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LETTERS TO A YOUNG SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER.
HAVING taken a general survey of the whole field of labour, it now becomes necessary to regard with particular attention that small portion of it which is to be your special care. For while it is requisite that you should have a comprehensive view of the Sunday school work as a whole, it is on your own class now that your chief attention is to be concentrated. Assuming, therefore, that having after deep and serious consideration devoted yourself to the work, I will suppose you duly appointed to a class, and sitting down in it for the first time. The superintendent perhaps has just said a few words of intro luction to the children in presenting their new teacher, and has left you alone with them. Possibly you may feel some slight, or it may be even a great degree of embarrassment, as you glance at the circle of curious and inquisitive faces gazing upon you. They are trying to find out what sort of a teacher they have got, and depend upon it they will soon succeed. And just as they are studying you, so you must study them. It must be your aim to become thoroughly acquainted with each child. Carefully observe their actions; notice every little trait in their characters; seek to familiarize yourself with their modes of thought. A very short time will suffice to show you how widely diverse are their characters and dispositions, and how very dissimilar the treatment which different children require. Notice that little sturdy fellow, how carefully he is watching you. He is trying to find out whether he can do with you, as he did with his old teacher; whether you or he shall rule. And you must take care how you let the rein fall very slack on his neck. But a totally different course is required for that quiet shy boy, who seems to shrink, like a sensitive plant, from the slightest touch. Gently and tenderly must you deal with him, to win his love, and gain his confidence. And between these extremes, you will find different phases and various gradations of character, each of which it should be your aim thoroughly to comprehend. Just as a physician seeks to acquaint himself with the symptoms of the disease for which he is to prescribe, so must you acquaint yourself with the various characters with which you have to deal.
To assist in this study, it may be useful here briefly to refer to some of the general characteristics of children. For though the oft-quoted line of Wordsworth's is unquestionably true, that
"The child is father to the man,”
yet there are some qualities in the mind of childhood very differently manifested to what they are in the mind of man. These it is important you should notice. Of these characteristics, remark:
1. Susceptibility. The mind of a child is like a waxen tablet on which you may write almost what you will; or, to use a more modern figure, like the prepared paper of the photographer, receiving on its surface the most delicate lines of the object whose image is projected on it. The difficulty is not to impress it, but to prevent its being wrongly impressed. The effect you produce may be obliterated, or at least partially obliterated by a subsequent impression. Thus, while it is your duty to take advantage of this extreme susceptibility, you have also to guard against its dangers. None, who have watched children. with any degree of attention, can have failed to remark how easily, and how powerfully their emotions can be awakened. How soon they may be excited to mirth-how soon that mirth may give place to tears. Tell them some little narrative in which they are interested, and see how thoroughly they identify themselves with the characters introduced. For a time they seem to live in the scenes to which you have led them, and all else is forgotten in the fascination of the story. I have seen a large class of children listening almost breathlessly, and in tears, to the narration of the last few sad hours of the Saviour's life. On an adult congregation how flatly, and how unimpressively would even that pathetic story too often fall. In this respect you possess a great advantage over the preacher. He has to excite feelings hardened and deadened by constant and rude contact with the rough realities of life; you, to excite them, while yet in their greatest sensibility. Of course, among children, there is a great difference in this respect, and you are not to expect that all will be equally impressible. As a general rule, however, the young minds with whom you have to deal will be keenly sensitive to impressions either for good or evil.
2. Affectionateness is another noticeable characteristic of children. Their love is easily won if it only be sought for. The key to their hearts is not difficult to obtain. They must have something to love; they cannot live in themselves. Their young affections must have some external object to cling to. Love them, and the whole wealth of their pure love will be lavished upon you. If you have not the love of children, be sure the fault is with you, not with them. No worldly conventionalities lock up this love in their hearts. They are free to exhibit it, and rarely indeed does a child conceal it. You may go into your class then, assured that it is possible to gain their love; that there are no barriers against it; that they wish to love you if you will only let them. This affectionateness is also demonstrative, and you must be careful not to repress and chill it by a cold unsympathizing manner. Coldness very quickly repels a child, and the freezing manner in which children are sometimes met, inflicts an injury that we cannot fully estimate. Your care must be rather to
cultivate and develope this affectionateness; to win a place in their loving young hearts, in order that by means of the love they show to you, you may insensibly lead them to love the Saviour.
3. Teachableness is also a prominent trait in children, and one that is of the greatest advantage to those who seek to instruct them. They have little to unlearn, and are willing to receive implicitly and without hesitation, what you may teach them. Difficulties of belief do not trouble them. Everything you tell them receives their ready credence. They are not prejudiced against the truth you seek to communicate. You have not to pull down a strong edifice of falsehood before proceeding to erect one of truth. The ground is already clear for your work. And this of course materially facilitates the progress. It is a common remark that a child may be taught anything, and in this respect the teacher of babes has a great advantage over the teacher of men. Children are not crotchetty. You have no preconceived ideas to drive out of their heads before they can be indoctrinated with new ones. They are willing to go your way if you only know how to lead them. Moreover, they will learn from acts as well as from words. However neglected a child may be he is learning something every day. You teach him more in the class than perhaps you think for. You have spoken to him seriously upon some important lesson and he may go away impressed with that; but you have also by your conduct taught him something; and it may be that the acted lesson will be remembered far longer than the spoken one. In all your intercourse with your class it is of the highest importance that this thought should be constantly present to your mind. It will lead you to watchfulness, lest the acts should neutralize the words, and these young minds be taught some injurious lesson which it will be exceedingly difficult to forget.
