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DISCUSSION. Question : Should Examinations be conducted by the Teacher or the Committee ?
Mr. Smith, of Norwich, Conn. My view in regard to the best method of conducting examinations is simply this: That the teacher should lead, and that the examining committees should follow his lead. I think there should be a very great difference observed between examining a boy sixteen, eight
een, or twenty years old, and a gentleman who has completed · his course of theological study, and appears before a council
of ministers assembled for the purpose of considering his competency for ordination. In the latter case, it is not only proper, but desirable, that the candidate should be subject to a severe cross-questioning. The maturity of mind that a candidate for orders, or for admission to the bar, or to the practice of medicine, must be supposed to have attained, ought to be such that he can stand this severe cross-examination. But in the case of a scholar at school, the object is not to break down or embarrass, but to encourage him ; to ascertain, I grant, the extent of his knowledge on the subjects he has been considering, but quite as much, perhaps, the method of the teacher in instructing the scholar. But to ascertain that, the teacher's method in instructing a scholar must be observed. If there be any suspicion that there has been special preparation for an examination, it is very easy for an examiner to detect it. I think it is very proper for an examiner to say on what portions of a passage that has been read the student shall be examined. But let the teacher conduct the examination. If the teacher fails to notice any important point, the examiner has it in his power to direct the attention of both teacher and pupils to those points; and I believe that, with a competent examiner, the deficiencies of both teachers and pupils can be better ascertained in this way than any other.
If the examination of the pupils is taken out of the hands of the teacher, he can always have a fair ground of protest against the course pursued, and can make out, ostensibly at least, a good ground for defence in case he is assailed. It seems to me that this should be distinctly borne in mind, that scholars of the age I have mentioned are more dependent upon language than those who have reached maturity. When examined by strangers, they are more or less excited. A question put by an examiner may embody an idea with which they are familiar, but coming in a little different form it may cause them to hesitate, and perhaps to say that they do n't know, simply because they do not stop to reflect. It may be said in answer to this, that they ought to be so trained that they will not be disturbed by any such change of language. I do not believe that this is a correct view of the case. We ought to bear in mind that the various forms which ideas take in language are not reached in early life. It is true, we ought to take all proper means to hasten the period when the pupil shall reach this point; but so long as the pupil, not by any fault of his or of his teacher's, only by the fault of his years, is thus dependent upon the forms of language, we ought not to hold either teacher or pupil responsible.
I think, therefore, that altogether the best course of examination is for the teacher to lead, and for the examiner or committee to follow him or unite with him. When the examination is taken out of the teacher's hands entirely, there is at once an unnatural state of things. Examiners are few who can bring into the school-room that easy, affectionate, and cordial bearing which is necessary to make the pupil feel perfectly at home. The excitement and embarrassment and agitation which arise under such circumstances are almost inseparable obstacles to success on the part of the pupil. This has been the result of my observation. And in the case of written examinations, it seems to me that the general rule should be, that the written questions should be prepared by the teacher. I do not believe there is any gain in conducting our school examinations, from the outset, on the idea that the teacher is a rascal. It seems to me that the presumption should be, that he is an honest and honorable man; and when the idea that the teacher will aim to secure a good appearance in the pupil is carried out to the extent that it sometimes is, I think it tends to produce that very dishonesty which it is designed to prevent. I believe one of the best ways to make a man honest is to treat him as an honest man; and if teachers are treated confidingly, I think they will act with quite as much honesty as if every step were taken on the supposition that they were intending to deceive in the matter of examinations.
D. B. Hagar, of Jamaica Plain, Mass. There seem to be three ways of conducting a school examination. The first is, that it be conducted by the teacher; the second is, that it be conducted by the committee; and the third is, that it be conducted partly by the teacher, and partly by the committee; and this third method may be divided up, perhaps, in this way: mainly by the teacher, but partly by the committee; partly by the teacher, but mainly by the committee; or equally by the teacher and the committee.
There are some persons who object to a teacher's examining his own school, on the ground that he will make it appear to the best advantage possible, preparing the scholars in advance for what they are to be examined upon, and thus presenting that which may appear well, but which in reality is not well. I admit that there may be some objections to the examination being conducted entirely by the teacher; but I hold that the teacher has rights of his own, and that in justice to himself, and in justice to his pupils, he should, to a certain extent at any rate, conduct his own examination. A teacher cannot in a given term teach everything that may be taught in reference to any single branch of study; he must select those things which he deems of the most importance. He must determine in what particular way he will teach, what parts of a particular branch he will bring out distinctly, and then work according to his purpose. Now, suppose that the teacher is determined to accomplish a certain thing in the teaching, we will say of arithmetic. He may prefer to bring out the subject of analysis thoroughly, and give but little attention to synthesis; or he may prefer to bring out synthesis, and give less attention to analysis. He may prefer, perhaps, to give special attention to the development and construction of rules, to the expression of principles in the form of rules. He cannot do all these things at the same time, and do them well. He must select some one thing, or a few things, and make those prominent. Now, at the end of his term, is it anything more than justice to him that he should have the opportunity of presenting his work in his own way? I think all will be ready to admit that that is his right.
Then again, as an act of justice to the scholar, the teacher should conduct his own examination. It is not every man who can ask questions. Again and again have I seen the best scholars broken down in an examination, not because they were ignorant of the subjects upon which they were examined, but because the examiner did not know how to frame his questions in such a way as to make them intelligible. Again and again have I found myself unable to comprehend the meaning of a question as put by the examiner; and certainly if the teacher, who is supposed to be familiar with the subjects on which his pupils are examined, cannot understand the examiner, it is absurd to suppose that the scholar can. I have again and again translated questions put by a committee man in an unknown tongue, in order that the scholar might understand them; and when thus put, the answers were given correctly and understandingly. Some men have a happy faculty of putting questions, but I think such men are rarely found.
Then, again, there is something in the manner of a teacher, in the confidence which a scholar has in his teacher, which renders it much more easy for him to answer correctly and intelligently the questions put by his teacher than the same questions put by somebody else. When one who is a comparative stranger puts questions to a class, the class are constantly on the look-out for a catch. They expect, generally, that the committee-man is trying to puzzle them, and therefore suspect, oftentimes, that questions which are simple are difficult. Hence I say, as a matter of justice to the teacher and the scholar, the examination should, to a very considerable extent, be conducted by the teacher:
The second mode is, that the examination be conducted by the committee. I think the committee has the right to claim the privilege of examining the scholars. The committee stands as representing the public. The interests of the public, so far as the schools are concerned, are placed in the hands of th committee, and it is not only their right, but their duty, to see that the teacher has done his duty. Now, it is an easy matter, we all know, for a skilful teacher to make a poor school appear like a very good one, provided no questions are asked except those he asks himself. It is the proper prerogative of the committee to ascertain whether the school has been taught properly; whether the scholars really do know what they seem to know. Teachers are human; and being human, I suppose there