Those of us who aspire to teach must never cease to learn, and I would hope each of us will work constantly to improve our craft.
The qualities that seem to me to be a part of every successful teacher include but are not limited to a commitment to children, a love of children, an ability to be firm, fair and kind, a knowledge of one’s subject matter, an ability to create an exciting but ordered teaching/learning situation. Teachers must have a fundamental belief that man is capable of self improvement. Perhaps Bobby Kennedy best expressed this when he stated: “What we require is not the self indulgence of resignation from the world, but the hard effort to work out new ways of fulfilling our personal concern and our personal responsibility.”
I do not believe one can be a successful teacher without fully internalizing and acting upon Allison Davis’s dictum that the teaching-learning act is reciprocal, that is, the teacher learns as much from the student as the student from the teacher.
Children need to be treated as individuals and accorded respect, because they are human beings; they respond to respect even as you and I do. You are all aware of the criticality of the self-fulfilling prophecy; if children are perceived as problems they will be problems; if they are perceived as problems they will be problems; if they are perceived as capable of success they will succeed. Positive expectations by teachers are so essential to success by children, as has been so clearly delineated by Rosenthal and Jacobs in their book, Pygmalion.
Teaching successfully is an enormously difficult task. One must love children and clearly communicate one’s love and concern to them. Children are very difficult to fool. They can spot a phony in a minute. If a teacher loves children and children clearly perceive this love, the problem of motivating them becomes infinitely easier.
Let me talk a little about teaching styles. Lecturing should rarely be employed. It is a boring technique. Kids need to be involved, in research, in problem solving, in role playing, in games, in story telling, in drama, in dance, in interviewing, in writing stories, in completing stories, in poetry reading, in preparing news articles, in field trips, in science fairs, in reporting news, in reporting on television program viewed, in making comparisons, in projecting election results, and so forth.
My fondest memories are of a teacher I had in Pottsville, Pa., high school, Al Geurtler, who had his class do a projection of the 1936 presidential election results _ Alf Landon vs. F.D.R. Each student projected the electoral college count on a state by state basis.
Conversely, I had a high school math teacher, at Port Carbon High School, who was allegedly teaching algebra, who told the class, “Rufus Shorter may turn out to be a fine automobile mechanic, but he will never be a good algebra student.”
Let me say that I am an enthusiastic supporter and believer of arts in education. I do not believe we do nearly enough with art, drama, dance or music. Children and adults are turned on by the arts. Witness the increased attendance by the public at the ballet, exhibitions of paintings and sculpture, concerts, and so on.
In his book, reforming American Eucation, Alvin C. Eurich states, “The American people are today concerned with humanistic and cultural matters to a degree unprecedented in their history and far from reflecting the new concern with humanistic and cultural matters, the schools of the nation have let the humanities and arts languish.”
It is no secret that we in education have a high profile. We cost too much and don’t produce well enough; indeed, whether the taxpayer view is an accurate one or not it is true, by layman standards, that to whom much is given, much is asked.
I have spent the summer talking to a lot of people, including school committee members. Concerns about our schools very often voiced were as follows:
1. A systematic system of teacher and supervisor evaluation be employed.
2. Curriculum uniformity be achieved at the elementary school level. Fifth graders in Edgartown must be instructed in the same skills and competencies as those in Oak Bluffs or Tisbury, so that all children entering the ninth grade at the high school will have acquired those skills which are necessary to do high school work. There are now too many apparent learning gaps; kids lack writing skills, are unable to put together properly constructed sentences and paragraphs and cannot spell accurately.
I believe in much of Marshall McLuhan’s thesis that the medium is the message (or massage). As teachers, are we making sufficient use of the multi-sensory approaches to learning - listening, seeing, touching, smelling? Do we make sufficient use of the multimedia available to us? Of programs on the Public Broadcasting System? Of the Island and its resources, both physical and human? Of the artists and writers in residence here? Are there ways we can expand our work study program? Can we have some kinds intern at the Gazette, the Grapevine, the Black Dog, Felix Neck, Ben David’s, Island or Martha’s Vineyard Insurance, or the other businesses on the Island?
Are we effectively teaching units on drug abuse or drug education? Consumer education? Value systems? Moral and ethical values? Do we teach by example or precept?
I believe that superintendent and principals have an obligation to create the kind of learning environment where teachers can teach and children can learn. I believe that principals should encourage teachers to experiment with teaching approaches which might end in failure, and there should be no penalty attached. I believe, with reasonable limits, that every child is educable, including special needs children.
I believe that environment, including diet, plays a much more significant role in a child’s development than does heredity.
I believe that grades are much more subjective than we care to admit. Thus, I think narrative reporting, properly done, can be much more illuminating than marks.
I believe that intelligence tests are achievement tests and are merely a predictor of success in school rather than in life. Indeed our testing instruments are still rather primitive. Much remains to be done.
As you are fully aware, education is one profession where the practitioners live in a goldfish bowl. Everybody is an expert; we are constantly given advice. The reason for this is that we are on the public payroll. It is the taxpayer who is the payer; we are the payee. If the payer is unhappy with our work he complains. The compulsory attendance law gives us a captive audience; our product, the student, should, when he graduates from high school, be able to either enter the work force with the commensurate skills, or go on to post secondary training with a reasonable chance of success.
Compounding our problem is that unlike Ford and General Motors, we cannot recall our product for alteration if it is found to be defective. We get, as the Schlitz ad states, “only one time around.” Accordingly, we must labor increasingly with our students in the limited time available to us and continue to perfect our craft through courses, reading, observation of other teachers, travel and study. We must never stop doing this. This is our challenge.
Our problem, which is nation-wide in scope, is compounded by the fact that we are working and living on an Island. We are highly visible for we live cheek by jowl with our neighbor the taxpayer, payee and consumer. If he is unhappy with our work he will unhesitatingly tell you, or more precisely your principal or me. This is inevitable, and we must thoroughly understand this.
For the teachers new to the Island and our school system, a word of advice: ask for the services of a buddy teacher while you are adjusting and acclimating yourself. If you have a problem, go to your principal for assistance.
The Island is enormously rewarding from April to December, bit it is also insular and you might need a respite from its confines in January, February, March. I would recommend therefore that you go off-Island periodically, perhaps once or twice a month, for rest and rehabilitation. In that way you can avoid responding, as you emerge from the drugstore or supermarket, to such questions as: “Why isn’t Susan getting homework?” or “Why did Harry get such a low mark in mathematics?”
Since the principal industry of the Island is tourism, when the tourists leave, the Islanders begin to focus on the schools, the tax rate, the town meeting, the assessors - whatever is public and accessible.
Having said all of this, however, I am convinced that the education field is one of the most exciting ventures to be in because we are working with people, not things. The frustrations are great, and the rewards greater.
I look forward to working with you, and I know that we shall have an exciting year. We have negotiations coming up for a new collective bargaining agreement. We want to expand the high school plant to better serve and accommodate our students. There is pressure being exerted by the state department of education for us to regionalize on a K-12 basis as opposed to our existing 9-12 basis; indeed, we shall have to submit a plan to the state by July 1, 1978, calling for K-12 regionalization. 
I have been in public education for almost 30 years, and I am still as excited about it as I was in 1947. With your help and that of the school committees I believe that, together, we can make the public schools of Martha’s Vineyard as good as any in the state or country.
I am counting on you.
Mr. Shorter, superintendent of Island schools, addressed these remarks to the all-Island faculty early in September.