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A permanent director or professionally trained superintendent, aided by occasional outside courses, gives the best leadership; but for the present we must depend on outside inspiration for much of the work.
The subject matter of instruction should be taken from the actualities surrounding the teacher's work.
Formal texts on psychology, pedagogy, or the history of education should be introduced only after a considerable work with concrete details, if at all.
The method of instruction should be inductive, gathering up the details of school life and showing their possibilities.
In the organization of the class the greatest freedom and flexibility should prevail, yet the class should be organically connected with the school department.
Badly conducted teachers' classes do far more harm than good; they weary and disgust the teachers, degenerate into petty debating clubs, and arouse dissatisfaction and little jealousies.
Wisely conducted teachers' classes are of the greatest value, filling a present gap in our system of training teachers.
They enable the superintendent to detect genius, draw it out, and use it to advantage. At the same time, they enable him to detect superficiality and indifference and get rid of them.
They enable the teacher herself to discover her weakness and her strength-genius finds itself.
They introduce the student spirit into the teacher's work. This spirit alone can give strength and value to such meetings.
They give opportunity for free discussion and for the development of the spirit of give-and-take so necessary in a school department largely composed of women.
They give unity and purpose to the work of the school department, arouse a professional spirit, and an esprit de corps which is contagious and which is the very soul of school life.
THE INSTRUCTION AND IMPROVEMENT OF TEACHERS NOW
AT WORK IN THE SCHOOLS.
BY L. H. JONES, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS, CLEVELAND, OHIO.
The reading circle as a means of training teachers now in service has large advantages connected with marked limitations. Too much must not be expected from it. As a piece of mechanism, or as a part of an organization, its nature must be studied, its proper place and use be found, and its correlation with other forces strictly observed.
In large school systems, as of the great cities, its place is mainly taken by the class or pedagogical club, though there is still room for each. The club has as its chief idea discussion--the reading being more in the form of study and preparation for the discussion. The reading circle, on the other hand, must have as its chief element the reading of books; other things, as meetings and discussions, being incidental, however desirable. The real or causative idea of the reading circle is an attempt to overcome what might properly be called the inertia of books. This inertia of books is not entirely dependent on the nature of the book, but somewhat, also, upon circumstances connected with the life of the reader. Each of you can recall in your own experience that the reading of some particular book was an epoch-making influence in your life, shaping for you even the trend of your after-life and action. A closer reflection will, in most of these cases, show that it was not the book itself which enforced its reading upon you, but that some circumstance outside the book, and even outside your own line of conscious effort, became the force which determined that you should then and there read that particular book. It was the casual reference to it by a friend, or some notice of its contents in the paper, or something of this nature which gave the impulse and supplied the occasion. Now, the reading circle does this kind of thing for the average teacher, supplies motive and arranges due occasion, and finally enforces by competitive struggle the necessary reading and thinking. To sum up briefly, the reading circle acts as a distinctive force to overcome the inertia of books in several ways, among which I mention the following:
1. It places definitely before the attention of its members the particular book or books adopted and shows how best to obtain them, secures better rates financially,--which is no small part of its service, -and puts the entire matter into tangible shape. The teacher by merely joining the organization adds to his own arm the strength of the entire organism; the latter does the rest, and actually places the book right end up in the teacher's hand.
2. If rightly managed, it furnishes a key to the book itself by a well-considered outline, duly prepared by some competent teacher, who gives suggestions as to the practical applications that the ordinary teacher may make of the teachings of the book when once his attention has been called to them. To persons unskilled in reading, as many teachers are, as most teachers in the rural schools are, this is an important function of the reading circle as an organized form of help to the teacher.
3. It furnishes an immediate and forceful motive for reading, through the very idea of the organization itself. It is a lamentable fact, as has been pointed out already, that most persons must have an immediate and more or less external motive for much of their reading—a motive outside any interest felt in the ideas as such. These influences may come from many sources. The very fact of belonging to an organization of large membership is of itself a mighty influence. The fact that stated times are set for reading certain portions, and that many persons are thus known to be engaged simultaneously on the same work, is not only a strong motive to the reading itself, but it introduces an important element of education into the life and habits of the teacher, viz., an appropriate time for each separate thing to be done; and last, but not least, some form of test in the way of examination is possible where such close organization as is herein described exists.
It is true that the reading circle is not wholly a modern institution. Its present form and use among teachers is relatively modern. Of all the reading circles known to me, that with which I am most intimately familiar is the Indiana circle, on whose board of directors I had the honor and pleasure to serve for eight years. The circle in that state consists essentially of two parts, both carried on under the auspices of the same board of directors. The first is called the Teachers' Reading Circle, and is given up distinctively to work more or less definitely professional in its nature; the other is devoted to the direct interests of young people, and is known as the Young People's Circle.
