Read To Miss Gladys Weston of A Woman of the World, free online book, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, on ReadCentral.com.

After Three Years as a Teacher

The way you took my frank criticisms and doubts of your ability to make a good school-teacher, proves you to be a girl of much character.  Your success proves, too, that given the general qualifications of a fairly capable and educated human being, add concentration and will, and we can achieve wonders in any line of work we undertake.  I am still of the opinion that no woman of my acquaintance was more wholly unfit to teach young children, as they should be taught, than your fair self as I last knew you.

I take pride in believing that my heroic methods were what brought out the undeveloped qualities you needed to ensure such success.

There are certain natures that need to be antagonized before they do their best.  Others are prostrated and robbed of all strength by a criticism or a doubt.

You have realized this, I am sure, in your experiences with pupils. “You cannot do it” is a more stimulating war-cry to some people than “You can.”  And to such the sneer of the foe does more good, than the smile of the friend.  A phrenologist would tell us that strongly developed organs of self-esteem and love of approbation accompanied this trait of character.

I am sure it proves to be the case with you.

Brought up as you were, the only child of indulgent parents, and given admiration and praise by all your associates, you could hardly reach the age of twenty-two without having developed self-esteem and love of praise.  You were naturally brighter than most of your companions. (They were also children of fortune, as the term goes, but to my idea the children reared in wealth, are usually children of misfortune.  For the real fortune of life is to encounter the discipline which brings out our strongest qualities.)

Your father was a poor boy, who fought his way up to wealth and power before you were born; but he unfortunately wanted the earth beside, and so died in poverty after staking all he had, which was enough, to make more, which he did not need.

You inherit much of his force of character, and that is what gave you the reputation of extreme cleverness among your more commonplace companions.  Compared with the really brilliant and talented people of earth, you are not clever.  That is why I found you so companionable and charming, no doubt; for the brilliant people-especially women-are rarely companionable for more than a few hours at a time.  I gave you that supreme test of friendship-the companionship of travel for a period of months.  And I loved you better at the end of the time than at the beginning.

I have often thought how much less occupation there would be for the divorce courts and how many more “indefinitely postponed” announcements of engagements would result from an established custom of a pre-betrothal trip!

If a young man and woman who were enamoured could travel for two or three months, with a chaperon (in the shape of a mother-in-law or two), the lawyers would lose much profit; but I fear race suicide might ensue.  Nothing, unless it is the sick-room or the card-table, brings out the real characteristics of human beings like travel.

The irritating delays of boats and trains, and the still more irritating unresponsiveness of officials, when asked the cause, will test the temper and the patience of even a pair of lovers.  It is not surprising if the traveller does lose both at times, but it is admirable if he does not.  I remember how adorable you were, while I was a bundle of dynamite, ready to explode and send the stolid, uncommunicative conductor and brakemen into a journey through space, when we suffered that long delay coming from California.  It is due the travelling public to explain such delays, but the railroads of America have grown to feel that they owe no explanation to any one, even to God, for what they do or do not.  While I lost vitality and composure by such idle reflections, you were amusing the nervous travellers by your bright bits of narrative and ready repartee.  That fortunate fellow you have promised to marry at the end of two years has no idea what a charming companion he will find in you for travel.

It is interesting to have you say you feel that you need two more years as a teacher, before you are fully developed enough to take up the responsibilities of marriage.  You will be twenty-seven then:-that is the age at which the average American girl begins to be most interesting, and the age when she is first physically mature.

And your children will be more fully endowed mentally than if you had become a mother in your teens.

As a rule the brainy people of the world are not born of very youthful parents; you will find youth gives physique, maturity gives brains to offspring.

I did not quite finish my train of reasoning about your self-esteem.

It was because you had always believed yourself to be capable of doing anything you undertook to do, that you were roused by my assertion that you could not make a good school-teacher, to attempt it.  I hurt your pride a bit, and you were determined to prove me wrong.  Had you been self-depreciating and oversensitive, what I said would have turned you from that field of effort.  And that would have been a desirable result, since one who can be turned from any undertaking ought to be.

I still think the world has lost a wonderful artist by your not entering the lists of designers and dressmakers.  But since my recital of the faults which would prevent your success as a teacher led you to overcome them, I am proud and glad, that you have gone on in the work you contemplated.  Good teachers are more needed than good dressmakers.

