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Fourteen new houses have been built during the year, all in the most substantial manner, on stone and mortar foundations, with double floors deadened with grout.
b and c. Heating, ventilation und lighting.
All have been well lighted, and nearly all have been heated and ventilated by the circulation of fresh heated air introduced into the room through a cold air duct and hot air furnace, the foul air escaping through a ventilating shaft built in connection with the chimney.
d. Furniture, black-boards and coal houses.
All have been furnished with comfortable patent furniture, all have had sufficient black-boards for the needs of the schools, and all have had coal houses attached to the rear of them with a door opening from the school room to the coal house.
There is a great improvement in the general condition of the school grounds. Many of them have tame grasses growing on them and otherwise presenting a pleasant appearance.
These are in better condition, experience showing that it is necessary to build them substantially and anchor them deep in the ground to keep them in position against strong winds.
But few of the sites in our county are fenced, the herd law being in force in our county.
Much labor and pains have been expended in this direction, but the last year has not been favorable for landscape gardening. Not more than half of the sites have thrifty growing trees.
a. Length of term.
The length of term has not increased, seven months being about an average.
b. Teachers' salaries.
A slight reduction in teachers' wages was made in several townships last spring. Thirty dollars is about an average price per month.
c. Branches taught.
None are taught except those required by statute for a teachers' certificate except in a few schools.
d. Special branches.
1. Penmanship: Quite an improvement is seen in this branch, principally, we think, from the increased amount of graphic work demanded of the pupils by the teachers.
2. Drawing: This is becoming a regular exercise in most of our schools. It is used, however, as an entertaining exercise rather than a cultivation of attention, minute and close observation and a skillful use of the hand.
3. Vocal music: The rudiments of this branch are not taught in any of the schools. Singing exercises are had in a large number of them.
4. Hygienic physiology in compliance with the State law of 1886: This branch is receiving its proper attention. The teachers very willingly present this branch and the several boards of directors have complied with the law as explained in the circular letters of the State Department.
BY RUFUS H. FROST.
The educational situation and outlook in this county are in most respects very gratifying. An excellent school sentiment prevails among our people. Patrons of the schools generally appreciate the efforts made to better the condition of their children, and every movement set on foot to increase the usefulness of the schools meets the approval of the people and is given an honest trial. Our people do not look upon the school teacher as a public enemy, to be harrassed, or tortured, whenever opportunity offers. The exalted position of the teacher commands respect. The value of her work is rarely compared with that of the common farm laborer, and senseless criticisms are seldom heard. Our people have learned the admirable lesson that "the way I was taught" is not, necessarily, the best way.
School-boards, generally, are doing as well as can be expected under existing laws. They look after school interests with considerable care. While
in many sections teachers' wages have been lowered to a most unsatisfactory point, the boards of this county have, as a rule, paid fair wages. The teachers' pay ranges from $30 to $40 per month, in the rural schools, while in the towns it is $40 to $50 per month for subordinate teachers. Teachers in the high schools, principals and superintendents, receive greater compensation.
While school boards in one or two townships have followed the unwise policy of paying all teachers the same wages, regardless of experience and efficiency, most of our boards make a difference of five dollars per month between those who carry first class certificates (these being experienced teachers and of good scholarship) and those who carry second class.
The financial management, in the main, is economical and wise.
With few exceptions, our teachers appreciate their responsibilities. We have a wide-awake, progressive corps. The majority of our teachers buy and read professional books, and all read educational papers. The spirit of self improvement is manifest everywhere, and the practice of preparing each day's work in advance is almost universal here. The monthly teachers' meetings and the normal institute are well attended.
The normal institute has been graded for eight years, and a regular course of study is pursued. Four years are required for completion of the course. Teachers are promoted from one grade to another if they have attended fifteen days during the term, and pass satisfactory examination. Upon completion of the four years' work, diplomas are granted. The first class was graduated in 1883. These teachers are leaders, and exert a widespread influence for good.
As girls of seventeen years are permitted to perform the functions of teachers, girls of fifteen, who expect to make teaching their business, are encouraged to attend the institute and fit themselves, in some measure, for the discharge of the grave duties of the teacher, before actually entering upon the teacher's work. The wisdom of this course has been demonstrated.
The leading thought, in the management of the institute, is the improvement of teachers, by giving them such training, advice and instruction as seems best suited to their needs. The normal institute is a valuable part of our school system.
The school-houses of the county are, as a rule, very well built. They are comfortable and well lighted. There are blinds on many of the houses; the buildings are well painted and are kept in good repair. The interiors are fairly well arranged. Not enough care has been taken in the selection of seats, and there is, generally, too little blackboard surface. Most of the houses are supplied with Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, and many have charts, maps and globes. No attention has been paid to ventilation in the country school-houses, but most of those in the towns are reasonably well ventilated.
