GENERAL ARTICLES

IS THE SCHOOL-MARM A MENACE? Reply TO MR. WOOLLACOTT

A Woman Schoolteacher January 1 1937
GENERAL ARTICLES

IS THE SCHOOL-MARM A MENACE? Reply TO MR. WOOLLACOTT

A Woman Schoolteacher January 1 1937

IS THE SCHOOL-MARM A MENACE? Reply TO MR. WOOLLACOTT

GENERAL ARTICLES

A Woman Schoolteacher

The author of this article is a class supervisor in a Toronto school. Her identity is concealed for obvious reasons. The. Editor.

A COUPLE of weeks ago a gentleman named Woollacott exploded with a loud pop in these pages, in a frantic attempt to pin our current political and economic distress directly on women schoolteachers. Waving a crotchety finger, he professed to see a composite picture in which women teachers appear as immature, exceedingly young, poorly trained, uncultured, inexperienced girls shirking housework for the easy hours and big pay of teaching; girls who are really looking for a husband, and are loath to accept responsibilities or study for their job one minute longer than the law requires.

Teachers for long years have been such handy targets for abuse that we feel Misanthrope Woollacott’s inept fling provides a timely opportunity to disclose a few of the actual facts.

To begin with, Mr. Woollacott’s “young girls” are mature several years before their male‘colleagues. They are equally trained and generally more experienced in handling children, because most of them have shouldered the responsibility of supervising their younger brothers and sister? in the home. They may indeed lack something of that male “cultural” background derived from surreptitious exploits in back alleys and lumberyards. To compensate for this deficiency, however, supplementary courses in teaching study are attended by far more women than men, and there are figures to prove it.

Sociologist Woollacott declaims that the girl rushes after the sinecure of a teacher’s berth because she hates housework, because of the salary and prestige, and also because “it gives her a greater chance to land an eligible mate a cut above the village swain.” “She could become a nurse,” he amplifies, “but the hours in that profession are long and the work messy: or she could become a stenographer and submit to a barrage of male asperities. In teaching, the hours are short; there is more independence and a better salary, and the average male principal or supervisor is always susceptible to well-directed feminine wiles.”

Even the dullard will realize that girls in general don’t hate housework. They leave home to make a living only when their service there is superfluous. The relatively small number who embark on the exacting study for a teaching career are impelled by an innate desire to develop and educate children; a desire that is fundamentally more natural to them than it is to men.

A girl can launch herself in the commercial world after a few weeks of work at a business course, and subsequently earn as she learns. The lowliest prospective girl teacher, on the contrary, must graduate from high school and then must qualify, equally with men, in a prescribed course at normal school, after which she-usually serves a disheartening apprenticeship on the brat-baited occasional staff. She presently and virtually becomes a sort of housekeeper all day long for half a hundred ill-assorted children. What mother would like the job? Most, indeed, breathe a sigh of relief when their own two offspring slam the front door, school ward bound.

The nurse’s hours are long but few of them are messy; many hours are reposeful, like the quiet vigil of a sentry. The woman teacher, however, is under a continual nervous tension most of the working day, and still has multifarious duties to perform after class dismissal. Often as not she is on duty Sundays, when she is expected to conduct a Sunday-school class; also in the evenings, when she is harassed by telephone calls from fluttery mothers about young Elmer’s migraine and how he has really been highstrung ever since his father banged his head on the stove-

pipe in the cellar. Many mothers pester the decency out of teachers, in the hope that their children will receive special attention. The lucky nurse or business girl, on the other hand, no matter how irascible her employer, checks out at a regular hour to become her own boss.

TF THE ability of women teachers really were question-

able, it would mean either that there is some collapse of official supervision or that the demand for them far outweighs the supply. This brings us to the much-vaunted salary. Beaten down by persistent raids of ratepayers, the average teacher’s ten annual pay cheques, when spread over a full year, represent a very modest stipend, particularly when one considers the responsibilities of her position, the amount of detail that is thrust upon her, her extramural chores, and the sacrifices she must make before the bogy of public opinion. Advancement in teaching is a long, slow process, with a very limited zenith. This is precisely why few intelligent, ambitious men make it their life objective.

