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Few of us realize our great need of divine guidance and wisdom in this important branch of our work, or the care and deliberation requisite in the execution of this part of our trust.
We hold the balance of power and can make for weal or for woe.
Permit me, therefore, to suggest that the personnel of our board is properly our first consideration, for water will not rise higher than its source, and a board itself deficient in manhood, character, and moral worth can hardly be relied upon to make these qualifications the first test of fitness, as they should be, in the selection of teachers. The board should be, and can be made, nonpartisan. School politics, or the application of politicians' methods to school affairs, should never be tolerated for a moment, or teachers' positions will rapidly become considered as spoils; the introduction of a spoil system into our schools would prove disastrous. Schools should be kept out of politics and politics out of the schools. But, you ask, can this be done? Let me tell you how. A board that is truly alive to its trust and responsibility will see to it that only the right kind of men and women are elected to its membership. In due season, before the annual election, quietly have a meeting of such members of your board as you know have a true conception of what is due from members of a school board; then carefully canvass the names of your best and most representative fellow-citizens, and select a ticket which your board will support, taking care that every name upon it represents a man or woman who (1) has a good Christian character and the confidence of your community; (2) is not a politician nor a political aspirant; (3) is a man of good judgment and common-sense; (4) has no grievance to satisfy or aš to grind, no enemy to punish or friend to reward; (5) whose ambition will be to improve the schools; and, lastly, see that your ticket has on it names representing each of the leading political parties, taking care that the election of your ticket will not give any of said political parties an unfair majority in the board as a whole. You then have a ticket that will bear close scrutiny, and will receive the united support of your teaching corps and its friends, and of the patrons of the schools, and thus insure success at the polls. This can be done, and, if done, the best result in the selection of teachers is possible.
Before the election of teachers naturally must come their selection, and right here we are to put the test as to our own fitness for our office. The patrons of our schools may employ whom they will for their doctors and lawyers, but as to the choice of a teacher, to whom is intrusted that most important duty of the development of the minds and bodies of their children, they have nothing to say. With this tremendous responsibility shifted onto our shoulders, do we not, indeed, have need of exceeding care and wise deliberation ? The teacher is to open the eyes of the child to a world of wonders, his mind to realms of knowledge ; and from him the child should learn to love truth, purity, refinement, and all that makes up a perfect character; and to scorn meanness, idleness, and all that debases. The teacher's personal influence is greater than that of our textbooks, libraries, or laboratories, for the teacher is the school; therefore, how great the necessity of careful selection ! We may be proud, and with reason, of our buildings and grounds, but every school board should have reason to point with greater pride at a corps of teachers who are not only teaching history, physics, English, etc., but by word and example awakening their pupils to the highest and noblest purposes and deeds. Yes, without discounting the necessity for culture and attainments in the least, I would still make true manhood and womanhood my first test of fitness in the applicant.
The superintendent is, and should be, the official and expert adviser of the board; yet, to avoid all appearance of evil, as well as to insure the best results, the rules should require him, after careful and personal investigation of the qualifications of all applicants, to select at least three of the very best, everything considered, for each vacancy to be filled. His list of recommendations should then be referred to a committee on teachers and salaries, who should be selected because of their marked fitness for this particular work. If not practicable for the entire board to do so, the entire membership of this committee at least should not only carefully examine the testimonials accompanying the applications, but should meet each applicant personally and, if possible, inspect her work. To this end the superintendent should assign each of the recommended applicants to sufficient substitute work to enable her to fairly demonstrate her qualifications to the teachers' committee, or to the paid supervisors of our larger cities. The committee is then in a position to distinguish the nagging, scolding "school-marm” from the one whose love for childhood keeps her kind and patient thru mischief and dullness; to compare their discipline, methods, etc., and make a wise report. The election of relatives of the board or committee should be avoided, if possible; the politics of the applicant should never be known or considered; one applicant should never be preferred over another by reason of her influential friends, or other similar pressure, or because of her poverty or need; for our schools are not asylums, and we must remember that “the welfare of the child shall be the highest law."
