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system can produce satisfactory educational results. One of the prominent defects which the intelligent observer perceives in the graded school is the want of unity of purpose, the lack of continuity of effort, of many teachers through whose hands pupils pass in their progress from grade to grade. This defect is one of serious import. It happens too frequently that the results of the excellent work of one teacher (excellent because based on well established psychological principles) are largely neutralized by the unscientific methods of her successor in the grade above to whom her pupils pass by promotion.
A second defect in graded work arises from the observed tendency of teachers to become isolated, independent factors in the system of which they form a part. They survey, not the whole field of instruction as defined by the course of study, but only a limited part of it. They perceive no sequence of steps determined by the laws of mind. They perceive no connection between the work of their grade and that of preceding and succeeding ones. They fail to recognize the educational relation which one period of school life bears to another. The combined work of such teachers is fragmentary, and its results in every way unsatisfactory.
Much of the inefficient work existing in graded schools must be attributed to the inefficient preparation of grade teachers in scholarship and professional training. Skill in teaching requires not only a knowledge of educational means which may be supplied by a broad and deep scholarship, but an eminent ability to use such means wisely and efficiently, which may be secured in a large measure by proper professional training.
Without further digression, let us seek to ascertain in what way these and other defects of our elementary schools may be corrected and their work be made continuously good from its inception to its close. As is the teacher, so is the school. If the schools are to be improved, such improvement must come through improved teachers. Prominent among the agencies for the improvement of teachers, more extensively employed than any other, is the grade meeting. Its elements are homogeneous. The work to be performed by its members is practically the same in scope and detail. All deal with minds in about the same stage of development, and may pursue virtually the same educative course, unless individual peculiarities make deviation desirable or necessary. No situation could be more favorable for developing and communicating educational ideas and methods. The grade meetings of any system of schools are under the immediate supervision of the superintendent. In them he finds the most favorable medium through which to infuse his own spirit into and impress his educational views upon his teachers. The best
results of his study, observation, and experience may be set forth here in the most effectual way, with a reasonable assurance that they will be cordially received by those whom he seeks to benefit, and materially improve the schools under his direction. He may call into the service of the meeting the brightest and best of his own corps of instructors. He may summon to his aid colaborers from other educational fields whose enthusiasm and ability fit them to inspire with energy and love of progress all with whom they may come in professional contact.
The richest fruits which the grade meeting is capable of yielding cannot be secured in the absence of sympathy between the superintendent and his teachers. There is no place in the field of educational work in which concord of sentiment and purpose is more essential to success. Sympathy here is as necessary as in the schoolroom between teacher and pupil. The want of it begets lack of interest and failure more or less complete. Hence the leader of the grade meeting should seek to bring into unison with his own mind the minds of those through whom he would raise his schools to a higher level of educational efficiency. Many a grade meeting has closed without inspiring those in attendance with a nobler purpose or empowering them to do a broader and more effectual work. Through want of sympathy the benefit that might accrue from the varied experience, the extended observation, the profound study of the leader cannot be realized.
The purpose of the grade meeting should be clearly defined, and its plans systematically formed. The leader's knowledge of principles, methods, and management should be such as to command the respect and approval of those whose efficiency he aims to increase, whose service as educators he purposes to render more valuable through the application of more rational principles and the adoption of more scientific methods. He should secure and retain the earnest coöperation of those with whom he works. His instruction should be clear and intelligible. He should neither soar to heights unattainable nor journey to regions inaccessible to many of his audience. The rich fruitage he would have them gather must not hang too high. Grapes, however luscious, beyond the reach of those who would pluck them are always worthless. The leader's manner should be persuasive, conciliatory, winning. His criticisms of defective skill, the use of wrong methods, the misapplication of right ones, which may have come under his observation, should be earnest and frank, but so sympathetic as to excite rather than extinguish hope. It should be assumed that all present have learned valuable lessons from experience, furnishing an excellent basis for better work in future. The grade meeting should not be an occasion for a display
of the wit and humor of him who conducts it. Valuable time may be wasted, thought dissipated, attention diverted from essential matter by indulgence in mere pleasantry-entertaining, perhaps, but valueless. An earnest spirit of inquiry, a sincere desire for progress, a determination to engage heartily in such intellectual work as may be necessary to accomplish the objects proposed, should characterize all present. To this end the energies of the leader, in fullest and freest play, should be directed.
All varieties of school work form appropriate subjects for discussion at the meeting under consideration. The kind and quantity of work for each grade having been determined by the course of study, the grade meeting becomes an important, perhaps necessary, means of so directing the efforts of teachers that the best results attainable may be secured. To one conductor of grade meetings it may appear most desirable that all instruction should have an immediate and so-called practical bearing on the exercises of the schoolroom prescribed by the program. To him methods of instruction would seem to be the most appropriate subjects for consideration. To another, the psychological principles on which all effectual teaching is based seem of first importance. Perhaps the path of greatest usefulness would be a resultant arising from due consideration of both of these conceptions. There can be no doubt that psychological study should form a prominent feature of the work in contemplation. Happily methods devised by others are less frequently than formerly presented for unquestioned adoption. The more generally approved way is to acquaint teachers so thoroughly with the laws of mental action and growth that they will be able to devise such methods of instruction as will enable them to accomplish the best results, working in accordance with individualities and with instrumentalities largely created by themselves. Another hopeful and healthful sign of the times is the general trend of thought in the direction of basing all educative processes on the deductions of psychological study.
