Craftsmanship in teaching

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Now a definite course of study is very hard to construct,--a course that will tell explicitly what the pupils of each grade should acquire each term or half-term in the way of habits, knowledge, ideals, attitudes, and prejudices. But such a course of study is the first requisite to efficiency in teaching. The system that goes by hit or miss, letting each teacher work out his own salvation in any way that he may see fit, is just an aggregation of such schools as that which I have described.

It is true that reformers have very strenuously criticized the policy of restricting teachers to a definite course of study. They have maintained that it curtails individual initiative and crushes enthusiasm. It does this in a certain measure. Every prescription is in a sense a restriction. The fact that the steamship captain must head his ship for Liverpool instead of wherever he may choose to go is a restriction, and the captain's individuality is doubtless crushed and his initiative limited. But this result seems to be inevitable and he generally manages to survive the blow. The course of study must be to the teacher what the sailing orders are to the captain of the ship, what the stated course is to the wheelsman and the officer on the bridge, what the time-table is to the locomotive engineer, what Garcia and the message and the answer were to Rowan. One may decry organization and prescription in our educational system. One may say that these things tend inevitably toward mechanism and formalism and the stultifying of initiative. But the fact remains that, whenever prescription is abandoned, efficiency in general is at an end.

And so I maintain that every teacher has a right to know what he is to be held responsible for, what is expected of him, and that this information be just as definite and unequivocal as it can be made. It is under the stress of definite responsibility that growth is most rapid and certain. The more uncertain and intangible the end to be gained, the less keenly will one feel the responsibility for gaining that end. Unhappily we cannot say to a teacher: "Here is a message. Take it to Garcia. Bring the answer." But we may make our work far more definite and tangible than it is now. The courses of study are becoming more and more explicit each year. Vague and general prescriptions are giving place to definite and specific prescriptions. The teachers know what they are expected to do, and knowing this, they have some measure for testing the efficiency of their own efforts.


But to make more definite requirements is, after all, only the first step in improving efficiency. It is not sufficient that one know what results are wanted; one must also know how these results may be obtained. Improvement in method means improvement in efficiency, and a crying need in education to-day is a scientific investigation of methods of teaching. Teachers should be made acquainted with the methods that are most economical and efficient. As a matter of fact, whatever is done in that direction at the present time must be almost entirely confined to suggestions and hints.

Our discussions of methods of teaching may be divided into three classes: (1) Dogmatic assertions that such and such a method is right and that all others are wrong--assertions based entirely upon a priori reasoning. For example, the assertion that children must never be permitted to learn their lessons "by heart" is based upon the general principle that words are only symbols of ideas and that, if one has ideas, one can find words of his own in which to formulate them. (2) A second class of discussions of method comprises descriptions of devices that have proved successful in certain instances and with certain teachers. (3) Of a third class of discussions there are very few representative examples. I refer to methods that have been established on the basis of experiments in which irrelevant factors have been eliminated. In fact, I know of no clearly defined report or discussion of this sort. An approach to a scientific solution of a definite problem of method is to be found in Browne's monograph, The Psychology of Simple Arithmetical Processes. Another example is represented by the experiments of Miss Steffens, Marx Lobsien, and others, regarding the best methods of memorizing, and proving beyond much doubt that the complete repetition is more economical than the partial repetition. But these conclusions have, of course, only a limited field of application to practical teaching. We stand in great need of a definite experimental investigation of the detailed problems of teaching upon which there is wide divergence of opinion. A very good illustration is the controversy between the how and the why in primary arithmetic. In this case, there is a vast amount of "opinion," but there are no clearly defined conclusions drawn from accurate tests. It would seem possible to do work of this sort concerning the details of method in the teaching of arithmetic, spelling, grammar, penmanship, and geography.


Lacking this accurate type of data regarding methods, the next recourse is to the actual teaching of those teachers who are recognized as efficient. Wherever such a teacher may be found, his or her work is well worth the most careful sort of study. Success, of course, may be due to other factors than the methods employed,--to personality, for example. But, in every case of recognized efficiency in teaching that I have observed, I have found that the methods employed have, in the main, been productive of good results when used by others. The experienced teacher comes, through a process of trial and error, to select, perhaps unconsciously, the methods that work best. Sometimes these are not always to be identified with the methods that theoretical pedagogy had worked out from a priori bases. For example, the type of lesson which I call the "deductive development" lesson[7] is one that is not included in the older discussions of method; yet it accurately describes one of the methods employed by a very successful teacher whose work I observed.

