Because the health of others furnishes a stronger motive for preventive hygiene than our own health, it is probable that the general examination of teachers will come first as the result of a general conviction that unhealthy teachers positively injure the health of pupils and retard their mental development. Children at school age are so susceptible and imitative that their future habits of body and mind, their dispositions, their very voices and expressions, are influenced by those of their teachers. Experts in child study say that a child's vocal chords respond to the voices and noise about him before he is able to speak, so that the tones of his voice are determined before he is able to express them. This influence is also marked when the child begins to talk. Babies and young children instinctively do what adults learn not to do only by study,—follow the pitch of others' voices. Can we then overestimate the effect upon pupils' character of teachers who radiate vitality?
The character and fitness, aside from scholarship, of applicants for teachers' licenses are now subjected by the board of examiners of New York City to the following tests:
1. Moral character as indicated in the record of the applicant as a student or teacher or in other occupation, or as a participant in an examination.
2. Physical fitness for the position sought, reference being had here to all questions of physical fitness other than those covered in a physician's report as to "sound health."
3. Satisfactory quality and use of voice.
4. Personal bearing, cleanliness, appearance, manners.
5. Self-command and power to win and hold the respect of teachers, school authorities, and the community.
6. Capacity for school discipline, power to maintain order and to secure the willing obedience and the friendship of pupils.
7. Business or executive ability,—power to comprehend and carry out and to accomplish prescribed work, school management as relating to adjustment of desks, lighting, heating, ventilation, cleanliness, and attractiveness of schoolroom.
8. Capacity for supervision, for organization and administration of a school, and for the instructing, assisting, and inspiring of teachers.
These tests probably exclude few applicants who should be admitted. Experience proves that they include many who, for their own sake and for children's sake, should be rejected. The moral character, physical fitness, quality of voice, personal bearing, self-command, executive ability, capacity for supervision, are qualities that are modified by conditions. The voice that is satisfactory in conference with an examiner may be strident and irritating when the teacher is impatient or is trying to overcome street noises. On parade applicants are equally cleanly; this cannot be said of teachers in the service, coming from different home environments. Self-command is much easier in one school than in another. Physical fitness in a girl of twenty may, during one short year of teaching, give way to physical unfitness. Therefore the need for periodic tests by principal, superintendent, and school board, to determine the continuing fitness of a teacher to do the special task assigned to her, based upon physical evidence of her own vitality and of her favorable influence upon her pupils' health and enjoyment of school life. Shattered nerves due to overwork may explain a teacher's shouting: "You are a dirty boy. Your mother is a dirty woman and keeps a dirty store where no decent people will go to buy." A physical examination of that unfortunate teacher would probably show that she ought to be on leave of absence, rather than, by her overwork and loss of control, to cause the boys of her class to feel what one of them expressed: "Grandmother, if she spoke so of my mother I would strike her."
Just as there should be a central bureau to count and correct the open mouths and closed minds that clog the little old red schoolhouse of the country, so a central bureau should discover in the city teacher as well as in the country teacher the ailments more serious than tuberculosis that pass from teacher to pupil; slovenliness, ugly temper, frowning, crossness, lack of ambition, cynicism,—these should be blackballed as well as consumption, contagious morphine habit, and contagious skin disease. Crooked thinking by teacher leads to crooked thinking by pupil. Disregard of health laws by teacher encourages unhygienic living by pupils. A man whose fingers are yellow, nerves shaky, eyes unsteady, and mind alternately sleepy and hilarious from cigarettes, cannot convey pictures of normal, healthy physical living, nor can he successfully teach the moral and social evils of nicotinism. Both teacher and pupil have a right to the periodic physical examination of teachers that will give timely warning of attention needed. Until there is some system for giving this right to all teachers in private, parochial, charitable, and public schools, we shall produce many nervous, acrid, and physically threadbare teachers, where we should have only teachers who inspire their pupils with a passion for health by the example of a good complexion, sprightly step, bounding vitality, and forceful personality born of hygienic living.