Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 23 To Would-Be Teachers

Since very many of you whom I see before me to-night will spend some part of your lives after you leave here as teachers, even if you do not make teaching your life work, I am going to talk over with you again a subject on which I have spoken elsewhere-How to build up a good school in the South.

The colored schools of the South, especially in the country districts and smaller towns, are not kept open by the State fund, as a rule, longer than three or four months in the year. One of the great questions, then, willing teachers and parents, is how to extend the school term to seven or eight months, so that the school shall really do some good.

I want to give a few plain suggestions, which will, I think, if care-fully followed, result in placing a good school in almost every commu-nity. In this I am not speculating, because more than one Tuskegee graduate has built up a good school on the plan I outline.

In the first place the teacher must be willing to settle down in the community, and feel that that is to be his home, and teaching there his chief object in life while he is there. Not only must he not feel that he can move about from place to place every three months, but he must feel that he is not working for his salary alone. He must be willing to sacrifice for the good of the community.

The next thing is to get a convenient schoolhouse. Usually, in the far South, the State has not been able to build a school-house. How is it to be secured? A good school-house should be carefully planned. Then the teacher or some one else should go among the people in the community, colored and white, and get each individ-ual to give something, no matter how small an amount if in money, or, if not in money, how little in value, for purchasing lumber. When we were getting started here at Tuskegee one old colored woman brought me six eggs as her contribution to our work.

If enough money cannot be secured by subscription and collec-tion to pay for the lumber, a supper, a festival, entertainment or church collection will help out. After the lumber is secured, the parents should be asked to "club in" with their wagons and haul it free. Then at least one good carpenter should be secured to take the lead in building. Each member of the community should agree to give a certain number of days' work in helping to put up the structure. In this work of build-ing, the larger pupils can help a good deal, and they will have all the more interest in the school-house because they have had a hand in its erection. In these ways, by patient effort, a good frame school-house can be secured in almost any community.

Where it is possible, take a three or four months' public school as a starting point, and work in cooperation with the school officers, but do not let the school close at the end of these three or four months, because if that is done it will amount to almost nothing.

As soon as the teacher goes into a community, he should organ-ize the people into an educational society or club, and there should be regular meetings once a week, or once in two weeks, at which plans for the improvement of the school should be discussed.

There are a number of ways for extending the school term. One is for each parent to pay ten, fifteen, twenty-five or fifty cents each month during the whole time the school is in session. Frequently parents who cannot pay in cash can let the teacher have eggs, chick-ens, butter, sweet potatoes, corn or some other kind of produce which will help to supply the teacher with food. Another plan is for each farmer to set aside a portion of land and give all that is raised upon it to the school. Still another plane and one that is being successfully carried out in at least one place; and one that I think much of, is for the teacher to secure, either by renting or purchase, a small tract of land -say from two to five acres-and let the children cultivate this land while they are attending school. If, in this way, three bales of cotton can be raised, and a variety of vegetables and grain also; the produce can be sold and the school term extended from three months to six or seven months.

Some parents may object to this at first, but they will soon see that it is better to let the school close at one o'clock or two o'clock in the afternoon, so that the children may work on the school land for an hour or two, and in this way keep the school open six or seven months, than to let it close entirely at the end of three months. There is another advantage in this latter plan. The teacher can in this way teach the students, in a practical way, better methods of farming. Short talks on the principles of agriculture are worth much more to them than time spent in committing to memory the names of mountain peaks in Central Africa. Very often there is enough land right around the school-house for the pupils to cultivate.

In every case where it is possible, the teacher should buy a home in the community, and make his home in every way a model for those of the people who live around him. The teacher should cultivate a farm, or follow some trade while not teaching. This not only helps him, but sets a good example for the people in the community. If the teacher be a woman, there are few communities where she cannot add much to her income by sewing, dressmaking or poultry-raising.