A great many teachers feel a much stronger interest in the one or two scholars they may have in Surveying or in Latin than they do in the large classes in the elementary branches which fill the school. But a moment’s reflection will show that such a preference is founded on a very mistaken view. Leading forward one or two minds from step to step in an advanced study is certainly far inferior in real dignity and importance to opening all the stores of written knowledge to fifty or a hundred. The man who neglects the interests of his school in these great branches to devote his time to two or three, or half a dozen older scholars, is unjust both to his employers and to himself.
It is the duty, therefore, of every teacher who commences a common district school for a single season to make, when he commences, an estimate of the state of his pupils in reference to these three branches. How do they all write? How do they all read? How do they calculate? It would be well if he would make a careful examination of the school in this respect. Let them all write a specimen. Let all read, and let him make a memorandum of the manner, noticing how many read fluently, how many with difficulty, how many know only their letters, and how many are to be taught these. Let him ascertain, also, what progress they have made in arithmetic—how many can readily perform the elementary processes, and what number need instruction in these. After thus surveying the ground, let him form his plan, and lay out his whole strength in carrying forward as rapidly as possible the whole school in these studies. By this means he is acting most directly and powerfully on the intelligence of the whole future community in that place. He is opening to fifty or a hundred minds stores of knowledge which they will go on exploring for years to come. What a descent now from such a work as this to the mere hearing of the recitation of two or three boys in Trigonometry!
I repeat it, that a thorough and enlightened survey of the whole school should be taken, and plans formed for elevating the whole mass in those great branches of knowledge which are to be of immediate practical use to them in future life.
If the school is one more advanced in respect to the age and studies of the pupils, the teacher should, in the same manner, before he forms his plans, consider well what are the great objects which he has to accomplish. He should ascertain what is the existing state of his school both as to knowledge and character; how long, generally, his pupils are to remain under his care; what are to be their future stations and conditions in life, and what objects he can reasonably hope to effect for them while they remain under his influence. By means of this forethought and consideration he will be enabled to work understandingly.