The Volta Review/Volume 22/Number 9/An Appreciation

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By Sarah Frances Fleming

"THESE best teachers climb beyond teaching to the plane of art; it is themselves and what is best in themselves that they communicate," says Stevenson. In no walk of life is there more untiring effort, more self-sacrifice, more sincere endeavor to uplift, to bring light, than in that chosen by our best teachers. We give unstinted praise and hand-clap to our writers, artists, musicians, and movie stars; but for the far-reaching service of our teachers we give—acceptance, and there it ends.

When we stop to realize how much knowledge they have acquired of life's many problems; how they present a record of courageous moral, mental, and physical experience, proving how they have met the past and giving assurance of how they will meet the future; when we realize all this unfailing zeal, this generous giving of all the best that life has given them, their grand sum total of personality cries aloud for recognition. Theirs should be no inglorious reward; there should be "freshest laurels for all who have won them."

There are very few teachers who more nearly fulfill the requirements of an ideal teacher than Alice N. Trask, principal of the San Francisco School of Lip-Reading. She was born in Philadelphia, inheriting many of the sterling qualities of her Quaker ancestors, who were noteworthy for their moral uprightness, their high sense of duty and directness of purpose. Many were zealous in pursuit of high achievement. Her desire for 581individual expression in a worthy cause was innate. Though baffled in her early endeavors by the hampering affliction, deafness, the courage in her spirit would not suffer itself to be defeated. She had that rarest of all gifts, enthusiasm, which is the very leaven of life; under whose magic influence obstacles become airy bubbles and the inert impossible is transformed into live accomplishment. Having this magic at her command and having also an abiding faith in her work, she has, with untiring, persistent endeavor, changed the very dross of her physical infirmity into the gold of mental achievement.

The discipline of straight-laced Quaker precepts and too great refinement might have rendered her unfit for the ugly and practical side of life had she not developed unuaually broad sympathies and rare judgment, which, combined with the "cheerful lights of culture" and unusual originality as a teacher, make her a conspicuous figure in the ranks of workers who mean progress to their cause.

Her mother is the poet Florence Earle Coates, whose poems are now ranked with modern classics. Her father, a scholar and a distinguished connoisseur of art, was President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for many years. Mrs. Trask has had exceptional advantages for development along broad lines. Her home environment was in itself a liberal education, associated as she was with a gifted and accomplished mother and a scholarly father and brought into contact with many noted people who were their intimate friends. Having a receptive mind, she gained much from these relationships and profited by her parents' unsparing efforts to develop her character on a high plane and add to her mental accomplishments.

Mrs. Trask began the pursuit of lip-reading with Miss Lillie E. Warren, of New York, afterwards studying with Mr. Nitchie, for whom she had the sincerest admiration. She appreciates fully the great work that he has accomplished and realizes that it is on this foundation that those teachers whom he personally trained and inspired must continue to build. After finishing the normal course Mrs. Trask began her teaching in San Francisco, where she was a pioneer in the field. It was only because of her tenacity of purpose, her sturdy faith in her work, and her unwavering desire to serve that she finally overcame skeptical indifference and achieved due recognition, not only as a remarkable teacher, but also as a disinterested benefactor of the deafened.

In 1915 Mr. Nitchie delegated Mrs. Trask to represent the New York School for the Hard of Hearing at the Panama Pacific International Exposition. She there conducted large demonstration classes, which were visited daily by a great number of people from all over the world, so that an understanding of lip-reading was sown broadcast. During the exposition her work was under the close observation of the international jury of awards. At the completion of these classes, which gave her unusual and varied experience, the jury gave her the highest award for her efficiency as a teacher. Since this period she has not only conducted her school in San Francisco, but has been untiring in her efforts to extend in the West the great work that Mr. Nitchie accomplished in the East.

With the idea of serving the cause of the deafened, she founded the San Francisco League for the Hard of Hearing. This proved to be no small undertaking, as it was necessary to prepare the soil as well as sow the seed. Mrs. Trask, however, went to work with her usual enthusiasm and perseverance. She gained the interest of prominent people to act as patrons, convinced the heedless and skeptical that "deafness is one of the pressing interests of the community," and, besides, devised ways and means for raising funds. To reach the deafened themselves, to induce them to come within the cheering and helpful influence of the club circle, required the greatest patience and tact. The growth of the League has been most encouraging, with Mrs. Trask as president. The need for its helpful influence is now understood and appreciated.

As a teacher, Mrs. Trask has natural ability. Her watchword is efficiency. 582Her lessons are in themselves a liberal education, outside of their value as training in lip-reading. Drawing from a large and varied fund of information, she stimulates interest not only in literature, art, and kindred subjects, but keeps her pupils posted on the topics of the day. She has assurance and poise and communicates her ideas with enthusiasm, vigor, and originality. In her desire to obtain the best possible results from her pupils, she is strict and most exacting; but most characteristic in her teaching are her patience and the sincere personal interest that she takes in each student. A very keen sense of humor keeps her viewpoint to the sunny side of life. She believes in the conscious practise of happiness as a habit to be acquired rather than that of entertaining a host of blue devils. Radiating, as she does, an invigorating optimism, she stimulates her pupils into attaining what they could never accomplish by themselves.

Besides her thorough training with Mr. Nitchie, she has never relaxed her efforts to become an authority on the subject of her art and to keep her work abreast with the most advanced ideas for helping the deafened. In her frequent trips East she has availed herself of opportunities to visit other schools, studying their various methods and equipment, ready to improve on their merits if possible, and always alive to add to her store of useful knowledge.

Naturally, her wide observation and her great experience in teaching so many varied types have given her a very broad and thorough understanding of the requirements of the deafened. She realizes that the ideal teacher of lip-reading must more nearly approach a metaphysician than any other class of instructor, dealing, as she does, with so much that is intangible; that it requires so much intuition, such fine sensibilities and nice adjustment to get en rapport with natures so oversentitive and unapproachable; and also that it is very necessary that the teacher be blessed with enough of their infirmity (deafness) to inspire them with courage and hope. There is nothing so cheering to the deafened as to find some one who is deafer. Mrs. Trask is very cheering in this regard.

She aims to give her students much more than training in lip-reading, which she considers a very necessary and useful acquirement—a veritable "sixth sense." What the deafened first need, she thinks, is to be put in good heart; to have their indifferences replaced by enthusiasm. They need, too, to have their backbones stiffened, to be encouraged to be themselves. They try to stoop, to pass on their way unobserved. The ordinary affairs of life with their fellow-mortals are painful encounters; thry try to avoid issues; to withdraw until they no longer stand upright, with natural self-assertion, but stoop with self-effacement.

It is certainly of great importance that the teacher's spinal column sets an example of unusual uprightness, and that she be an inspiring example of one who, with cheerful effrontery, mingles on the highways of life with her fellow-mortals, unmindful of her physical limp; but, conscious that she is equipped with an acquired "sixth sense," she marches with the van.

It must be mentioned that Mrs. Trask owes a great deal to her affliction, which has broadened her sympathies and given her a deeper insight into life than she would otherwise have had. Like most people who have had deafness thrust upon them, Mrs. Trask found herself marooned on that solitary island of deep silence—those lonely islands, those great silences that only the deaf know. There, beyond their narrow, isolated horizon, they may ever watch life's alluring, busy intercourse. They truly suffer the agonies of Tantalus, with many of the fair fruits of life ever beyond their reach. Through the law of compensation, however, the undaunted soul cannot suffer defeat, for "silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together, that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of life." So the treasures that the deafened have garnered in silence and isolation will find their way toward the daylight of life, where they will find expression in service and achievement.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.