THE LAW OF THE TEACHER
The universal reign of law is the central truth of modern science. No force in man or nature but works under the control of law; no effect in mind or matter but is produced in conformity with law. The simplest notion of natural law is that nature remains forever uniform in its forces and operations. Causes compel their effects, and effects obey their causes, by irresistible laws. Things are what they are by reason of the laws of their being, and to learn the law of any fact is to learn the most fundamental truth that we can know about it. This uniformity of nature is the basis of all science and of all practical art. In mind and in matter the reign of unvarying laws is the primal condition of any true science. The mind has freedom within law but no liberty to produce effects contrary to laws. The teacher is therefore as much the subject of law as the star that shines or the ship that sails. Many qualifications are recognized as important to the teacher's position and work; and if all the requirements sought for could be obtained, the teacher would be a model man or woman, a perfect assemblage of impossible excellence. Good character and rare moral qualities are desirable in an instructor of the young, if not for his actual work, at least to prevent harm from his example; but if, one by one, we dismiss from our catalog of needful qualifications for the work of teaching those not absolutely indispensable, we shall find ourselves obliged to retain at last, as necessary to the very notion of teaching, a knowledge of the subject matter to be taught.
The Law of the Teacher, then -- the law which limits and describes him -- is this: THE TEACHER MUST KNOW THAT WHICH HE WOULD TEACH.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE LAW
That we cannot teach without knowledge seems too simple for proof. How can something come out of nothing, or how can darkness give light? To affirm this law seems like declaring a truism: but deeper study shows it to be a fundamental truth -- the law of the teacher. No other qualification is so fundamental and essential. If the terms of the law are reversed, another important truth is revealed:
WHAT THE TEACHER KNOWS HE MUST TEACH.
The word KNOW stands central in the law of the teacher. KNOWLEDGE is the material with which the teacher works, and the first reason for the law must be sought in the nature of knowledge. What men call knowledge is of all degrees, from the first glimpse of truth to the full understanding. At different stages the experience of the race, as we acquire it, is characterized by:
(1) faint recognition;
(2) the ability to recall for ourselves, or to describe in a general way to others, what we have learned;
(3) the power readily to explain, prove, illustrate, and apply it; and
(4) such knowledge and appreciation of the truth in its deeper significance and wider relations, that by the force of its importance we ACT upon it – our CONDUCT is modified by it.
History is history only to him who thus reads and knows it. It is this last form of knowledge, or experience, which must be read into the law of the true teacher. It is not affirmed that no one can teach at all without this fullness of knowledge; nor is it true that every one who knows his subject matter thus thoroughly will necessarily teach successfully. But imperfect knowing must be reflected in imperfect teaching. What a man does not know he cannot teach successfully. But the law of the teacher is only one of the laws of teaching, and failure may come from the violations of other conditions as well as from neglect of this. Likewise success in some measure may come from obedience to the other laws. However, teaching must be uncertain and limping when characterized by an inadequate knowledge of the material to be taught.
A truth is known by its resemblances, and can best be seen in the light of other truths. the pupil, instead of seeing a fact alone, should see it linked to the great body of truth, in all its fruitful relations. Great principles are discovered amid familiar facts vividly seen, and concepts clearly wrought. The power of illustration -- a most important tool in the teacher's art – comes only out of clear and familiar knowledge. The unknowing teacher is like the blind trying to lead the blind with only an empty lamp to light the way.
Consider the common facts taught in the geography of the schools-- the roundness of the earth, the extent of oceans and continents, mountains, rivers, and peopled states and cities -- how tame and slight in interest to the half-taught teacher and his pupils; but how inspiring as seen by the Herschels, the Danas, and the Guyots! To them appear in vision the long processions of age-filling causes which have given shape to the globe. To such teachers geography is one chapter in the science and history of the universe. So, too, with Biblical truths; they are meager in meaning to the careless reader and to the non-studious teacher, but they are brilliant with truth and rich with meaning to those who bring to their study the converging lights of history, science, and indeed all forms of recorded experience.
But the law of the teacher goes deeper still. Truth must be clearly understood before it can be vividly felt. Only the true students of any science grow enthusiastic over it. It is the clearness of their vision which inspires the wonderful eloquence of the poet and the orator, and makes them the teachers of their race. It was Hugh Miller, the geologist, whose eye deciphered and whose pen recorded "The Testimony of the Rocks." Kepler, the great astronomer, grew wild as the mysteries of the stars unrolled before him, and Agassiz could not afford time to lecture for money while absorbed in the study of the fishes of an ancient world. That teacher will be cold and lifeless who only half knows the subject he would teach; but one fired with enthusiasm will unconsciously inspire his pupils with his own interest.
This earnest feeling of truths clearly conceived is the secret of the enthusiasm so much admired and praised in teacher and preacher. Common truths become transformed for such a teacher. History becomes a living panorama; geography swells out into great continental stretches of peopled nations; astronomy becomes the march of worlds and world systems. How can the teacher's manner fail to be earnest and inspiring when his subject matter is so rich in radiant reality?
