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Art. IV.-THE TEACHER'S FIRST DAY.
The work from which this extract is taken, Mr Abbott's Teacher, is one of the most popular, and deservedly so, of the many works on teaching which have been published in this country. We do not know indeed another in which an attempt even has been made to describe in detail the methods and processes of Moral Education. The additional chapter, a part of which we have copied, is highly interesting and valuable.
“ It is of the first importance that he should become acquainted, as early as possible, with the characters of the boys, especially to learn who those are which are most likely to be troublesome. There always will be a few, who will require special watch and care, and generally there will be only a few. A great deal depends on finding these individuals out, in good season, and bringing the pressure of a proper authority to bear upon them soon. But on the plan I have recommended, of not attempting to remodel the school wholly at once, the teacher obtains time for noticing the pupils, and learning something about their individual characters. In fact, so important is this, that it is the plan of some teachers, whenever they commence a new school, to let the boys have their own way, almost entirely, for a few days, in order to find out fully who the idle and mischievous are. This is perhaps going a little too far; but it is certainly desirable to enjoy as many opportunities for observation as can be secured on the first few days of the school.
Make it then a special object of attention, during the first day or two, to discover who the idle and mischievous individuals are. They will have generally seated themselves together in little knots, for as they are aware that the new teacher does not know them, they will imagine that, though perhaps separated before, they can now slip together again, without any trouble. It is best to avoid, if possible, an open collision with any of them at once, in order that they may be the better observed. Whenever, therefore, you see idleness or play, endeavor to remedy the evil for the time, by giving the individual something special to do, or by some other measure, without however seeming to notice the mis. conduct. Continue thus adroitly to stop everything disor
derly, while at the same time you notice and remember where the tendencies to disorder exist.
By this means the individuals who would cause most of the trouble and difficulty in the discipline of the school will soon betray themselves, and those too, whose fidelity and good behavior can be relied upon, will also be known. The names of the former should be among the first which the teacher learns, and their characters should be among the first which he studies. The most prominent among them, those apparently most likely to make trouble, he should note particularly, and make inquiries out of school respecting them,
-their characters, their education at home, &c., so as to become acquainted with them as early and as fully as possible ;– for he must have this full acquaintance with them before he is prepared to commence any decided course of discipline with them. The teacher often does irreparable injury by rash action at the outset. He sees, for instance, a boy secretly eating an apple which he has concealed in his hand, and which he bites, with his book before his mouth, or his head under the lid of his desk. It is perhaps the first day of the school, and the teacher thinks he had better make an example at the outset, and calls the boy out, knowing nothing about his general character, and inflicts some painful or degrading punishment before all the schhol. A little afterwards, as he becomes gradually acquainted with the boy, he finds that he is of mild, gentle disposition, generally obedient and harmless, and that his offence was only an act of momentary thoughtlessness, arising from some circumstances of peculiar temptation at the time,-a boy in the next seat perhaps had just before handed him the apple. The teacher regrets, when too late, the hasty punishment. He perceives that instead of having the influence of salutary example upon the other boys, it must have shocked their sense of justice, and excited dislike towards a teacher so quick and severe, rather than of fear of doing wrong themselves. It would be safer to postpone such decided measures a little, to avoid all open collisions if possible for a few days. In such a case as the above, the boy might be kindly spoken to in an under-tone, in such a way as to show both the teacher's sense or the impropriety of disorder, and also his desire to avoid giving pain to the boy. If it then turns out that the individual is ordinarily a well-disposed boy, all is right, and if he proves to be habitually disobedient and troublesome, the lenity and forbearance exercised at first, will facilitate the effect aimed at by subsequent measures. Avoid then, for the few first days, all open collision with any of your pupils, that you may have opportunity for minute and thorough observation.
And here the young teacher ought to be cautioned against a fault which beginners are very prone to fall into that of forming unfavorable opinions of some of their pupils from their air and manner, before they see anything in their conduct which ought to be disapproved. A boy or girl comes to the desk to ask a question, or make a request, and the teacher sees in the cast of countenance, or in the bearing or tone of the individual, something indicating a proud, or a sullen, or an ill-humored disposition, and conceives a prejudice, often entirely without foundation, which weeks perhaps do not wear away. Every experienced teacher can recollect numerous cases bf this sort, and he learns, after a time, to suspend his judgment. Be cautious therefore on this point, and in the survey of your pupils which you make during the first few days of your school, trust to nothing but the most sure and unequivocal evidences of character; for many of your most docile and faithful pupils will be found among those whose appearance at first prepossessed you strongly against them.
