A Valley Is a Hole Between Hills

There is a lighter side to teaching—and there is also an opportunity to play a symphony on the hearts of the children.

PANSY ATKINS September 1 1924

A Valley Is a Hole Between Hills

There is a lighter side to teaching—and there is also an opportunity to play a symphony on the hearts of the children.

PANSY ATKINS September 1 1924

A Valley Is a Hole Between Hills


There is a lighter side to teaching—and there is also an opportunity to play a symphony on the hearts of the children.

"THE lighter side of teaching? There isn’t any!” There were variations in the tones, depending on the atmosphere of the moment, and the time of day, but none, whatsoever, in the words, used to answer my constant query, “What do you think of the lighter side of teaching?”2

Hopefully, I went on, from one teacher to another, but with one exception, I could not find anyone who would even admit that there was a lighter side.

Even then my rising hopes were squelched, when I heard, “Yes, there is—it’s my purse.”

As I went upstairs one day last session, I heard a group of teachers laughing, as one young man spoke in tones of mock courtesy to the girl in charge of the lunch-room: “As this is your week to order lunches,Miss Benson, perhaps I had better sharpen up the can-opener for you.” He was saved a withering reply by another teacher coming up, with a paper in her hand.

“Just listen to this and know what a remarkable teacher I am,” and she read from the paper: “Question— ‘What are: wind, rain, clouds?’ Answer—‘Wind is wind. Rain is rain. And clouds is clouds.’ ”

“Indisputable, to say the least,” Miss Benson remarked “that boy should make a good lawyer.”

The young man chuckled, “How many mistakes do you think a boy could make in three words?” he asked.

“Three,” promptly responded the teacher with the paper.

“Joe Mortimer went to the office for some books, yesterday, and, seeing them on the table pointed to them and said to the principal, ‘Them’s them.”

“A hundred per cent, incorrect! Not so bad, though, considering the teaching he gets,” Miss Benson suggested, in an attempt to even up for the “can-opener” remark.

Children are often so terribly in earnest that they prove both amusing and pathetic. It is such a serious matter to them when they are ‘put in charge” on any occasion, that they see no humor in the situation. A manualtraining teacher appointed a small boy as “compassmonitor.” It was his duty to see that all compasses were in the box, at the close of the lesson.

One day, the teacher noticed the little chap, standing by the cupboard, with a most worried look. When questioned as to the cause of his distress, he replied as if the cares of all the world rested upon his shoulders, “I have three compasses, not enough, yet.”

He looked quite puzzled at the hoot of laughter from the class.

The Saving Grace

IF THE human race ever takes Darwin seriously and continues “evolving,” the next development should be a sense of humor. Of course, it must be admitted that some people have already reached this advanced state, but there are others. It saves many a situation and many a heart-break; it is the shock-absorber of the school room and a most wonderful peace-preserver.

Children’s minds seem more receptive after a good laugh.

A teacher announced, very gravely, one morning. “The monitors will distribute the examination paper.”

A chorus of subdued groans, and fifty faces expressing utmost dismay, greeted this request, and the teacher was forced to look out of the window to keep a straight face. It was so funny to see their faces; they asked a thousand questions and stated, quite plainly, just what their owners thought of this unexpected “treat.” Then the teacher went calmly on,

“We will use it instead of our work-books for our lessons this morning.”

Long-drawn out “awhs” told their great relief and the fact that they thought they had been “fooled.” But every child had a smile on his face at the joke and very good work was the tangible result.

Carlyle says: “True humor springs not more from the head than from the heart; it is not contempt, its essence is love; it issues not in laughter but in still smiles, which lie far deeper. It is a genius itself and so defends from the insanities.”

Do we not all feel tenderly toward those who amuse us? And if you are in the teaching profession you certainly need a defence from “the insanities.” On the smoothness of the funny side of things one glides past all the irritating bumps of the day, and is saved from complete nervous exhaustion. If only some clever man would write a text book on “Applied Humor,”

and have it placed on the curriculum of the Normal School, it would remove many a thorn from the pathway of the young teacher and life would be so much more pleasant that she would not be discouraged into early matrimony and, thus, lost forever to the noblest of professions.

Children, as a rule, are most obliging, and if they do not know the correct answer, rather than disappoint you they will invent one, as one small boy, who told me that a valley was two hills with a hole in the middle. In history they show delightful originality (if not in composition), and tell some startling things about “the old guys” as the boys disrespectfully speak of our noble ancestors. I have a paper in front of me now, which says:

“Gen. Brock was a hero, who was killed at the foot of Queenston Heights, but he struggled bravely on, and, with the help of Laura Secord, reached the top.”

Children are very literal and if they know any detail

they wish to explain it, minutely. One teacher had found this to be true in connection with the story of Alfred the Great. Each year the episode in which Alfred was supposed to have been left in charge of the cakes, while the old woman went for wood, but which duty he neglected, frightfully, to the detriment of the

cakes, was retold, by the children, to the exclusion of all his great and noble deeds. They asked, frequently, to be allowed to dramatize this part, and one little girl offered her services, on one occasion, as the old woman because she could “scold so beautifully.”

So, thinking she would overcome this difficulty, the teacher concluded her initial lesson on Alfred, by saying: “The story of the burning of the cakes is not important, in fact, said to be untrue, so I do not wish anyone to mention it in his composition.”

