Emptying the dustpan, Harold gave the one-room schoolhouse one last inspection.
“Yes, everything is in order,” he thought. Tomorrow was the first day of school, and he had spent the weekend cleaning and preparing the building. It was also his first day as a teacher. Through the gathering darkness, he headed home, three hollars away. Harold passed the time singing his favorite hymns. Later his mother would recall how she always knew he was coming when she heard him singing.
The trail passed through the hardwood hills of southern Indiana – tulips, maples, hickory, and ash. In fact, Crawford County looks more like Kentucky than it does Indiana. The son of a farmer, and the fourth of nine siblings, Harold learned early the value of hard work. Hard work allowed him to attend the Terre Haute Normal school (ISU) and become a teacher.
From this one-room school, Harold moved to Northern Indiana, teaching in and around LaPorte. He became a principal and ended his career as Superintendent of the La Porte County Schools. Beginning with WWI and ending in the 60s, Harold witnessed and participated in traumatic social and educational events – the pandemic, the roaring 20s, the Great Depression, WWII, the cold war, the red scare, and the space race. Along the way, Indiana’s schools moved from Trustee control to elected School Boards; from tiny community schools to countywide consolidations.
Looking back, teachers of Harold’s generation prepared the men and women that won WWII, flew to the moon, and invented the computer. So what advice would they offer to help guide education today? Sadly, for the most part, we will never know, as his generation has passed on. In the case of Harold, however, we have a time capsule of his thinking. A four-page, typed, undated memo. The yellowed pages, entitled “Some Suggestions for the Beginning Teacher,” bear the signature of J. Harold Tower, Superintendent, La Porte County Schools. Written below his signature, and in a different hand, we find “1961 written because and as Vera Jean Tower Brown began her teaching career. Jim Tower 2-13-72”. The memo provides an interesting peek into the mind of a mid-century educator.
So what suggestions did Superintendent Tower (my grandfather) offer new teachers? For your review , I have retyped the original letter below, including typos. The underlined passages were marked in pencil by Harold.
Surprisingly, I think all of his suggestions apply as well today as they did 50 years ago.
SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR THE BEGINNING TEACHER
You are entering a profession which can be very demanding and at the same time very rewarding in many ways. The teaching profession at the present time enjoys the highest standing that it has ever held financially. Ones work should be measured in terms of the self satisfaction that one enjoys in knowing that he is accomplishing something worthwhile. Certainly this profession stands high in this regard. You are not creating things but are developing human beings and contributing to the creation of the leaders of future civilization.
It is not our purpose here to write a thesis on teaching methods. You have studied and will continue to study teaching methods, techniques, skill, child psychology, laws of learning and other professional phases of your work. Now you must put into actual classroom procedure your theories, you must act for yourself, make decisions and in general demonstrate your teaching skills and understanding of children. It is our prupose to call your attention to a few simple things which have been helpful to us.
Teaching in general consists of two principal parts or phases. The first is the actual methods of teaching or teaching skill, the other is the matter of personal contacts or human relations.
- Teaching Methods
Very few teachers completely fail because of poor teaching methods. However, if you expect to be a superior or even a good teacher you must have good or superior teaching methods. You must strive constantly to improve your methods. This can be done through reading from the volumes that have been and are being written by experts; through observation of the work of skillful teachers and by experimentation “on your own” to find better methods which will work for you. Not all successful teachers use exactly the same methods. Your skill comes in finding the methods which work best for you with the particular group with whom you are working.
- Personal Contacts or Human Relations.
Many, in fact most, complete teaching failures are the result of what we may call personal contacts or human relations. In general these can be divided into four groups:
- Teacher – Pupil:
This is frequently referred to as discipline. Discipline is difficult to define. There is no set of detailed rules for discipline just as there is no detailed set of rules that will make persons get along well together. But as there are general rules of human conduct, there are general rules for good discipline. We have found the following helpful:
- Have a good environment – room cheerful and orderly – be a good housekeeper.
