Craftsmanship in teaching



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And so this man fought his way through science and mathematics and philosophy, slowly but surely, just as he had fought inch by inch and link by link, across the Arizona desert years before. It was a much harder fight, for all the force of lifelong habit, than which there is none other so powerful, was against him from the start. And now came the human temptation to be off on the old trail, to saddle his horse and get a pick and a pan and make off across the western range to the golden land that always lies just under the sunset. How often that turbulent Wanderlust seized him, I can only conjecture. But I know the spirit of the wanderer was always strong within him. He could say, with Kipling's _Tramp Royal_:

"It's like a book, I think, this bloomin' world, Which you can read and care for just so long, But presently you feel that you will die Unless you get the page you're reading done, An' turn another--likely not so good; But what you're after is to turn them all."

And I knew that he fought that temptation over and over again; for that little experience out on the Gallatin bench had only partially turned his life from the channels of wandering, although it had bereft him of the old desire to seek for gold. Often he outlined to me a well-formulated plan; perhaps he had to tell some one, lest the fever should take too strong a hold upon him, and force his surrender. His plan was this: He would teach a term here and there, gradually working his way westward, always toward the remote corners of the earth into which his roving instinct seemed unerringly to lead him. Alaska, Hawaii, and the Philippines seemed easy enough to access; surely, he thought, teachers must be needed in all those regions. And when he should have turned these pages, he might have mastered his vocation in a degree sufficient to warrant his attempting an alien soil. Then he would sail away into the South Seas, with New Zealand and Australia as a base. And gradually moving westward through English-speaking settlements and colonies he would finally complete the circuit of the globe.

And the full fruition of that plan might have formed a fitting climax to my tale, were I telling it for the sake of its romance; but my purpose demands a different conclusion. My hero is now principal of schools in a little city of the mountains,--a city so tiny that its name would be unknown to most of you. And I have heard vague rumors that he is rising rapidly in his profession and that the community he serves will not listen to anything but a permanent tenure of his office. All of which seems to indicate to me that he has abandoned, for the while at least, his intention to turn quite all the pages of the world's great book, and is content to live true to the ideal that was born in the log schoolhouse--the conviction that the true life is the life of service, and that the love of wandering and the lure of gold are only siren calls that lead one always toward, but never to, the promised land of dreams that seems to lie just over the western range where the pink sunset stands sharp against the purple shadows.

The ending of my story is prosaic, but everything in this world is prosaic, unless you view it either in the perspective of time or space, or in the contrasts that bring out the high lights and deepen the shadows.

But if I have left my hero happily married to his profession, the courtship and winning of which formed the theme of my tale, I may be permitted to indulge in a very little moralizing of a rather more explicit sort than I have yet attempted.

It is a simple matter to construct in imagination an ideal teacher. Mix with immortal youth and abounding health, a maximal degree of knowledge and a maximal degree of experience, add perfect tact, the spirit of true service, the most perfect patience, and the most steadfast persistence; place in the crucible of some good normal school; stir in twenty weeks of standard psychology, ten weeks of general method, and varying amounts of patent compounds known as special methods, all warranted pure and without drugs or poison; sweeten with a little music, toughen with fifteen weeks of logic, bring to a slow boil in the practice school, and, while still sizzling, turn loose on a cold world. The formula is simple and complete, but like many another good recipe, a competent cook might find it hard to follow when she is short of butter and must shamefully skimp on the eggs.

Now the man whose history I have recounted represents the most priceless qualities of this formula. In the first place he possessed that quality the key to which the philosophers of all ages have sought in vain,--he had solved the problem of eternal youth. At the age of sixty-five his enthusiasm was the enthusiasm of an adolescent. His energy was the energy of an adolescent. Despite his gray hair and white beard, his mind was perennially young. And that is the only type of mind that ought to be concerned with the work of education. I sometimes think that one of the advantages of a practice school lies in the fact that the teachers who have direct charge of the pupils--whatever may be their limitations--have at least the virtue of youth, the virtue of being young. If they could only learn from my hero the art of keeping young, of keeping the mind fresh and vigorous and open to whatever is good and true, no matter how novel a form it may take, they might, like him, preserve their youth indefinitely. And I think that his life gives us one clew to the secret,--to keep as close as we can to nature, for nature is always young; to sing and to whistle when we would rather weep; to cheer and comfort when we would rather crush and dishearten; often to dare something just for the sake of daring, for to be young is to dare; and always to wonder, for that is the prime symptom of youth, and when a man ceases to wonder, age and decrepitude are waiting for him around the next corner.

It is the privilege of the teaching craft to represent more adequately than any other calling the conditions for remaining young. There is time for living out-of-doors, which some of us, alas! do not do. And youth, with its high hope and lofty ambition, with its resolute daring and its naive wonder, surrounds us on every side. And yet how rapidly some of us age! How quickly life seems to lose its zest! How completely are we blind to the opportunities that are on every hand!

And closely related to this virtue of being always young, in fact growing out of it, the ideal teacher will have, as my hero had, the gift of gladness,--that joy of living which takes life for granted and proposes to make the most of every moment of consciousness that it brings.

And finally, to balance these qualities, to keep them in leash, the ideal teacher should possess that spirit of service, that conviction that the life of service is the only life worth while--that conviction for which my hero struggled so long and against such tremendous odds. The spirit of service must always be the cornerstone of the teaching craft. To know that any life which does not provide the opportunities for service is not worth the living, and that any life, however humble, that does provide these opportunities is rich beyond the reach of earthly rewards,--this is the first lesson that the tyro in schoolcraft must learn, be he sixteen or sixty-five.

And just as youth and hope and the gift of gladness are the eternal verities on one side of the picture, so the spirit of service, the spirit of sacrifice, is the eternal verity that forms their true complement; without whose compensation, hope were but idle dreaming, and laughter a hollow mockery. And self-denial, which is the keynote of service, is the great sobering, justifying, eternal factor that symbolizes humanity more perfectly than anything else. In the introduction to Romola, George Eliot pictures a spirit of the past who returns to earth four hundred years after his death, and looks down upon his native city of Florence. And I can conclude with no better words than those in which George Eliot voices her advice to that shade:

"Go not down, good Spirit: for the changes are great and the speech of the Florentines would sound as a riddle in your ears. Or, if you go, mingle with no politicians on the marmi, or elsewhere; ask no questions about trade in Calimara; confuse yourself with no inquiries into scholarship, official or monastic. Only look at the sunlight and shadows on the grand walls that were built solidly and have endured in their grandeur; look at the faces of the little children, making another sunlight amid the shadows of age; look, if you will, into the churches and hear the same chants, see the same images as of old--the images of willing anguish for a great end, of beneficent love and ascending glory, see upturned living faces, and lips moving to the old prayers for help. These things have not changed. The sunlight and the shadows bring their old beauty and waken the old heart-strains at morning, noon, and even-tide; the little children are still the symbol of the eternal marriage between love and duty; and men still yearn for the reign of peace and righteousness--still own that life to be the best which is a conscious voluntary sacrifice."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 19: An address to the graduating class of the Oswego, New York, State Normal School, February, 1908.]

This concludes this public domain work.



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