While knowledge thus thoroughly and familiarly mastered rouses into higher action all the powers of the teacher, it also gives him the command and use of those powers. Instead of a feeling of subservience to his textbook, the teacher who knows his lesson as he ought is at home in his recitation, and can watch the efforts of his class and direct with ease the trend of their thoughts. He is ready to recognize and interpret their first glimpses of truth; to remove the obstacles from their path, and to aid and encourage them.
A teacher's ready and evident knowledge helps to give the pupil needed confidence. We follow with expectation and delight the guide who has a thorough knowledge of the field we wish to explore, but we follow reluctantly and without interest the ignorant and incompetent leader. Children object to being taught by one in whom they have no confidence. And this is not all. The great scholars -- the Newtons,the Humboldts, and the Huxleys -- kindle public interest in the sciences in which they themselves are working; in the same way the well-prepared teacher awakens in his pupils the active desire to study further. In some unfortunate cases, great knowledge is unaccompanied by the ability to inspire pupils with a love of study, and this is a condition fatal to successful teaching, especially with young pupils. Better a teacher with limited knowledge but with the power to stimulate his pupils, than an Agassiz without it.
Such is the philosophy of this first great law of teaching. Thus understood, it clearly portrays the splendid ideal which no one except the Great Teacher ever fully realized, but which every true teacher must approach. It defines accurately the forces with which the successful teacher must go to his work. From the mother teaching her little child, to the instructor of the most abstract science, the orator addressing senates, and the preacher teaching great congregations, this law knows no exceptions and permits no successful violations. It affirms everywhere, THE TEACHER MUST KNOW THAT WHICH HE WOULD TEACH.
RULES FOR TEACHERS
Among the rules which arise out of the Law of the Teacher, the following are the most important:
(1) Prepare each lesson by fresh study. Last year's knowledge has necessarily faded somewhat. Only fresh conceptions inspire us to
our best efforts.
(2) Find in the lesson its analogies to more familiar facts and principles. In these lie the illustrations by which it may be taught to others.
(3) Study the lesson until it takes shape in familiar language. The final product of clear thought is clear speech.
(4) Find the natural order of the several steps of the lesson. In every science there is a natural path from the simplest notions to the broadest views; so, too, in every lesson.
(5) Find the relation of the lesson to the lives of the learners. Its practical value lies in these relations.
(6) Use freely all legitimate aids, but never rest until the real understanding is clearly before you.
(7) Bear in mind that complete mastery of a few things is better than an ineffective smattering of many.
(8) Have a definite time for the study of each lesson, in advance of the teaching. All things help the duty done on time. One keeps on learning the lesson studied in advance, and gathers fresh interest and illustrations.
(9) Have a plan of study, but do not hesitate, when necessary, to study beyond the plan. The best mnemonic device is to ask and answer these questions about the lesson: What? How? Why?
(10) Do not deny yourself the help of good books on the subject of your lessons. Buy, borrow, or beg, if necessary, but obtain somehow the help of the best thinkers, enough at least to stimulate your own thought; but do not read without thinking. If possible, talk the lesson over with an intelligent friend; collision often brings light. In the absence of these aids, write your views; expressing your thoughts in writing may clear them of obscurities.
VIOLATIONS AND MISTAKES
This discussion would be incomplete without some mention of the frequent violations of the law. The best teacher may spoil his most careful and earnest work by thoughtless blunders. The true teacher will make as few errors as possible, and will profit by those that he makes.
(1) The very ignorance of his pupils may tempt the teacher to neglect careful preparation and study. He may think that in any event he will know much more of the lesson than the pupils can, and imagine that he will find something to say about it, or that the ignorance
will pass unnoticed: A sad mistake, and one that often costs dearly. The cheat is almost sure to be discovered, and from that time the teacher's standing with the class is gone.
(2) Some teachers assume that it is the pupils' work, not theirs, to study the lesson, and that with the aid of the book in hand, they will be able easily to ascertain whether the pupils have done their duty. Better let one of the pupils who knows his lesson examine the others, than to discourage study by your own indifference and lack of preparation. Teaching is not merely "hearing lessons."
(3) Others look hastily through the lesson, and conclude that though they have not thoroughly mastered it, or perhaps any part of it, they have gathered enough to fill the period, and can, if necessary, supplement the little they know with random talk or story. Or, lacking time or heart for any preparation, they dismiss all thought of teaching, fill the hour with such exercises as may occur to them, and hope that, as the school is a good thing any way, the pupils will receive some benefit from mere attendance.
(4) A more serious fault is that of those who, failing to find stimulation in the lesson, make it a mere framework upon which to hang some fancies of their own.
(5) There is a meaner wrong done by the teacher who seeks to conceal his lazy ignorance with some pompous pretense of learning, hiding his lack of knowledge by an array of high-sounding phrases beyond the comprehension of his pupils, uttering solemn platitudes in a wise tone, or claiming extensive study and profound information which he has not the time to lay properly before them. Who has not seen these shams practiced upon pupils?
Thus many teachers go to their work either partly prepared or wholly unprepared. They are like messengers without a message. They lack entirely the power and enthusiasm necessary to produce the fruits which we have a right to look for from their efforts. Let this first fundamental law of teaching be thoroughly obeyed, and our schools will increase in numbers and in usefulness.