One other caution ought also to be given. Do not judge too severely in respect to the ordinary cases of misconduct in school. The young teacher almost invariably does judge too severely. While engaged himself in hearing a recitation, or looking over a “sum,” he hears a stifled laugh, and, looking up, sees the little offender struggling with the muscles of his countenance to restore their gravity. The teacher is vexed at the interruption, and severely rebukes or punishes the boy,—when, after all, the offence, in a moral point of view, was an exceedingly light one; at least it might very probably have been so. In fact, a large proportion of the offences against order committed in school are the mere momentary action of the natural buoyancy and life of childhood. This is no reason why they should be indulged, or why the order and regularity of the school should be sacrificed, but it should prevent their exciting feelings of anger or impatience, or very severe reprehension. While the teacher should take effectual measures for restraining all such irregularities, he should do it with the tone and manner which will show that he understands their true moral character, and deals with them, not as heinous sins which deserve severe punishment, but as serious inconveniences which he is compelled to repress.
There are often cases of real moral turpitude in schoo, -such as where there is intentional, wilful mischief, or disturbance, or habitual disobedience, and there may even be, in some cases, open rebellion. Now the teacher should show that he distinguishes these cases from such momentary acts of thoughtlessness as we have described ; and a broad distinction ought to be made in the treatment of them. In a word then,—what we have been recommending under this head is, that the teacher should make it bis special study, for his first few days in school, to understand the characters of his pupils,- to learn who are the thoughtless ones, who the mischievous, and who the disobedient and rebellious ;and to do this with candid, moral discrimination, and with as little open collision with individuals as possible.
Another point to which the teacher ought to give his early attention, is to separate the bad boys as soon as he can, from one another. The idleness and irregularity of children in school often depends more on accidental circumstances than on character. Two boys may be individually barmless and well disposed, and yet they may be of so mercurial a temperament, that, together, the temptation to continual play will be irresistible. Another case that more often happens, is, where one is actively and even intentionally bad, and is seated next to an innocent but perhaps thoughtless boy, and contrives to keep him always in difficulty. Now remove the former away, where there are no very frail materials, for him to act upon, and place the latter where he is exposed to no special temptation, and all would be well.
This is all very obvious, and known familiarly to all teachers who have had any experience. But beginners are not generally so aware of it at the outset as to make any direct and systematic efforts to examine the school with reference to its condition in this respect. It is usual to go on, leaving the boys to remain seated as chance or their own inclinations grouped them, and to endeavor to keep the peace among the various neighborhoods, by close supervision, rebukes, and punishment. Now these difficulties may be very much diminished, by looking a little into the arrangement of the boys at the outset, and so modifying it as to dininish the amount of temptation to which the individuals are exposed.
This should be done, however, cautiously, deliberately, and with good nature;-keeping the object of it a good deal out of view. It must be done cautiously and deliberately, for the first appearances are exceedingly fallacious in respect to the characters of the different children. You see perhaps some indications of play between two boys upon the same seat, and hastily conclude that they are disorderly boys and must be separated. Something in the air and manner of one or both of them confirms this impression, and you take the necessary measures at once. You then find, when you become more fully acquainted with them, that the appearances which you observed were only momentary and accidental, and that they would have been as safe together as any two boys in the school. And perhaps you will even find, that, by their new position, you have brought one or the other into circumstances of peculiar temptation. Wait, therefore, before you make such changes, till you have ascertained actual character,-doing this, however, without any unnecessary delay.”
• In some districts in New England, the young teacher will find one or more boys, generally among the larger ones, who will come to the school with the express determination to make a difficulty if they can. The best way is generally to face these individuals at once, in the most direct and open manner, and, at the same time, with perfect good humor, and kindness of feeling and deportment towards them personally. An example or two will best illustrate what I mean.
A teacher having had some trouble with a rude and savage-looking boy, made some inquiry respecting him out of school, and incidentally learned that he had once or twice before openly rebelled against the authority of the school, and that he was now, in the recesses, actually preparing a club with which he was threatening to defend himself, if the teacher should attempt to punish him.
The next day, soon after the boys had gone out, he took his hat and followed them, and turning round a corner of