The school grounds, generally, are fenced, and trees adorn the yards. There are two privies on the grounds of nearly every school-house. These are generally kept in repair, are clean, and unsullied by pencil of poet or artist.
Seven to nine months' school is taught in the various districts. The branches taught are those upon which teachers are required to be examined, and, in addition, civil government and book-keeping. In some townships algebra and natural philosophy are required also.
Our teachers are making faithful efforts to comply with the law in reference to teaching physiology and hygiene. Few of them have been able to teach the subject in a manner that is satisfactory to themselves. In rooms containing but a single grade, there seems to be no difficulty in presenting the subject in an intelligent, interesting and effective manner; but in the rural schools, composed of pupils whose ages range from five to twenty-one years, and whose acquirements are necessarily greatly varied, and in which the daily recitations, before the law went into effect were already more numerous than was desirable, the matter is quite a difficult one.
As I am about to retire from the office that I have held so long, I would offer a few suggestions.
As improvement of teachers must precede the improvement of the schools, I think it would be wise for the State to establish and foster a system of normal schools. I believe that such an institution in each congressional district would be well patronized, and the results would be valuable. These schools should at least be accessible, and so numerous that teachers and others of small means may attend them with the minimum of expense. It is believed that the graded establishment of these institutions would not be burdensome to the people. The beneficient influences that would go out from them cannot be measured.
A great hindrance to our work is the fact that directors are elected for but one year. Every spring a new and inexperienced board takes charge of affairs. As a result, one board does not fully learn its duties before it is superseded by another, to the great detriment of the schools. Directors should be elected for three years, and in such manner that a majority of the board will always be old members. It seems to me that this is wholly in the interest of the people. Not only will the financial management be better, but boards will feel more disposed to study the school problem, and will be able to carry out plans for improvement of the schools.
I believe it is nearly the unanimous feeling among directors-especially in the rural districts-that they should receive compensation for their services. I share in that feeling. Directors spend several days for the public during the year for which they receive nothing. The public elects officers to do its work. It wants good work. It holds officers responsible, and is willing to pay a reasonable sum for their services. With assurance of moderate compensation, some of the best men in the various districts would serve as directors, while at present many of them decline to serve. In most cases, in the rural districts, "the office seeks the man," and in many instances canvasses a whole neighborhood before finding a man that will accept. As a matter of sentiment, the theory that every man should be willing to serve as school director, and to do it gratuitously, is all very good, but the practical fact is that comparatively few men are so inclined.
I think that provision should be made for stated meetings of school officers at the county seat. The meetings should be held once or twice a year, and should be composed of the presidents or other representatives of the boards, and the county superintendent. Districts not represented should forfeit some portion of their school funds. At these meeting arrangements can be made for all desirable uniformity of action by the various boards, officers will obtain a clearer conception of their duties, and plans for improvement of the schools may be discussed. Thus will be secured more intelligent action on the part of the boards, greater interest in the schools will be awakened, and a general improvement will result.
School visitation is a matter of great importance. No superintendent can personally supervise the workings of the schools in the most profitable way, and also attend to the duties of the office. Indeed, could he give his whole time to visitation, the number of schools in most counties is so great, and distances to be traveled are such that he cannot make the impression upon the schools that is desirable. In this county 178 teachers are employed, and they are scattered over an area of 576 square miles. To visit the schools of the county once the superintendent must drive more than twenty-three hundred miles. Were all these teachers in the schools of some city containing but a few square miles, where their work could easily be inspected, the authorities would employ not only a superintendent at a good salary, but, probably, an assistant superintendent. No one thinks such a course extravagant, and it is not. Our duties toward the children of the country are quite as imperative as toward those of the cities. Closer supervision is needed in the country, for there, teachers, as a class, have less experience and fewer opportunities for improvement. There is less stability in country school work, as most teachers change schools every term or two, and they labor under the disadvantage of having all grades in their schools, from the chart pupil to those studying higher arithmetic, etc. These are the teachers and schools that most particularly need counsel and assistance.
Probably all thinking persons agree.
First. That the schools need close supervision; they should be visited often, and
Second. That one person cannot do all that may profitably be done in this direction.
No form of supervision has ever been suggested that is so effective as visitation, provided the visits be made often.
After more than eight years experience in the office of county superintendent, I am quite convinced that, if it does not now exist, power should be given to school boards of two, three or four townships jointly to employ a superintendent for their townships. This superintendent should be made accountable to the county superintendent, to whom he should report as often as required. The expense of such sub-superintendency would not be great. The benefits to be derived from the employment of superintendents are manifold. I will not discuss them here. In all large enterprises, requiring many workers, the services of more than one supervisor is found necessary.