The election should be for one year and to the end of the current school year, rather than for an indefinite term, conditioned even on good behavior and successful work.
Doubtless this latter proposition will provoke much adverse criticism, but it is submitted only after mature deliberation, and is based upon experience in our own city. The objection may be raised that the teacher is thus kept on the anxious seat, preventing her from really producing the best results of which she is capable. To a very small extent this may be true, but, on the other hand, the annual election is a constant incentive to the best possible efforts, and will prevent careless, indifferent work, as long as the board is alive to its duties and does not allow the annual election to degenerate into a mere formality. The condition of good behavior and satisfactory work in a life term is, except in extreme cases, usually of little practical value. Experience teaches us that it requires a fagrant case to interfere with any life term, largely because there is no periodical investigation, upon the issues of which is based the continuity of the term. See, for example, the recent exposure of the shortcomings of that New York surrogate to whom a long-suffering public submitted for years, until Governor Roosevelt personally took the matter in hand and in his characteristic manner compelled a surrender of the office. If the merits or demerits of this surrogate could have been passed upon by the people at the polls annually or biennially, you may be sure he would have proven a better judge.
If "when once in, always in" becomes recognized by the teachers of your corps as the policy of the board, whether based upon a formal annual election or a life term, the board has permitted a mighty blow to be struck at the welfare of both school and community, and is guilty of criminal negligence that should not go unpunished. The annual election affords the needed opportunity to drop the unsatisfactory teacher without the unnecessary publicity of a discharge. The simple omission of a name in the list of re-elected teachers will rarely be discovered. And further to relieve the unsuccessful teacher from embarrassment, both financial and social, I believe that, while all renewals of contracts should take effect from the opening of the fall semester, yet the annual election should be held immediately preceding the beginning of the annual summer vacation, so that abundant opportunity may be given the rejected teacher to make other plans for the future, and at the same time relieve all the other teachers from any anxiety and insure to them the full enjoyment of the vacation season.
But whether you employ your teachers annually or not, let the teacher who is doing good, faithful work feel, not only that she has your approval and appreciation, but that she can count upon your support just as long as her exemplary work continues. Such teachers, with each succeeding year's added experience, become more and more invaluable, and should be retained at any reasonable cost.
There are many little details and items that might properly be considered in connection with this subject, but which are largely subject to the conditions of each school district. In this brief paper I have not dared to venture into so exhaustive a field, but have contented myself with the statement of a few general principles, the observance of which I modestly believe would prove of practical value to us all.
Just a word further on the subject of dismissals and I am done. Except in cases justifying summary action, such as immoral conduct, I
believe each teacher is entitled to fair warning before dismissal for incompetency; the notice should be coupled with friendly criticism and advice from the proper source, acquainting her with her deficiencies; and both supervisors and principal should give her unusual attention and assistance, not only for the sake of the scholars, but for her own sake. Such a course has been the making of some of our best teachers, who would otherwise have retired from the profession discouraged. A change of grade or environment may bring about a happy result.
If it is self-evident that she can never become a successful teacher, have her told so kindly, and, above all, do not soothe her disappointment by arming her with credentials and recommendations in subtle form, calculated to deceive wherever presented. Do not pass such a teacher along to inflict her incompetency upon others ; nor keep her yourself because of her influential friends; but remain true to your trust, and remember that the welfare of the child is your highest trust.
Sam FERRY Smith, member of board of education, San Diego, Cal. – The object and purpose of the public school system is to educate the child; to bring into play and activity, and to direct into the proper mental, moral, and physical channels, the dormant, growing, and developing powers.
The child comes to the school “ a bundle of inherited tendencies," good, bad, and indifferent. To furnish an environment that will stimulate and bring out intellectually and ethically all that is good and noble, and to repress all that is bad and vicious, is its mission. The chief factor is the teacher. You may have fine buildings, elaborate text-books, and expensive laboratories, and yet without a good teacher fail to educate, while with a good teacher all else may be deficient, or even totally wanting, and yet marvelous results be obtained. The teacher, then, is the principal factor in a successful school.
How should this teacher be selected ? What qualifications should she have? And by whom should the selection be made ?