And you are sweet and charming as usual, to tell me that your popularity with children and parents, is greatly due to that letter of mine.

What you write me of the young girl who is making you so much trouble by her jealousy of all other pupils, interests and saddens me.  Her devotion to you is of that morbid type, so unwholesome and so dangerous to her peace, and the peace of all her associates.  It is a misfortune that mothers do not take such traits in early babyhood, and eradicate them by patient, practical methods.  Instead, this mother, like many others, seems to think her little girl should be favoured and flattered because of her morbid tendency.

She mistakes selfishness, envy, greediness, and hysteria for a loving nature.

I can imagine your feelings when this mother told you with a proud smile, “Allie always wants the whole attention of any one she loves, and cannot stand sharing her friends.  She was always that way at home.  We never could pet her little brother without her going into a spasm.  And you must be careful about showing the other children attention before her.  It just breaks her heart-she is so sensitive.”

Oh, mothers, mothers, what are you thinking about, to be so blind to the work put in your hands to do?

You have little time comparatively to work upon this perverted young mind:  but under no conditions favour her, and, no matter what scenes she makes, continue to give praise and affection to the other children when it is their due.  The prominence of her parents in the neighbourhood, and the power her father wields in the school board, need not worry you.  Go ahead and do what is best for the child and for the school at large.  Never deviate one inch from your convictions.  Take Allie some day to a garden where there are many flowers, and talk to her about them.  Speak of all their different charms, and gather a bouquet.  Then say to her, “Now, Allie, you and I love each of these pretty flowers, and see how sweetly they nestle together in your hand.  Not one is jealous of the other.  Each has its place, and would be missed were it not there.  The bouquet needs them all.  Just so I need all the dear children in my school, and just so I would miss any one.  It makes me ashamed to think any little girl is more selfish and unreasonable than a plant, for little girls are a higher order of creation, and we expect more of them than we expect of plants or of animals.  All are parts of God, but the human kingdom is the highest expression of the Creator.

“When you show such jealousy of other children I lose respect for you, and cannot love you as much as I love them.  When you are gentle and good, and take your share of my love and attention, and let others have their share, then I am proud of you and fond of you.  Suppose one plant said to the sunlight that it must have all the sun, would not that be ridiculous and selfish?”

I would make frequent references to this idea when alone with her, and indeed it would serve as an excellent subject for a talk to all your pupils some day.  Then try and make Allie understand how unbecoming and unlovable jealousy is, and how it renders a man or woman an object of pity and ridicule to others.

Praise the people you know who are liberal and broad, and absolutely ignore her moods when in school.

Perhaps in time you can do a little toward awakening her mind to a more wholesome outlook.

What you tell me of her hysterical devotion to one of her classmates, makes me realize that the girl needs careful guidance.

You should talk to her mother, and warn her against encouraging such conditions of mind in her child.

Urge her to keep the girl occupied, and to give her much out-door life, and to teach her that pronounced demonstrations of affection are not good form between young girls.  The mother should be careful what books she reads, and should see that she makes no long visits to other homes and receives no guests for a continued time.  The child needs to cultivate universal love, not individual devotion.

Ideals, principles, ambitions, should be given the girl, not close companions, for her nature is like a rank, weedy flower that needs refining and cultivating into a perfected blossom.

All this needs a mother’s constant care and tact and watchfulness.  It is work she should have begun when her little girl first indicated her unfortunate tendencies.

It is late for you to undertake a reconstruction of the misshapen character, but you may be able to begin an improvement, and if you can obtain the mother’s cooperation the full formation may be accomplished.

And do not fail to use mental suggestion constantly, and to help the child by your assertions to be what you want her to become.  Dwell in conversation with her and in her presence, upon the lovableness and charm of generosity of spirit in general, rather than on the selfishness you observe in herself.

At her least indication of an improvement, give her warm praise.  Be careful about bestowing caresses upon her, as she needs to be guarded against hysteria, I should judge from your description.  To some children they are the sunlight, to others miasma.

Think of yourself as God’s agent, given charge of his unfinished work, and recognize the unseen influences ready to aid you with suggestion and courage when you appeal to them.