Women and their Work


A Teacher’s Experience With Foreign-Born Pupils Proves That the Most Necessary Essentials of Success Are Diplomacy and Kindness

Women and their Work


A Teacher’s Experience With Foreign-Born Pupils Proves That the Most Necessary Essentials of Success Are Diplomacy and Kindness



Women and their Work

A Teacher’s Experience With Foreign-Born Pupils Proves That the Most Necessary Essentials of Success Are Diplomacy and Kindness


MY TOTAL experiences with foreign-born people in my childhood may be summed up in three recollections: the “pack-peddler” who came only occasionally to our neighborhood; talking to a little Jewess who sat next to me in school but whom I never saw after hours; and my glimpses of store and restaurant proprietors who had a foreign look.

Then quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, I was appointed to a school made up almost entirely of “New Canadians.”

Upon looking over the cards I found that my class consisted of Ruthenians, Poles,

Rumanians, Germans, Austrians,

Jews, Italians and Greeks. There were children of England, Scotland and Ireland, too, though they were so much like Canadian children that they were really classed as natives.

As soon as I had mastered the new system I devoted myself to the study of each child with its strange name and, to me, its stranger characteristics.

I was lost, overwhelmed; my mind was so bewildered I knew not how to proceed. But something had to be done.

Many of the children understood very little English. My first problem then before I could hope to understand them was to make them understand me. It was a difficult proposition. For instance, upon one occasion I had a girl of thirteen who had just come from Russia. As she was well advanced in everything but English, she was put in my class to study that subject. She did not know the English alphabet, and as this was necessary in order to spell, I attempted a lesson on the names of the letters. All went well until I came to the letter “U.”

“This is ‘U’, Rosie,” I said. To my surprise she looked very sullen and refused to say it. Thinking she did not understand, I repeated the statement. She burst into angry tears and ran from the room. A few minutes later the class was startled by a loud thumping at the door. Rosie had returned with her mother who without warning broke into an angry harangue, shaking her fist in my face and making other threatening gestures. Still in the dark as to the cause of her wrath, I stood helpless before her, when one of my big girls came to my rescue, saying “Let me talk to her.”

When she began I was amused, in spite of the seriousness of the situation. They seemed to he trying to outdo one another

in both noise and speed. At last I could see that Annie was making some headway, for the mother’s face took on a less angry expression and suddenly she smiled. Then suddenly she turned and said something soft and gentle which Annie interpreted for me and in a few moments all was

serene. Little Rosie thought I had been calling her names, and she had run heartbroken to her mother, who became righteously indignant that a teacher in this free land should make fun of her little daughter who was trying so hard to learn the language. I have known many cases of mothers who “came to abuse and remained to bless.” Not knowing our language and customs, they very often misunderstand and take offence at what is meant to be a service.

Funny Interpretations

IT IS very amusing to observe the different interpretations children put upon words. Once, when taking the story of the “Good Samaritan” I paused to ask what they understood by the words “He fell among thieves.” Imagine my astonishment when one little boy confidently said: “He was out in the grain field and slipped!” He had confused the word “thieves” with “sheaves” and the rest was easy. Times like these, though laughable, must be treated seriously, for these little people are quick to take affront, and if the slightest hint of a smile flitted over the face of the teacher, it would he difficult to get the same child to voice his opinion again. I learned by degrees to control my features, but had many a good laugh in my secret chamber over their funny interpretations.

Once these children grasp the significance of the English language they make

great progress, and without exception they like a reading lesson, and to suggest dramatizing one of the stories produces untold delight. They are particularly good at this form of expression, forgetting themselves entirely in the character of the person they portray. Of course, this work takes a great deal of time, but I always felt amply repaid, as a story acted out remained with them and added greatly to their vocabulary.

In my English teaching problems I found the playground of great assistance, for the children picked up phrases very quickly during the play period and I made use of these phrases to help in language lessons.

Children are children the world over, though of course, they differ materially owing to their environment. I found that the children of foreign lands have the same heartaches, the same joys as Canadian children.

As time went on, I became more acquainted with their characteristics. One race I found rather sullen, quick to take offence and with the strong desire tO' follow their own inclinations whenever possible. At first they looked upon me assomeone who must be disobeyed, and whenever I walked down the aisle I noticed them dodging. This, I learned, was due to the fact that they were ever on the alert for blows, as banging on the head was the chief mode of correction used by the fond parents. As they became used to me and learned that I had no desire to “swat them one” they became very fond of me and there was nothing they would not do for me.

Another race I found aggressive, always wishing to be in the lime-light, fond of praise and hating criticism. Strange to say, this race needed criticism more than the others, for the members had so much confidence in themselves they could see no mistakes.

