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The Teaching Profession

The non-resident Scarborough historian, David Boyle, stated that:

the old time preceptor had no knowledge of educational principles; he entered the school and left it, a tyrant ... An old soldier, a decayed tailor, an otherwise unsuccessful anybody, was good enough for a schoolmaster, if only he could prove his claim to be a master after the approved manner of his day and generation

While Boyle's comments might perhaps be true of the very early teachers, there is sound proof that, by 1830, Scarborough had acquired the services of teachers of outstanding character, talent and qualifications. John Taber of Oxford University was here by 1828 and James Russell, who arrived in 1843, was a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. Although John Muir's academic qualifications have not yet been ascertained, he was, according to the gravestone erected in St. Andrew's Churchyard "by a number of his gratified pupils, a sincere Christian and admirable member of society".

Muir, who arrived in Scarborough in 1833 after teaching at Skellyhill school in Lesmahagow, was the father of Alex Muir, author of the Maple Leaf Forever. Alex too was a well-liked mid-century Scarborough teacher and a graduate of Queen's University.

The "approved manner" of measuring a teacher's qualifications, to which Boyle refers but declines to define, appears to have been somewhat vague indeed in 1830 as may be noticed in the following advertisement:

Notice: Liberal encouragement will be given to any person desirous of superintending a commission school in the Township of Scarborough. The qualifications required are such as will enable him to give instructions in the various branches of English Education, usually taught in Common Schools. For particulars, apply to Mr. George Thomson at Scarlett's Lumber Yard, York.
Scarboro, February 15, 1830.

The School Acts of the 1840's set out to more closely regulate the certification of teachers in Upper Canada. Instead of allowing "unsuccessful anybodys" to educate the Upper Canadian youth, trustees and district superintendents were now looking for

a person of Christian sentiment, of calm temper and discretion; he should be imbued with the spirit of peace, of obedience to the law and of loyalty to his sovereign; he would not only possess the art of communicating knowledge, but be capable of moulding the mind of youth, and of giving to the power, which education confers, a useful direction.

A decade and a half later the enduring problem of underqualified and wrongly motivated teachers prompted Mr. S.G. Blanchard, teacher at SS. No. 9, to write a paper entitled "The Successful Teacher." This paper was presented at the second meeting of the Scarboro' Teachers' Association.


The Successful Teacher

It is natural in man in whatever profession or occupation he may engage to desire some degree of distinction and to put forth at some time in his life an effort for its attainment; yet how few, comparatively speaking, do we ever see arise to any unusual prominence among those pursuing the same professional pathway through life. This is as true of teachers as of any other class of men; and I have often thought that teachers have more obstacles to surmount and more energy and perseverance necessary to ensure success, than most other persons, for very many of them not only fail to secure public favor and esteem, but actually fail to discharge, in a creditable manner, the important duties which the position of a teacher implies and enjoins, and which the community have a right to expect.

There are among the teachers of Upper Canada, many who have chosen teaching only as a means of attaining a higher, or at least to them, a more desirable position, and have therefore no particular ambition to establish a reputation as a teacher. These having, many of them, barely the literary qualifications requisite to merit a certificate and have no preference for it beyond the pecuniary advantages it affords, crowd the profession, lower the standard, and by the acceptance of low salaries by their short continuance in one place and the imperfect nature of their work, bring about a state of things frequently detrimental to the professional teacher; so that of those who do labor to attain a distinction among us, at once honorable and profitable, but few succeed to the extent of their wishes, or as their expectations seemed to warrant in the commencement.

I propose, however briefly, to notice two or three of the elements necessary to constitute a successful teacher.

First of all, he must have a love for teaching. He must feel a pleasure in imparting instruction in beholding the gradual development of the intellectual faculties, and in properly directing and applying these expanding powers. As he delights to see the tender buds and flowers bursting into new verdure and beauty under the genial influence of gentle sunshine and moisture, so must he delight in the unfolding and strengthening of the energies of the mind. He must also love the society of the children who flock around him from day to day, and show by his actions that he does not despise them because they are children or because of the trouble and anxiety they necessarily occasion him. What child can love the teacher from whom it never receives a welcoming smile, but whose actions repeatedly and almost continuously indicate that the child's presence is odious to him? Let not that teacher think to succeed. He fails to secure the affection and veneration of his pupils, and ultimately of the parents; for what parent was ever particularly attached to the teacher his child hated, or failed to esteem the teacher whom his child loved. The teacher must love the school room enough to use all reasonable exertion to make it cheerful and pleasant, instead of allowing it to become a dull, dreary, and uninviting abode, whose name is synonymous, in the mind of the child, with all that is to be shunned or dreaded.

In the second place, the teacher must be adapted to the profession. He must not only possess the requisite amount of knowledge, but, what is of still more importance, he must possess a natural ability to impart instruction to others, and convey correct impressions to the mind, for however learned he may be himself, if he has not the property of communicating that knowledge, he cannot successfully accomplish what is commonly regarded as the principal work of the teacher. He should be gentle in word and deed, steady and reliable in his deportment and govern his youthful subjects with a firm and impartial hand. He should be strictly moral and temperate in life and practice, and have, at least, an acute sense of right and wrong. He should be, in most respects, an example, especially for the young people of his Section.

Who can estimate the value of the teacher's example? It is more potent than that of the parent or pastor, and must greatly influence the future character and destiny of those committed to his care. A due consciousness of this fact should pervade the mind of every teacher, and exert a restraining and salutary influence over his daily conduct.

In the third place, the teacher's principal object should be to do good. He is placed in a position where abundant opportunity is offered, and where he must be either a blessing or an injury as his influence must tell, not only upon the present generation, but must extend through all time

It is a trifling task to lay the foundation, of the education, character, and usefulness of our future statesmen, clergy, and scholars. Shall it be considered a light duty to give direction and force to the mental and moral powers and proclivities of those who must shortly inherit wealth, popularity, and power of this great world, and on whom must depend the prosperity, liberty, and greatness of our own beloved country? Shall we not rather consider that a sacred trust is committed to us that a high and noble work is ours and that we must perform an important part in the formation of the happiness and well being of generations yet unborn.

Let us not, my fellow teachers, be unmindful of these weighty truths, but remember that, "to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."

S.G. Blanchard
Teacher, S.S. No. 9
Scarboro', June, 1864

The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #12
Refer also to Volunteer Teaching.