At some time in his youth Sage Woollacott must have felt a great respect for his women teachers, since he now accuses girls of being moonstruck with the “prestige” surrounding this profession. As a matter of fact, teachers nowadays really have no prestige except in backward communities, where they are usually regarded as something loftily inhuman. In civilized centres the teachers’ position is generally understood. They are neither priests nor sinners. Throughout the world, they have been made the butt of endless jokes.

Psychologist Woollacott proceeds to deduce that girls enter the teaching profession largely to stalk down a highclass mate. If this were so it is the poorest hunting ground in the world, because here girls have less opportunity to meet eligible males than in any other profession. The average man teacher, in the long crawl to principalship, is usually long since married; the women teachers too fully appreciate the economic struggle of their male colleagues on the way up, to reach blindly for romance and security in that direction.

But it seems that the women contrive to become engaged somehow, to the demoralization of their pupils who think it’s a joke, and to the loss of the Government’s investment in their training. The first suggestion is a very rural commentary on a teacher’s goldfish mode of life, and, as to the other, one can see that her remuneration is correspondingly calculated upon these expected conditions and is sometimes several hundred dollars a year below that of a man of similar experience. What the casual observer may not realize is that these women have now been specially trained to rear their own children in intelligent fashion, to the ultimate good of the country as a whole.

Mr. Woollacott says that women teachers do not understand growing boys, that they are resented as unsympathetic, and are suspected of a duplicity that “is inherent in women as an evolutionary residue.” The ebullient boy who expects to deceive the teacher because she is a woman is dumbly surprised to find that only too well does she understand his male psychology and his duplicity, and quickly takes him to task. It would be absurd to think that, after the first five—the really formative—years of a boy’s life under his mother’s supervision and tender care, the subsequent influence of a woman teacher during only one-fourth of about 200 days a year should bring about a national demoralization of youth.

Statistician Woollacott fires in his only figures to say that criminals and racketeers cost the United States thirteen billion dollars a year, and make off with a proportionate loot in Canada. He actually dares to add: “In the last

analysis, the causes of increasing crime will undoubtedly be found in our school system, with its preponderance of young girls.”

Any citizen entitled to the name realizes that children are molded by heredity and environment. Criminal instincts are born in them or else they are fostered by unhealthy conditions of home life and social contacts. The teacher receives the child only after its character has crystallized, and sees so little of it during the few years of school that she has only time for such discipline as is necessary to try to teach it to think for itself. This is the teacher’s real purpose; and her efforts very often are nullified when the child returns to a slatternly home.

Now, crows Mr. Woollacott, male teachers have a more realistic conception of life; they don’t chase after fashions, society and wealth, as women do, to the erosion of our national integrity—as if any nitwit were likely to chase society and wealth via the classroom route. He claims that the men-taught children would be more rugged and individualistic and that they would be in a better position to cope with economic and social changes. To clinch his

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argument, he advances the fact that all schools in Germany are now staffed by mature and trained men. At this blow, we are finally forced to consider that perhaps Fuehrer Woollaeott is right. Men could probably trounce children harder and with more permanent effect. Indeed, the more one thinks about it the more it would seem like a good idea if Canada’s standing army could be spared at intervals from their important and arduous duty to take a spell in the classroom. The children would wax much more rugged, and could, for example, ben&fit by the individualism of bayonet drill at recess.

Amid his execrations, however, Reformer Woollaeott has naively confessed that teacher-training is the responsibility of educational authorities, who seemingly don’t know what to do about a system that is gently sagging into a moribund state. It is decidedly high time that somebody realizes that it is this system that exactingly trains our teachers, only to strangle them immediately with petty, political red tape.

