Don’t Axe the Teacher

JOHN M. ELSON December 1 1932

Don’t Axe the Teacher

JOHN M. ELSON December 1 1932

Don’t Axe the Teacher


AT AN INFORMAL house party in Toronto a few months ago, one of the guests turned to another and remarked:

“I can never think of those old times without acknowledging how much, of whatever I am, I owe to you, Charles.”

The speaker was the late Rev. Dr. Robert Norwood, rector of one of the most influential churches in New York, famous as an orator and renowned as an author and poet. His tribute was to the man who had been one of his professors at the University of King’s College, Windsor, N.S., namely, Charles G. D. Roberts, internationally known dean of Canadian letters.

"And I,” replied Dr. Roberts, “am equally indebted to the late Dr. George R. Parkin. His influence was immeasurable.”

The incident is significant. Here was evidence of the work of a teacher, once principal of a collegiate institute in Fredericton. N.B., and later Sir George R. Parkin, a foremost educationist of his generation, bearing fruit through one of his many successful students. That student, again, played a profound part in molding the life of another young man into subsequent distinction.

Not long since I was in the company of a Montreal group, one of whom is an outstanding lawyer and a King’s Counsel. The latter referred to a professor who taught him jurisprudence at McGill University.

"He was a power, that man,” said my legal friend. "Look at the fellows who studied under him and have become leaders at the bar,” and he began to name some of them.

These examples are mentioned, not because they are rare but because they are typical of the deep and enduring influence which efficient schoolmasters have in molding and shaping youth. During recent months educational costs in the Dominion have been severely criticised. There is manifest a tendency to forget how vital to the citizenship of tomorrow is the cultural and instructional work done by those who, owing to their part in a rather expensive system, may have to bear too much of the onus of its weight.

Faced with the difficult problem of balancing public budgets, elected representatives feel that they must do a lot of financial pruning. In addressing themselves to this task, they are only carrying out their responsibilities as custodians of public funds. They are to be given credit for

their prudence but, when they put on their glasses and ponder costs with knit brows, what is too often the result? Salaries are found to be the easiest thing to cut.

School buildings, they argue, can’t very well be torn down - unless to make way for new ones. Even if they were torn down, their capital costs would remain. Not much use to close them up. Kept open, then, and operated, there are expenses for fuel and supplies and repairs. No saving of importance can be made on these items. When there are debenture issues existing, sinking funds and interest have to be met. Those are fixed, so there is no relief possible in that column. About all that remains, consequently, is the sum required for instruction of pupils. Ah, here’s where we can prune. Why not sharpen the axe and go to it? Teachers can’t help themselves, and the saving will make a jolly fine showing for the ratepayers, who have voices -and votes.

Salary Reduction and Efficiency

"D UT isn’t that a policy barren of real benefit? Is it wise to treat the doctor badly when you are sick? Can people afford to let the mental and moral welfare of their children suffer by reducing instructional efficiency? These are questions of serious import to parents. Moreover, when the school population is increasing rather than decreasing, how is it possible to make much of a reduction in educational costs anyway, except in the future? And when that future is reached, should not economy be effected by keeping down the capital outlay for plant rather than by curtailing the outgo for teachers? There are several features of the situation that demand fair, intelligent and sound consideration. For instance:

Statistics show that during times of depression, when nearly everything is said to go down, the attendance at all kinds of educational places goes up. Instead of staying away, young people beat paths to schools, colleges and universities. They apparently think it necessary to learn all they can. The more they know, the better they’ll be fitted to get ahead somewhere, somehow, in a hard struggle. That is their reasoning. Who will say they are wrong? And if they are right, what then? Obviously the authorities who have their destiny to direct have to provide for them.

In 1910 the total enrolment of students in Canadian schools was 1,310,117. In 1930 it was 2,156,549, or more than one-fifth of the entire population of the country. Attendance was up more than sixty per cent in twenty years.

Naturally, the expenditure to take care of this rapid

growth has had to be large. Those elected to public offices cannot change this fact.

Plenty of Money for Luxuries

TS THE education of the young of less importance than luxuries and pleasures? One hesitates to believe that, and yet here is the story that figures tell, as assembled by the Canadian Bureau of Statistics for 1928. Spent for:

Sporting goods, jewellery, ice cream, etc. .$186,(XX),000

Soft drinks, etc........................ 149,000,(XX)

Confectionery, tobacco, cigars, etc....... 125,(XX),(XX)

Education, including universities........ 122,OCX),(XX)

The comparison is striking.

Further, people went blithely out and paid to the governments of the country no less than $73,000,(XX) merely as taxes on liquors consumed in 1931. What the beverages themselves cost would surely tire a patient adding-machine, so large are the totals. By comparison, education cannot be so terribly costly after all.

Granting, however, that the cost is large and that economies should be effected wherever possible, the last thing that should be done is to reduce classroom efficiency. Obviously, money can be saved by forcing down salaries, but the consequences may be bad. A type of intelligent public servant who has never been paid in proportion to his investment and usefulness will be penalized; the best teaching brains will be discouraged from remaining in the profession or entering it; and, more serious still, the present generation of young Canadians may have less capable instruction to the detriment of their own future and the future of the country generally.

