"Teachers, gentlemen, no less than pupils, have a heaven-ordained right to work so adjusted that the highest possible physical condition shall be maintained automatically." This declaration thundered out by an indignant physician startled a well-meaning board of school directors. The teacher's right to health was, of course, obvious when once mentioned, and the directors concluded:
1. School conditions that injure child health also injure teacher health.
2. Poor health of teacher causes poor health of pupil.
3. Poor health of pupil often causes poor health of teacher.
4. Adequate protection of children requires adequate protection of their teachers.
5. Teachers have a right to health protection for their own sake as well as for their children's sake.
Too little concern has hitherto been shown for the vitality of teachers in private or public schools and colleges. Without protest, and without notice until too late, teachers often neglect their own health at home and at school,—recklessly overwork, undersleep, and undernourish; ruin their eyes, their digestion, and their nerves. School-teachers are frequently "sweated" as mercilessly as factory operatives. The time has come to admit that a school environment which destroys the health of the teacher is as unnecessary and reprehensible as an army camp that spreads typhoid among a nation's defenders. A school curriculum or a college tradition that breaks down teachers is as inexcusable as a gun that kills the gunner when discharged. Experience everywhere else proves that periodic physical examinations and health precautions, not essays about "happy teachers—happy pupils," are indispensable if teachers' health rights are to be protected.
Physical tests are imposed upon applicants for teachers' licenses by many boards of education. In New York City about three per cent of those examined are excluded for defects of vision, of hearing, of probable endurance. Once a teacher, however, there is no further physical examination,—no way of discovering physical incapacity, nothing to prevent a teacher from exposing class after class to pulmonary tuberculosis contracted because of overwork and underventilation. The certainty of salary increase year by year and of a pension after the twentieth year will bribe many a teacher to overtax her own strength and to jeopardize her pupils' health.
Seldom do training schools apply physical tests to students who intend to become teachers. One young girl says that before starting her normal course she is going to the physician of the board of education for examination, so as to avoid the experience of one of her friends, who, after preparing to be a teacher, was rejected because of pulmonary tuberculosis. During her normal course no examination will be necessary. Overwork during the first year may cause pulmonary tuberculosis, and in spite of her foresight she, too, may be rejected four years hence.
The advantages of physical examination upon beginning and during the courses that prepare one for a teacher are so obvious that but little opposition will be given by prospective teachers. The disadvantages to teacher and pupil alike of suffering from physical defects are so obvious that every school which prepares men and women for teachers should make registration and certification dependent upon passing a satisfactory physical test. No school should engage a teacher who has not good proof that she can do the required work without injury to her own or her pupils' health. Long before physicians can discover pulmonary tuberculosis they can find depleted vitality which invites this disease. Headaches due to eye trouble, undernourishment due to mouth breathing, preventable indigestion, are insidious enemies that cannot escape the physical test.
Three objections to physical tests for teachers will be urged, but each loses its force when considered in the light of general experience.
1. A sickly teacher is often the most efficient teacher in a school or a county. It is true that some sickly teachers exert a powerful influence over their pupils, but in most instances their influence and their efficiency are due to powers that exist in spite of devitalizing elements. Rarely does sickness itself bring power. It must be admitted that many a man is teaching who would be practicing law had his health permitted it. Many a woman's soul is shorn of its self-consciousness by suffering. But even in these exceptional instances it is probable that children are paying too dearly for benefits directly or indirectly traceable to defects that physical tests would exclude.
2. There are not enough healthy candidates to supply our schools. This is begging the question. In fact, no one knows it is true. On the contrary, it is probable that the teacher's opportunity will make even a stronger appeal to competent men and women after physical soundness and vitality are made conditions of teaching,—after we all believe what leading educators now believe, that the highest fulfillment of human possibilities requires a normal, sound body, abounding in vitality.
3. Examination by a physician, especially if a social acquaintance, is an unnecessary embarrassment. The false modesty that makes physical examination unwelcome to many adults, men as well as women, is easily overcome when the advantages of such examination are understood. It is likewise easy to prove to a teacher that the loss of time required in having the examination is infinitesimal compared with the loss of time due to ignoring physical needs. The programme for school hygiene outlined in Chapter XXVII, Part IV, assumes that state and county superintendents will provide for the examination of teachers as well as of pupils.
Teachers Will Prefer Physical Examinations To Forced Vacations Boston Society For Relief And Study Of Tuberculosis