Page images
PDF
EPUB

nected himself with the flourishing Teachers' Seminary at Andover, then under the charge of Rev. S. R. Hall, the well-known author of the volume of “ Lectures on School Keeping.During the eight months that he passed here, he gained the confidence and respect of the principal to such a degree that he was, in less than two years after leaving, invited to return and assist Mr. Hall in the instruction of this seminary. This was a field congenial to his tastes, and here he continued to labor through the various fortunes of the seminary for a period of eleven years, from 1836 to 1847, his attention, for most of this time being divided between the general department of the school, and the special or teacher's department.

Though still afflicted with weak eyes, he here planned and executed an extended course of English reading. For several years he employed one of the students to read for him evenings, and his reading was always accompanied with the use of either pen or pencil. On one occasion he entered into a reading partnership with a student in the Theological Seminary, and during the evenings of a single term they read together the whole of Shakspeare's dramas, besides several volumes on mental and moral science, often carrying their reading and discussions into the morning hours.

While connected with this seminary he was accustomed to discuss before his teachers' classes, from year to year, the principles of Grammar in connection with a careful analysis of Milton and other poets. In his course of English reading, wbich was carried forward at the same time, it was his practice to mark such examples as would be most servicable in testing or illustrating these principles. Several hundred volumes of standard English literature were read in this way, during a period of about nine years, and many thousands of examples noted and classified for this purpose. The result of these investigations and comparisons was finally embodied in the “ School Grammar," which was first published in 1846; and up to the present time, nearly three hundred thousand copies of this work have been issued.

In 1815, the honorary degree of Master of Arts was conferred on Mr. Wells by the Trustees of Dartmouth College. Few men have proved more worthy of such a compliment.

S. H. Taylor, LL.D., the well-known and esteemed principal of Phillips Academy, Andover, thus writes :

The first time I saw Mr. Wells to know him, was at an accidental meeting of some half dozen persons, mostly teachers, but he a pupil. The conversation turned on some point, in regard to which there was considerable difference of opinion. I was particularly struck with the confidence with which Mr. Wells advanced his views—not the confidence of one who seemed obtrusive, or out of his place, but of one who had thoroughly studied the subject and knew what he said. I then inarked him for future observations.

In his subsequent connection with Phillips Academy as a teacher, there were some characteristics worthy of notice. He was thoroughly earnest ; he was alive to his work, and was impelled by a strong inward impulse to do whatever would secure success in it. The clear ring of his voice as he propounded, in in quick succession, questions to his class, was sufficient to indicate to those who might not see the glow upon his countenance, how strong a sympathy he had with his work. Indeed he might be said to be enthusiastic in whatever be taught, and his pupils, at once, imbibed his spirit. With such an electrical influence constantly emanating from the teacher, none of his classes ever showed the listlessness and indifference so often seen in the school-room.

Ile was always master of the subjects which he taught. He spared no expense or labor which might give him a more comprehensive and exact acquaintance with the various topics which came before his classes. He gathered around him books from every quarter, and studied them with unwearied patience. Sometimes his severest and most protracted labor was employed in settling what are too often considered small points, and passed over with some general remarks, or not touched at all. Such questions Mr. Wells settled, as far as they could be settled, and then discussed them with his classes, in the end giving them his own results. No teacher within my knowledge drew sharper lines here than he.

He resolutely and persistently held the pupil responsible to do for himself all he supposed to be in his power. Many a teacher has the same theory, but I have never known it so severely reduced to practice as in Mr. Wells' system of teaching. Many of his pupils have found themselves tuiling over mathematical questions more than a week after they came up in course ; but there was no release till the difficulty was mastered—the pupil, by this process, gaining mental strength and confidence in himself which would greatly diminish other similar difficulties.