Let us first consider the qualifications. She must, of course, have a teacher's certificate ; be of good moral character, neat and tidy in appearance ; have sufficient physical strength to maintain discipline; have complete control over herself, particularly her temper; above all must possess that subtle but indescribable power of imparting knowledge to others, of instilling by moral influence the highest ethics, inspiring the pupil by example rather than by precept to develop the best and noblest that is in him ; the power of enforcing obedience by strength of will rather than by force of muscle ; and last, but not least, must have a love of children and a strong sympathy with their weaknesses and frailties. A rare combination, truly; yet not one of these qualities can be omitted if the best results are to be obtained.
As to the manner of selection : There are three methods now in vogue; all others are modifications or combinations of two or more of these three. They are, first, selection by a board of education at large ; second, selection by a committee of the board appointed for that purpose ; and, third, selection by the superintendent of schools.
Much can be said in favor of each system; each has its advantages and disadvantages, and should be considered in all its various phases and modifications; but time does not permit; therefore I shall devote the time allotted to me to the presentation of what, to my mind, is the best system, viz., the selection by the superintendent of schooisa system which, I believe, has the most advantages and is subject to the least criticism. When this system is suggested, the question is at once asked: Why centralize this power? Why should a board of education abdicate this prerogative to one man, and that man an employé ? I answer : Because the average member of a board of education has neither the time, opportunity, nor capacity to make the observations and investigations necessary to perform that important duty in a proper manner. To determine whether or not a teacher possesses the required qualifications it is necessary that frequent visits be made to the schoolroom, so that her influence and methods may be observed ; to ascertain whether or not she has that requisite peculiar personality; to note her mɔral and intellectual influence over her pupils; to compare her work with the work of other teachers of the same grade ; to examine the written work of her scholars to see whether or not the results are up to the standard. This must of necessity consume a great deal of time, and must be done by personal observation, contact, and examination. An attendance at classday exercises or other public functions is not sufficient, nor does a five- or ten-minute visit to the school once or twice a year suffice. Credentials, no matter how high-sounding or from what institution issued, will not determine it. Recommendations, no matter from what source, are not conclusive. The teacher may be a graduate of the highest institution of learning, may be entitled to write enough letters after her name to make an alphabet, and yet, as an imparter and inspirer of moral, intellectual, and ethical qualities in a child, be a dismal failure ; while one with no certificate higher than that of a grammar school or high school, or in fact no certificate at all other than that giving her the right to teach, may meet with marked success and be a truly ideal teacher. Teachers , are, to a large extent, born and not made; and while training and education are necessary and beneficial, yet they are not all; and those qualifications which make the best teacher depend more upon the character and personality of the individual than upon the training and education that she may have had. Hence the proper selection cannot be made upon credentials or recommendations, but must be made after a full and fair trial amid the conditions and surroundings in which the teacher is expected to work, and after a careful observation by the person who is supposed to make the selection. All applicants should, therefore, serve from three to twelve months on probation before receiving permanent employment. It follows of necessity that the person who makes the selection must be one who has the time, opportunity, and ability to perform that duty. Except in rare cases, members of the board of education, coming as they do from the busy walks of life, cannot spare sufficient time from their business duties, and have not had the technical training in methods of teaching which would qualify them to pass upon the qualifications of a teacher. Hence I feel and believe that the proper place to lodge this power is in one who, by reason of his position, training, and opportunities, is best qualified to make the selection. Let the board of education select a superintendent who is truly devoted to the cause of education, whose whole ambition and purpose is to carry out in its fullest scope the true mission of the schools; then place in his hands the power of selecting his corps of teachers, and hold him in strict accountability. When this is done personal "pulls,” political preferences, influential relatives, and many other things that now in many cities make the educational department a dumping-ground for relatives and impecunious friends, will become extinct; incompetency will be weeded out, and the moral and educational standard of the school department will be elevated to the highest pinnacle, and become what it is destined to be — the best, noblest, and greatest institution under the American flag.
This high standard, once attained, should be maintained. Whenever a teacher from