- Have a daily schedule planned and follow it.
- Have a well planned lesson.
- Keep the lesson moving, do not allow time for loss of attention.
- Make the work challenging and interesting.
- Be enthusiastic yourself – interest is contagious.
- Avoid complicated “rules” of conduct. Make rules only as conditions demand them.
- Be fair in dealing with each child. Nothing will upset the morale of a classroom more that being unfair. Children can quickly detect any indication of unfairness.
- Have and display a sincere interest in each child and his welfare. Even the least attractive child, the child with the lowest mentality or the child with the poorest personality will usually respond to friendly, sincere interest shown him by the teacher.
- Avoid the use of the “If” clause when you give directions, make assignments and give orders. Avoid saying “If you don’t do this I will ——“ or “If you do this I will —–“. Rather make positive statements and definite assignments and expect it to be done. Rewards or punishments can be given as required for the particular situation and particular pupil.
- Speak in an even tone of voice only loud enough to be heard over the entire room. In case a child’s attention cannot be obtained by a regular tone of voice use other methods to get his attention. Sometimes if you stop talking and focus your eyes on the child, it will cause him to give attention or you may walk to the child and quietly do whatever is necessary to get his attention and start him doing his work. Usually this latter can be done without attracting the attention of the other children.
- Avoid the use of criticism and sarcasm.
- Control your temper – some children enjoy getting the teacher to lose her temper.
- Arrive at school before the “deadline” in order to have your work and yourself organized before the pupils arrive.
- If possible do all your work at school. Give your school your complete attention during school hours but relax away from school. Avoid taking the problems of your school home with you.
- While the pupils are in you room remain with them. If an emergency arises send a note by a reliable pupil to the principal.
- Try to make it possible for each child to succeed at something. Nothing encourages a timid or backward child as much as success of achievement even though it be small.
- Be pleasant but firm in all dealings with children.
- Teacher – Parent:
- Be ready to talk to parents concerning their child but do not enter into lengthy discussions in the classroom with pupils present. Encourage parents to visit classrooms but discussion should be in private.
- Remember that both you and the parent are interested in the welfare of the pupil, any differences which you may have are in methods and procedures – not objectives.
- In parent – teacher conferences:
- Be a good listener – allow the parent to tell her story uninterrupted.
- Do not “argue” but quietly and with complete self control, after she has finished, state the problem as you understand it and give the facts interpreted from an educator’s point of view.
- Ask questions about the child, his habits, his likes and dislikes, and his family relationship. In this way try to lead the parent to understand that you are genuinely interested in the child and his general welfare rather than just the particular incident in question.
- If you have this sincere interest in the child and can convince the parent that you are acting in the child’s welfare, in most cases, your relationship with the parent will become cordial and friendly.
- Teacher -Teacher:
- Be cordial with your co-workers
- Find something about her work for which to commend her.
- Be complimentary about the ability and achievement of pupils who worked with another teacher in the previous year.
- Arguments and disagreements between teachers are never helpful.
- Remember the method of teaching which another teacher uses may work for her and not for you, just as a method which works well for you may not work for another.
- Teacher – Principal
- Accept criticism. No one is perfect. Criticism by a superior should be, and usually is, constructive and is given to help you. Thank him for it and ask questions for further information, help or suggestions.
- Feel free to go to the principal with questions concerning methods of teaching. This is not a sign of weakness but shows that you have a desire to improve your teaching skills.
- Ask for aid in dealing with difficult pupils, if you have tried everything possible. Remember the principal cannot and is not expected to “carry” your discipline for you but he can and will assist when necessary in a difficult case.
- Ask the principal to “sit in” on difficult parent-teacher conferences.
J. Harold Tower,
La Porte County Schools
I’m not a teacher but it seems that my Grandfather’s guidance plays well today. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
David L Dahl.
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