One way, then, to improve the efficiency of young teachers, in so far as improvement in methods leads to improved efficiency, is to encourage the observation of expert teaching. The plan of giving teachers visiting days often brings excellent results, especially if the teacher looks upon the privilege in the proper light. The hyper-critical spirit is fatal to growth under any condition. Whenever a teacher has come to the conclusion that he or she has nothing to learn from studying the work of others, anabolism has ceased and katabolism has set in. The self-sufficiency of our craft is one of its weakest characteristics. It is the factor that more than any other discounts it in the minds of laymen. Fortunately it is less frequently a professional characteristic than in former years, but it still persists in some quarters. I recently met a "pedagogue" who impressed me as the most "knowing" individual that it had ever been my privilege to become acquainted with. An enthusiastic friend of his, in dilating upon this man's virtues, used these words: "When you propose a subject of conversation in whatever field you may choose, you will find that he has mastered it to bed rock. He will go over it once and you think that he is wise. He starts at the beginning and goes over it again, and you realize that he is deep. Once more he traverses the same ground, but he is so far down now that you cannot follow him, and then you are aware that he is profound." That sort of profundity is still not rare in the field of general education. The person who has all possible knowledge pigeonholed and classified is still in our midst. The pedant still does the cause of education incalculable injury.

Of the use to which reading circles may be put in improving the efficiency of teaching, it is necessary to say but little. Such organizations, under wise leadership, may doubtless be made to serve a good purpose in promoting professional enthusiasm. The difficulty with using them to promote immediate and direct efficiency lies in the paucity of the literature that is at our disposal. Most of our present-day works upon education are very general in their nature. They are not without their value, but this value is general and indirect rather than immediate and specific. A book like Miss Winterburn's Methods of Teaching, or Chubb's _Teaching of English_[8] is especially valuable for young teachers who are looking for first-hand helps. But books like this are all too rare in our literature.

On the whole, I think that the improvement of teachers in the matter of methods is the most unsatisfactory part of our problem.[9] All that one can say is that the work of the best teachers should be observed carefully and faithfully, that the methods upon which there is little or no dispute should be given and accepted as standard, but that one should be very careful about giving young teachers an idea that there is any single form under which all teaching can be subsumed. I know of no term that is more thoroughly a misnomer in our technical vocabulary than the term "general method." I teach a subject that often goes by that name, but I always take care to explain that the name does not mean, in my class, what the words seem to signify. There are certain broad and general principles which describe very crudely and roughly and inadequately certain phases of certain processes that mind undergoes in organizing experience--perception, apperception, conception, induction, deduction, inference, generalization, and the like. But these terms have only a vague and general connotation; or, if their connotation is specific and definite, it has been made so by an artificial process of definition in which counsel is darkened by words without meaning. The only full-fledged law that I know of in the educative process is the law of habit building--(1) focalization, (2) attentive repetition at intervals of increasing length, (3) permitting no exception--and I am often told that this "law" is fallacious. It has differed from some other so-called laws, however, in this respect: it always works. Whenever a complex habit is adduced that has not been formed through the operation of this law, I am willing to give it up.


A third general method of improving the efficiency of teaching is to build up the notion of responsibility for results. The teacher must not only take the message and deliver it to Garcia, or to some other individual as definite and tangible, but he must also bring the answer. So far as I know there is no other way to insure a maximum of efficiency than to demand certain results and to hold the individual responsible for gaining these results. The present standards of the teaching craft are less rigorous than they should be in this respect. We need a craft spirit that will judge every man impartially by his work, not by secondary criteria. You remember Finlayson in Kipling's Bridge Builders, and the agony with which he watched the waters of the Ganges tearing away at the caissons of his new bridge. A vital question of Finlayson's life was to be answered by the success or failure of those caissons to resist the flood. If they should yield, it meant not only the wreck of the bridge, but the wreck of his career; for, as Kipling says, "Government might listen, perhaps, but his own kind would judge him by his bridge as that stood or fell."

