What Made a Good Teacher in 1908?

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It is often said that teachers are the principal factor in determining how a student will do in school. If a student has a good teacher, then he's on his way to success. If he has a bad one… good luck.

So what makes a good teacher?

A 1908 document entitled “The Teacher’s Catechism” suggests that continual self-examination by a teacher is key. Placed at the end of a Minnesota curriculum manual*, this document proposes 75 questions with which teachers were to evaluate their actions and motives in and out of the classroom. Here are a few of them grouped in an “ABC” fashion for easy recall:

A is for Avoid Partiality –

“Do I give more attention to the rich boy than to the poor boy?”

“Do my pupils accuse me of being partial? If so, are there just grounds for it?”

B is for Be Orderly –

“Are my books and material neatly and systematically arranged, and is the desk free from dust?”

“Do I dress neatly and appropriately on different days?”

C is for Cultivate Character –

“Do I develop self-control on the part of my pupils?”

“Do I encourage and develop truth?”

“Have I mastery over myself in word and deed?”

D is for Demonstrate Enthusiasm –

“Do I interest my pupils in the subjects I teach? If not, why?”

Am I dragging through a miserable existence by just putting in time and drawing my pay?”

E is for Educate Yourself –

“Do I pursue some line of study systematically and persistently in order that my mind will not rust?”

“Do I read a few standard works of literature each year?”

F is for Family Focus –

“Do I get acquainted with parents and the home conditions of my pupils (?)”

“Do I speak frankly, but kindly and discreetly, to parents about their children and their children’s progress?”

This ABC list could go on, but regardless, its message is consistent throughout: a good teacher is one who teaches her students by first seeking to teach and improve herself in conduct, education, character, and relationships.    

Teachers, parents, and adults must lead by being upstanding examples of intelligence and character if they expect the next generation to do the same.

*Minnesota Educational Association, Course of Study for the Common Schools of Minnesota, 1908?. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

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