This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
The social standing of the teacher in the community is a subject of some importance, especially for the woman teacher. Do the leaders in the community regard the teacher as their social equal, or as an inferior kind of employee? How this question is habitually answered involves more than the mere satisfaction the teacher can take in her position. It goes far to determine the attitude of the pupils toward her, and therefore toward their school work; also to determine the usefulness of the teacher in the community outside of school.
"I suppose we shall have another d------farmer for a teacher," said a girl in the training school as the end of the quarter approached.
In Z. the teachers are not considered inferior exactly, but they are ignored socially. I never heard of any one calling on a teacher because she was a teacher. But in G. B. the teachers are invited to parties and all forms of social activity. The parents of the school children call on the teachers and entertain them in their homes.
M. used to be noted for the way teachers were taken into the best society and made to feel at home. A lady who used to be a social leader, when asked about the change in this respect, gave two causes for it. One is that she herself is too busy to attend to her social duties as she formerly did. The other is the change in the character of the teachers. Formerly M. paid its teachers the highest wages paid anywhere in the state, and the teachers were always socially acceptable. Now M. is noted for the low wages of its teachers, and many of them are so uncultivated that the social leaders do not care to receive them into their homes.
I have a cousin who is teaching in a small village in F. County. They think so much of her that they arrange every party, dance, or wedding at a time when she can be there. It happens that most every one in the village is a Protestant and she is a Catholic, but that does not seem to make any difference. When the church has a bazaar or supper, or they celebrate the minister's birthday, she is the first to be invited.
Where I taught in South Dakota the people of the district came to the school late one afternoon for a social time, bringing plenty of good things to eat for a treat to the children and to show their appreciation of the teacher.
In small towns teachers are the elite. I have taught in two such towns where a week seldom passed in which the teachers were not entertained by someone. The banker, the merchants, and the doctors seemed to think it a privilege to do something for us. When we expressed the wish to visit the quarry, the railroad camp, and the logging camp, the crews at these places sent us invitations to take dinner with them, and the ex-assemblyman and his wife offered to go as our chaperons.
There were a hundred and twenty-five teachers in the city where I taught. In order to have a chance to mingle and get acquainted we organized a Teachers' Club. A reading room was fitted up and provided with facilities for amusement.
Teachers should remember that entrance to a social circle is like welcome to the fireside of a friend - something which must come freely, it cannot be demanded as a right. If my neighbor does not ask me to dine with him, or if his wife does not return my wife's call, it is not for me to ask the reason why. Neither should I complain if I am not invited to join the West End Whist Club; that is something which cannot be forced, though I may perhaps do something to qualify myself for membership if I really care for it. I qualify myself not only by exhibiting the qualities which the group prizes, but also by attending public meetings where the members are found so that I may become personally known to them, and by scrupulously conforming my conduct to the usages of the group and the community. I must remember, however, that there are limits to the size of any group. The number of intimate friends one person can have is limited, and so is the number of members in a given social set; to enlarge the number is to change the relationship and perhaps spoil it. The West End Whist Club may have its membership full, with other candidates on the waiting list. The persons who are denied admission to any particular group always have the liberty of organizing another.
When teachers have the scholarship and culture that their work demands of them they are able to be rather independent in such matters. They have learned to find companionship in books. They have the society of their pupils, which means much to a true teacher. Teachers have one another to associate with, and fortunately the places where wealth or rank of any kind can afford to be exclusive are likely to have enough teachers to make up a varied company by themselves.
It must be admitted that teachers sometimes develop qualities which chill their welcome into polite society. Their occupation requires them to be critical, especially in such commonplace matters as the pronunciation of words; therefore when a person who is not sure of himself meets a teacher he is either guarded or defiant. They are expected to be models of propriety, or at least free from improprieties, and that tends to make them self-conscious. Accustomed to present a limited body of knowledge to immature minds, they are liable to hold limited views themselves, to be "academic," opinionated, intolerant of those who differ from them, and at the same time to be weak in meeting a new situation. Their work confines them closely and does not bring them in contact with people of other callings; in that way they may fail to cultivate the etiquette, dress, and "small talk" which are in vogue at the time, and that failure, more than anything else, marks them as peculiar when they are among strangers. In all of these respects persons in other callings of equal scholastic training, such as lawyers, physicians, clergymen, and educated business men and women, have an advantage over the classroom or grade teacher. They also, except the clergymen, have the advantage over the teacher in respect to income, so that they keep up a higher standard of living. Against this list of disadvantages the teacher can count on two advantages: he is assumed to be a person of the highest character, and his work is assumed to be of far-reaching benefit to the public. The net result, the balance of advantages and disadvantages, is often unfavorable to teaching. Many teachers, accordingly, prefer not to be known as such when they are among strangers; when a new acquaintance discovers the truth and says, "I never suspected it," that remark is accepted as a compliment.
On the other hand, it should be kept in mind that every occupation has its disadvantages. The compensations of the teacher are mostly of kinds which the public does not see, such as the constant association with the best that the past has produced. But the tendencies in teachers as a class which diminish their acceptability in the company of outsiders should be known and controlled in rational ways.
It may be well to note here that the easy-going conditions which the public sees in the teacher's work do not exist in fact. The short hours of programmed work, the weekly holiday, and the vacations, give time for doing only things which are as necessary as anything in the daily program.
Teachers of the lower ranks may take comfort in the knowledge that teachers of the highest rank, the university professors, also feel that as a class they labor under special difficulties. Tenure of position is a problem with them as it is with other teachers, though of course in a different way, and is a part of a larger matter, that of academic freedom. They feel their problems so keenly that in 1914 they organized The American Association of University Professors. This association holds annual meetings and has started the publication of a bulletin.