In noticing some of the prominent characteristics of children, however, it is important to remember that in the class of children with whom you have to deal these characteristics exist, with probably very considerable modifications. The extreme susceptibility to impressions which may be exhibited by children under more favoring circumstances, will often be greatly diminished in the case of very many of those who ordinarily attend the Sunday school. Constant exposure to ungenial influences, and rough contact with the coarse realities of their daily life tend to harden their hearts against all impressions. And in different children, placed even in the same circumstances, differences in this respect will be very perceptible. These diversities of character you should make the subject of your careful study. All are more or less susceptible, but to awaken their susceptibilities different methods must necessarily be adopted suited to the particular disposition with which you have to do. Some men are apparently so stolid, and so intensely hardened, that it would seem a matter of impossibility to
excite them to feel the slightest emotion of any kind; but it is not so with a child. Rarely indeed will you find one whose emotions and feelings cannot be excited by a skilful teacher. And here is the secret of a teacher's power, and should be the secret of his success. Disadvantages no doubt there are in this susceptibility, because the influences acting upon it during the week necessarily affect it in proportion to its sensitiveness, and these often are directly opposed to the influence you exert upon it. Still, an earnest, faithful, and loving teacher will and must exercise a power over the young and impressible mind, which may, by the Divine blessing, produce a more permanent effect than all the adverse and injurious influences to which it is exposed.
In referring also to affectionateness as a characteristic of children, it will be necessary in some respects to modify this description as universally applicable. Dispositions among all children of course greatly vary, and it may be that some of those whom you have to teach, have had their natural warmth of affection chilled by neglect and want of sympathy at home. In many instances it will not be so most assuredly; in some it is to be feared it will. And when this latter is the case, it is important to avoid looking upon the reserve and apparent coldness which such treatment is likely to produce, as a proof of a want of affectionateness. By doing so, you tend to make the naturally loving heart really destitute of affection, or surround it with a thick barrier of ice, which in after years it will indeed be difficult to melt. Rather let such a child sun itself in the light of your love, and the unsuspected buds will soon bourgeon out, and burst into a rich profusion of blossoms. But while guarding against one extreme, it will be equally necessary to avoid the other. Some children are peculiarly demonstrative in their affection, and if care be not exercised, are likely to absorb too great an amount of your attention. These are not always by any means the most affectionate, though their affectionateness seems so exuberent. Still, while controlling its excessive manifestation, you must be careful not to check its true and healthy growth.
The different manner in which different children can be taught the same truths, will also require your careful attention. In this respect there will be a great diversity. Some will learn without the slightest difficulty, while others can scarcely learn at all. It is important that you should notice these varieties, or you may be led to blame a child for neglect, when, on the contrary, he really deserves praise for his appli cation, although the results may be extremely small. A whole chapter may be learned more easily by one child than two or three verses by another. One will apprehend your meaning almost intuitively, while another will require line upon line, and illustration upon illustration, before he can be led to comprehend it. Hence there is a difficulty in
teaching a mixed class, so that all may be profited, and none overWhile endeavouring to make the subject clear to the dull scholar, there is the danger that the bright one may become wearied and uninterested. Of course judicious classification will in some degree obviate this difficulty, but yet in a measure it will almost necessarily be experienced.
These remarks will perhaps suffice to show the importance of studying the characters and dispositions of your class, and to indicate one or two salient points requiring your special notice. But not only the natural dispositions of the children, but the particular circumstances in which they are placed will demand your attention. Try and make youself familiar with the influences surrounding them during the week, with the characters of their parents, their education, companions, &c. This knowledge will be a vast assistance to you, and enable you to acquire an influence over them which nothing else could give. This subject however will require further notice hereafter.
C. E. O.
WHAT IS A SUNDAY SCHOOL?
MR. EDITOR.-Some months ago, an article appeared in your magazine proposing and answering the question, " Are Sunday schools of Divine authority?" The answer was, very properly, in the affirmative; but it struck me at the time, and subsequent observation and information, have deepened and confirmed the impression, that the writer should have given his readers some explanation of what he meant by the indefinite term "Sunday school," that there might have been no mistake as to the kind of institution he concluded was of Divine anthority. In order to shew the necessity for such explanation, I will give you two or three specimens of what are called, in some places, Sunday schools; two of them will be purely dissenting specimens, the third a mixture.
First. School assembles at nine o'clock professedly, is opened by singing and prayer, after which commences teaching, which lasts ten minutes; then follows ten minutes of play for the scholars, which alternation is kept up during the whole time; during the play time, the teachers occupy themselves either with conversing with their neighbours, or by reading a newspaper or magazine, both of which might be seen protruding from their pockets or lying by their side.
Second. I give as near as I remember, in the words of the minister connected with the place, "a good school for the size of the placetolerable good supply of teachers-an influential, efficient superintendent, only he was such a drunken man!”
The Third is on a large scale, numbering some two thousand scho