The profession is a growing one, and the supply of teachers trained on the latest system is less than the demand for them, which can nowadays be said of very few occupations open either to men or women.
Many teachers who hold the Board of Education's elementary school certificate find considerable difficulty in obtaining a post after qualifying, but those who in addition have passed the Joint Board examination for teachers of the deaf seldom have to wait long, being usually appointed almost as soon as they have finished their training.
The salaries paid, too, in the London County Council schools are on a somewhat higher scale, being, as a rule, about £10 a year more than for ordinary teachers of the same grade, but the maximum salary does not exceed the maximum of teachers in the ordinary schools.
The majority of schools for the deaf are, however, not at present in the hands of the public education authorities. A large number were already established before the passing of the Elementary Education Act of 1894, which made the instruction of such children compulsory.
State supported schools are, however, being established where no provision exists, and there are now seven public day-schools for the deaf in London, besides residential institutions.
Besides these openings, many teachers find posts in private families. Nor is the work confined to children, as adults who have become deaf now often take lessons in lip reading, which enables them, when proficient, to understand what others are saying and to engage in ordinary conversation.
A wider scope is also provided for such teachers from the fact that nowadays the necessity of giving special educational facilities to all kinds of subnormal children is becoming more and more widely recognised. The training of the deaf and dumb teacher enables her to undertake not only those suffering from loss of hearing, but all kinds of dull and backward children, as well as those suffering from actual mental defects in various degrees.
Imperfect articulation and deficiency in language attainments form a large class of these cases, and with these she is particularly qualified to deal.
There is another reason-and to many it will be the strongest-why this particular branch of the teaching profession should be taken up by women. It is a truly philanthropic work, and the strong desire to do something for suffering humanity, which leads highly educated and refined women to devote themselves to the arduous profession of nursing, should act as an incentive to others to turn their attention to this field of effort also.
The opportunities for good are enormous, and the infinite patience and sympathy which is required to impart knowledge to these afflicted children is in the end amply repaid.
Many children by proper training at an early age are saved from that mental apathy, and ultimate mental degeneration, which is bound to overtake the deaf if allowed to remain isolated by their infirmity from the outside world, and even in cases where the loss of hearing is already associated with mental defects great improvement can be effected.
To make a successful teacher of the deaf it is necessary first of all to possess a sound general education.
Special knowledge will not take its place, as the children, when they are sufficiently advanced, are taught all the usual school subjects, and the teacher must be as well grounded in them as one who undertakes ordinary classes.
What is required in perhaps a higher degree than in ordinary teaching is resourcefulness of idea and some inventiveness, to enable the teacher to devise quickly means to convey a meaning to her pupils when the ordinary methods fail.
Teaching is now conducted by what is known as the oral system. The teacher holds up an object, and pointing to it, clearly pronounces its name, and the children are taught to watch and copy the exact motions of her lips and tongue in pronouncing the word, and in this way come to produce it themselves.
It is, of course, in conveying the more abstract ideas, such as beauty, distance, etc., that the chief difficulty lies; but the intuitive ideas which the children already possess enables them to associate them with the appropriate words sooner than might be expected. Where the pupil, in addition to his physical infirmity, is also slow and dull-witted, the resources of the teacher are often taxed to the utmost.
Of course, a teacher of the deaf must be an accurate speaker, who is able to clearly indicate the formation of the words. Lessons in elocution form part of the curriculum, but those who are naturally slovenly speakers, or have any defects in the formation of the mouth or vocal organs, would not be suited for this profession.
A knowledge of one or more handicrafts is also necessary, as eye and hand training, which can best be obtained through the medium of manual work, is a very important element in the education of the deaf, especially in the early stages.
Training on the oral system is adopted in all cases, at least at the beginning; but where it is found that a pupil is not sufficiently intelligent to acquire a mastery of speech, the deaf and dumb alphabet is resorted to, but in no case is the pupil taught a mere sign language, as was formerly the case.
Before beginning special training the student should, as already indicated, first obtain some general teaching qualification.
At the Training College for Teachers of the Deaf, 11, Fitzroy Square, W.c., every student must produce evidence of having passed one of a number of examinations, of which the Oxford or Cambridge Senior Local is the minimum qualification for admission.
For those who intend to take up work in public elementary schools, it is necessary first to study for two years at the ordinary training college for elementary teachers, and to obtain the usual certificate.
The third year can then be spent in one of the two training colleges for teachers of the deaf recognised by the Board of Education, in order to prepare for the Joint Board examination, which is held once a year, in July.
One year, however, is not generally sufficient, and many students find that they cannot cover the ground in less than two years.
The fee for a full course of two years at the college in Fitzroy Square is twenty-five guineas, but a shorter course can be arranged for twenty-one guineas.
A number of private institutions are partially under the control of the Board of Education, the local elementary schools being empowered, where no special provision exists, to send their deaf and dumb scholars to them. In these institutions the head teacher, in addition to the special deaf and dumb certificate, must possess the elementary school certificate; but assistant teachers who have the former qualification are appointed if they have also passed either of the following tests: London University Matriculation, Oxford or Cambridge Higher or Senior Locals, or if they hold the certificate of the Oxford or Cambridge Schools Examination Board.
The salaries which are obtained by teachers of the deaf vary according to the class of work undertaken.
In private families they would be about £40 a year, with everything found.
In institutions they commence at £40 a year, and rise to £50, and in some cases to £75, with board, lodging, and laundry, and sometimes medical attendance.
In public elementary schools salaries commence at £70 per annum, non-resident, in the provinces, and in London at £80, rising by £3 every year to £125.
Head teachers sometimes receive as much as £180 a year and more. Though there are men teachers of the deaf as well as women, the latter form the larger number.
It is work for which women, on the whole, are better suited. Their quick intuition, patience, and love for children are very valuable qualities in this connection, and tend to make them the more successful teachers.
This is a great point to be considered in the choice of a profession, for women do best when working on lines peculiar to themselves, as, though in the ordinary work of the world they may compete with men with equal abilities, they do not do so at present with equal opportunities.