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The Sabbath School and Bible Teaching
The Superintendent


A governor is indispensable in every society. A ship's crew requires a captain; a bank, a manager; and a Sabbath-school, a superintendent. It is impossible to have a good school without an efficient head. It cannot be expected that a number of teachers, accidentally associated, should act in concert without a presiding mind. A school without a superintendent is not a school, but a number of separate classes, as isolated as if they met in different apartments; for, though the teachers should agree upon a general plan, there being no one to enforce it, each teacher, in a little while, will take his own way.

It is an awkward remedy for the want of a superintendent, to make one of the teachers leave his class for a few minutes at the opening and closing of the school. Where the school is small, this may be a necessary arrangement; but in all other circumstances it is highly injurious. The common apology for it is, that teachers being scarce, one cannot be spared from his class for the mere purpose of superintending. The apology is insufficient. For, as a small body of troops well disciplined and generalled is more efficient than a much larger company acting irregularly, so the promotion of a suitable individual from the ranks of the teachers to the office of superintendent, by giving unity to the school, will at once increase its efficiency. One of the principal causes of the disorganisation of many schools, is the absence of superintending care. The classes are not properly arranged ; the attendance of the scholars and teachers is not marked; and order is very imperfectly provided for, whenever a school is left without a head. The first step to a better system must be the choice of a good superintendent. The duties of the superintendent form the subject of the present chapter.

1. On him devolves the whole organisation of the school. With the teachers as his privy council, he must take an intelligent survey of the capacities and education of the scholars; the best modes of teaching, arranging, and managing classes; and, to the best of his power, put the whole school in working order. It ought to be his aim to make his a model school, superior to every one yet in being, in which all former faults are avoided, and the results of experience are in full operation. A full schoolroom, and a busy, lively school, should be a great object of ambition with both superintendent and teachers.

Incessant change of plan or purpose is to be guarded against. Novelty has little merit in itself. Alterations should not be made without serious deliberation; and what has been determined upon must have sufficient trial before being abandoned.

2. The superintendent should see that the laws of the school are executed. He must, for this end, scrupulously observe them himself. Instead of setting himself above the laws, he should be an example of obedience, and mark the value of the laws by the respect which he pays to them. Neither teachers nor scholars will long reverence a precept which they see their leader habitually despise. A command comes with a bad grace from the lips of any one who has just been transgressing it himself. Regularity, punctuality, a devout deportment, and a respectful manner to his fellow-teachers, are more necessary to him than to any other individual in the school. Both his faults and his excellencies are more marked.

In executing the laws of the school, one essential quality is firmness. It brings the whole government of a school into contempt, when a law which has been deliberately made and announced, and as deliberately violated, is not vindicated owing to the laxity or imbecility of the superintendent. If a boy, for example, attempts to leave his class and the school without permission (no unusual occurrence), contrary to the express regulations of the school, what is the use of a superintendent who does not peremptorily enforce the regulation?

Many excellent and intelligent teachers make indifferent superintendents from want of firmness. When no case is before them; they understand what ought to be done; but in the presence of the offender, their feelings get the better of their judgment, and they pass the offence, as they say, for this time; but, as often as the fault is committed, it is again and again pardoned. A superintendent requires to be a good disciplinarian—one who has a high standard of order, and is determined to carry out his views. The most trifling regulation should be enforced, or it should be abolished; for, as there ought to be no law on the code without its use, every law should be implicitly obeyed.

If it be asked, How is this to be done 'I we reply, that any one who shews that he is not to be trifled with, and who i^, consistent in enforcing every law, will rarely have much difficulty in securing ready obedience. When it is known or suspected, however, from the thoroughly bad character of a scholar, that he will disobey, the experiment ought not to be openly made ; a more private mode of dealing with him must be adopted. One successful rebellion will infect a whole school.

In being firm, avoid noise and blustering. The more quietly an order is issued, consistent with authority, it will have the more effect; it does not ruffle the mind; and its very quietness insures obedience. The lighter that a yoke is, it is the easier borne.