His views of discipline were sound and judicious. He governed with ease because he never required what was unreasonable, and what he did require, his pupils well knew must be met. In the support of good order and wholesome discipline, his associate teachers always knew that they were sure of his warm coöperation. I well remember an instance, when it became necessary for the principal to discipline a number of members of the school, and when, as is not unusual in such cases, the sympathy of a portion of even the better class of the school was with those who had been disciplined, Mr. Wells took occasion to say, when all his classes were before bim, that the discipline which had just been administered, was the noblest and most manly act that he had known since his connection with the school. Men of different views of the value of proper discipline, or of different character, would have saved themselves the trouble of inaking this remark, hoping thereby not to endanger their own popularity.

In times and circumstances like these, Mr. Wells showed an energy and decision of character, a true heroism, which evinced his real worth, and assured his associates on how strong an arm they could lean. I need only add that all Mr. Wells' relations with his associates here were of the must happy and fraternal character.

Mr. J. S. Eaton, who succeeded Mr. Wells at Andover thus writes :

As a teacher Mr Wells had a rare tact, or faculty, to communicate his ideas to his pupils and to awaken thought and enthusiasm in them.

At one time it was my good fortune to be a member of his classes in Grammar and Algebra, and occasionally he would take the place of another teacher in Book-keeping, Geometry etc., and invariably, in such a case, the class was quickened and the darkness that hung about them was dispelled.

As a disciplinarian he was equally happy. I remember an instance in the Algebra class of a young man who was very talkative-excusing himself for a poor lesson in fractions because it was Algebra and not Arithmetic. “If it were Arithmetic he could solve the examples easily enough.” Mr Wells very promptly gave him an example in Arithmetic involving precisely the sainc principles, and again the pupil sailed and attempted to excuse himself in some other way, becoming more loquacious than before, when Mr. Wells silenced him with a playful but decisive ;-—“Please allow me to talk a part of the time."'* I name this little incident as illustrative of his skill in managing a recitation and in controlling a wayward pupil.

I might say much of Mr. Wells as a man, a gentlemen, a Christian—but it will be unnecessary. All who knew him will always remember his excellence in these respects.

While connected with the Andover Academy, Mr. Wells had the use of a valuable theodolite and other mathematical instruments, and gave special attention to practical surveying and some branches of civil engineering. It was his custom to spend much time in the fields with his classes, out of school hours, and make careful surveys of the different farms belonging to the institution and other portions of the town.

In the summer of 1847, Mr. Wells was elected Principal of the Putnam Free School, Newburyport, Mass. This institution was founded by the munificence of Oliver Putnam, a native of Newburyport. Mr. Putnam left a certain amount to be invested until it should increase to the sum of $50,000, and then to be appropriated to founding a “Free English School for the instruction of youth wherever they may belong.” The trustees from the commencement determined that thoroughness should constitute an important feature of the instruction in this school-believing that it was far better to have a limited number of pupils thoroughly instructed than a larger number less carefully taught. With this view the number at first was limited to eighty.

Though Mr. Wells was elected in the summer of 1847, he was not expected to enter upon his duties in Newburyport till the spring of 1848. Soon after his election he resigned his position at Andover, in order that he might secure a few months of relaxation before entering his new field of labor. But it is no easy matter for a thoroughly live educator to cease from work—and hence Mr: Wells might be found enjoying his vacation by assisting Mr. Barnard, then superintendent of schools in Rhode Island, in conducting Teachers' Institutes. He also rendered much of the same kind of service in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Not a few teachers, at these Institutes, received from Mr. Wells an impulse in the right direction, which they will never lose. The eyes of many were opened to behold the business of teaching in a new and more truthful light.

In April, 1848, Mr. Wells entered upon his duties at Newburyport full of hope, and during a period of six years he labored with his wonted real, and his efforts were crowned with abundant success. The school became one of the prominent attractions of the beautiful city in which it was located. From the outset, the “Putnam Free School” was an institution of rank and influence. It was well supplied with illustrative apparatus, and Mr. Wells gave an extended course of experiments every year, in chemistry and natural philosophy. These lectures and experiments were attended by a large number of citizens with manifest satisfaction and profit.

