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I.--WHERE IN THE COURSE SHALL THE PRACTICE-WORK BEGIN?
It appears to the committee to be quite impossible to answer this question with any great degree of definiteness for a large num. ber of schools. So many varying conditions appear that each school must determine it in large part for itself. The facts which will have greatest weight in this determination will be the age and general scholarship of the applicants for admission, and the amount of theoretical pedagogical work possible for the early part of the normal course.
A fair percentage of normal schools admits candidates who have completed the work of the eight grades below the high school. Others require an academic preparation substantially equivalent to that demanded by a certificate of the second grade. A small number of schools admit only high school graduates, or others having an equivalent preparation.
Your committee is of the opinion that the qualifications first mentioned are too low. Not only is the academic preparation insufficient, but such candidates are too young to undertake the serious work of a professional school. Young people who have just emerged from the grades cannot be expected to appreciate the gravity of the teacher's task. If conditions are such as to render it expedient to admit candidates of so low a grade of scholarship and of such general immaturity it is evident that practice-work must begin late in the course.
A rigorous academic training becomes the first necessity. Theoretical pedagogical work of the most elementary character is impossible with children, and to permit them to assume the role of teacher would mean a revival of the long obsolete monitorial system, in which the blind led the blind, and with the usual result.
Candidates who have received a teacher's certificate ought to be able to find a place in the normal school. It is certainly far better that they should be there than in charge of schools, unless they have fitted themselves for their work in some fairly adequate way. Such candidates should be able to enter upon the preparatory pedagogical discipline quite early in the course; hence, practice-teaching will become possible and proper correspondingly sooner. They may be assumed to be fairly mature, and having secured the requisite authority for teaching, their stay in the school is likely to be briefer. They should have an opportunity to engage in the actual work of instruction, un der superior supervision, before attempting the unaided management of a school, if it can be done without sacrificing the theoretical work which is assumed to be indispensable.
Graduates of good high schools are generally equipped with a degree of culture and maturity which permits them to enter at once upon the study of teaching as a science. A year of professional discipline would seem to entitle them to a place in the practice-school. Indeed, in many cases they may properly find themselves there after a much shorter probationary period. Schools in which the course is but one year, and “purely professional,” as they are termed, as in the case of most of the city normal schools, begin the practice-work immediately, or after a few weeks. This seems to the committee to be a dangerous custom to make universal; yet, with many pupils, it is probably safe.
A fourth class should not be overlooked. In every state normal school a considerable number of persons will be found who have already taught for several terms. They are usually the consolation of the supervisors of practice, as they are able to mitigate the evils incident to a practice-school. It is often possible to permit such persons to carry theoretical and practice-work side by side, and at the beginning of their course.
Although not strictly germane to the subject, your committee desires to offer a few further suggestions respecting the qualifications for admission to normal schools.
In some of the states, more particularly those in which there are several training schools for teachers, a high school diploma, or an equivalent certificate of scholarship, is insisted upon. In some of the states such requirements appear unwise. In the first place, the very large majority of high school graduates are girls. If all who are disposed to become teachers should enter the normal schools, they would not fill those schools to anything like their capacity. Moreover, statistics clearly prove, that, where such requirements are demanded, the enrollment is almost exclusively made up of girls. It is the opinion of the committee that the great preponderance of women in the teaching force is already a grave misfortune. Such a policy tends to increase the evil rather than to remedy it, since the boys who graduate from the high schools, with occasional exceptions, find more remunerative, and consequently more attractive, fields elsewhere. Moreover, the country school problem should not be ignored in the interests of the town. Experience shows that young men and young women who have received only the instruction of district schools, but who have attained a good degree of maturity, quite frequently surpass the high school graduates in those qualities which the normal schools especially covet. Many of them have already served a considerable apprenticeship as teachers, and have thus acquired that maturity of view and that practical sagacity without which persons are teachers only in name. It is idle to expect that country schools are to be supplied with a high class of carefully prepared teachers in the near, or comparatively near, future. There will be an occasional district so favorably conditioned as to maintain a school for eight months and to be able to pay a fair salary to its teacher, but the urbanizing of our population is going on at such a rapid rate that the size of the country school is constantly diminishing. These schools must be supplied, in the main, by persons who are willing to work for small pay. The normal school should offer educational inducements to the strongest and best-prepared students in these country districts on condition that they shall return to their homes and engage in teaching for a period of not less than the time of their attendance at the normal school. It is a common remark of normal principals that much of their best material comes from these rural schools, and that these young people have acquired such habits of industry and take such an intensely practical view of life, that, at the end of a single year in the normal school, they are able to hold their own with the high school graduates. Moreover, the recogni. tion of this class of applicants brings into the normal schools a body of sturdy young men, many of whom remain in the teachers' ranks permanently, and subsequently become principals and superintendents.
