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In a French report on English schools it is stated as a curious absurdity, that at the annual meeting of the trustees of a certain old endowed school in London the head master is summoned into their presence, and informed that the term of his service is at an end and the mastership vacant. Thereupon, if he desires to be considered a candidate for reëlection he so states, and retires and waits for the result of the ballot. This is a type of the tenure of office of substantially all American public school teachers. Their position is not assured beyond the term of one year. Nor is this the worst condition of their tenure; there is a lower deep yet. In general, the public school teacher may be dismissed within the year for which he is elected by a majority of the school board, the teacher so dismissed having no legal right to a previous notice, a hearing, or appeal to a superior authority. This is the tenure in Massachusetts, and so far as I have been able to ascertain, it is substantially the same in other States.
Mr. Boutwell, in speaking of this in his commentary on the Massachusetts school law, justly remarks, “ This power is as nearly absolute as any power in our Government.” In point of law, therefore, the American public school teacher holds office securely not even for the short period of one year. His position, salary, and professional standing are absolutely at the mercy of the local committee. A majority of a quorum of the school board, by a secret ballot, may dismiss him without a day's notice, without bringing any charge against him, and the dismissal so made is absolute and final. This tenure may have some slight safeguards in some States, or some individual cities ; if so, let them be known and credited therefor. The only exception within my knowledge
worthy of mention is that of the City of New York, where the tenure is permanent, reniovals being made only for cause. It has been ascertained that in the cities of Brooklyn, Jersey City, and Newark, the tenure is also during efficiency and good behavior. In our system, therefore, there has been provided as yet no solid foundation upon which to build up a desirable status for the teacher; consequently little has been done to environ the teacher's office with the subsidiary guarantees requisite to constitute a career of teaching service. This condition of absolute insecurity and dependence in respect to position is necessarily compensated in some degree by the rate of the salary. In fact, our system, instead of taking permanency of tenure as the point of departure from which to develop a competent teaching corps in accordance with the opinion and practice prevailing in all other enlightened countries, has relied primarily and mainly upon compensation in money as the mainspring in the scheme for securing the desired teaching service.
This peculiarly and distinctively American feature of public instruction is coeval with the modern organization of our school system. It has been on trial for a long time, on an extensive scale and with all sorts of conditions. It is time now to ask, What has been the outcome of this experiment? In reply to this question it may be said, without contradiction, that the American plan of dealing with teachers has not built up a stable and permanent profession of teaching.
The failure of our system of instruction to secure the services of a body of teachers devoted for life to the work was set forth in the remarkable Report on American Education by the French Commission, of which the eminent educator, M. Buisson, was the president, and contrasted with the success in this respect of the French system.“ In France,” says the reporter,* “one embraces the career of teaching with the intention of creating for himself a stable and permanent position. Those who abandon it before having obtained their retiring pension form the exception. The young beginner expects to live and die a teacher; and each year of exercise adding to the experience previously acquired, a moment arrives when, possessing a competency of knowledge, both theoretical and practical, he can conduct his school with method, with success, and thus limit the rôle of his superiors to simple encouragement and kindly advice. In the United States it is otherwise. The profession of a teacher would appear to be a sort of stage, where the girl waits for an establishment suited to her taste, and the young man a more lucrative position. For many young persons this temporary profession is the means of procuring the funds for continuing their studies. Few masters count more than four or five years of service, and if instructresses remain longer in the profession it must be remembered that marriage is ordinarily the end of their desires ; and that once married, they almost always withdraw from the service.”
If this is the correct statement of the case, and that it is, I think will be generally agreed, then our system has failed to create a stable, permanent profession of teaching; while such a profession has been created not only by the French system, but by the systems of all other enlightened countries except our own. My inference is that the failure of our system in this vital particular is owing to the short and precarious tenure of office
* Monsieur B. Berger, Inspector General and Director of National Pedagogical Museum.
of the teacher. No argument is needed to prove that, other things being equal, teaching as a career, as a lifework, yields yastly better results than teaching as a temporary occupation.
I would not be understood, however, to admit for a moment that our system of free schools, as a whole, has been a failure; on the contrary, it has been a great success, whatever may be said in its disparagement from ignorance or bad intent. The last thought given to the world by Barnas Sears, than whom no higher authority on the subject can be cited, bore on this point, and was expressed in the following words : “If the old district school in New England, imperfect as it was, bore good fruit, which none deny, the modern system, with its manifold improvements, has borne them much more abundantly ; and yet we have not reached the goal for which we are striving.” This is the testimony of a wise and true · reformer, ripe in wisdom and experience, who recognized and defended acquisitions already won while earnestly striving for still further advancement.
The goal for which we are all confessedly striving is the most economical and efficient system of instruction, and the history of education proves that the best results in instruction are produced only where teaching is pursued as a career for life; and, second, it teaches also that permanency of tenure is essential as a means of rendering teaching a desirable career.
To render the permanent tenure effectual it must be accompanied by a permanent, that is, an irreducible salary, as control of salary is virtually control of tenure.
We know what the objector to this plan will say: Your permanent tenure, with its irreducible salary, constitutes without doubt a desirable status for the teacher, providing the rate of salary is not too low. Whatever other tribulations may await the teacher, he has no longer any risks to run ; he has no longer to submit to an annual humiliation in the shape of an annual election ; his reputation and his living are no longer at the mercy of incompetent and prejudiced school officers. His status is invested with dignity and independence; he can hold up his head like a man, and look the whole world in the face. But in all this what have we done but shift the risk from the employe to the employer, from the teacher to the public; you have insured the teacher against risk, but what guaranty has the public that the teacher will do his duty when he has no longer the fear of losing his situation, to act as a spurr to effort. Are not the annual election and the power of summary dismissal necessary means of stimulating teachers to vigorous and sustained effort, and of removing those who are delinquent and incompetent; and, besides, is not this permanency of tenure contrary to the spirit of our free institutions, and too un-American to find favor with us?
To this question, which embodies the substance of all that can be said in favor of annual election, and the power of summary dismissal, I reply: First, that the precarious tenure has not been found necessary for the end in view in any other enlightened country on the globe ; and, second, in our own country, the annual election is unknown in universities, colleges, and the higher educational institutions, generally, outside of the public-school system, so that this odious annual election has no place in the civilized world except the public schools of the United States. But we do not deny that the public should be guaranteed against risk as well as the teacher. In the adjustment of compensation and service the relation of risks must always