. Jones." Poor Jones rose in confusion. "You
mean," he said, "if the case were as you have stated
it? Well, hm, hm, hm, — yes, — I don't think I know,
sir." And he sat down. I called on one and another
with the same result. A panic was upon them, and
all their minds were alike empty. I went home dis-
gusted, wondering whether they had comprehended
anything I had said during the previous fortnight,
and hoping I might never have such a stupid lot of
students again. Suddenly it flashed upon me that it
was I who was stupid. That is usually the case when
a class fails ; it is the teacher's fault. The next day
I went back prepared to begin at the right end. I
began, "Oh, Mr. Jones." He rose, and I proceeded
to state the situation as before. By the time I paused
he had collected his wits, had worked off his super-
fluous flurry, and was ready to give me an admirable



THE IDEAL TEACHER IS

answer. Indeed in a few minutes the whole class was
engaged in an eager discussion. My previous error
had been in not remembering that they, I, and every-
body, when suddenly attacked with a big question,
are not in the best condition for answering. Occupied
as I was with my end of the story, the questioning
end, I had not worked in that double-ended fashion
which alone can bring the teacher success ; in short,
I was deficient in vicariousness, — in swiftly put-
ting myself in the weak one's place and bearing his
burden.

Now it is in this chief business of the artistic
teacher, to labor imaginatively himself in order to
diminish the labors of his slender pupil, that most
of our failures occur. Instead of lamenting the im-
perviousness of our pupils, we had better ask our-
selves more frequently whether we have neatly ad-
justed our teachings to the conditions of their minds.
We have no right to tumble out in a mass whatever
comes into our heads, leaving to that feeble folk the
work of finding in it what order they may. Ours
it should be to see that every beginning, middle, and
end of what we say is helpfully shaped for readiest
access to those less intelligent and interested than we.
But this is vicariousness. Noblesse oblige. In this
profession any one who will be great must be a
nimble servant, his head full of others' needs.

Some discouraged teacher, glad to discover that



14 THE IDEAL TEACHER

his past failures have been due to the absence of
sympathetic imagination, may resolve that he will
not commit that blunder again. On going to his
class to-morrow he will look out upon his subject
with his pupils' eyes, not with his own. Let him at-
tempt it, and his pupils will surely say to one another,
"What is the matter to-day with teacher?" They
will get nothing from that exercise. No, what is
wanted is not a resolve, but an aptitude. The time
for using vicariousness is not the time for acquiring
it. Rather it is the time for dismissing all thoughts
of it from the mind. On entering the classroom we
should leave every consideration of method outside
the door, and talk simply as interested men and
women in whatever way comes most natural to us.
But into that nature vicariousness should long ago
have been wrought. It should be already on hand.
Fortunate we if our great-grandmother supplied us
with it before we were born. There are persons
who, with all good will, can never be teachers. They
are not made in that way. Their business it is to
pry into knowledge, to engage in action, to make
money, or to pursue whatever other aim their powers
dictate; but they do not readily think in terms of
the other person. They should not, then, be teach-
ers.

The teacher's habit is well summed in the Apos-
tle's rule, " Look not every man on his own things,



THE IDEAL TEACHER 15

but every man also " — it is double — " on the things
of others." And this habit should become as nearly
as possible an instinct. Until it is rendered in-
stinctive and passes beyond conscious direction, it
will be of little worth. Let us then, as we go into
society, as we walk the streets, as we sit at table,
practice altruistic limberaess and learn to escape
from ourselves. A true teacher is always meditating
his work, disciplining himself for his profession,
probing the problems of his glorious art, and seeing
illustration of them everywhere. In only one place
is he freed from such criticism, and that is in his
classroom. Here in the moment of action he lets
himself go, unhampered by theory, using the nature
acquired elsewhere, and uttering as simply as pos-
sible the fulness of his mind and heart. Direct human
intercourse requires instinctive aptitudes. Till al-
truistic vicariousness has become our second nature,
we shall not deeply influence anybody.

But sympathetic imagination is not all a teacher
needs. Exclusive altruism is absurd. On this point
too I once got instruction from the mouths of babes
and sucklings. The children of a friend of mine,
children of six and four, had just gone to bed. Their
mother overheard them talking when they should
have been asleep. Wondering what they might need,
she stepped into the entry and listened. They were
discussing what they were here in the world for.



16 THE IDEAL TEACHER

That is about the size of problems commonly found
in infant minds. The little girl suggested that we are
probably in the world to help others. "Why, no
indeed, Mabel," said her big brother, " for then what
would others be here for?" Precisely! If anything
is only fit to give away, it is not fit for that. We must
know and prize its goodness in ourselves before
generosity is even possible.

Plainly, then, beside his aptitude for vicariousness,
our ideal teacher will need the second qualification
of an already accumulated wealth. These hungry
pupils are drawing all their nourishment from us,
and have we got it to give ? They will be poor, if we
are poor ; rich if we are wealthy. We are their source
of supply. Every time we cut ourselves off from
nutrition, we enfeeble them. And how frequently
devoted teachers make this mistake ! dedicating
themselves so to the immediate needs of those about
them that they themselves grow thinner each year.
We all know the "teacher's face." It is meagre,
worn, sacrificial, anxious, powerless. That is exactly
the opposite of what it should be. The teacher should
be the big bounteous being of the community. Other
people may get along tolerably by holding whatever
small knowledge comes their way. A moderate stock
will pretty well serve their private turn. But that is
not our case. Supplying a multitude, we need wealth


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