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Miss W., who has taught in the fifth grade eight years with tolerable success, is the victim of a fatal tendency toward spitballs which the pupils seem to lose upon promotion. Miss I.'s pupils (second and third grade) show an unusual interest in matrimony and kindred subjects; for instance, a spelling lesson was being developed. "Give me," said the teacher, "a sentence containing the word 'never."" "I will never be an old maid" was the immediate response from a girl of eight. This is only one of many little indications that these children are thinking along these lines. Miss I., herself, pays due attention to these subjects out of school, but no allusion to them is ever made in the class, and in the next room the children seem to lose all knowledge of these matters. Does anything in Miss I.'s general manner and appearance suggest these ideas to these very young people?
But time fails me as this question presents itself in all its many aspects. We all know how one teacher may seem to influence all her pupils for good, while another, apparently better equipped and certainly better looking, is always "having trouble." The friction is not caused by what she says, exactly, nor yet by what she does, and yet there is that nameless something about her that sets every one's teeth on edge like an east wind. The flicker of an eyelash, the tilt of a nose, the droop of a mouth; these are the trifles that make our likes and dislikes, our friendships and our animosities, yet not they, never they, but rather the qualities and traits they indicate, or which we think they indicate. Every one is familiar with his mental process upon being introduced to a stranger; the lightning-like summing up of personality, the atmosphere which seems to invite or repel. Stock is taken in much less time than it takes to write about it, the balance is struck, and an opinion formed which its author rarely changes, no matter how much he may attempt to do so; for try as he will, a man does not succeed in lying to himself short of a long struggle, even when his motive is a good one, and it is a question whether another could lie to him if he observed and understood all nature's signals. For though man may be able to guide his tongue and masque the countenance when he wishes to deceive or mislead, there is the droop of the knee, the poise of the head, the tout ensemble of the whole body, in fact, which, if properly read, might indicate the real state of affairs. The child who has not yet become so unobservant as the adult probably sees these signals and feels their influence much more keenly than he and is rendered happy or uncomfortable in the presence of certain individuals without being able to tell why. Without doubt there is much material of this nature that would render valuable service to education, and the subject
presents so many interesting phases that, certainly I have wandered far a-field in trying to note a few of the most familiar aspects it shows in the schoolroom, but I must crave permission to give one more illustration from my own experience in confirmation of the statement, that man could not be untruthful so easily if all nature's signals were observed and understood. Some time ago a debtor called at the home of the creditor to explain and apologize for his delay in not meeting an obligation. Upon the creditor's return his wife repeated the conversation. "Did he rub his elbow while talking?" asked the husband. "Yes," said the wife, in surprise, "his left elbow." "So I thought," replied the creditor. "He will never pay," and he never did. I have never yet been able to trace the connection between telling a falsehood and rubbing the elbow, and can only conjecture that certain portions of the body, less adept in untruthfulness than the tongue or the face (and therefore less under control) express a general embarrassment and sense of shame felt by the entire person. We all know how an individual, when confused, will sometimes rub the face, drum with the fingers or strike the door jamb with the toe of his boot, may not this movement belong to actions of this order?
But to return to our first proposition, there is another aspect to this question. Miss H. teaches music in a girls' school, she is well prepared and has fair ability as a teacher; her pupils are exhausted after a recital, and quite a number of them seem to be nervous wrecks at the close of the term. Miss H. herself is almost in a state of collapse at the close of the year, though she appears strong and well nourished. Her hours are no longer, her responsibility no greater than those of the average teacher, yet parents dread the closing exercises of this school, and not without reason.
In the same town is Miss F., who (I should judge) is about the same age, her physique appears almost the same as Miss H.'s except that she gives indications, to use her physician's expression, of being more "highly strung," her hours are much longer, her responsibilities greater, yet her pupils are generally better in health at the end of the year than at the beginning, indeed, last autumn, nine out of twelve new pupils took up her work as a "mere tonic" or a "rest," several of them being public school teachers whose health demanded a change of occupation.
A few weeks ago, the two ladies were engaged in an organ recital together. At its close, Miss F. went to bed in a state of exhaustion from which she did not fully recover for three days. She is accustomed to entertainments of this nature and always appears to work calmly and well, but, in her own lan
guage, "this was the most fatiguing experience of its kind that I remember. Miss H. came to the organ about two o'clock in a state of great excitement; in half an hour she had me so nervous that I could not sit still, but at the close of the entertainment she seemed calmer, having transferred much of her nervousness to me; I was so exhausted that it was difficult to walk home, and I did not recover from my fatigue for several days."
