« PrejšnjaNaprej »
that had never occurred to him before. When pupils and teacher both understand each other's interpretation, then it is possible and profitable to compare and discuss which is better, which comes nearer to the inner spirit of the poem. But even then we may not always demand exactly the same intonation and phrasing of the voice. There are often several ways of expressing the same thing. How, for instance, should one say “Good morning” when he is really cordial?
Why a Teacher Is Needed
The question naturally arises, if interpretation and expression are so variable, why is a teacher of literature needed at all? He is needed, among other reasons, first, because readers are not careful of even basic denotative reading. The children who merely go over words without a realization of their bare meaning are too common even when directed by a teacher; without guidance their number would be infinitely greater. Not only must there be a teacher to see that children get some basic meaning; he must see also that they get the right basic meaning. It is hardly to be expected that every child will read correctly George Eliot's sentence which says that Nancy Lammeter's “acquaintance with profane literature hardly went beyond the rhymes she had worked in her large sampler.” A teacher is needed, in the second place, because children, and adults as well, are likely to confuse reading for sense and reading for feeling,—that is, denotative and connotative reading. The teacher by any devices at his command must reproduce or awaken in his pupils the emotion that the author is attempting to convey.
A teacher of literature is needed, in the third place, because appreciation is contagious. If the teacher himself is full of enjoyment of what he tries to teach, the children are likely to enjoy it too. On the other hand, every teacher has experienced the deadening failure in attempting to present some “masterpiece” that did not at the time appeal to him. Hence it follows that it is almost essential to have appreciation before attempting to give it. But the process of appreciation is often slow: it takes time for suggestion to creep to its outposts. Consequently, another need for a teacher is that he shall by various devices keep his class on a piece of literature until the fulness of appreciation comes. It is a wise teacher who can do this and stop just short of exhaustion—both of subject matter and of class.
Children and to a less extent adults as well—are never so likely to enjoy a piece of literature as when they see some points of contact between it and themselves. If they see in it some situation in which they have been or hope to be; if they detect in it some ideal that satisfies a recognized need; if they imagine a likeness between some character and themselves, the masterpiece at once takes on an absorbing interest. The teacher, with his wider experience, his broader knowledge of life, and his acquaintance with his pupils, can make points of contact between the literature and his pupils that they might never find, or only after a wasteful lapse of time. Here, then, is another need of a teacher of literature.
The final need that we shall mention is that from all the emotional elements in a piece of literature the teacher shall select the one to emphasize, the one that the author intended principally to convey. Before beginning the study of a selection with the class the teacher should have a clear and definite answer to this question, What is the one reason for asking the pupils to study this selection at this time? Not infrequently a reader is carried away by some minor element that really is intended to support the dominant impression. If the teacher has a proper understanding of the piece of literature, he can, particularly through his assignment, direct the children toward an appreciation of the effect as a whole. Then can follow the study of details, which, in turn, should be succeeded by a final view of the whole,the dominant impression emphasized by all its supporting elements.
Dangers from a Teacher Just as there are at least these six needs of a teacher in the literature class, so there are also dangers in having him there. Far too frequently & teacher tends to intrude himself between the masterpiece and the children; instead of being an interpreter, he becomes an obstacle. He makes himself, his thoughts and experiences and emotions, rather than the literature, the subject for study. Closely allied to this is the reading of more into the literature than really is there, the extension or warping of the author's original suggestion to include the teacher's own ideas of what should be meant. This is a danger particularly from the enthusiastic teacher, for it is he who is most likely in his enjoyment to lose appreciation of the fact that it is the literature itself after all that is appealing to its readers.
A teacher of literature is failing in his duty, too, if he makes himself indispensable. The danger here, likewise, is from the enthusiastic teacher. He contributes so much to the recitations that they are enjoyed thoroughly the year through; and yet, when the pupils attempt to read independently they learn that they have not the power to find approximate enjoyment for themselves. The young teacher particularly needs to bear in mind that the literature period is not merely for enjoyment: it is for instruction as well. And even though the pupils may not cover so much ground, even though they may not go out day by day in so fine a glow, they really are getting what they come into the class for if they are learning to read for themselves, to find for themselves such enjoyment as will make a teacher unnecessary.
Finally, there is danger to a class in literature from a teacher who is ashamed of his own emotions. May we be delivered, one and all, from the teacher who gushes over what is to be taught! But deliverance may equally be prayed for from the teacher who will not confess to tears over “Drumsheugh's Love Story," who stifles his righteous sympathy with Burns when he declares that "A man's a man for a' that,” who cloaks his tenderness over the beauty of sky or sea or twilight star, who, in short, is ashamed to confess to the emotions that the litera. ture is intended to arouse. This false modesty is easily explained, but it can not be excused in a teacher of literature. If the emotion is sincere and soundly based, it will be respected, and, moreover, it will make it easier for the pupils to react as they should to the stimulus of poem or story.
It has been assumed in the last paragraph that the teacher actually does feel the emotion that any particular piece of literature in hand was written to convey. If he does not, he has no business to be attempting to teach that piece of literature. Instead of being a stimulating medium, he will be an almost insuperable obstruction. Every teacher of literature knows from experience that when teaching what he does not enjoy, the lesson is almost sure to drag and be a dispiriting failure.
The first essential, then, is for a teacher himself to enjoy before he attempts to present. Inasmuch as tastes are more or less variable, courses of study, then, should seldom prescribe exactly the same literature for every class and every teacher. Opportunity for election will increase the chances of pleasurable result.
Appreciative Criticism It has been said before that it is difficult to define literature. All critics agree, however, that it must give pleasure. If, then, a literature class are not