It is also high time that a few zealots who imagine themselves educators by some divine dispensation of the gods, should learn whereof they speak. Mr. Woollaeott, for example, thunders the warning that “millions in the United States and Canada threw their economic caps over the windmill and went gadding after strange gods like Upton Sinclair in California, Huey Ding in the South, and Townsend and Coughlin all over the country.” He also includes Aberhart in Alberta, who, strangely enough, was a rather well-known male teacher himself.

It must be remembered that our Provincial Governments decide what shall and what shall not be taught in the schools, and scrupulously train the teachers how to do it. No simple and sensible presentation of political and economic problems has ever been thought of in school curricula; it is left to seep through into history courses that make boring, biased, archeological mention of conditions that obtained in the last century. Furthermore, let one sincere teacher be caught properly appraising any one of Canada’s leaders, and presently he or she will be looking for another job.

by these good burghers to be Bolshevik propaganda.

These school boards in each municipality variously interpret the Government’s wise pronouncements, select their own teachers, and saddle them from the start with their own regulations. The principals— with a political eye on capricious Homeand-School clubs—then superimpose their personalities on the picture by devising further local rules of procedure and conduct.

To illustrate what actually happens, let us take a typical school in the Toronto area. The school board issues a list of fifty-one rules and-regulations for teachers before the education of children is considered, and before the principal proclaims his local codes. Here are, therefore, but a few of the duties shovelled upon the members of this school staff. Besides the disciplining and the thumping of educational prescriptions into avid, stupid and fractious heads alike, they have reports to be sent to each home, desk reports to record each child’s marks by the month and by the year, attendance registers to be balanced every month. Absentee slips must be filled in if a child is absent for two days, and a further special attendance form must be inscribed if his parents can’t afford a telephone and his playmates can’t find him. A file must be kept of excuses for absence so that the monthly register can disclose whether the dereliction is unavoidable or frivolous. If a pupil leaves the room during a class session Ins departure and arrival must be clocked in a special book, so that possible property damage may be properly settled on the culprit.

The A.D.P. card is the latest innovation designed to improve the country’s intellectual standards. This is a record which is commenced from the time the child is first induced into the kindergarten, and is quite distinct from ordinary registration. The A.D.P. card must bear the name, address, age, sex, place of birth, name of parent or guardian, his place of birth, occupation, religious denomination, etc., etc. This card must accompany the child all through

school, and record each promotion mark and every medical inspection and finding. Teachers would not at all be surprised were it presently decreed that the date of each bath and haircut must also be registered.

Teachers must, furthermore, daily describe in a “plan book” what they figure on doing the following day, for the edification of the school inspector. They are required to have the room temperature “recorded on the blackboard and in a book kept for that purpose, at 9 and 9.15 a.m., and at such other times as the temperature may vary from the standard set in Subsection 8 hereof.” They must also make careful record of the details of every corporal punishment in another book provided by the board. Even discipline is prettily hedged by authority, among whose interminable admonitions to teachers is the following rule: “Avoid such

methods of punishment as shaking, pulling the ear, slapping the hand, striking with a pointer or hitting a pupil without warning. ”

Teachers, of course, shoulder such responsibilities as fire drill, and basement, yard and stair duty, to bolster discipline and quell incipient riots. They spend rapturous holidays correcting examination papers. But this, alas, is not all. They are expected to be res¡x)nsible by remote control for their pupils’ conduct and welfare in transit to and from the home. They are required to appear at all school functions and, like ministers, to be the first to respond cheerfully to every charitable appeal. To crown the whole business, teachers dare have about as much private life as a canary. They must be exemplary of conduct and zealous of routine, for they have more cavilling, critical bosses than any other profession in the world. The current vogue for general meddling with education really bestows upon the teacher a special boss for each and every pupil.

Editor’s Note—Further reply to Mr. Woollaeott in the form of letters from readers will be published in an early issue of Maclean’s.