The usefulness of the grade meeting may be promoted by the presentation of class exercises by teachers who, through the possession of clear and practical psychological knowledge and special skill, have acquired marked success. To some teachers the observation of a little excellent practical work is more valuable than much of the most elaborate theoretical instruction. They cannot from the clearest oral presentation of pedagogical principles construct a satis factory ideal of class work. Without becoming mere imitators, they may be greatly aided by such practical exhibitions of skill. With due allowance for the admitted evils of so-called show work, one may easily believe that valuable suggestions may be derived from such exercises.
While it may be generally admitted that methods and principles of teaching should form the distinctive and dominant feature of the grade meeting, it is not difficult to conceive that one of its best uses is the enlargement of the general or special scholarship of its members. Any form of class or recitative exercise that would accomplish this result might give an impetus to study and investigation in the line of pedagogical work that would be productive of notably beneficial effects on the usual exercises of the schoolroom. The services of a well balanced specialist might occasionally be secured to supplement the superintendent's work in this direction and give greater utility to the meeting.
A line of theoretical or practical thought may be suggested at one meeting for general consideration at the next. Pedagogic and other forms of educational literature are so numerous, excellent, and available, that few, if any, imbued with a progressive spirit, will encounter much difficulty in making the needed preparation for such an exercise. The educational journals of the country teem with valuable information concerning every phase and feature of school work, and their cheapness puts them within reach of the teacher of the remotest district, of the recipient of the smallest salary.
Short talks by previously appointed members, on topics of their own selection and within the limits of their respective grades, often add interest to and increase the usefulness of the grade meeting, by bringing forth numerous suggestions of much practical value, based, as they are, on the most successful experience. Nothing so develops, concentrates, rectifies thought as the necessity for the accurate and effectual expression of it. Every teacher needs this power. This feature of the grade meeting affords an excellent opportunity to acquire a useful measure of it.
The query method occasionally introduced into the grade meeting may conduce to happy results. Pertinent questions may awaken in the minds of earnest teachers trains of thought often leading to a satisfactory solution of difficult and vexatious problems. Obstacles considered insurmountable, difficulties believed to be insuperable, through a deeper penetration or more comprehensive vision produced by some happy response to a fortunate query, have been readily overcome.
As in the religious, so in the grade meeting, the experience of each may be profitable to all. This direction may sometimes be given to the meeting we are considering with singularly beneficial results. Teachers disposed to be despondent through want of success in any department of their work may not infrequently be roused to greater and more rational exertion on learning that their colaborers have encountered similar, perhaps greater, difficulties, achieving
abundant success in the end. The great variety of circumstances and methods which a meeting of this character may place before its members cannot fail to furnish some suggestions that may be usefully applied in every school represented.
A practical paper by an efficient principal may now and then be interesting and profitable to grade meetings. Such papers, free from the studied formalities and profound speculations of the association or convention address, often exert a beneficial influence, because replete with educational views and suggestions originating in the field of work in which the members themselves are engaged. The efficiency of the grade meeting would doubtless be considerably increased if principals more frequently participated in its exercises. What better way of expressing the sympathy so constantly needed by teachers in the difficulties and perplexities of their work?
One of the most important and necessary uses of the grade meeting is to enable every teacher to perform the scholastic work of her grade as efficiently as possible.. To this end every subject in the prescribed course should be carefully and exhaustively studied, and the most effectual method of presentation be determined. The educative value of every subject should receive due attention, and methods of study and recitation deducible from the laws of mental action should occupy no small portion of the time of the grade meeting. The natural relation and sequence of subjects, their natural dependence, their relations as auxiliaries, cannot be neglected here without detriment to the efficiency of school work. There are multifarious questions concerning school management which cannot be more fruitfully discussed or more definitely settled on what may be called a practical basis than in the grade meeting. The most *elaborately woven educational theories, gathered by careful and extensive reading, having been subjected to the test of the schoolroom, may be presented, discussed, approved, or rejected, as they have stood or failed to stand the strain imposed upon them. The newest assumed educational facts may be brought into the grade meeting, and there exposed to the scrutiny of those eager for such information as can be of practical use in everyday work.
In all exercises of the grade meeting the centrifugal tendency of thought must be carefully and constantly guarded against by the leader. When all minds are vigorously held to the central idea; when every statement made tends to the elucidation or development of that idea, the value of the grade meeting is greatly increased.
The concentrated attention of every member is necessary, that the content of the leader's directions and instructions may be fully and correctly grasped; that ignorance, partial understanding, or entire misconception of what is said may be avoided, and a fruitful source of subsequent evil be prevented.