Miss M. is principal of an eight grade school in L. She is an easy-tempered woman, rather inclined to let minor detail go at times, bringing discipline up with a good round turn when the effect of inattention begins to show itself. She is quite conscious of this fault and tells me that when, after a spell of this sort, she goes to school with the determination to be more vigilant in regard to the minor matters, her state of mind is felt, apparently, as soon as she crosses the threshold. Hall order tightens up, seemingly of itself, the refractory pupil is quiet and studious, while the cadet teacher, who has seemed unbearably stupid and careless during the past week, is now a model of attention. She assures me this has been her experience again and again; the reproof she intended to administer, the advice she thought to offer, are, in five cases out of ten, never given, because the occasions for them seem to melt away in the night, and matters assume their normal sway as soon as she has made up her mind to act. What suggests the change? Her manner? There has been neither time nor opportunity to speak to delinquents concerning their shortcomings; and in the case of the music teacher just cited, how far does Miss H.'s uncontrolled nervousness react upon the pupils? To carry the question still further, how far may the general exhaustion of pupils so largely attributed to overwork be the suggestive influence of a nervous over-wrought teacher?
But, at best, the subject is shrouded in mystery. Aside from the aspects considered in this article, there are many others, among them may be mentioned the good will of a store; and also that general atmosphere, which, irrespective of speech or action, envelops with more or less density the individual in every walk of life, to affect with greater or less keenness every one coming in contact. How is it that in the presence of some persons we feel the noblest ambition, are conscious of our highest and purest thought even when no direct word is spoken on these themes, while with others we are conscious of a general relaxation? Is it not possible that in our rapidly changing condition, nascent qualities now but little understood, are developing into influences of awful potency among which the teacher may find his most valuable or his most damning assets? And is it not possible, that while the attention is given to
scholarship and culture, the teacher of the near future may also find himself subjected to some test that shall seek to determine the influence of his physical condition, of hidden occupation and of secret, unexpressed thought and desire upon the pupils he essays to teach.
The entire subject is rich in possibilities which only the future can disclose. Perhaps the most suggestive topic herein referred to is that of seasonal games, the treatment of which might be made exceedingly simple and easy. Suppose, for instance, a large number of teachers should make observations along this line during the year with the intention of compiling them at its close, eschewing carefully all that is already written on this topic, and confining themselves solely to personal experiences. Perhaps a group of short and very simple questions might be submitted as an aid to this work, but whether this plan were followed or not, the slightest effort in this direction could scarcely fail in securing rich returns.
Teachers, generally, are interested in this line of observation, in fact, almost every one has observed these tendencies. As illustrations of what teachers may profitably observe the following reports may be cited: A teacher of experience in New. York says: "In April, May, and sometimes as early as March, children mark everything within their reach. They copy the doctor's sign upon the walk, draw and name pictures of their schoolmates, and, I am sorry to say, often write things which do not bear repetition; this applies to the boys; the girls seem to be given more to the writing of notes, a very few of which I have even examined."
The director of a normal school writes, "I have noticed that children have an inclination to write and draw pictures out of doors in the early spring, particularly when we have had a long, cold winter with considerable snow. The thing which starts this marking of sidewalks in the early spring is the tendency of making circles on the sidewalk for the purpose of playing marbles. This gives suggestion for other things. With the smaller children, pictures of houses and people are very common; with the older children, the names of classmates are frequently written."
The question of marbles is certainly interesting. A. M. (English, age 88) says, "When I was a boy, marbles were played much more frequently by men than by boys. This was in Sheffield, Birmingham and (I think) Manchester, also. In the two places, Birmingham and Sheffield, the men commenced in the spring and played whenever the weather permitted. Monday afternoon was especially devoted to this game, and the men refused to work at this time."
The boys in Kalamazoo began marble playing this year the
first Saturday in March, as in Detroit. One boy being asked why playing marbles started at this time, said, "Why, some of the birds are come." Another replied, "All the stores have marbles in the windows." In Grand Rapids, boys play aiming games with marbles all the year round.
A director in a normal school writes, "Children certainly are inclined to play seasonal games. There is an outbreak of marbles and tops as soon as spring comes. I have also seen an inclination to the same games during the last of October and the first of November. Such games as Fox and Geese are always played at the time of the first snowfall."
B. C., a teacher in northern New York, says, "Children play marbles in the spring and also in the winter if there is too much, or not enough, snow for other games." In the winter they play 'Run, my sheep, run,' 'Dog and deer,' 'Fox and geese:' 'Stealing sticks,' 'Hocky,' 'Checkers' and 'Basket Ball.' In summer, 'Hide and seek,' 'Cutting cheese,' 'Cross tag' and 'Wood tag.' It is usually a sign of spring when one sees marbles and tops appearing, and as one drives through the smaller villages, to see young men and boys playing 'Catch.' Favorite spring games are Prisoner's Goal, Duck and Drake, In and out the Window, Skinny in a hole. In the fall, Foot Ball, and New York and Pennsylvania seem to be the favorites.