The former, known distinctively as the Teachers' Reading Circle, was organized in 1883. It has steadily grown in numbers until it now has a membership of about 12,000, out of something over 15,000 teachers employed in that state. Its members have pursued each year at least two lines of reading, one of which is distinctly pedagogical, ranging year by year through psychology, methods, history of education, etc. Another line of reading, pursued simultaneously,
has been more largely literary or scientific. In literature it has been the effort, not to read or study about literature but to read standard literary works themselves for the spiritual nourishment and enlightenment which comes from reading and assimilating the brightest and best creations of human genius. I mention, as typical of the kind of books used in this work, that this circle has had on its list from time to time characteristic selections from Shakespeare, Carlyle, Hawthorne, and Ruskin.
The board of directors has followed the plan of having prepared by some competent person each year a somewhat exhaustive outline of the books to be read in that particular year, containing explanatory notes, philosophical comments, suggestions and questions, etc.; and it has further arranged the books into definite portions by periods of months. It is very important that a set time be arranged for particular portions of the work, that the idea before mentioned of having large numbers of people working simultaneously on the same thing, may act as motive to induce careful reading of the text.
I am not in general an advocate of the policy of indirection; but there are some things that seem more easy of accomplishment when the end to be attained is not kept too closely in the consciousness of the one in whom the purpose is to be realized. It is in this view of the case that I have watched with great interest the effect upon the teachers of Indiana of the Young People's Reading Circle, organized in that state about seven years since. In the six years during which I was a member of its board of directors, the membership of that circle rose to more than 200,000 children. For the present year, I am told by State Superintendent Geeling of Indiana that the membership exceeds 400,000 persons, each of whom has read one or more of the books on its list for the current year. The board of directors early decided never to place on the list a book of questionable merit. The books have therefore been exceptionally well selected. Pupils of the ordinary school have been roughly cast into five grades, and from two to three books assigned to each of these grades for a year. The teachers of the state were asked, through circulars, to become the agents of the board of directors in securing the interest of children and parents, and they were especially asked to make use of the books on this list as supplementary to the work of text-books in school. The township trustees were asked to buy, from the public fund, a set of books each year for the library of each district school. A system of district libraries of the best reading for young people has thus been established in more than half of the counties of that state. It is in connection with the use of these books in the schoolroom that a point of the greatest interest to me has arisen. In order to be able to use these books to supplement school work, and in order to be able to direct the children in the reading of these books in
their homes, and in order to interest the trustees in the purchase of these books for the libraries, the teachers have been obliged to read the books for themselves; and, strangely enough, through this reading of the books-at first compulsory; afterwards, with ever-in creasing interest, voluntary-such interest in juvenile literature has been established that I verily believe the Young People's Reading Circle has done more to arouse enthusiasm and develop power among the teachers of Indiana than the Teachers' Reading Circle itself has accomplished. For the books selected for the Young People's Circle were alınost in every case those universal books, touching all ages, temperaments, and interests. Such books can be written only by geniuses. The teachers became at once interested in a line of reading of which they had known nothing, a new bond of sympathy between them and the children was established, and themes of conversation above the commonplace were suggested by the mutual reading of these books. I consider this last point a matter of no mean consequence. The bane of companionship, not alone among children but even between adults and children, is the tendency to gossip. That there shall be suggested worthy themes of conversation, through the means of which sympathies of a higher order shall be established, is alone worthy the efforts of any reading circle that has ever been established; and it is true, as I have observed, that, out of this mutual reading of teachers and pupils, the teachers themselves have learned better how to talk to children, how more fully to sympathize with them, as I believe, than they were ever likely to have learned in any other way.
But turning from this somewhat theoretical study of the question, I will refer very briefly to the testimony of those who have had an opportunity to know as to what has actually been the effect, practically, upon the teacher, the school, and the pupils of the reading-circle work in Indiana, where it has in the last twelve years had a faithful trial under at least fair conditions.
I sent recently a circular letter to each of ten county superintendents in different sections of the state, asking for an answer to the following question, "What have been the most marked effects of the reading-circle work upon teachers, schools, and pupils, so far as you have observed them in your work, during the years in which these circles have been in operation in your county?" From the vari. ous answers which I received I quote a few sentences, showing the general tenor of all the answers. I might have condensed this a little more, but I have, in each instance, preferred to use the exact words of the particular county superintendent. Among the number, one speaks as follows in reference to the Young People's Circle:
i take most pride in the good results of the more permanent kind. Facts, fig. ures, etc., can state what occurred only in a certain way. During the time that I