Still another race I found extremely ambitious. They were sent to school rather late in life and had to make up for lost time. Their parents impressed upon them the importance of study and promotion. And they seemed desirous of graduating as soon as possible and getting into business. To these children a threat of not hearing a lesson or of not correcting composition was enough to keep them in subjection for days. Sorry to relate, they were not as particular about their personal appearance, and skin diseases were quite common among them. Dirty ears and

finger nails were chronic with them, and I spent a great deal of precious time trying to teach them cleanliness. Each morning I inspected their faces, necks, ears, arms and fingernails, and in due time they took a pride in being tidy, though some of the poor little tots were sadly handicapped at home. One wrathy mother wrote me a note saying that I was not to tell Willie to take a bath, as it was too cold. Such cases had to be dealt with diplomatically, but in this work I had a firm friend in the school nurse.

Are You Jewish?

OF COURSE, each of these races thinks its own race just a wee bit superior to any other, which is only natural. One little girlie came to my desk and asked very anxiously: “Miss Curtis, you are Jewish, aren’t you?” There was such a mixture of hope and fear in her voice and such a pleading look in her dark eyes, I was almost tempted to say “Yes,” and when I told her I was not, she turned away with something like a sob and went quietly back to her desk and put her head down on her arms. Whether her disappointment was due to her desire to own me as a kinsman, or just a point of argument with a classmate, I do not know.

These children are very sensitive, as is to be expected, for, not understanding, they often think things a great deal worse than they really are

One little wayward tot who, however, had a warm place in her heart for me, insisted upon meeting my car every morning. Upon one occasion another teacher who was walking with me said, “I couldn’t stand having that dirty little brat meet me every morning.” At once the little black eyes filled with tears, and the clasp on my hand tightened to a stronghold. I gave some answer to the thoughtless teacher who had so wounded the little trusting heart and turned to smile at the little girl. She was biting her lip and wiping away the tears with the back of her little grimy mitten. After the teacher left us,-Minnie burst into a storm of angry passion. Of course I explained that the offender did not understand, but in my heart I wanted to say even worse things than Minnie did. The heart of a child is such a tender thing, so easily bruised, and I wondered why we keep forgetting that we too were children?

I regret to say that I have erred along this path myself, not intentionally, but impatiently. One day, when wrestling with my monthly report, I felt, rather than saw, a little figure by my side. As I had previously asked the class to be very quiet, I said impatiently, without looking up, “Go to your seat.” Then relenting, I glanced up, to find the little face clouded, the half-sullen look taking the place of the usually happy one. In his hand he held a little picture, one of his choicest possessions. He was offering it to the shrine of his adored one, and she had rejected it without even looking at it!

Children Are Equal

ONE thing that struck me forcibly was the feeling of equality among the children. Owing to their home training, as I said before, they admire their own race above the others, but at school none of this feeling is manifested. Luckily, children do not share the narrow ideas of some of their elders. The child of from five to twelve, feels on equal footing with all other children. The minister's child mingles with the children of the junk dealer and finds them companions after his own heart; the son of the wash woman feels every inch as important as the child of the wealthy merchant; the son of the peanut vender is as indepen nt and happy as the scion of the millionaire. Indeed, the child, unless influenced by outside prejudice, does not see any difference between himself and his comrades, and if the teacher shows no partiality to race or color, and treats the foreign born child as a brother, the New Canadians will grow up to love their adopted land and their adopted brothers and sisters. They believe in the rule “An eye for an eye” and unless we can convince them that there is a better rule, we may expect nothing else than rebellion and disobedience to our laws. We will reap just what we sow.

Owing to the different times at which these children come to Canada, I had all ages from seven to sixteen in my room. The larger ones were very anxious to be

promoted and a word of encouragement worked wonders. One boy, who was a very untidy writer, wrote a composition that looked more like Chinese than English. I puzzled over it for a few moments, wondering which course to take. Happily, I chose to praise it, pointing out where some improvements could be made. The friendly criticism made him intent upon trying again, and this time, though the writing was still far from good, it was at least free from blots. As time went on, he took a great interest in his work and at the close of the term he turned out work that would have been a credit to a high school boy, as far as neatness and good writing were concerned.

For the older, more ambitious children, the most effective punishment I ever found was the threat to deduct from their marks. I happened upon this idea one Monday morning and tried it out for a week. The result was so gratifying I kept to the plan, firmly. If a child was needlessly noisy or deliberately disobedient, I deducted the marks from his conduct report. This checked them up and kept

them instilled with the idea of good deportment. The parents, too, took a great interest in these reports, and I know that the boy or girl with the poor conduct report was severely reprimanded at home. Of course, this did not work out as well with the indifferent children, though it helped considerably.

From an experimental point of view I like teaching New Canadians; but it is extremely hard on the nerves. Fortunately, nerves did not bother me very much and I enjoyed the experiments and experience. These children provide a field of unlimited opportunity for the teacher who loves her work and who is interested in new ideas. For the teacher who teaches with the purely monetary idea, I would suggest another field, for this one calls for a great deal of patience and endurance. But, as to that, no one should teach unless she has the interest of the children at heart, whether her pupils be the children of millionaires or of the poorest class of immigrants. No work can be a success unless we love it, and this is especially true in the case of training future citizens.