It is a truism that history repeats itself. Back in 1847, when the educational system of Upper Canada was still in the making, hard times pinched the resources of a new and scattered population. Certain municipalities decided they could economize drastically, and they sought to bring about a policy under which the raising and expenditure of moneys for school purposes should be controlled by municipal authorities. The strong, far-seeing Dr. Egerton Ryerson knew the dangers of such a course and vigorously fought it. He and others who realized what a mistake this would be won out because the weight of opinion, poor though many of the pioneer families were, was in favor of building up a form of constitutional machinery which

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would keep education out of local politics, and give to the sons and daughters of that time the best mental and moral instruction it was possible to devise and provide. It was laid down as fundamental—and what was adopted in Upper Canada became equally true of seven other provinces—that schools should be under provincial departments and, through them, under boards elected by the people. The system was based on well-thought-out principles and placed beyond party expediency or whim. In this way, the chosen representatives are directly responsible to ratepayers and to the state as a whole, but they make education their one subject of study and care.

Now, after eighty-five years, there is again a tendency in some communities to revive the proposals of ’47. So far as the writer can learn, however, there is no disposition among leaders of thought to take the suggestion seriously.

The duty of controlling and directing elementary and secondary schools must continue to belong to boards set up for that particular work. It is those elected to these offices, then, who must wrestle with the expenditure problem, even though municipal councils, through whom the money is directly raised and paid over, may criticize.

Under this system, education in Canada has advanced until it is declared by those in a position to judge to be as efficient as in any part of the world. It has come to be a settled conviction, too, that teaching is not something anybody can do, but a highly trained profession, demanding definite human and intellectual qualities.

This brings one to the point of asking whether teachers, as a class, should be obliged, either through arbitrary action or prejudiced opinion or competition, to have their salaries sharply reduced. Considered only from the standpoint of supply and demand, there is not much to prevent this action from being taken, but when other points are brought out, one’s judgment may be influenced by broader considerations. There are, for example, these factors:

The personality and scholastic equipment of the teacher, who has so much to do in the molding of character and the development of faculties in the plastic, formative period of youth.

What teachers earn, on an average, in comparison with (a) what other civil employees are paid; (b) what men and women in the competitive world may earn?

What place should education occupy in the life of a young nation like Canada?

Is it economy to save dollars and cents if efficiency is sacrificed?

An Illuminating Comparison

STATISTICS reveal that instructors, on an average, are only moderately rewarded. I asked one of the leading figures in the teaching profession—he has been teaching for nearly forty years and is acquainted with Canadian conditions from coast to coast—what teachers had to show for their life’s work in a financial way. His answer was:

“Few teachers are able to do more than keep and educate their families, pay for a modest home, and carry a small insurance. There are no plums to be picked in our profession. Many men who go into the business world and other professions pile up fortunes. We can’t, but we try to get a reward from our work by bringing thousands of young minds along for good, useful citizenship.”

His remark is borne out by figures. A Blue Book published in 1931 by one of the provinces where salaries are at least as high as, if not higher than, elsewhere in the Dominion, gives the following summary for collegiate institutes, high schools and continuation schools:

Collegiate institutes, average salary:


Male assistants............... 2,862

Female assistants............. 2.450

High schools:


Male assistants............... 2,245

Female assistants............. 1,979

Continuation schools:


Male assistants............... 1,372

Female assistants............. 1,332

When averages are made of collegiate institutes and high schools, exclusive of the large cities but including those with a population of from 20,000 to 50,000, these figures are considerably smaller. They continue to go down as the population in a community diminishes, until in very small towns the sums paid run from $1,100 to $1,400.

When salaries for the whole Dominion are considered, Federal statistics, published in January, 1931, present this result:

Average salary, all collegiate


Average salary, high schools.. .. 2,243 Average salary, continuation

schools................... 1,570

In public schools, of course, the amounts are considerably lower, because the academic requirements are not so high. The Canada Year Book for 1932 gives illuminating figures, both as to the average for grades and as to the spread between the smallest province and one of the largest and wealthiest.

According to this compilation, the average salaries paid to teachers in 1929-30, or the last year reported, were:

Prince Edward Island:

Male Female

First class........ $825 $641

Second class...... 553 500

Third class....... 466 375

Ontario public schools:

Rural............ $1,195 997

City............. 2,320 1,514

Town............ 1,858 1,123

Village........... 1,412 1,037

Statistics ordinarily are wearisome unless they happen to tell how much money one has made; nevertheless they are what schoolboard members have to juggle with in behalf of the ratepayers they represent. At a risk, therefore, I give one more table, from an estimate made by Dr. Horace L. Brittain, of the Bureau of Municipal Research, for 1929. No later estimate has been made and. of course, there might be a percentage of reduction to be applied to all these columns for the past two years, but, as given by him, they show what the averages were for the following groups throughout Canada:

Civil servants, militia, etc......$1,288

C. N. R. employees, etc........ 1,585

Provinces.................... 1,452

Municipalities................ 1,250

Teachers..................... 1,098

It will thus be seen that the teaching profession is the poorest paid of the lot.

Too often, furthermore, the large investment which has to be made before certificates can be obtained for teaching in secondary grades is not taken into account. One who is competent to report on this feature recently examined the experiences of two brothers with fairly equal capacities. One entered the printing trade, the other became a teacher. When the amount which the first brother earned was totalled up as a loss for the second because the latter was earning nothing, it was estimated that the lad who went in for an education had to make an investment of at least $16,000, taking into account his board, clothes, fees, books and other expenses, and what he might have earned during six years at high school, four at the university, and one at the College of Education. Even if this were cut down to $12,000, the interest alone at six per cent per annum would be $720. On this basis, the salary which will be paid him when he gets a position will be modest indeed.

Canada’s tomorrow depends on how well

its youth is taught today.