Firmness is quite consistent with kindness. We recollect of admiring the manner in which a superintendent insinuated a rebuke to a teacher. The teacher had neglected to visit a scholar who was sick. The superintendent said to him, "I am sure John and his mother would take a visit from you so kindly." An officer being about to sit down to dinner with his colonel in a sort of undress, remarked carelessly, " I'll dress after dinner." uBefore dinner, you mean," was the quiet but effectual rebuke.

We doubt the propriety, in Sabbath-schools at least, of making the children judges in cases of discipline. The Sabbath hours are too precious to afford time for the necessary deliberation ; and we are not sure but that the best way of teaching reverence for the law is to obey it, and enforce obedience.

A superintendent should not interfere directly with the scholars. Mrs Davids recommends him to say, "I will thank the teachers to keep their classes in order;" "a boy in Mr A.'s class is behaving badly;" or, "I cannot give out the hymn till the teachers have procured silence:" instead of bawling out in a stentorian voice, "James, I will not have such behaviour in the school: be quiet directly." A private hint to the teachers about the conduct of their classes, or a more general command, might be equally effective. " When the superintendent gives the order for silence, the teachers, instead of saying, 'Be still, Emma,' 'Be quiet, Lucy,' ought themselves to be silent. It has more effect."

The eye is a powerful instrument of discipline. Few scholars will stand the steady look of a superintendent. It has the great merit of being perfectly noiseless.

3. The superintendent ought to give the general address, if there is one, and conduct the general examination. All the other teachers should, however, be tried in their turn, until those are found who are able to conduct it well. Some, with a little experience, will become efficient; and others, it will be evident, are not qualified for this duty : these latter should not be employed a second time, or at least very rarely. What the superintendent has to consider is, the good of the school, not the silly vanity of individual teachers. It is quite easy, by quiet kindness, so to pass by those whom nature has not intended for public speakers as to give no just ground of complaint.

If the superintendent finds himself surpassed ,by several of the teachers in the power of interesting the children, he should not keep them in the background merely because of his being superintendent; rather let him shew, on all occasions, that the one thing about which he is interested is the prosperity of the school; and that, as he occasionally requires the teachers to make some sacrifice of feeling, he is equally ready to do so himself.

A stranger should not be asked to address the school, or engage in prayer, unless the superintendent knows something of him, and that he is able to speak to the purpose.

4. The superintendent should keep the general roll-book of the school, or see that it is kept; that the attendance in school is duly registered; and that all the teachers have scholars, and all the scholars teachers. He should receive new scholars, and. place them in their classes, listen to complaints, settle disputes, answer inquiries, interest himself in all the details, and, in short, make himself universally useful in the school.

He ought not to take the class of an absent teacher. In any school but a very small one, much disorder will be the inevitable result. But, as he will usually have some spare time after attending to his own direct duties, he may profitably employ himself in taking the class of one of the junior teachers, and give him the benefit of his experience in teaching. It is not indispensable to usefulness in this way that he be superior to the teacher; it is sufficient that the teaching is different.

5. It is a question whether the superintendent ought to be elected annually, or for a longer period, and by whom he is to be chosen. A congregation, in placing their children at Sabbath-school, may feel that they ought to have some voice in choosing the superintendent. On the other hand, there is likely to be more harmony in the school, when the teachers feel that he is not imposed on them, but is their own choice.

An old man, who has not had previous experience, should not be selected, as his mind is not flexible enough to adapt itself to its new situation.

If the election is annual, advantage ought not to be taken of it to displace an efficient superintendent. "The longer a man is at the helm, the better he will steer." Yet a change of president not unfrequently puts new life into a school, even when the former superintendent was efficient. We shall say little about the personal character of the superintendent, and his qualifications. These may be gathered with sufficient distinctness from the nature of his duties. There is no stereotype character for a superintendent, any more than for the governor of any other society; and persons of very different dispositions may succeed equally well. That he must be a good man, is a matter of course. He must not be passionate; for, if he cannot rule his own spirit, how shall he rule the spirits of others ?

He must be conscientious; for, having none above him, obedience to law must be spontaneous. But, especially, he must be a man of method, whose natural disposition is to reduce chaos into order, and make the different wheels of his machine move in harmony. Let such a superintendent realise the value of his office, and, under a solemn sense of his responsibility, commend himself to God, and He will make his grace sufficient for him.


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