President Hall has said that one of the last sentiments to be developed in human nature is "the sense of responsibility, which is one of the highest and most complex psychic qualities." How to develop this sentiment of responsibility is one of the most pressing problems of education. And the problem is especially pressing in those departments of education that train for social service. To engender in the young teacher an effective prejudice against scamped work, against the making of excuses, against the seductive allurements of ease and comfort and the lines of least resistance is one of the most important duties that is laid upon the normal school, the training school, and the teachers' college. To do well the work that has been set for him to do should be the highest ambition of every worker, the ambition to which all other ambitions and desires are secondary and subordinate. Pride in the mastery of the technique of one's calling is the most wholesome and helpful sort of pride that a man can indulge in. The joy of doing each day's work in the best possible manner is the keenest joy of life. But this pride and this joy do not come at the outset. Like all other good things of life, they come only as the result of effort and struggle and strenuous self-discipline and dogged perseverance. The emotional coloring which gives these things their subjective worth is a matter very largely of contrast. Success must stand out against a background of struggle, or the chief virtue of success--the consciousness of conquest--will be entirely missed. That sort of success means strength; for strength of mind is nothing more than the ability to "hew to the line," to follow a given course of effort to a successful conclusion, no matter how long and how tedious be the road that one must travel, no matter how disagreeable are the tasks involved, no matter how tempting are the insidious siren songs of momentary fancy.

What teachers need--what all workers need--is to be inspired with those ideals and prejudices that will enable them to work steadfastly and unremittingly toward the attainment of a stated end. What inspired Rowan with those ideals of efficiency that enabled him to carry his message and bring back the answer, I do not know, but if he was a soldier, I do not hesitate to hazard an opinion. Our regular army stands as the clearest type of efficient service which is available for our study and emulation. The work of Colonel Goethals on the Panama Canal bids fair to be the finest fruit of the training that we give to the officers of our army. If we wish to learn the fundamental virtues of that training, it is not sufficient to study the curriculum of the Military Academy. Technical knowledge and skill are essential to such results, but they are not the prime essentials. If you wish to know what the prime essentials are, let me refer you to a series of papers, entitled The Spirit of Old West Point, which ran through a recent volume of the Atlantic Monthly and which has since been published in book form. They constitute, to my mind, one of the most important educational documents of the present decade. The army service is efficient because it is inspired with effective ideals of service,--ideals in which every other desire and ambition is totally and completely subordinated to the ideal of duty. To those who maintain that close organization and definite prescription kill initiative and curtail efficiency, the record of West Point and the army service should be a silencing argument.

And yet education is more important than war; more important, even, than the building of the Panama Canal. We believe, and rightly, that no training is too good for our military and naval officers; that no discipline which will produce the appropriate habits and ideals and prejudices is too strenuous; that no individual sacrifice of comfort or ease is too costly. Equal or even commensurable efficiency in education can come only through a like process. From the times of the ancient Egyptians to the present day, one vital truth has been revealed in every forward movement; the homely truth that you cannot make bricks without straw; you cannot win success without effort; you cannot attain efficiency without undergoing the processes of discipline; and discipline means only this: doing things that you do not want to do, for the sake of reaching some end that ought to be attained.

The normal schools and the training schools and the teachers' colleges must be the nurseries of craft ideals and standards. The instruction that they offer must be upon a plane that will command respect. The intolerable pedantry and the hypocritical goody-goodyism must be banished forever. The crass sentimentalism by which we attempt to cover our paucity of craft ideals must also be eliminated. Those who are most strongly imbued with ideals are not those who cheapen the value of ideals by constant verbal reiteration. Ideals do not often come through explicitly imparted precepts. They come through more impalpable and hidden channels,--now through stately buildings with vine-covered towers from which the past speaks in the silence of great halls and cloistered retreats; now through the unwritten and scarcely spoken traditions that are expressed in the very bearing and attitude of those to whom youth looks for inspiration and guidance; now through a dominant and powerful personality, sometimes rough and crude, sometimes warm-hearted and lovable, but always sincere. Traditions and ideals are the most priceless part of a school's equipment, and the school that can give these things to its students in richest measure will have the greatest influence on the succeeding generations.


[Footnote 6: A paper read before the Normal and Training Teachers' Conference of the New York State Teachers' Association, December 27, 1907.]

[Footnote 7: See Educative Process, New York, 1910, Chapter XX.]

[Footnote 8: Rowe's Habit Formation (New York, 1909), Briggs and Coffman's Reading in Public Schools (Chicago, 1908), Foght's The American Rural School, Adams's Exposition and Illustration in Class Teaching (New York, 1910), and Perry's Problems of Elementary Education (New York, 1910) should certainly be added to this list.]

[Footnote 9: "It seems to me one of the most pressing problems in pedagogy to-day is that of method.... It is the subject in which teachers of pedagogy in Colleges and Universities are weakest to-day. Of what practical value is all our study of educational psychology or the history of education, our child study, our experimental pedagogy, if it does not finally result in the devising of better methods of teaching, and make the teacher more skillful and effective in his work."--T.M. BALLIET: "Undergraduate Instruction in Pedagogy," Pedagogical Seminary, vol. xvii, 1910, p. 67.]



