The child's first teacher is the mother. During the period of greatest susceptibility and most rapid development his education is to a great degree in her hands. To her first is given opportunity to mold the character for good or for evil. She should understand the value of her opportunity, and, above every other teacher, should be qualified to use it to the best account. Yet there is no other to whose training so little thought is given. The one whose influence in education is most potent and far-reaching is the one for whose assistance there is the least systematic effort.
Those to whom the care of the little child is committed are too often ignorant of its physical needs; they know little of the laws of health or the principles of development. Nor are they better fitted to care for its mental and spiritual growth. They may be qualified to conduct business or to shine in society; they may have made creditable attainments in literature and science; but of the training of a child they have little knowledge. It is chiefly because of this lack, especially because of the early neglect of physical development, that so large a proportion of the human race die in infancy, and of those who reach maturity there are so many to whom life is but a burden.
Upon fathers as well as mothers rests a responsibility for the child's earlier as well as its later training, and for both parents the demand for careful and thorough preparation is most urgent. Before taking upon themselves the possibilities of fatherhood and motherhood, men and women should become acquainted with the laws of physical development--with physiology and hygiene, with the bearing of prenatal influences, with the laws of heredity, sanitation, dress, exercise, and the treatment of disease; they should also understand the laws of mental development and moral training.
This work of education the Infinite One has counted so important that messengers from His throne have been sent to a mother that was to be, to answer the question, "How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?" (Judges 13:12), and to instruct a father concerning the education of a promised son.
Never will education accomplish all that it might and should accomplish until the importance of the parents' work is fully recognized, and they receive a training for its sacred responsibilities.
The necessity of preparatory training for the teacher is universally admitted; but few recognize the character of the preparation most essential. He who appreciates the responsibility involved in the training of the youth, will realize that instruction in scientific and literary lines alone cannot suffice. The teacher should have a more comprehensive education than can be gained by the study of books. He should possess not only strength but breadth of mind; should be not only whole-souled but large-hearted.
He only who created the mind and ordained its laws can perfectly understand its needs or direct its development. The principles of education that He has given are the only safe guide. A qualification essential for every teacher is a knowledge of these principles and such an acceptance of them as will make them a controlling power in his own life.
Experience in practical life is indispensable. Order, thoroughness, punctuality, self-control, a sunny temper, evenness of disposition, self-sacrifice, integrity, and courtesy are essential qualifications.
Because there is so much cheapness of character, so much of the counterfeit all around the youth, there is the more need that the teacher's words, attitude, and deportment should represent the elevated and the true. Children are quick to detect affectation or any other weakness or defect. The teacher can gain the respect of his pupils in no other way than by revealing in his own character the principles which he seeks to teach them. Only as he does this in his daily association with them can he have a permanent influence over them for good.
For almost every other qualification that contributes to his success, the teacher is in great degree dependent upon physical vigor. The better his health, the better will be his work.
So wearing are his responsibilities that special effort on his part is required to preserve vigor and freshness. Often he becomes heart-weary and brain-weary, with the almost irresistible tendency to depression, coldness, or irritability. It is his duty not merely to resist such moods but to avoid their cause. He needs to keep the heart pure and sweet and trustful and sympathetic. In order to be always firm and calm and cheerful, he must preserve the strength of brain and nerve.
Since in his work quality is so much more important than quantity, he should guard against overlabor-- against attempting too much in his own line of duty; against accepting other responsibilities that would unfit him for his work; and against engaging in amusements and social pleasures that are exhausting rather than recuperative.
Outdoor exercise, especially in useful labor, is one of the best means of recreation for body and mind; and the teacher's example will inspire his pupils with interest in, and respect for, manual labor.
In every line the teacher should scrupulously observe the principles of health. He should do this not only because of its bearing upon his own usefulness, but also because of its influence upon his pupils. He should be temperate in all things; in diet, dress, labor, recreation, he is to be an example.
With physical health and uprightness of character should be combined high literary qualifications. The more of true knowledge the teacher has, the better will be his work. The schoolroom is no place for surface work. No teacher who is satisfied with superficial knowledge will attain a high degree of efficiency.
But the teacher's usefulness depends not so much upon the actual amount of his acquirements as upon the standard at which he aims. The true teacher is not content with dull thoughts, an indolent mind, or a loose memory. He constantly seeks higher attainments and better methods. His life is one of continual growth. In the work of such a teacher there is a freshness, a quickening power, that awakens and inspires his pupils.
