(7.) Assume no false appearances in your school either as to knowledge or character. Perhaps it may justly be said to be the common practice of teachers in this country to affect a dignity of deportment in the presence of their pupils which in other cases is laid aside, and to pretend to superiority in knowledge and an infallibility of judgment which no sensible man would claim before other sensible men, but which an absurd fashion seems to require of the teacher. It can, however, scarcely be said to be a fashion, for the temptation is almost exclusively confined to the young and the ignorant, who think they must make up by appearance what they want in reality. Very few of the older, and more experienced, and successful instructors in our country fall into it at all; but some young beginner, whose knowledge is very limited, and who, in manner and habits, has only just ceased to be a boy, walks into his school-room with a countenance of forced gravity, and with a dignified and solemn step, which is ludicrous even to himself. I describe accurately, for I describe from recollection. This unnatural, and forced, and ludicrous dignity cleaves to him like a disease through the whole period of his duty. In the presence of his scholars he is always under restraint, assuming a stiff and formal dignity which is as ridiculous as it is unnatural. He is also obliged to resort to arts which are certainly not very honorable to conceal his ignorance.
A scholar, for example, brings him a sum in arithmetic which he does not know how to perform. This may be the case with a most excellent teacher, and one well qualified for his business. In order to be successful as a teacher, it is not necessary to understand every thing. Instead, however, of saying frankly, “I do not understand that example; I will examine it,” he looks at it embarrassed and perplexed, not knowing how he shall escape the exposure of his ignorance. His first thought is to give some general directions to the pupil, and send him to his seat to make a new experiment, hoping that in some way or other, he scarcely knows how, he will get through; and, at any rate, if he should not, the teacher thinks that he himself at least gains time by the manoeuvre, and he is glad to postpone his trouble, though he knows it must soon return.
All efforts to conceal ignorance, and all affectation of knowledge not possessed, are as unwise as they are dishonest. If a scholar asks a question which you can not answer, or brings you a difficulty which you can not solve, say frankly, “I do not know.” It is the only way to avoid continual anxiety and irritation, and the surest means of securing real respect. Let the scholars understand that the superiority of the teacher does not consist in his infallibility, or in his universal acquisitions, but in a well-balanced mind, where the boundary between knowledge and ignorance is distinctly marked; in a strong desire to go forward in mental improvement,