The earnestness which is so striking a characteristic of the normal student, and which is so often lacking in the high school and the college, finds its explanation in part in the presence of these young men and young women from the country. Their lack of education and limited acquaintance with many of the conventionalities of social life should not necessarily shut them out of the normal school. Although the range of studies which have occupied their attention is often narrow, so much time has been spent upon the elementary studies as to give a degree of power unknown to the pupils of the graded schools who have traversed the same ground in a limited time.
Such young people are able to enter upon professional work profitably quite as early as many of the high school graduates, and observation of quite large numbers of such pupils seems to demonstrate their ability to hold their own with them after a single year in the normal school.
Much as normal schools need higher scholarship as a prerequisite for admission, it is hoped that the managers of such institutions in the Mississippi Valley, and perhaps in the farther West, will not be so captivated with the customs that may well obtain in New England or New York, with their numerous schools, as to shut their doors against the country youth or to defer their practice-work for such candidates to the third or fourth year.
It is doubtless easy for a state that has a dozen state schools for teachers and a hundred and fifty academies or high schools receiving state aid for elementary professional training to require a high standard for admission, and then postpone its practice work to a late period in the course, confident that most of the pupils will complete the course. In states, however, where even poorly prepared normal students are in great demand, such a course seems by no means the wisest.
Your committee is further of the opinion that the practice-work should be preceded by a somewhat careful theoretical preparation, and that this feature of the curriculum should begin with the student's admission to the school, or very shortly thereafter.
To prescribe just what this work should be would transcend the limits set to this report, as it would attempt to formulate the pedagogical course of the normal school. However, it should be of such a character as to give some adequate idea of the gravity of the problem of education, and of the view which modern peoples, at least, have taken of it. Some of the general facts of the nature of mind, the relation of the conventional knowledges to modern life, and the special methods of instruction suitable for elementary schools should receive at least some degree of attention before a pupil should be intrusted with the care of a class. It is of the greatest importance that the normal student should be awakened to something like a fair apprehension of the difficulty of his task, of the breadth of the field which is open to exploration by the student of pedagogy, and of the immense significance of the teacher, and this apprehension should come as early in the course as possible.
As to the character of the practice-work, there is a wide diversity of opinion, as has already been stated. Shall it consist alone of the daily single or double recitation ? Shall it be made to imitate as closely as possible the work which the pupil is to perform when he shall enter upon the independent life of the teacher, or shall these methods be so combined as to make the former preparatory to the latter?
As has been stated, the first method is the one employed in the large majority of normal schools. While your committee is of the opinion that the third method is best adapted to the securing of the most admirable results, the practical difficulties in the way of its general adoption are recognized as quite insurmountable. The interests of the children are sacred, and should be surrounded by every possible safeguard. It is not forgotten, however, that the average teacher in the public schools has not yet attained ideal perfection, and it has been demonstrated in many cases that practice-schools are far better that the local public schools. Indeed, it may be said in entire seriousness, that much of the sympathy expended upon the children of the practice-schools is worse than wasted.
In defense of the first method, it may be urged that it is in accord with the general principle that relative simplicity should have much to do in determining the sequence of steps in the acquisition of an art. It is far easier to instruct a single class for one or two periods than to take entire charge of a room. In consequence, the practicework may begin at an earlier period than would otherwise be possible, a consideration worthy of no little respect when it is remembered, that, in a majority of normal schools, the average student attends for only a little more than one-third of the course.
A second defense may be found in the fact that practice-schools of great size would be needed for the accommodation of most normal schools. Those institutions which employ the second plan defer the practice work to the end of the course, and thus avoid the difficulty by waiting until four-fifths of their pupils have left them. If the reports are understood, there are schools of the highest repute which have won their leadership by what they do for an eighth or a tenth of their membership, the rest having disappeared before reaching the practice-school, or even the technical pedagogical work. Since the missing majority presumably become teachers, it is an interesting question whether such an adjustment is wisest. It should be remembered that the children of the schools in which this escaped contingent appears merit some consideration.
The novice who has spent a year or year and a half in the normal school, and has had the pedagogical preparation possible, may safely begin his practice-work with a daily recitation or two, under the guidance of competent critic-teachers, and may even do admirable work, when it would be quite impossible to manage a room and take charge of all its instruction. If he should withdraw before the beginning of the third year, as the majority do in most normal schools, he will have had an experience that will be quite invaluable to him in his subsequent work. If he shall remain, the same thing may be said.
The third defense of this system appears in the fact that it permits the normal student to continue his theoretical work along with his practice-work. The principle of apperception is involved to no inconsiderable degree in such an arrangement. Any plan which postpones the practice-work to the completion of the theoretical work does so at the expense of a proper appreciation of the latter. It is often remarked by normal students that their subsequent instruction gains immensely in significance after dropping out for a year of teaching. This fact compensates somewhat for the experiences which children have been undergoing somewhere away from the normal critic or the county supervisors, but it adds point to the argument at least. It is quite doubtful whether one really values pedagogical in