The teacher must have aptness for his work. He must have the wisdom and tact required in dealing with minds. However great his scientific knowledge, however excellent his qualifications in other lines, if he does not gain the respect and confidence of his pupils, his efforts will be in vain.
Teachers are needed who are quick to discern and improve every opportunity for doing good; those who with enthusiasm combine true dignity, who are able to control, and "apt to teach," who can inspire thought, arouse energy, and impart courage and life.
A teacher's advantages may have been limited, so that he may not possess as high literary qualifications as might be desirable; yet if he has true insight into human nature; if he has a genuine love for his work, an appreciation of its magnitude, and a determination to improve; if he is willing to labor earnestly and perseveringly, he will comprehend the needs of his pupils, and, by his sympathetic, progressive spirit, will inspire them to follow as he seeks to lead them onward and upward.
The children and youth under the teacher's care differ widely in disposition, habits, and training. Some have no definite purpose or fixed principles. They need to be awakened to their responsibilities and possibilities. Few children have been rightly trained at home. Some have been household pets. Their whole training has been superficial. Allowed to follow inclination and to shun responsibility and burden bearing, they lack stability, perseverance, and self-denial. These often regard all discipline as an unnecessary restraint. Others have been censured and discouraged. Arbitrary restraint and harshness have developed in them obstinacy and defiance. If these deformed characters are reshaped, the work must, in most cases, be done by the teacher. In order to accomplish it successfully, he must have the sympathy and insight that will enable him to trace to their cause the faults and errors manifest in his pupils. He must have also the tact and skill, the patience and firmness, that will enable him to impart to each the needed help--to the vacillating and ease loving, such encouragement and assistance as will be a stimulus to exertion; to the discouraged, sympathy and appreciation that will create confidence and thus inspire effort.
Teachers often fail of coming sufficiently into social relation with their pupils. They manifest too little sympathy and tenderness, and too much of the dignity of the stern judge. While the teacher must be firm and decided, he should not be exacting or dictatorial. To be harsh and censorious, to stand aloof from his pupils or treat them indifferently, is to close the avenues through which he might influence them for good.
Under no circumstances should the teacher manifest partiality. To favor the winning, attractive pupil, and be critical, impatient, or unsympathetic toward those who most need encouragement and help, is to reveal a total misconception of the teacher's work. It is in dealing with the faulty, trying ones that the character is tested, and it is proved whether the teacher is really qualified for his position.
Great is the responsibility of those who take upon themselves the guidance of a human soul. The true father and mother count theirs a trust from which they can never be wholly released. The life of the child, from his earliest to his latest day, feels the power of that tie which binds him to the parent's heart; the acts, the words, the very look of the parent, continue to mold the child for good or for evil. The teacher shares this responsibility, and he needs constantly to realize its sacredness, and to keep in view the purpose of his work. He is not merely to accomplish the daily tasks, to please his employers, to maintain the standing of the school; he must consider the highest good of his pupils as individuals, the duties that life will lay upon them, the service it requires, and the preparation demanded. The work he is doing day by day will exert upon his pupils, and through them upon others, an influence that will not cease to extend and strengthen until time shall end. The fruits of his work he must meet in that great day when every word and deed shall be brought in review before God.
The teacher who realizes this will not feel that his work is completed when he has finished the daily routine of recitations, and for a time his pupils pass from under his direct care. He will carry these children and youth upon his heart. How to secure for them the noblest standard of attainment will be his constant study and effort.
He who discerns the opportunities and privileges of his work will allow nothing to stand in the way of earnest endeavor for self-improvement. He will spare no pains to reach the highest standard of excellence. All that he desires his pupils to become, he will himself strive to be.
The deeper the sense of responsibility, and the more earnest the effort for self-improvement, the more clearly will the teacher perceive and the more keenly regret the defects that hinder his usefulness. As he beholds the magnitude of his work, its difficulties and possibilities, often will his heart cry out, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
Dear teacher, as you consider your need of strength and guidance,--need that no human source can supply, --I bid you consider the promises of Him who is the wonderful Counselor.
"Behold," He says, "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." Revelation 3:8.
"Even unto the end of the world" "I am with you." Matthew 28:20.
As the highest preparation for your work, I point you to the words, the life, the methods, of the Prince of teachers. I bid you consider Him. Here is your true ideal. Behold it, dwell upon it, until the Spirit of the divine Teacher shall take possession of your heart and life.
"Reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord," you will be "transformed into the same image." 2 Corinthians 3:18, R.V.
This is the secret of power over your pupils. Reflect Him.