William Hawley Smith.

Walks abroad and talks about them online

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to keep her children at work on a quite difficult lesson,
for half an hour, by which time they had mastered it so
that they could read it well, and understood what it
meant.

And that seems to me to be teaching!

And for a whole roomful of country teachers to sit
by and "observe" such work as that, seems to me to be a
good thing. Such work makes an institute what it ought
to be, and what, thank heaven, it soinetiincs is. Yon have
seen the like, haven't you? Perhaps you can do such work.
If you can, may a kind providence grant you a long life
and good pay, for you richly deserve both.



But there are two more general characteristics of
county institutes that I want to speak of, that I am sure
ought to be considerably changed from their present sta-
tus. And the first of these is the kind of class-room work
that is done at these teachers' meetings.

In nearly every one of these gatherings that I have
attended in the last two months there have been regular
classes formed in all the branches of study in which



148 WALKS ABROAD.

examination for a certificate is required, and most
of the time is spent in refreshing the memories of the
teachers on once-knovvn-but-now-forgotten facts pertain-
ing to these studies. The to-be teachers become pupils,
and' some "professor" "coaches them for exams." as the
college boys would say.

All of which, or at least most of which, seems to me
to be far short of what ought to be done at a county insti-
tute. It should be to gain strength and skill as teachers.,
and not to re-grub dead facts from their forgotten tombs
in once-familiar books, that our teachers should be forced
to come together in hot weather and work till they sweat
like harvest hands.

And the best way in the world that I know of to ac-
complish such an end — the only way that I believe teach-
ers can gain strength and skill as teachers, is to have them
teach! And to this end I have seen two experiments tried
this season, which, while they were neither of them all
that might be desired or hoped for (what is there in this
world that is all that might be desired or hoped for?), still,
they were moves in the right direction, and were by far
the most interesting things that I have seen, in this line,
for years. The first experiment was as follows:

The institute in question held a four-weeks' session,
five days in each week — that is, it had twenty sessions.

Each day during the session the county superintend-
ent prepared sets of tickets, twenty tickets in each set,
and had the members draw these tickets at random from a
ticket-box that was passed about the room at each daily
general session. For instance, there were twenty tickets
marked A.; twenty more marked B., and so on, in sets of
twenty, till there were enough tickets to give each mem-
ber one ticket.

By the drawing of these tickets at random from the



IK INSTITUTE ASSEMBLED. 149

box the institute was divided into classes of about twenty
each (of course there were some odd ones, every day, for
the attendance was not always in multiples of twenty, but
that cut no figure in the working of the plan), and as a
nezv drawing was made each day, of course the classes thus
formed were never twice alike!

As soon as a drawing was made all the members
who had drawn "A" tickets were sent to a room by them-
selves.

Those who held "B" tickets went to another room,
and so on, till each class was closeted by itself.

Once by themselves, each class cast lots to determine
who of the number should teach the class at a recitation to
be held the following day, the remaining members to be
pupils in the class.

Each teacher upon whom the lot fell had the privi-
lege of selecting the subject for, and determining the
scope of, the coming recitation; but each one was held
strictly responsible, by the county superintendent, for the
conduct of his or her particular recitation, and for the out-
come of the same.

The recitations thus arranged for were each about
half an hour long, and together they occupied half the
time of the institute, daily, some two or more recitations
being in progress at the same time; and those who were
not members of the then reciting classes were observers of
what was going on.

If, as the days went on, and new classes were formed,
and lots were cast for teachers, the lot fell upon an)' mem-
ber who had once been through the ordeal, a new lot was
cast, so that no member had to officiate twice — any how,
not until every member had served at least once.

Now, as I have said, this plan is not without its faults,
and in its practical workings it ranged all the way from



150 WALKS ABROAD.

the sublime to the grotesquely ridiculous, from the ex-
ceedingly funny to the pathetic and almost tragic; but as
a matter of fact, it did more for the young people who
were part and parcel of it than anything I have seen done
in an institute for many a long day.

And, above all things, it did this — it gave the county
superintendent some reliable data on which to base his
opinion as to the fitness of applicants /o teach- In the case
in question, the superintendent told me that he counted
the work done by teachers in these test classes one-half\x\
determining their grade as teachers, and I am sure it was
worthy at least that much prominence.

And I wish you could have been an ''observer" at
some of these classes! You would have seen human na-
ture in the school-room as one rarely gets a chance to see
it. I could write for hours, descriptions of the teachers
and teaching that I saw in this way.

There was the bashful girl (poor thing) who could
hardly say her soul was her own, but who knew that her
place for the next year, perhaps, was in the balance, and
that it would come or go according as she failed or suc-
ceeded in the half hour before her. And to see her rally
all her powers, and hold her timid self well to the front by
the sheer force of will — men have charged into cannon-
mouths with less exercise of self-control than this girl
exhibited!

And there was the blase old-timer, who has for years
been able to talk off even the strong arm of the law, and
get a certificate anyhow, because he could use words —
he was forced to take his innings and let us see just what
he could do. And we saw! He spent his half hour telling
Jiow lie would do it, but he did nothing. And so the super-
intendent had the blessed privilege of, and good reason



IN INSTITUTE ASSEMBLED. 151

for, putting that garrulous old head in a basket, where it
ought to have gone years ago.

But I must not stop to tell the whole story. To use
the vernacular, " it was better than a circus. " But it was
sensible, and it did the work. It demonstrated whether or
not those who claimed to be teachers could really teach
and that is what these institutes are for (if they are not
for that, what are they for ?), and I should like to see more
of the same sort. It comes nearer to being /i/e, as it actu-
ally is in the school-room, than anything else I have met
with.

Amongst those who were pupils for the time being
there were all the shades of character that one finds in
every-day school work. There were mean pupils, stupid
pupils, contrary pupils, argumentative pupils, smart pu-
pils, and so on, with a few really good pupils sprinkled in
(which I think providence provides, so that we need not
entirely lose heart) and the teacher in charge had to make
the best of it all, just as he or she always has to do in the
regular work of professional life.

Suppose you try this plan, some time. If you do, be
prepared to turn pale, and to suffer from sinking of the
heart at the sights you will see.

But you ought to see such sights! You ought to know
what teaching, y;/^/ what teaching the children of this coun-
try have to put up with.

And this plan will show it to you.

It will .also show you .y


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Online LibraryWilliam Hawley SmithWalks abroad and talks about them → online text (page 11 of 16)