Imagine, therefore, her surprise, when she read one little fellow’s story, which was remarkably well written, but ended with this astounding information:

“Alfred also spent an afternoon with a lady, but the least said about that, the better.”

Armed with this story, I went to see a friend, who always seemed to see the bright side of life. To her, children seemed to be “funny, little things, with big eyes, fat tummies, and amusing ways,” but somehow she appeared always to get the best possible response from them. But this time shè looked downcast and weary.

“Have you to prepare for that exhibition of work?” she asked dolefully.

“Oh, it’s aw—ful,” she groaned. “My work books have all taken to themselves long, black, shiny legs, and they follow me home, dance after me all the way. At night they sit in a row on the foot of my bed; and they have taken to themselves jeering faces, and they leer at me and taunt me, when I try to sleep. Oh! I wish it were over.

“Don’t talk to me for a month, at least.

“I’ll tell you one thing, though, that, in ordinary times of peace, I love,” she added, “and that is to watch the dear, little faces of the wee ones in my room, when I am teaching . An organist may play a symphony on a great organ and find a great deal of pleasure in doing so, but I can play a symphony on the hearts of the children and get great pleasure from the harmony of their expressions. I play with words, instead of notes, but I can tell a story of despair, anguish, dawning hope, thrilling joy, and real triumph, with their expressive faces, just as a musician tells a story in music.”

“I don’t believe I quite understand you,” I was forced to admit.

“Why you know, certain parts of a musical composition express sadness, others joy, and so on through all the human emotions.”

“Well, just so, you can play on the hearts of the children and produce expressions of joy or grief, happiness or dismay, on their faces.”

Sometimes inspectors’ visits give rise to situations of a “semi-humorous character” as I heard an inspector say, by way of a preface to a joke. That inspector was of such an anti-humorous character, himself, that if he had “sprung a joke” without some measure of warning, I am quite sure no teacher would have survived the occasion. However it must be admitted at once that amusement is not the emotion that teachers are most conscious of, at the approach of these august personages.

When, out in the country, the teacher is disturbed at breakfast, by a fellowsufferer, far down the line, who rings “three long and two short,” to tell her, “I see a big, black crow,” she knows, without looking up her code book, that a motor car, with one occupant, is fast speeding towards her isolated kingdom, and, for one day, at least, a greater than she shall reign. As she skirts the puddles, steps out into the dewy grass, then climbs the rail-fence of the short-cut, on her way to school, she is distinctly conscious of certain emotions, but not by the wildest stretch of imagination could any one of them be labelled “amusing.”

In one of these rural schools, the teacher had just begun the day’s routine. All the older classes had been given seat-work and the tiniest ones were called up to

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A Valley Is a Hole Between Hills

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the front, when a knock on the boys’ door, followed, instantly, by the opening of the door, caused a lot of little hearts— and one bigger one—to thump alarmingly.

It was the inspector.

“Just continue with your lesson, Miss Marston,” he said, as he opened the register.

Miss Marston had been talking to the children about the animals, at home, on the farm, in an attempt to make them forget that first shyness, which so handicaps the country children, and, surreptitously, to teach a little arithmetic. One little chap, aged five, fat, round-faced, but exceedingly sober, gave very queer answers. His number sense had not yet awakened and while he had a lot of numbers in his vocabulary, they meant nothing in particular to him.

The inspector listened for a time, then said: “Miss Marston, let me take that class.”

Then to poor Bobby, “How many legs has a cow?”

“Two,” was the shy response.

“A little encouragement, Miss Marston, a little encouragement is what he needs. Now, my lad, how many legs has a hen?”

“One,” very gravely.

The inspector held up one hand. “How many fingers have I?”

“Nine,” rather wearily this time. He was getting tired answering so many questions; he shifted his weight to the other stubby-toed foot, sighed, clasped his little hands behind him, and looked at the ceiling.

Then a bright idea struck the inspector, “Bobby, how many legs has your cat?”

In a bored, expressionless way, Bobby replied, “We haven’t got any cat.”

“Next class, please,” the inspector said crisply.

There are many times, in school life, when the humorous side is outweighed by the pathetic. I remember, once, trying to teach a class how to find the number of bushels when the number of pecks was given. I thought I had taught it carefully, concretely, perfectly. Then I gave some questions involving this operation, to fix the lesson permanently in their minds. So I saw no humor, whatever, in the situation, when a child, of foreign birth, came up to my desk and asked, “Teacher, does awh dewide or mulply?” For such occasions the English language provides no adequate expression. Here is another:

A teacher had a boy in her class with whom each day brought a fresh struggle. He was defective morally as well as academically, and his influence over the other boys was so pernicious as to cause her constant anxiety. Finally, as the certainty of his non-promotion became apparent, she became desperate. She pictured, to herself, another long and dreary year of endless admonition. Hoping to escape this, she wrote the mother, suggesting a private tutor to help George along the thorny path of knowledge. The next morning George brought back a note, which said: “—and I find George is improving so much in your room, in fact, he is a different boy, that I have decided to have him remain another year, and I will not have him try his final examinations at all.”*!-?!*?

“A sense of humor!” One certainly needs one at times.