I know of no way in which I can better introduce my subject than to describe very briefly the work of a superintendent who once furnished me with an example of a definite and effective method of supervision. This man was a "long range" superintendent. It was impossible for him to visit his schools very frequently, and so he did the next best thing: he had the schools brought to him. When I first saw him he was poring over a pile of papers that had just come in from one of his schools. I soon discovered that these papers were arranged in sets, each set being made up of samples taken each week from the work of the pupils in the schools under his supervision. The papers of each pupil were arranged in chronological order, and by looking through the set, he could note the growth that the pupil in question had made since the beginning of the term. Upon these papers, the superintendent recorded his judgment of the amount of improvement shown both in form and in content.

I was particularly impressed by the character of his criticisms. There was nothing vague or intangible about them. Every annotation was clear and definite. If penmanship happened to be the point at issue, he would note that the lines were too close together; that the letters did not have sufficient individuality; that the spaces between the words were not sufficiently wide; that the indentation was inadequate; that the writing was cramped, showing that the pen had not been held properly; that the margin needed correction. If the papers were defective from the standpoint of language, the criticisms were equally clear and definite. One pupil had misspelled the same word in three successive papers. "Be sure that this word appears in the next spelling list," was the comment of the superintendent. Another pupil habitually used a bit of false syntax: "Place this upon the list of errors to be taken up and corrected." Still others were uncertain about paragraphing: "Devote a language lesson to the paragraph before the next written exercise." On the covers of each bundle of class papers, he wrote directions and suggestions of a more general nature; for example: "Improvement is not sufficiently marked; try for better results next time"; or: "I note that the pupils draw rather than write; look out for free movement." Often, too, there were words of well-merited praise: "I like the way in which your pupils have responded to their drill. This is good. Keep it up." And not infrequently suggestions were made as to content: "Tell this story in greater detail next time, and have it reproduced again"; or: "The form of these papers is good, but the nature study is poor; don't sacrifice thought to form."

In similar fashion, the other written work was gone over and annotated. Every pupil in this system of schools had a sample of his written work examined at regular and frequent intervals by the superintendent. Every teacher knew just what her chief demanded in the way of results, and did her best to gain the results demanded. I am not taking the position that the results that were demanded represented the highest ideals of what the elementary school should accomplish. Good penmanship and good spelling and good language, in the light of contemporary educational thought, seem to be something like happiness--you get them in larger measure the less you think about getting them. But this possible objection aside, the superintendent in question had developed a system which kept him in very close touch with the work that was being done in widely separated schools.

He told me further that, on the infrequent occasions when he could visit his classrooms, he gave most of his time and attention to the matters that could not be supervised at "long range." He found out how the pupils were improving in their reading, and especially in oral expression, in its syntax, its freedom from errors of construction, its clearness and fluency. He listed the common errors, directing his teachers to take them up in a systematic manner and eradicate them, and he did not fail to note at his next visit how much progress had been made. He noted the condition of the blackboard work, and kept a list of the improvements that he suggested. He tested for rapidity in arithmetical processes, for the papers sent to his office gave him only an index of accuracy. He noted the habits of personal cleanliness that were being developed or neglected. In fact, he had a long list of specific standards that he kept continually in mind, the progress toward which he constantly watched. And last, but by no means least, he carried with him wherever he went an atmosphere of breezy good nature and cheerfulness, for he had mastered the first principle in the art of both supervision and teaching; he had learned that the best way to promote growth in either pupils or teachers is neither to let them do as they please nor to force them to do as you please, but to get them to please to do what you please to have them do.

I instance this superintendent as one type of efficiency in supervision. He was efficient, not simply because he had a system that scrutinized every least detail of his pupils' growth, but because that scrutiny really insured growth. He obtained the results that he desired, and he obtained uniformly good results from a large number of young, untrained teachers. We have all heard of the superintendent who boasted that he could tell by looking at his watch just what any pupil in any classroom was doing at just that moment. Surely here system was not lacking. But the boast did not strike the vital point. It is not what the pupil is doing that is fundamentally important, but what he is gaining from his activity or inactivity; what he is gaining in the way of habits, in the way of knowledge, in the way of standards and ideals and prejudices, all of which are to govern his future conduct. The superintendent whom I have described had the qualities of balance and perspective that enabled him to see both the woods and the trees. And let me add that he taught regularly in his own central high school, and that practically all of his supervision was accomplished after school hours and on Saturdays.

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