In which J. Peery Miller describes supplementing his teacher’s income…
It might be well to add that I also tried canvassing as a sideline. I took an agency to sell books one summer, but a few discouraging days at that business convinced me that it would be more profitable for me to stay at home and work in the garden. I did, however, make a fair success of manufacturing and selling a black writing-ink from a recipe used by my father-in-law, Robert S. Stone, Pittsburgh, Pa., who had carried on a successful business in this line for many years. He gave me all the information needed to make, bottle, label and sell this useful article, and, as a side line, I took in many dollars selling it to retailers in Greene and adjoining counties. The public schools bought it by the gallon for desk use.
However, no side-line business deflected my mind from the main course, – that of teaching, of which I was becoming more fond year after year. I studied to give the best service possible. The schools were ungraded, but this fact gave opportunity to manifest skill in classification to suit the requirements of the individual pupils that each might receive his proper share of instruction.
I early found that good discipline could better be attained by creating an interest in the lessons assigned than by attempting to force application. Being a county boy with country district school experience, I could readily understa nd my pupils’ needs, personal interests and mode of thought. If at all possible I would persuade the boys and girls to take advanced work beyond the prescribed elementary branches. I created an interest in the study of higher arithmetic and algebra instead of monotonously going over mathematical books previously studied. To create a desire for advancement among the older boys who came to school a few months in the winter session largely for the purposes of putting in the time when the weather was unfavorable for doing outdoor work at home, was a task not always easy to accomplish. Many preferred to review their elementary work, not so much for the purpose of increasing their proficiency there-in, as to avoid the necessity of hard study required in doing advance work.
To promote an interest in the study of algebra I would select simple problems in arithmetic that were susceptible of being solved by algebraic methods and work them out on the blackboard, calling particular attention to the wizard-like power of the X representing the unknown quantity to assert itself following a course of simple reasoning.
Generally boys are interested in the laws of physics. I tried them out by teaching them the advantage of the use of a handspike over a lift by main strength and awkwardness. This tool was familiar to all farm boys, especially to those living in a wooded country, where there is much lifting and rolling of logs.
An explanation of the mechanism and working of an ordinary water pump in wells of different depths furnished problems intensely interesting to my boys because pumps were common place articles.
These occasional blackboard illustrations of physical laws relating the subjects familiar to my wide-awake pupils soon made them desirous of knowing more, and then they would willingly take up the study as a regular daily task.