* It should be remembered that the pupils were young men-some of them as old as their instructor

Another branch to which he gave special attention was astronomy. His instructions in this branch were always accompanied with evening observations of the heavenly bodies, and each member of the higher classes was required to present at least one original calculation of an eclipse. He procured at his own expense an achromatic telescope with an object-glass five and one-fourth inches in diameter, and a focal length of seven feet and three inches. This instrument he still retains for his private use.

L. F. Dimmick, D. D., one of the trustees of the Putnam Free School, in writing of Mr. Wells, says:-"He has a vigorous and well furnished mind. He is ardent, devoted, enthusiastic even, in his work. He has a rare faculty of inspiring his pupils with the like spirit of enterprise and love of study. His plan of instruction is comprehensive and well balanced; and he so leads his pupils through it as to call up and improve the deeper and stronger elements of their being. I consider him as holding a very high place among the distinguished educators of the time.”

It was during his residence at Andover and Newburyport that the writer became intimately acquainted with Mr. Wells. From the first he felt drawn toward him and attached to him by that earnest manner and thorough devotion with which he engaged in every undertaking designed to advance the cause of popular education. He was ever ready to contribute of his time, his means, his influence, for the good of the cause. For many years he was one of the most efficient members and officers of the Essex County Teachers' Association, of which he was an honored President for two years. He was constant in his attendance upon the semi-annual meetings of this useful association, and was ever devising means to make them more interesting and useful. It was the writer's privilege frequently to meet him on committee business at these associations, and he was always decided, clear, and courteous. It was a marked trait of his character that he always knew of what he affirmed, and he so affirmed as to cause all who heard, feel that he possessed a zeal that was according to knowledge.

While president of this association, he offered prizes for essays on educational subjects, to be read at the semi-annual meetings. These premiums he paid from his own resources. It is not too much to say,

that Mr. Wells' influence will be felt for good in this association for scores of years to come-a perpetuating good.

Mr. Wells was one of the founders of the Massachusetts State Teachers' Association, of which he was president for two years. His efforts in behalf of this organization were always judicious and earnest. He was also one of the projectors and early editors of the “ Massachusetts Teacher.Those who have lately entered the educational service can but poorly appreciate the amount of labor required, and the amount rendered by active members, a score of years ago. But Mr. Wells' entire training and mental discipline from the commencement of his course of study, tended eminently to fit him for efficient aid in the incipient stages of educational organizations and efforts.

In 1854, the Massachusetts Board of Education manifested their appreciation of Mr. Wells' worth as an educator, by placing him at the head of the Westfield State Normal School. Under his direction the school rapidly increased in numbers, and in less than two years the legislature deemed it necessary to make a special appropriation for enlarging the building.

Though Mr. Wells remained at Westgeld only two years, it was sufficiently long to enable him to leave his impress upon the institution, and to secure the highest regard and confidence of the Board of Education and the friends of the school. His system of combining the practice of teaching with the study of the different branches is worthy of special notice; not because it was peculiar to this school, but because it here received more than usual attention, and because in some normal schools its importance is believed to be under-estimated, especially in the lower classes.

As soon as a pupil entered the school, he was made to feel that all his studies and recitations must bear directly upon the main object before him. However deficient a class might be found in the elementary branches, they were never required to go through a course of preparatory lessons, as such. They were, of course, required to study these elements, but to study them as teachers and not as mere scholars—knowing that their ability to teach the principles they were studying would be regarded as the most important part of the lesson-and that this ability would be sure to be tested at the recitation. He that studies a lesson for the purpose of qualifying himself to instruct others in its principles, is more likely to master the subject itself, than he who studies it merely to recite as a pupil. Viewed in this light, the defective qualifications of most of the pupils who enter our normal schools are found to be an evil of less magnitude than many have been accustomed to regard them.

« PreviousContinue »